Five Years On, Fight Against Corruption Proceeds at a Measured Pace

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Alex Enumah writes that the recent sentencing of the former Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh after four years of trial brings to five, convictions in high profile corruption cases under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, that made fight against corruption its major mantra

Last week, precisely February 25, 2020, a Federal High Court in Abuja sent former Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh to jail for laundering the sum of N400 million.

Metuh and his company, Dextra Investment Limited were arraigned on a seven count criminal charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N400 million allegedly received from the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (Rtd).

The said funds, according to the prosecution, were proceeds of crime because they were allegedly diverted by Dasuki from monies meant to procure weapons to fight insurgency in the country.

Outside the N400 million Metuh and his firm were accused of unlawful possession, they were also accused of laundering and converting the sum of $2 billion public funds into private use, although the source of the $2 billion could not be ascertained during the trial.

But the former PDP Spokesman claimed that the said funds were made available to him by the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to carry out a national assignment.

However, delivering judgment in the case, the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, held that the prosecution was able to establish the ingredients of guilt in all the seven count criminal charge against Metuh and his company.

Justice Abang in the more than four hours judgment said he found Metuh guilty in all of the seven-count criminal charge brought against him by the Federal Government’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He, accordingly, sentenced him to various prison terms in each of the count in line with the minimum number of years prescribed by law for each offence with the highest carrying a minimum of seven years.

The judge said the punishment was to serve as lesson to others in public service to avoid the temptation of dissipating public funds for private and personal use.

Justice Abang in the judgment stated that notwithstanding the pleadings of leniency by counsel to the defendants, Metuh merited the verdict.

The Judge, who berated Metuh for destroying his statement made to the EFCC, remarked that Metuh had an opportunity to remedy the situation before it got out of hand, but bungled it.

“He had opportunity to resolve the issue with the complainant when he was confronted with the statement of account showing that he transferred N50 million to an account owned by his wife.

“He ought to have been sober because of the involvement of his immediate family,” the court held.

For Count One, the judge sentenced Metuh to seven years imprisonment; Count Two, seven years; Count Three, five years; Count Four, seven years; Count Five, three years with a fine of N25 million; Count Six, three years with a fine of N25 million and Count Seven, seven years imprisonment.

The sentences which are to run concurrently, according to the judge comes into effect from the day, the judgment was delivered.

While the court ordered the winding up of Dextra Investment Limited and that the balance in the firm’s bank accounts be forfeited to the Federal Government, Justice Abang in addition imposed a fine of N375 million on Metuh.

Justice Abang held that Metuh and his company were guilty of unlawful possession of the sum of N400 million transferred to them from the account of the office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The court said evidence before it proved that the funds formed part of the unlawful activities of then NSA, adding that the claim by Metuh that the funds were payment for a national assignment he carried out for then President Goodluck Jonathan was untenable.

According to the judgment, Metuh’s failure to call President Jonathan to give evidence was fatal to his case.

Justice Abang held that he was certain that President Jonathan would not have given a verbal approval for payment of the said national assignment.

The Judge further held that Metuh ought to have known or probably new that the funds were part of the unlawful activities of the former NSA, whom he (Metuh) said had no contract with, in the first place, and yet went ahead to dissipate the funds.

While stating that the first defendant was not telling the court the truth, Justice Abang said if the defendants knew of the inflow of the sum of N400 million from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) where he had earlier claimed in his statement that he never had any contract with, he (Metuh) ought to have questioned the source of the money and should not have gone ahead to spend it.

The court also held that the only person who could have corroborated Metuh’s claim that the money was authorized by former President Goodluck Jonathan was the then president himself, whom the defendants planned to call but later abandoned.

The court further noted that even when it was subpoenaed to call Dasuki who was a principal officer to Jonathan, relevant questions were not put before Dasuki to affirm or deny that President Jonathan directed that the sum of N400 million be paid to Metuh for a national assignment.

To some persons, the verdict was encouraging, in the sense that it has brought to five, the number of convictions in high profile political cases under this administration, particularly in the last two years or thereabouts.

Before Metuh, three former governors have been sent to prison over criminal breach of trust, corruption and stealing of state funds amongst others, while they were at the helms of affairs in their states.

