As ex-Gov Ngilari goes to jail

Former governor of Adamawa State Mr. James Bala Ngilari was whisked off to the Yola Prison last week to begin a five year jail term soon after the Federal High Court in Yola convicted him. The court, presided over by Justice Nathan Musa, ruled that the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ngilari violated the Public Procurement Act of the state by awarding contracts for the procurement of 25 vehicles for his commissioners at the cost of N167 million without following due process. The charges were brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in September last year.

The judge said Ngilari’s action “amounted to executive lawlessness,” adding that five years without an option of fine was the least he could give Ngilari, whose lawyer Mr. Samuel Toni (SAN) pleaded for leniency “in view of his (Ngilari) invaluable contribution while he was the governor of the state during the trying moments of insurgency”. Justice Musa said that Ngilari would serve the sentence in a prison of his choice in the country “but for now he should start with the Yola prison”.

The judge also said the judgment would serve as a lesson to other governors who for obvious reasons flagrantly abuse due process in the award of contracts, adding that the former governor sat in the confines of his office and awarded the contract to a contractor who was known only to him (Ngilari) without adhering to the Public Procurement Act of the state. It is worthy of note that this case proceeded expeditiously without the multiple adjournments and other delaying tactics normally seen in cases involving VIP figures.

Ngilari’s conviction was doubly tragic because he is a senior lawyer in his own right and a former member of the House of Representatives. Yet he chose to betray the oath of office he took when he became governor. This is the first high profile corruption ruling secured by EFCC since 2015. It is a watershed because many other cases involving big people drag on interminably. We commend EFCC for putting its acts together and for securing a very important and exemplary conviction.

Judge Nathan Musa however acquitted the former Secretary to the State Government Mr. Andrew Welye and former Commissioner for Finance Mr. Sunday Lamurde, who stood in the dock alongside Ngilari for the same charges.  The judge said the prosecutor could not prove the case against them. Just before he was taken to Yola prison, Ngilari said he would appeal the sentence.

Ngilari had served as deputy governor to Governor Murtala Nyako who was impeached by the state Assembly in 2014. They would have been impeached together but Ngilari played a legal fast one by sending a resignation letter to the wrong quarters. He thereafter approached a court which invalidated his resignation in October 2014 on the grounds that the letter of resignation was taken to the State Assembly’s Speaker instead of to Governor Nyako. Ngilari therefore took over as substantive governor to complete the remaining seven months of Nyako’s term which ended in May 2015. It was during this time that the fraud was committed.

EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies have many other ongoing corruption cases involving high profile politicians and government functionaries in various courts around the country. They include cases against former governors Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Ikedi Ohakim (Imo), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Ahmadu Umar Fintiri (Adamawa), Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Sule Lamido [Jigawa] and Rev Jolly Nyame (Taraba). Many of these cases have been going on for up to ten years. While we commend the judiciary and EFCC for this achievement, we expect these pending cases to be dispensed with forthwith in the interest of justice.
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