The Bala Ngilari example

Bala Ngilari

I’m not in the habit of gloating over another man’s misfortune. Far from me therefore to gloat over the misfortune that has befallen, Bala Ngilari, former governor of Adamawa State. He spent only seven months in office to complete the term of Governor Murtala Nyakko and left in May 2015.

Though there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face, to borrow some words from King Duncan in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Ngilari, was a gentleman in whom many who know him had absolute trust. But a court in Yola last Monday sent him to jail for five years for not following due process when he authorised the purchase of 25 official vehicles for his commissioners during the short spell – only seven months – that he held office as governor. The amount involved is N167 million, something a little short of what many other governors spend either as security vote weekly or for government house entertainment.

When a colleague of mine heard the aforementioned figure, he cynically remarked that there might have been a mistake. He thought rightly that the figure was N167 billion. His take is that these days nobody does government business in millions either of naira or dollars. Unless you are thinking of chicken feed. Even the chicken, when they come home to roost, they demand more than millions. They price their services in billions of naira, given the exchange rate. But my friend was wrong.

And the judge, Justice Nathan Musa, of the Adamawa State High Court, was right. Probably so. Maybe when and if an appeal court sets his judgment aside, we shall know if there is any miscarriage of justice. But for now, this judge will receive accolade from across the country for his unprecedented judgement. Before now, it seemed easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of the needle than to have any judge in this country sentence an ex-governor to prison for corruption. By the way, is this Justice Nathan Musa a Nigerian?

By the account of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, there is a long list of high profile cases of corruption involving high profile men of yesterday pending in many courts. These cases involve former governors, some senators and some of their business associates. These cases have been in court since the year 2007 but no definite conclusion or conviction has been had. In all cases the funds they were accused of mismanaging are in billions, not the Nggilari’s chicken feed.

The administration of justice system in the old dispensation which was characterised by flip flop prosecution and the delaying tactics of defence has thus far resulted in justice delayed leading eventually to justice denied. In other climes, in other circumstances, where justice does not move at the speed of Mr Snail, Ngilari ought to have had more than a handful of worthy predecessors in any prison of his choice. Meaning that some retired governors who deserve to cool their feet there should have gone ahead of Ngilari to prison. Some of those who should have preceded him have so far managed their loot creatively, diligently and effectively to stay on the wrong side of justice.

An unfortunate combination of immunity and impunity – immunity from prosecution while in office and impunity conferred by wealth outside office – threw these people up as bad examples to the next generation of rulers and leaders who succeeded them in office. Since the profligacy and kleptomania of their predecessors did not attract any consequence, since their predecessors were celebrated for looting public treasury and even rewarded with befitting chieftaincy titles, the new generation of leaders were encouraged to do what pleased their whims and fancy. They, too, had no qualms treating public funds as their personal money. What is worse, many of them play god because they feel they are not accountable to anybody.

The offence for which poor Ngilari was sent to prison is not an exclusive preserve of leaders that served during the Jonathan years of the locust. The offence and other related offences are being committed every day round the country even under Buhari watch. While the Adamawa case is in millions, only N167 million to be specific, the others have run into billions and still counting. The word public procurement act must be Greek to many of the lords in their respective states where they hold court; where contracts are given without due regard to laid down procedure, where bail-out funds are being mismanaged and not utilised for the purposes they were intended to serve; where Paris Club refunds are treated as manna from heaven and shielded away from the prying eyes of the public so that no busy body union leader and other recalcitrant activists have the audacity to call them to account.

But there is hope; hope that it will no longer be business as usual. Only those whom the gods wish to destroy will not ponder to reflect on the tragedy that has befallen Ngilari. Come to think of it: he is not going to prison for outright embezzlement. He has not been sent into the gulag for using public funds to build mansions for himself as it has become the vogue. Nor has he been found guilty of stashing away public funds in soak away pits and private banks in his village at the expense of public good, or at the expense of civil servants and pensioners in the state. The purchase of official vehicles for his commissioners, says the judge, was not in accordance with the public procurement act. For violating the law, he faces the consequence.

“This judgment” says an ecstatic Professor Ishaq Akinola, director of Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, “is a game changer. It is a yellow card for fraudulent governors who believe that state government houses are meant for their personal aggrandisement.”

Soon, Nggilari like Sam Mbakwe of blessed memory, will discover that there is a vast difference between Government House Yola and Government Prison wherever it is located. When General Muhammadu Buhari in his first incarnation as head of state sent governors of the Second Republic to prison for various cases of malfeasance, Sam Mbakwe, ex-governor of old Imo State, was serving in Kaduna prison. When Col. John Shagaya, minister of Internal Affairs, was visiting prison facilities round the country, he came face to face with Mbakwe in Kaduna. The young minister greeted elder Mbakwe and asked how he was feeling. Mbakwe’s reply was sharp and witty: If you know Government House Owerri and you compare it with this place then you would know how I feel.

I guess that serving governors and the coterie of their flattering sycophants and other minions will not fail to appreciate, from the Ngilari example, that there is life outside government house and learn the appropriate lesson.



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