The conviction of former Taraba Governor Jolly Nyame is a big win for President Buhari's anti-corruption war.
President Buhari deserves some accolades for this conviction.
In delivering the maximum sentence, trial Judge Adebukoola Banjoko of the High Court, Abuja, referred to Nyame as “a common thief”.
“The defendant behaved like a common thief,” Justice Banjoko said.
“Rev. Jolly Nyame encouraged other officers to engage in reckless misappropriation. There is no legal or moral justification for that level of outright stealing”, the Judge added.
Nyame was Governor of Taraba State from 1999 to 2007.
His trial commenced the year he left office in 2007; after his immunity from prosecution was constitutionally stripped off him.
The EFCC had arraigned Nyame on a 41-count criminal charge bordering on criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of N1.64billion belonging to Taraba State.
Justice Banjoko found Nyame guilty of a 27-count criminal charge. The former Governor was discharged and acquitted on 14 other charges.
Nyame was a member of the clergy. In the words of trial judge Banjoko, “The convict is a Reverend, which means he is a Christian. He is expected to show high level of honesty, piety and integrity.
“How will Reverend Jolly Nyame begin to tell the people of Taraba State and the whole world to justify his action and inaction?
“I was morally outraged by the facts of this case.”
Nyame’s sentencing has to go down as the first high profile corruption conviction of the President Buhari era.
Buhari was elected partly on the back of a campaign promise to tackle graft in Africa’s most populous nation.
Former Adamawa Governor Bala Ngilari would have gone down as the first such conviction, except that the appeal court overturned his conviction four months after.
That it took 11 years to decide the Nyame case says a lot about Nigeria's criminal justice system. But it could have been worse without the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which was signed into law in 2015, as Buhari set out his stall to tackle endemic corruption.
With the ACJA, defense attorneys will find it difficult delaying cases through technicalities like 'stay of proceedings' and 'perpetual injunctions'.
The ACJA allows for accelerated hearing of cases on a day-to-day basis; with parties entitled to only five adjournments each.
According to human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, “At long last, the case was concluded on a good note. For almost a decade, the case was suspended through stay of proceedings.
“But for the abolition of stay of proceedings by Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the case would have been suspended again and again”.
Nyame’s conviction may well be the breakthrough moment in the war against corruption for the Buhari administration.
Speaking to Punch newspaper, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) said; “Soon, you will begin to hear about more convictions. This marks an end of an era where senior advocates deliberately subvert justice in this country because of the huge pay they receive from the proceeds of crime.”
The Buhari administration has also been pursuing justice reforms with some determination and zeal. In 2016, law enforcement carried out pre-dawn raids on the homes of Judges alleged to have received kickbacks to swing rulings a certain way.
The Buhari administration has been widely scoffed at for an anti-corruption war that has been “all noise and no action” because the “big thieves” get to walk even after they have been paraded in court with plenty of media coverage to boot.
Maybe this is the moment when all of that begins to change.