A former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, yesterday joined two former governors, Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Jolly Nyame (Taraba), as an inmate in a correctional centre.
Kalu, who is the Senate Chief Whip of the 9th Assembly, was found guilty by a Federal High Court in Lagos on fraud charges and remanded at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.
His conviction and sentencing to 12 years in jail yesterday came 12 years after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed N7.65 billion fraud charge against him. The EFCC had filed the charge in 2007.
Meanwhile, the Presidency yesterday warned those stealing public funds, saying they would also be jailed.
The Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, gave the warning in a Facebook post reacting to Kalu’s conviction.
“Those of you stealing now will have your day too. It shall not be long,” Ojudu’s post read.
Kalu was convicted alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Account at the Abia State Government House in Umuahia.
While Udeogu was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, ordered the winding up of Slok Nigeria Limited, holding that his assets and properties be forfeited to government.
Kalu was convicted of the entire 28 counts in which his name featured out of the 39 counts filed against the trio. On each of counts 1-11 and 39, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment; on each of counts 23-33, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment; and on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Justice Idris, however, held that the sentences shall run concurrently, which means that Kalu will spend a maximum of 12 years in jail.
For Udeogu, Justice Idris found him guilty of 11 out of the 16 counts in which his name featured. He was pronounced not guilty on five counts. On each of counts 23-25 and 27-32, Udeogu was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment while on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 10 years and he was sentenced to five years on count 39.
Like Kalu, Udeogu’s sentences would also run concurrently, meaning he will be spending a maximum of 10 years in jail.
Justice Idris held that from the evidence before him, he found that Kalu violated his oath of office as governor between 1999 and 2007.
He said, “with due respect, I hold the view that the first defendant has failed in his obligation; it is unacceptable. With due respect, I state that the first defendant acted contrary to his oath of office and he shall accordingly be held responsible for his actions. All those who have aided and abetted him will also be dealt with.
“Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country that they shall be held responsible for their conducts. When they act contrary to the law, the same law will catch up with them. I will like to borrow a leaf from the words of the late Dele Giwa, who stated that, ‘No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed, if not now, certainly later. If not by man, then by God, for the victory of evil over good is temporary’.
“It is in this light and circumstances that I again find the defendants guilty.”
The judge described money laundering as “a grave offence and crime against humanity” adding that, “Money laundering offences are anti-human and among the most dangerous. It is condemned worldwide because it is a crime against humanity.
“The defendants are, no doubt, first-time offenders and for this reason and keeping with the spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), the court will temper justice with mercy but only in accordance with the dictates of the law.”
The judge also said the judiciary was committed to the fight against corruption, but it was left for the prosecutorial agencies to conduct thorough, comprehensive and conclusive investigations before going to court.
He hailed the investigation that culminated to the charge as being in-depth and conclusive, adding that, “No gaps were left unfilled. This is the acceptable standard.”
Kalu ‘begs’ not to be handcuffed in public
After his conviction, Kalu was heard telling officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), to be gentle with him and not to put handcuff on him in the public.
“Where are you taking us to now? Please don’t handcuff me. I will follow you,” he said.
Kalu’s journey to prison
His criminal trial started in 2007 before the Federal High Court, Lagos, but was stalled by several interlocutory appeals which went up to the Supreme Court. The trial eventually started after the apex court on 18 March, 2016, ordered the former governor to go back to the high court and face his trial.
The prosecution’s case was closed on May 11, 2018 after calling 19 witnesses. The prosecution was led by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), who also led the prosecution of Dariye and Nyame.
Kalu’s no-case submission was dismissed by the trial court on July 31, 2018 and he was ordered to open his defence. Dissatisfied with the decision, Kalu again approached the Court of Appeal, to upturn the ruling of Justice Mohammed Idris. His appeal was dismissed.
At this point, Justice Idris, who had been elevated to the Court of Appeal, was issued a fresh fiat to conclude the case by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.
But despite losing at the appellate court, Kalu was not available to open his defence at the trial court as he had reportedly travelled to Germany on health grounds at that time. He did not return to the country within the time permitted by the court and therefore missed three sittings of the court in his trial.
His bail was thereafter revoked by the judge on November 12, 2018, with the judge ordering him on arrival to submit himself to security operatives at the Murtala Mohammed International, Airport, Lagos and hand over his international passport to EFCC.
But the ex-governor on arrival at the airport, rather than comply with the court’s order, joined his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and commenced campaigns for the then forthcoming elections.
Other former governors with similar experience
Senator Joshua Dariye (Plateau State), was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in jail by an FCT High Court in Gudu presided over by Justice Adebukola Banjoko on June 12, 2018 The former governor, who was then a serving senator, however, got his jail term reduced to 10 years by the Court of Appeal. He is currently incarcerated at the Nigerian Correctional Centre in Kuje, Abuja.
Rev. Jolly Nyame, a three-time governor of Taraba State, was convicted and sentenced on May 30 to 14 years for criminal breach of trust, misappropriation and gratification by the same Justice Banjoko of the FCT High Court. He was described as the judge as “either an unrepentant sinner or the most audacious executive Nigeria ever had.”
His jail term was however reduced to 12 years by the appellate court and he is a Dariye’s neighbour in Kuje, Abuja.
James Ibori (Delta State), was convicted by a UK court after he pleaded guilty to a 10-count charge of fraud involving sums amounting to about $66 million. He was slammed a 13-year jail term of which he served six years and returned to Nigeria in February 2017.
Late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa State) was impeached by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly in December 2005, following his arrest by the London Metropolitan Police over allegations of corruption and money laundering. Afterwards, he was arrested and prosecuted by the EFCC on money laundering and corruption offences.
He was convicted on July 30, 2007, by the trial judge, Justice M.L. Shuaibu, of the Federal High Court in Lagos, who sentenced him to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the charges. He ended up spending only a few months in jail as he had been in detention since December 2005.
However, on March 13, 2013, Alamieyeseigha was pardoned by the then president of the country, Goodluck Jonathan, a move condemned by anti-graft activists.
Lucky Igbinedion (Edo State), unlike others, did not serve any jail term despite being convicted and sentenced to six months in prison.
This was because the trial judge, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, gave him a fine of N3.5million as an alternative to serving the six months in jail. An alternative he embraced.
He was charged in January, 2008, with embezzling N2.9 billion, but pleaded guilty to one count of corruption in a plea bargain at a Federal High Court in Enugu.