The Court of Appeal in Abuja has said failure of public officers to give an account of security votes entrusted to them amounts to stealing or criminal misappropriation, adding that it is akin to genocide.
This formed part of the reasons the Court of Appeal on Friday affirmed the conviction of a former Governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, whom the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory had earlier convicted and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment on June 30, 2018.
The appellate court, in a decision by a different panel, equally affirmed the conviction of a former Governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye.
Justice Emmanuel Agim, who read the lead judgment of the three-man appellate court panel on Nyame’s appeal, noted that in Nigeria, there was a “pervasive tendency by public officers to regard or treat security votes given to them for security of the state as their personal entitlement or funds”.
“This belief is completely wrong,” Justice Agim said.
He said any public officer in charge of such funds must either account for them or return them to the public coffers, saying the failure to do so would amount to stealing.
He said, “Every public officer or servant who receives government or public funds as security votes or however described for security or other public purposes must use the money for the purpose, or render an account showing that it has been used for such purpose or return the money to the government treasury if it has not been used.
“If the recipient of such funds cannot account for the use of such funds for the purpose it was meant and has not returned same to the government treasury, then that is clear stealing of public funds or criminal breach of trust or criminal misappropriation of funds.”
Justice Agim said the defence put forward by the defence lawyer suggested that Nyame “believed that as a governor, the security votes were his personal entitlement to be used as he pleased without any responsibility to explain how he used same and that since it is his entitlement, he cannot be said to have stolen same.”
“This belief is completely wrong,” the judge said.
On the diversion of money meant for the purchase of grains for the people of Taraba State, Justice Agim added, “The appellant, who recognised that the Taraba State people were faced with the threat of famine and that they were already suffering untold hardship due to lack of grains or escalating costs of grains, approved the release of the funds to purchase grains to distribute to Taraba people, but diverted the funds for his personal use and did not buy the grains, leaving the Taraba people in their untold hardship, waiting helplessly for the famine to come upon them.”
‘Corruption rampant among public officers, servants’
The appellant’s lawyer, Mr Ahmed Raji (SAN), had contended that the sentences imposed on Nyame by the trial court was excessive but the Court of Appeal disagreed.
“The nature of the crimes, the fact that they are routinely commited by public officers and servants throughout the country as a usual process of public administration, their impact on the community and people of Taraba State and the circumstances of the commission of the offences justify a deterring punishment,” Justice Agim noted.
‘Corruption is a crime in the class of genocide’
Justice Agim categorised corruption, due to its widespread impact, in the class of genocide, saying he saw no justification why offences like murder or armed robbery with less impact were being punished by death penalty and corruption was not.
“In view of the dangerous impact of the crime of public office corruption on the state security and the generality of the people, it comes within the class of crimes against humanity like genocide, terrorism and large-scale violation of human rights.
“There is no justification for imposing capital punishment for serious crimes like murder, armed robbery with less widespread impact and punishing a more serious crime like public office corruption with more widespread impact in terms of imprisonment prescribed in Section 115, 119, 309 and 315 of the Penal Code Act.
“These cannot be sufficient deterrence.
“But the courts are bound by law not to exceed those terms of imprisonment.”
‘Imprisonment too little but can’t be imposed in full’
The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Friday reduced the 14 years’ imprisonment separately passed earlier in the year on former governors of Taraba and Plateau states, Jolly Nyame, and Joshua Dariye, respectively.
But in addition to the 12 years’ sentence passed on Nyame, the Justice Abdul Aboki-led panel imposed a fine of total sum of N100m on Nyame, a punishment the lower court had omitted in the judgment delivered on May 30, 2018.
The fines imposed on Nyame ranged from N5m to N100m and totalled N495m, but with the court’s directive that all sentences both custodial and monetary should run concurrently, it implied that only the highest sentence of 12 years imprisonment and N100m fine would apply to Nyame.
While the Court of Appeal affirmed the guilt of the former governors in most of the corruption charges against them, it ruled that Section 416 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, prohibits imposition of maximum sentences on first offenders such as the two convicts.
Justice Aboki led the two separate three-man panels.
With Justice Aboki on the panel that decided Dariye’s appeal were Justices Stephen Adah and Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson.
Justice Adamu Jauro and Justice Emmanuel Agim sat with Justice Aboki on the panel that handled Nyame’s case.
While Justice Stephen Adah that delivered the lead judgment in respect of Dariye’s appeal simply commuted the 14 years jail term to 10 years, Justice Emmanuel Agim, who delivered the lead judgment on Nyame’s appeal, reduced the term to 12 years with additional fines ranging from N5m to N100m.