The former governors currently serving various jail terms in the nation’s correctional centers include; Reverend Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba State; Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State.

Justice Adebukola Banjoko of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja had on May 31, 2018 imposed the maximum sentence of 14 years on Nyame, having convicted him in 27 out of the 41 charges against him by the Federal Government.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had in 2007 arraigned Nyame on a 41-count criminal charge bordering on criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of N1. 64billion belonging to the state.

He was accused of committing the offences between 1999 and 2007, when he served as governor of Taraba State.

In prosecuting the case the EFCC, presented various witnesses who alluded to the fact that Mr. Nyame approved the diversion of various funds amounting to over N345million to a company, Saman Global within five weeks in 2005, among other allegations.

Though Nyame denied having any link with the said company, the court however, found him guilty of breach of public trust.

According to the judge, the defendant confirmed approving the memo wherein the order for the transfer of the funds were made, adding that the actions of the perpetrators under the watch of the Governor can be likened to the story of Alibaba and the 40 thieves.

The same Justice Banjoko, in barely a space of two weeks after she sent Reverend Nyame to jail also jailed former Plateau governor, Senator Dariye.

On June 12, 2018, she also slammed the maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment on Dariye having convicted him on criminal breach of trust and criminal misappropriation of public funds.

Justice Banjoko had found the defendant guilty on 15 of the 23 criminal charges leveled against him by the Federal government.

Banjoko in addition held that the sentences were without the option of fine and would run concurrently.

The EFCC had in 2007 arraigned Dariye on a 23-count criminal charge bordering on money laundering, criminal breach of trust, corruption amongst others.

Dariye was accused of diverting the sum of N1.126 billion from the Plateau State Government’s Ecological Funds through an unregistered company, Ebenezer Reitner Ventures linked to him.

Incidentally, Dariye at the time of his sentencing in 2018 was serving senator, while Nyame was still a political force to reckon with in, for having the distinction of being the only man elected thrice as governor in Taraba State.

The judgments were considered as epoch in the history of Nigeria because it ended 11 years of fierce legal battles with the jailing of not just former governors, but a serving senator.

It should be noted that although the Appeal Court affirmed the jailing of both Nyame and Dariye for corruption charges, the appellate court, however, reduced their sentencing on the grounds that the former governors were first time offenders and ought not to have received the maximum punishment for their offences.

While that of Nyame was reduced from 14 to 12 years; that of Dariye was reduced to 10 years.

Similarly, the apex court refused to set aside the 12-year prison term handed Nyame by the Court of Appeal for being appropriate. The apex court, however, voided the fines imposed on him by the appellate court. But court is yet to deliver its judgment in the appeal filed by Dariye against the decision of the Court of Appeal.

The next high profile case that led the accused to prison is that of former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, who like Dariye, was a newly elected senator.

Kalu was on December 5, 2019, sent to join his colleagues, former governors in prison by a Federal High Court in Lagos shortly after his conviction on fraud charge to the tune of N7.65 billion.

He is to spend the rest 12 years of his live in a correctional center.

Justice Mohammed Idris, who was recently elevated to the bench of the appellate court had to get a fiat from the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to return and hand down the guilty verdict which took the former Abia governor to prison.

Kalu was arraigned alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, the then Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House, Udeh Udeogu.

The EFCC had filed a 39 amended criminal count charge bordering on fraud, breach of trust, misappropriation, conspiring and diverting over N7 billion of state’s funds.

Before the conviction of Kalu late last year, the Federal Government had earlier in the year secured conviction against the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Although Onnoghen was not sent to jail, he was, however removed from office as CJN and as justice of the Supreme Court. He was also ordered to forfeit some amounts of foreign currencies found in some of his accounts not disclosed in his assets declaration forms as required by law for public office holders.

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) had in a judgment delivered on April 18, 2019 found Onnoghen guilty of all six count charge bordering on failure and false asset declaration charges. While Count One of the charge said the former CJN, did not declare his assets between the period, 2005 to 2016, when he was appointed Acting CJN, Count 2 – 6 of the charge claimed that Onnoghen did not declare five of his accounts with Standard Chartered Bank in his assets declaration forms of 2014.

