Ngilari arriving the court during his trial

The sentencing, last week, of a former governor of Adamawa State, James Ngilari, to five years in prison over corruption charges is a big score for the anti-graft war of President Muhammadu Buhari, writes Daji Sani

The news of the judgment of a Yola High Court, which sent a former governor of Adamawa State, James Ngilari to five years in prison appears the biggest news of last week, even though it is still trending. That aside, the development was also a major achievement by the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in recent time. Not necessarily something to cheer about from the compassionate angle, it is certainly a huge lesson in leadership, albeit for those who know it and can read between the lines.

Ngilari was deputy to impeached Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State. He was  sworn in on October 8, 2014, by then acting Chief Judge of the state, Justice Ambrose Mammadi, first, in fulfillment of constitutional provisions and two, following the verdict of a federal high court in Abuja, which sacked then acting governor of the state, Alhaji Ahmadu Umar Fintiri from office.

Fintiri, a former speaker of the state House of Assembly, took over after the impeachment of Nyako and the controversial “resignation” of Ngilari, who was alleged to have done so under duress to the State House of Assembly for the fear of being impeached together with Nyako.

But Ngilari had complained that his resignation letter, constitutionally required to have gone to the ousted governor, was instead received and acted upon by the then speaker of the state house of assembly, Fintiri.

Thus, Ngillari was forced to resign from office illegally by the assembly to pave the way for Fintiri, who was then speaker and believed to be nursing a governorship ambition, became the acting governor.

The initial script by then presidency under former president Goodluck Jonathan who became disenchanted with the Nyako government was  to impeach only Nyako from office and leave Ngilari to emerge the new governor of the state.

But Fintiri, who had been having a running battle with Ngilari over the political structure of Madagali, where they both come from included Ngilari in the impeachment plan to pave the way for his ambition of becoming the governor of the state and to have full control of Madagali local politics.

Fintiri was believed to have forced Ngillari to send in his letter of resignation to the assembly and was read on floor of the assembly. But Ngillari decided to fight back by instituting a law suit against the assembly over his controversial resignation. An Abuja Federal High Court consequently granted Ngilari’s request that Fintiri be removed and Ngilari sworn in immediately as governor.

Justice Ademola held that Ngilari did not resign from office as deputy governor in line with Section 306 (1) (2) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The judge also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to stop the state governorship bye-election slated for Saturday, October 11, and granted all the reliefs sought by Ngilari.

In his address after taking the oath of office, Ngilari said he would run an open, transparent and all-inclusive government, adding: “In this regard, I invite other arms of government, in particular the legislature and judiciary, not forgetting the civil service, to join hands with me to achieve these noble goals. As a party man and a team player, I pledge my unalloyed support and loyalty to our great party and Mr. President,” Ngilari said.

He described his emergence as an act of “God who gives power to whomever He chooses. We acknowledge the divine power of God in all that happened. The holy books of both religions subscribe to the fact that power belongs to God and He gives it in trust to whosoever he wills,” Ngilari said.

Trouble however started to gather dust for Ngilari, when he began to award contracts without following due process. The Director-General of the state Public Procurement Bureau, Alhaji Umar Abba reportedly alerted him of contravening public procurement laws in the awards of contracts. But the governor felt the DG was not cooperating with his government and instead, sacked the DG and replaced him with Mr. Solomon Titus.

Unfortunately for him, the assembly under Fintiri couldn’t confirm the appointment of Titus because a clear reason was not given for the sacking of Abba.

A close source to the bureau told THISDAY that Abba only advised the governor that the contracts he was awarding were not captured in the budget and what the governor needed to do was seek Viament from the assembly to enable him give out the contracts.

The source also said Abba queried the way the contracts were issued as the contracts were not advertised for biding and the governor just give out contracts to contractors he preferred without adhering to the procurement laws he and his principal signed into existence in 2013.

Ngilari, a constitutional lawyer, wasn’t expected to make such a blunder, but he stepped on mines because of the political rift between him and Fintiri. Ngilari knew it would be sheer waste of his executive time if he sent any request to the assembly since it was the same assembly that pressured him to resign as the deputy governor. Therefore, the same assembly ordinarily wouldn’t have accepted anything from the Ngilari government.

Although he would later penetrate the assembly in order to have Fintiri impeached, the plan did not however fly because 8 out of the 25 members couldn’t get the job done. But the assembly was divided into two factions as a result of this, with eight members headed by Honourable Jerry Kundisi as the speaker supported by the governor while the 17 others were headed by Fintiri. The governor took a step further to recognise Kundisi as speaker.

Stakeholders believed Ngilari did not do his homework well because as governor, he has the machinery of state at his disposal to have removed the speaker successfully or rather, he could have worked with the sacked DG to get the certificate of no objections from the public procurement bureau for the awards of the contracts he already awarded than going into a battle with the DG.

