The Supreme Court, on Friday, upheld the conviction and 12-year jail term given to Jolly Nyame, for misappropriation of funds while he was governor of Taraba State from 1999 to 2007.
A five-member panel of the apex court, in a unanimous decision led by, Justice Mary Odili, said it found no reason to set-aside concurrent judgements of both the trial court and the Court of Appeal, which found Mr Nyame guilty of misappropriation of funds.
Delivering the lead judgement, Justice Amina Augie, held that the appeal the former governor filed to challenge his conviction and sentence, lacked merit.
The apex court, however, held that the appellate court was wrong to have imposed fine against the Mr Nyame.
Justice Augie, therefore, affirmed the imposed jail term but freed the convicted Mr Nyame from paying fine for the crime he committed against the state, while he was a governor.
In May 2018, when Justice Adebukola Banjoko first sentenced Mr Nyame to jail, she summarised how she came about the judgement.
In her address, the judge identified various confessions of fraudulent transactions and said the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming. According to the judge, even the defence witnesses alluded to the crimes contained in the charge against the defendant. She likened the conduct of the prescribed offences to the story of Alibaba and the forty thieves.
Citing a memo which formed the basis of the fraudulent transactions, Mrs Banjoko questioned the motive behind Mr Nyame’s ‘ratification’ of the said memo, despite the former governor’s claim that he knew nothing about the fraudulent transaction.
“From the evidence alluded in court, transactions by the treasury of the Taraba State government began with a memo. Now a memo has a root course that is traceable to a decision,” said the judge who added that where the said memo becomes a proven source of questionable transactions, it would only be natural to trace the said memo to its source.
The judge also questioned the failure of Mr Nyame to investigate the illicit flow of funds under his watch, adding that Mr Nyame confirmed in court that he never conducted any such investigation.
“It is only under cross-examination that the defendant said he did not carry out the investigation, because the EFCC was already carrying out a similar investigation.”
The judge further noted confessions by witnesses, including the managing director of Saman Global that the company was not involved in the delivery of stationery.
“If Saman Global has no history of supplying stationery into Taraba State, then their injection into the flow must have been questionable.
Mrs Banjoko narrated the testimonies of Mr Nyame’s commissioner of finance, Abubakar Tutari who spearheaded the many cases of administrative breaches in the transfer of the funds to Saman Global.
The judge said although the defendant denies knowledge of the transactions, it is either that he; (Nyame) or Mr Tutari has lied to the court.
“It is a question of Alhaji Tutari’s words against that of the defendant. So the golden question is who lying among the two of them? Because somebody is lying,” said the judge.
“It is imperative to bring to the fore, the background of Abubakar Tutor. According to the defendant, he was a serving senator of the federal republic of Nigeria. Alhaji Tutari said he had known the defendant since 1992 when he was speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly.
“Their relationship sprang from that time till when he was governor, in 1999. During this period, he served as a commissioner in four ministries, namely; finance rural development water resources sport and youth development. So they were close,” she said.
Mrs Banjoko found the defendant guilty of 27 of the counts, bothering on allegations of criminal breach of trust, receiving of gratification, obtaining without due consideration and misappropriation of public funds.
Before reading the verdict, the defence counsel prayed the court to consider the fact that the convict had never being convicted of such offences and that he was a family man who had served his state for at least eight years.
The prosecution counsel, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, however, urged the court to consider the effects of the charges on the people of Taraba and the need to set a precedent that would prevent future occurrences.
Mrs Banjoko, while stating her ruling, expressed disappointment at the conduct of the accused.
“But I must say that I am morally outraged by the facts of this case. The people of Taraba State had elected the defendant, a clergyman, on three different occasions.
“There expectations must have been very high. How would he begin to explain to the people of Taraba State his actions? How would he explain such a colossal loss to the people?” she queried.
The judge said Mr Nyama continued the commission of the allegations, even after finding out that the commission was investigating his offences.
She, therefore, sentenced the defendants to various terms based on the four categories of offences, to a maximum of 14 years in jail, without an option of fine.
The judge ordered the immediate return of forfeited funds from the treasury of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) to that of Taraba State.
Appeal court’s decision
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the Court of Appeal in Abuja in November 2018, ordered the former governor, to pay a fine of N495 million for the alleged misappropriation of funds while he was governor of the state.
The appellate court reduced the 14-year jail term, earlier given to Mr Nyame by a High Court in Abuja to 12 years.
The appeal court, however, said the law compels the court to add a fine for each of the various convictions.
During an initial judgement of the lower court in April, the court jailed Mr Nyame 14 years for various crimes whose penalties were to run concurrently.
The appellate court said Mr Nyame ought to have been given capital punishment, but for the constitutional constraint on the court to stick to the provisions of the law.