Guilty of 17 criminal charges
• Awards N167.8m contract to unknown person
• ‘Actions denote executive rascality, lawlessness’

A former Governor of Adamawa State, James Bala Ngillari, was yesterday sentenced to five years in prison by a Yola High Court for fraud he committed while in office.

The presiding judge, Justice Nathan Musa, said he relied on section 58 sub-section (5) of the Adamawa Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) Law which provides that any state officer that contravenes the law is liable to a minimum of five years imprisonment without an option of fine.
“The court’s hands are tied by this law, so I cannot do otherwise. The only thing is to give you the minimum sentence of five years, you will serve in Yola main prison,” the judge said.

This conviction is a major boost to the anti-corruption campaign. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had suffered a credibility crisis for not being able to successfully prosecute former or serving top public officers for corruption and sending them to jail. They had either been set free because of poor prosecution or plea bargain that enabled them to go home to enjoy their loot.

Ngillari was found guilty of 17 criminal charges relating to the award of contracts without due process levelled against him by the EFCC. He was sentenced to one year each on five out of the 17 charges brought against him, former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Ibrahim Andrew Welye and erstwhile Commissioner for Finance Jonathan Lamorde. The two were discharged on the grounds that they merely acted on instructions from the convict.

The former governor awarded a N167.8 million contract for the supply of 25 units of Toyota Camry 2.8 to a contractor to the state government, whose identity is known only to him.

Justice Musa said the case was decided based on evidence before the court and not on the opinion of the counsel.According to the judge, the counsel to the former governor failed to prove before the court that the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance was the officer to be held responsible as the accounting officer of the ministry for the contract scam.

He pointed out that the evidence before the court and oral confessions of the second accused (Welye) at the EFCC proved that the tender board headed by the permanent secretary was sidelined in the award of the contract before the court.
Justice Musa read the SSG’s statement which was one of the exhibits: “The governor summoned me and directed me to write a memo for the purchase of vehicles for commissioners. When I raised the issue of due process by contacting the BPP, the governor told me he was under pressure. A few days after I raised the memo, the governor called me to say that the contractor failed to supply eight vehicles, out of the 25, she supplied only 17 units and that I should call her, but I could not call her because I did not have her phone number.”

On the submission of the counsel to Ngillari that it was an emergency and if quick measures were not taken the prices of the vehicles would go up, the judge ruled that the first accused failed to prove that he carried out a market survey on the prices of the vehicles and that the prices were increasing fast.

Justice Musa stated that since the vehicles were not security in nature, hiding under emergency could not be covered by law and that the defence lacked legal protection and merit. He said Ngillari unlawfully awarded a contract to a contractor known to him alone and his action amounted to executive rascality and lawlessness.

The judge noted that the prosecuting counsel, Murktaka Ahmed, proved his case beyond reasonable doubt against the first accused, and that the second accused (SSG) and the third accused (Jonathan) could not be held responsible for an offence they were not part of from the initiation to the execution level.

He said his judgement would be a warning to political office holders that the law would not respect anyone that abused it using the powers of his office.

The counsel to Ngillari pleaded for leniency for his client, appealing to the court to consider the service he offered to the state in the past.

The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. James Silas Sanda, who commended the judgement, regretted that a former governor would be sentenced to prison. 

He described the development as ugly for the country, and called on all political office holders to learn their lessons from the verdict.

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