President Muhammadu Buhari in the first tenure of his first four years in office has been battling with series of prolonged inconclusive prosecution of over 14 former governors. Only two additional cases were concluded and the former governors incarcerated by the courts in a total of 16 cases.
Of the 16 former governors that have been on prosecution over 10 years, some more, two were imprisoned, and two others cleared by the courts. The rest cases, including over 60 senators on corruption prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), has continued to elongate in spite of President Buhari’s high profile on corruption litigations. While no new laws were made in the anti-corruption fight, President Buhari promulgated an Executive Order he felt could assist in strengthening the corruption war in Nigeria. Yet, majority former governors have continued to go unhurt, some even secure tickets of political parties to contest elections.
The Director of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Comrade Lanre Suraju, in 2018 compiled a list of high profile corruption cases which included former governors; the lsit indicated that some of the cases dated back to 2007 yet they have continued drag on.
Also The former Governor of Jigawa State, Saminu Turaki, was being prosecuted on alleged N36 billion fraud after he left office in 2007. The prosecution was stalled after the former governor was said to have allegedly eloped. Though, rearrested later, the suit has been in the cooler.
Progress appeared to be made when the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Gudu, Abuja, in June 2018 convicted former Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau Stateon 15 of the 23 counts ofcorruption charges relating to misappropriation of N1.16 billion Ecological Fund of Plateau State Government.
Justice Adebukola Banjoko after listening to the defence counsel’s, Paul Erokor (SAN) plea for mercy, convicted the former Plateau Governor and sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment on 15 of the 23 counts against him. Also
The Court of Appeal, however, in November 2018, noting that since Dariye was a first-time offender; said the 14-year jail term was excessive. The appellate court, therefore, reduced the prison term to from 14 years to 10 years.
On another anti-corruption success story, Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Gudu, Abuja, in 2018 also sentenced former Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State, to 14 years imprisonment for misappropriation of N1.64 billion. The former governor was found guilty on 27 of the 41 charges against him by the EFCC.
Nyame’s prosecution began in May 2007.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja, however, reduced the prison terms from 14 years to 12 years but ordered Nyame to pay a fine of N495 million for the misappropriation of funds as Governor of Taraba State from 1999 to 2007.
In another concluded corruption suit, Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court, Lagos, in Feb
ruary 2019 discharged and acquitted former Governor Rasheed Ladoja of Oyo State of corruption charges. EFCC had prosecuted Ladoja on N4.7 billion fraud allegation.
Again, a Federal High Court in Gombe, in March 2019, also cleared Senator Danjuma Goje, former Gombe State Governor, and three other officials who served with him, of 19 of the 21 charges brought against them by the EFCC. The EFCC has been prosecuting them on allegations of misappropriation, laundering and diversion of N6.6 billion belonging to Gombe State.
EFCC, however, filed a cross-appeal at the Court of Appeal, Jos, Plateau State, challenging the judgment of a Federal High Court in Gombe that partially upheld a no-case submission by former Governor Danjuma Goje.
Beside these instances, the Buhari administration has not made any other renowned success in the various protracted corruption allegation suits against former governors, including senators. Several of the former governors struggle to find their ways into the senate where they find a safe haven for protection and further opportunities in government.
The former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, has been on prosecution by EFCC over allegation of N3.2 billion misappropriation. The suit commenced in 2007 and the former governor is among the newly elected senators on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to be inaugurated in the Ninth National Assembly in June 2019.
Former Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State is still being prosecuted by the EFCC on nine counts charges on allegation of diversion of N3.1 billion. The former governor elected into the senate in the 2019 elections on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is being prosecuted with the former Commissioner for Finance in Benue State, Okolobia Okpanachi.
Several stakeholders expressed consternation when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja adjourned sitting on Suswan’s case in March 2019 on the excuse that the defence counsel was absent from the court due to slight ailment.
Justice Ramat Mohammed had adjourned the trial due to the absence of the lead defence counsel, Joseph Daudu, who was said to be under the weather.
The former governor and the former Finance Commissioner were alleged to have diverted proceeds from the sale of shares owned by Benue State Government, and the Benue Investment and Property Company Limited.
Outside corruption, Suswam still has a security threat case to resolve with the Department of Security Service (DSS).
Moreover, former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State obtained suspension of his case in 2007 on the presence that he was sick. Later, the Federal High Court, Lagos, had issued a bench warrant of arrest on the former Enugu governor when his counsels could not explain his continued failure to appear in court for trial. However, the case still prolongs.
Other former governors with prolonged and unending corruption allegations suits include: Former Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State, from who EFCC confiscated 48 houses in 2013, and was prosecuted on allegation of N19.2 billion fraud.
The then EFCC image manager, Wilson Uwujaren, had declared in a statement on January 3, 2013, that the former Bayelsa governor allegedly looted funds from the state treasury between 2007 and 2011.
“The EFCC on Thursday, January 3, 2013, took possession of 48 properties of the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Timpre Sylva, who is being prosecuted at a Federal High Court in Abuja.
“The interim forfeiture order to attach Sylva’s property was granted by Justice A. R. Mohammed on December 21, 2012,” the statement read in part.
Sylva, however, recovered the confiscated 48 houses in 2016 long after he had defected from the PDP to the APC. EFCC, however, vowed to appeal the judgment, but again, Nigerians have heard nothing about that case since then.
Others include former Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State 2015; former Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State 2015; Adebayo Alao-Akala of Oyo State 2011; former Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State 2011; former Governor Aliyu Akwe Doma of Nasarawa State 2011; former Governor Attahiru Bafawara of Sokoto State 2009; and former Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State 2015. Most of these cases have been kept in solemn silence.
The list is not oblivious of former ministers on the EFCC prosecution register.
There was the innuendo that President Buhari had in 2018 ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam AbubakarMalami SAN, to direct judges handling corruption cases to conclude those cases quickly, noting that the prolongation of the several corruption cases was denting Nigeria’s image, as well as adding up to current corruption statistics on the country in the international community. The effect of that executive order on the judiciary is yet to be felt.
Most Nigerians had felt that the Justice Minister needed to intervene in most of these cases to hasten the prosecution processes and duration.
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Many Nigerians have argued that the prolongation of the corruption cases against former governors and others also create political liability on both the individuals and the government on integrity test. They also questioned the capacity of the government to come up with rational policies that will promote the welfare of citizens where operators of government heavy burden of corruption allegation liability. They are perceived to spend more time seeking self-protection than concentrating on government activities in the national interest. Majority of senators under corruption allegations prosecution were identified to be former governors.
Clearly, the continued prolonging of the corruption suits stains the anti-corruption war credential of President Buhari.