In the first high profile corruption ruling secured by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, a High Court in Yola, Adamawa State, on Monday sentenced a former governor of the state, James Bala Ngilari, to five years imprisonment without the option of fine.
He was found guilty of corruption charges brought against him in September last year by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The court presided over by Justice Nathan Musa ruled that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ngilari violated the Public Procurement Act of the state by awarding contracts 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.
Justice Musa said that the five years were the least he could give Ngilari, whose lawyer, Mr. Samuel Toni (SAN), pleaded for leniency “in view of his (Ngilari) invaluable contribution while he was the governor of the state during the trying moments of insurgency”.
Justice Musa said that Ngilari would serve the sentence in a prison of his choice in the country “but for now he should start with the Yola prison”.
Musa said the judgment would serve as a lesson to other governors who like to shun due process in the award of contracts, adding that the former governor sat in the confines of his office and awarded the contract to a contractor who was known only to him (Ngilari) without adhering to the Public Procurement Act of the state.
“It is my hope that this conviction and sentence will serve as deterrent to serving governors,” he said.
The judge also acquitted the former Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Andrew Welye, and former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Sunday Lamurde, who stood trial with the former governor on the same offences. The judge said the prosecutor could not prove the case against them.
Lawyers to Ngilari said their client would appeal the sentence.
However, the ex-governor who succeeded Governor Murtala Nyako in 2014 after the latter was impeached and is also facing corruption charges, was taken away from the court by prison officials.
Speaking to journalists shortly before he was whisked away to Yola prison, Ngilari said that he would appeal the sentence, expressing confidence that he will get justice at the Appeal Court.
Also speaking at the premises of the Yola High Court shortly after the verdict, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Ahmed Sajoh, expressed sadness that a former governor of the state was being taken to prison because he was not properly advised by his aides.
He said that the judgment, from a legal perspective, made history due to the fact that this was the first time in Adamawa State a former governor was being sentenced to prison for corruption.
Sajoh said the judgment should serve as a warning to serving governors and political office holders that they could be called to answer for their stewardship when the need arises and they could go to jail if found wanting.