The three-man panel of the tribunal headed by Danladi Umar, held that from the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses and the written statement of Onnoghen to investigators of the Code of Conduct Bureau wherein he admitted that he made a mistake of not declaring the five accounts with the Standard Chartered Bank, Onnoghen was guilty as charged.

The CCB had on January 11, 2019 said to be acting on a petition filed by a non-governmental organisation, the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI) and coupled with the said statement by the former CJN had hurriedly package a six-count charge of non-asset declaration and dragged Onnoghen before the CCT for trial.

Though he was initially scheduled for arraignment on January 14, 2019, he was, however, not arraigned until February 15, 3019, in response to a bench warrant issued for his arrest by the CCT boss on February 13, 2019.

However, exactly three months and four days after the trial commenced, the tribunal concluded its findings and arrived at a guilty verdict against Onnoghen.

Consequently, he was removed as CJN, barred from holding any political office for the next 10 years and was made to forfeit the monies in the five accounts he was accused of not declaring.

The amounts to be forfeited were N26.8million, $137, 700 and 13, 730 Pounds Sterling.

Reacting, some Nigerians, mainly legal practitioners said the judiciary and the government should be commended for securing most of these convictions because it is not easy to fight corruption in Nigeria, particular when those being charged are influential persons in the society with intimidating resources to prevent their prosecution.

“Well, the process of prosecution is terribly slow and not even steady. This is because those who steal our ‘commonwealth’ are high profile people. And they have enough money to hire (equally), high profile lawyers. They play a lot of pranks on our rather soft, porous and permissive legal system to frustrate and prolong their trials. Imagine that in five years of this administration, whose major mantra is to fight corruption, only five high profile persons have been convicted.

“This is abysmally too low in a country in which more than two/thirds of its politicians, civil servants, public servants and people are corrupt,” says Mr. John Baiyeshea, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

While decrying the length of time it takes to prosecute a case in Nigeria, he said in other climes corruption cases does not take more than (maximum) one year to conclude.

“As far as I am concerned, the President had a genuine desire to fight corruption head long when he came to office in 2015. But he is already overwhelmed and corruption is fighting back and the corrupt people seem to be winning.

“It is sad and tragic that this country has been brought to its knees by the hydra-headed monster called corruption. “If we lose the fight under this government, I don’t know whether we will get it right again in any reasonably foreseeable future. My heart bleeds for this country,” he had concluded.

Another senior lawyer, Malam Ahmed Raji (SAN) who also holds the view that corruption has really eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society, said Nigerians should encourage the government in the fight as it is not something that should be left alone to the government.

“”Corruption has many facets. It is an endemic societal ill in most third world countries and it is also a herculean task which is not easy to tackle in a society like ours where corruption is almost a way of life which is often celebrated. To a very great degree and having regards to the naked and monumental contradictions in the system, the EFCC under Ibrahim Magu is doing a great job especially with a prosecutor like Rotimi Jacob SAN. Mr. Jacob is doing a great work. Although, there is, however, room for improvements,” he said.

To an Abuja based legal practitioner, Mr. Steve Ekeh, the sentencing is good in the sense that people can be made to account for their misdeeds. While he noted that the conviction of Olisa Metuh and the former governors is a welcome development, he, however, stated that it is not yet a pass mark for this regime.

“Corruption is still going on unabated under the regime. One expects to see structures put in place to ensure that corruption is prevented but we are not seeing that. Prosecuting corrupt individuals is reactionary and does not in any way deter corruption. Our systems are still as porous as ever. There are no innovations or technology to ensure that corruption is prevented.

“I think the emphasis should be on blocking leakages and putting in place systems that will make perpetration of corruption difficult. A scorecard of five high profile convictions in five years by a regime that prides itself as anti-corruption crusader still falls short of expectations,” Mr. Ekeh said.

Just like Ekeh, another Abuja based lawyer, Ifeanyichukwu Obasi-Nweze commended the government’s efforts but, however, urged them to do more and to the fight all-encompassing rather than being selective.