Yet, there were those who believed that Ngilari’s hands were tight having Fintiri as acting governor of the state for close to three months before he was sacked. And as speaker, he tightened noose on the politics of the state against Ngilari. The people feel that Fintiri was on top of the game and had used the assembly under his leadership to achieve his desire.

Even more unfortunately for Ngilari, his moves to remove the speaker to enable him put things in the right perspective couldn’t have saved the day because already, the bitter DG for public procurement bureau had blown the whistles to his political enemies.

Thus, following a resolution of the assembly under Fintiri, the legislature urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate allegations of corruption during the six months reign of Ngilari and Umar was ready to testify against the administration, moreso that the assembly had described his sack as illegal.

He told journalists in a telephone conversation that he has been vindicated by the resolution, which pointed out that his sack was solely because he decided to blow the whistle on the abuse of due process in the award of contracts by the Ngilari administration.

He explained how he queried contracts that did not follow due process such as the purchase of 50 Hilux vans at the cost of N400 million and two bullet proof SUVs at the cost of N180 million. Other contracts included the printing of calendar and diaries, revitalization of the state television, printing of account books for local governments and development areas, procurement of official vehicles for commissioners and installation of street lights in some streets of Yola, the capital city.

Some of the ministries and parastatals that were queried for awarding contracts without obtaining the necessary clearance of “certificate of no objection” from the bureau included the Government House, Ministry for Local Government Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Adamawa state Urban Planning Development Authority, Ministry for Housing and Ministry of Information.

The assembly’s resolution which called on the EFCC to probe Ngilari’s administration was however placed under a motion of “matter of urgent public importance” and moved by the House Deputy Speaker, Laori Kwamoti. The resolution also called on the state government to reinstate the sacked director general.

The assembly during its plenary presided by Fintiri recommended the honouring of the sacked DG with national awards for doing his job, which led to his sack via a letter from the secretary to the government. It also noted that Umar’s sack did not follow due process as the law establishing the Bureau states that the DG could only be sacked through board members’ recommendation to the Executive with the approval of the assembly.

After his six months of leadership in the state, Ngilari, on September 22, 2016, was arraigned by the EFCC for one hundred and sixty-seven million naira contract scam. The former governor was subsequently remanded in the EFCC custody following the ruling of Justice Nathan Musa of the Yola High Court.

The anti-graft agency charged Ngilari with violation of procurement laws in the award of contract of one hundred and sixty-seven million naira to one El-Yadi Motors Limited for supply of twenty-five units of operational vehicles (Toyota Corolla). The EFCC also instituted a nineteen count-charge against the former governor. Also charged were his former secretary to the government, SSG, Ibrahim Andrew Welye as well as his former Commissioner of Finance and Budget, Sanda Jonathan Lamurde.

They were accused of conspiracy, lack of no objection certificate, no competitive bidding and others in procurement process. But the three pleaded not guilty and their lawyers applied for bail, which the prosecution opposed and the court ruled that they should be remanded in custody pending the adjournment for ruling on bail application.

The drama however came to a close last Monday, when Ngilari was sentenced to five years in prison without the option of fine by a Yola high court. While delivering his judgment, Musa, said the prosecution had proved its case against the former governor beyond reasonable doubt, saying Ngilari violated the Public Procurement Act of the state by awarding contract for the procurement of 25 vehicles for his commissioners at the cost of N167 million without following due process.

He said Ngilari’s action amounted to executive lawlessness, adding that the five years was the least he could give Ngilari. He the judgment would serve as lesson to other governors, who like to shun due process in the award of contracts, adding that the former governor sat in the comfort of his office and awarded contracts to those only known by him without adhering to the public Procurement Act of the state.

Ngilari’s counsel, Mr. Samuel Toni (SAN), had pleaded for leniency “in view of his (Ngilari’s) invaluable contribution when he was the governor of the state during the trying moment of insurgency.” But the Judge said Ngilari would serve the sentence in a prison of his choice in the country “but for, now he should start with Yola prison.”

He expressed hope that the conviction and sentence of Ngilari, would serve as a deterrent to serving governors, who do not care to follow due process in the discharge of their duties. The judge, however, discharged and acquitted Welye and Lamurde, saying that the prosecutor could not prove the charges against them.

Speaking shortly before he was taken away from the court to Yola prison, Ngilari said he would appeal the sentence and believed that he would get justice at the Appeal Court. But the state Commissioner for Information and strategy, Honourable Ahmed Sajoh said it was sad news in the state, where a former governor had to go to prison because he was not properly advised by his aides. He said the judgment in a legal point of view has made history sequel to the fact that for the first time in the state, a former governor is sentenced to prison for five years over corrupt practices. He however added that the judgment was a warning to others that they could be called to answer for their stewardship when the need arises.