Justice At Last!, By Dele Agekameh
One hopes that justice is not ‘best served cold’ in this country. The deterrent value of the conviction of Plateau’s Dariye and Taraba’s Nyame has been lost within the years it took to reach judgment and more executives have plundered state resources, even in those same states.
The controversial immunity clause granted in section 308 of the constitution to the president and governors of every State and their deputies has always provided a false sense of security to errant chief executives in the many years of democratic rule since 1999. While in office, elected governors and presidents hide behind power and the misleading “immunity” clause to perpetrate grave acts of corruption. The law however places no time limit on the filing of a criminal charge, and as such, the corrupt acts of these leaders more often than not come back to bite them when the toga of immunity is lost at the end of their tenures.
Where the charges finally come, the combination of money and power that have been amassed over many years by a thieving chief executive is usually enough to stave off the impending legal onslaught. Accused ex-executives use their means to frustrate the process of justice or essentially ‘buy’ freedom one way or the other. Recently however, there has been a reassurance in the process of justice and prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In the past month, two ex-governors have been sentenced to 14 years in prison in two different suits that dragged on for over eight years in each case.
Jolly Nyame of Taraba State was the first ex-governor to feel the full weight of justice in this calendar year, precisely on the May 30. Nyame was sentenced to 14 years in prison by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, putting an end to an eleven-year dance with justice. Nyame is a clergyman who first became governor in 1992, in the short lived democratic dispensation, before returning for two straight terms in 1999. His tenure ended with a brisk suit filed by the EFCC against him in May 2007, in a 41-count charge for misappropriation of about N1.64 billion of Taraba State funds.
The second ‘casualty of justice’ in the past month from the ex-governors club is Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, a serving senator who was governor between 1999 and 2007. Like Nyame, Dariye was hit with a 23-count charge by the EFCC shortly after his tenure in 2007 for the misappropriation of about N1.162 billion, principally from Plateau State’s ecological funds. The funds were diverted to many different locations, including more than N80 million to the Peoples Democratic Party and other accounts run by Mr. Dariye. On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, Dariye was sentenced to 14 years in prison by the same Federal High Court judge.
The similarities in Dariye and Nyame’s cases include the protracted legal battles, albeit under different circumstances, and their relative popularity within their home states, at least at the time of their embezzlement. Both men were elected for two straight terms from 1999 to 2007, in addition to Nyame’s previous election in 1992 and Dariye’s current seat as a senator in the National Assembly. These are men who would ordinarily be acclaimed ‘men of the people’, who have now been reduced to criminals before the temple of justice.
Justice Olubukola Banjoko, the judge behind the two convictions has inadvertently become a hero of sorts after seeing the two cases to a satisfying end for the majority of Nigerians. The public applause of her “courage” is an indictment on the judiciary, as it casts aspersions on other judges that have tried high profile cases of this type in the past.
Despite the fact that Dariye has been a fugitive from justice in the United Kingdom since 2004, after jumping bail over money laundering charges, he was elected into the National Assembly by the people of Plateau Central senatorial district. The idolisation of men of weak morals is a common occurrence amongst voters in Nigeria. Dariye was also the victim of a shoddy impeachment over corruption charges in 2006, orchestrated by a federal government led by Olusegun Obasanjo, which was later upturned by the Supreme Court.
While the demeanour of the convicted ex-governors does not immediately suggest further legal challenge, it won’t be surprising if they go on to appeal, most especially in the case of Dariye who has proved to be a tireless litigator. However, between Nyame’s apparent confession to diverting some funds to his own personal use and Dariye’s 2006 declaration that the PDP ordered his misuse of Plateau State’s ecological funds to sponsor party activities and candidates, there is a weak chance of success on appeal.
Dariye was also seen personally begging for mercy from Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), counsel to the EFCC, in open court. The turn-out of events paint a fantastic picture that suggests that two ex-governors will actually serve real time for their actions while in office. It is a step closer to true accountability and one hopes that others will learn from it.
Justice Olubukola Banjoko, the judge behind the two convictions has inadvertently become a hero of sorts after seeing the two cases to a satisfying end for the majority of Nigerians. The public applause of her “courage” is an indictment on the judiciary, as it casts aspersions on other judges that have tried high profile cases of this type in the past. Despite her newfound fame and reputation, Justice Banjoko has always displayed uncanny integrity and dedication to the greater traditions of the law. She famously excused herself from the bribery case against Farouk Lawan after her integrity and objectivity were called into question, where other judges would have dismissed the allegations of bias.
One hopes that justice is not ‘best served cold’ in this country. The deterrent value of the conviction of Plateau’s Dariye and Taraba’s Nyame has been lost within the years it took to reach judgment and more executives have plundered state resources, even in those same states. The aim of justice is not to eventually reach conviction, but to employ the law swiftly and justly in order to punish and deter actions that have been ruled unlawful in the eyes of the law and unacceptable for the workings of society.
Certainly, serving the heads of two otherwise sacred cows in the spate of two weeks is a definite boost to the confidence in the judiciary, the prosecution by the EFCC and of course, President Buhari’s credibility on his fight against corruption. However, the people will prefer that everyone be answerable to the law.
Also, the judiciary is not formed to produce ‘star judges’ and standalone courageous adjudicators. The entire judiciary should be home to legal minds of impeccable integrity and unwavering resolve to see the ends of justice as swiftly as practicable in every case. While it is refreshing to have a Banjoko in the judiciary, it is more satisfying for there to be many, who are seen to be as straightforward and dedicated to justice.
In the era of Bank Verification Number (BVN), and other measures put in place by the government, it is getting increasingly difficult to hide illegal activity in the handling of public funds. It strengthens the position that less focus should be put on appealing to people’s morals and more should be put on blocking avenues for corruption. The human propensity for deceit will always be present, as we see in the revealed facts of a bank granting a ‘waiver’ to Dariye to set up accounts without proper identification.
The real day of reckoning will come when past federal executives begin to face the music like all others. There is a chilling unspoken code between present and past leaders at the federal level that has somehow become an unofficial immunity for federal executives. It is almost like thieves protecting thieves. Whether it is for considerations of general security of the country or for hope of future reciprocation, it remains a blight on true accountability and commitment to transparency. There is no living past president who does not have allegations of financial or other impropriety against him.
Many more cases are in court and there are more files being prepared on people who are currently in power for possible prosecution when the legal barrier is lifted. There is yet more to expect and one only hopes that the judiciary and anti-graft agencies are up to the task. Certainly, serving the heads of two otherwise sacred cows in the spate of two weeks is a definite boost to the confidence in the judiciary, the prosecution by the EFCC and of course, President Buhari’s credibility on his fight against corruption. However, the people will prefer that everyone be answerable to the law.
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