“My personal assessment is that the administration is trying; but it should do more. Investigating money is the easiest; but you find that even the general public knows some corruption that the government seems to be shying away from prosecuting,” he said.

When President Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015, he did not leave anyone in doubt about its readiness to fight corruption with the arrest of several persons such as former governors, serving senators and House of Representatives members, former ministers and even generals.

Some of these cases currently going on include that of former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode; former Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President, Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe; former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam; former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (Rtd) among others.

QUICK FACTS:

*The President Muhammadu Buhari administration has made clear its readiness to fight corruption with the arrest of several persons such as former governors, serving senators and House of Representatives members, former ministers and even generals. The major mantra of the administration is the war against corruption

*Only five high profile persons have been convicted on corruption charges, in five years of the Buhari administration

*Last week, precisely February 25, 2020, a Federal High Court in Abuja sent former Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh to jail for laundering the sum of N400 million. It took four years to secure his conviction

*Three former governors have been sent to prison over criminal breach of trust, corruption and stealing of state funds amongst others, while they were at the helms of affairs in their states.

The former governors currently serving various jail terms in the nation’s correctional centers include; Reverend Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba State; Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State

*Justice Adebukola Banjoko of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja had on May 31, 2018 imposed the maximum sentence of 14 years on Nyame, having convicted him in 27 out of the 41 charges against him by the Federal Government. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had in 2007 arraigned Nyame on a 41-count criminal charge bordering on criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of N1. 64billion belonging to the state. He was accused of committing the offences between 1999 and 2007, when he served as governor of Taraba State

*The same Justice Banjoko, in barely a space of two weeks after she sent Reverend Nyame to jail also jailed former Plateau governor, Senator Dariye. On June 12, 2018, she also slammed the maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment on Dariye having convicted him on criminal breach of trust and criminal misappropriation of public funds. Justice Banjoko had found the defendant guilty on 15 of the 23 criminal charges leveled against him by the Federal Government. Banjoko in addition held that the sentences were without the option of fine and would run concurrently

*The case against Nyame and Dariye reached a logical conclusion 11 years after-from 2007 to 2018

*At the time of his sentencing in 2018, Dariye was serving senator, while Nyame was still a political force to reckon with in, for having the distinction of being the only man elected thrice as governor in Taraba State

*Although the Appeal Court affirmed the jailing of both Nyame and Dariye for corruption charges, the appellate court, however, reduced their sentencing on the grounds that the former governors were first time offenders and ought not to have received the maximum punishment for their offences. While that of Nyame was reduced from 14 to 12 years; that of Dariye was reduced to 10 years

*Similarly, the apex court refused to set aside the 12-year prison term handed Nyame by the Court of Appeal for being appropriate. The apex court, however, voided the fines imposed on him by the appellate court. But the court is yet to deliver its judgment in the appeal filed by Dariye against the decision of the Court of Appeal

*Former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, who like Dariye, was a newly elected senator, was on December 5, 2019, sent to join his colleagues, former governors in prison by a Federal High Court in Lagos shortly after his conviction on fraud charge to the tune of N7.65 billion. He is to spend the rest 12 years of his live in a correctional center

*On April 18, 2019, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) delivered a judgment against the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen. Although Onnoghen was not sent to jail, he was, however removed from office as CJN and as justice of the Supreme Court. He was also ordered to forfeit some amounts of foreign currencies found in some of his accounts not disclosed in his assets declaration forms as required by law for public office holders.

The CCT found Onnoghen guilty of all six count charge bordering on failure and false asset declaration charges. While Count One of the charge said the former CJN, did not declare his assets between the period, 2005 to 2016, when he was appointed Acting CJN; Count 2 – 6 of the charge claimed that Onnoghen did not declare five of his accounts with Standard Chartered Bank in his assets declaration forms of 2014

*Exactly three months and four days after the trial commenced, the tribunal concluded its findings and arrived at a guilty verdict against Onnoghen

*He was removed as CJN, barred from holding any political office for the next 10 years and was made to forfeit the monies in the five accounts he was accused of not declaring

*Some of these cases currently going on include that of former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode; former Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President, Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe; former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam and former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (Rtd)