Orji Kalu’s Jail Sentence And Matters Arising

By Kenneth Jude


The 12-year jail term handed a former two-term governor of Abia State, Orji Uzo Kalu, has once again put the anti-graft fight of the Muhammadu Buhari led administration on the spotlight.

It has, in the main, also put former governors whose cases have not been completely dealt with on tenterhooks. If Orji Kalu, despite being a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and an ally of President Buhari would be thrown behind bars for all of 12 years, then no one is truly free.

Kalu, who governed Abia State from 1999 to 2007 was on Thursday found guilty of 39 charge of N7.2 billion of fraud and money laundering by Federal High Court in Lagos.

The state Commissioner for Finance during his tenure as governor, Jones Udeogo, was charged along with him.

The court also ordered that Slok Nig. Ltd owned by Kalu be shut down and its assets forfeited to the Federal Government, this is even as some Nigerians are insisting that the assets from the company and money recovered be handed over to Abia State Government.

At any rate, it is a low moment for a man who wielded so much power and influence during his time as governor. He was vocal especially on national issues and was always quick to stand up to the cause of Ndigbo.

His conviction last Thursday brought to an end a 12-year legal battle and a glittering political career that has seen him number among well-known politicians in Abia State and Nigeria in general.

In all these, one sees the vanity of illegally accumulated wealth. It shows again the transient nature of power with all its accompanying immunity. Kalu who was formally a member of the Peoples Democratic Party and later Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) where he rose to become the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustee, contested to represent the people of Abia North in the Senate in 2019 and won.

He floored the incumbent, Mao Ohuabunwa of the Peoples Democratic party with over 10,000 votes to win a seat he lost when contesting on the platform of Progressives Peoples Congress in 2011.

When Kalu defected to the APC, tongues were sent wagging as watchers of the political firmament of the country concluded that it was all designed for him to escape from the fetters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) given the fate that befell others who took a similar path.

Having defected to the ruling party, being who he is, Kalu was always quick to praise President Buhari. To him, the President was the best thing to happen to Nigeria since creation. Many read in between the lines and saw a man that was merely clutching at straws to escape an impending doom.

As the corruption case dragged on for all of twelve years, Kalu who owns The Sun and New Telegraph Newspapers carried on with life though not without the consciousness that he was under the klieg lights of the EFCC. He made a failed attempt to become the Deputy Senate President during election to constitute leadership of the 9th Senate. Kalu who was vocal, argued that it’ll be unfair not to give the slot to someone from the South East region given that the President, Vice President and Senate President hail from the North and South West.

While his argument may have been plausible somewhat, the powers that he had already concluded plans for the seat. Hence in order to accommodate Kalu and the South East, he was made the Chief Whip of the Senate. The position still afforded him the opportunity to have a close rapport with power brokers hence the thinking in some quarters was that with his position, he may use it to quash the case against him and go scot-free.

How wrong these permutations and prognostications were. And so when on Thursday December 5, 2019, Justice Mohammad Idris, the presiding judge, pronounced a 12-year jail sentence on Kalu, it dawned on the former governor that at long last, he’ll be going to jail after fraternising with the Presidency all to no avail.

Shortly after his conviction, the man, still wrapped in the thinking that he was an important personality within and outside Nigeria was in shock when the prison warders made to handcuff him. And in disbelief, he asked as though in momentary trance, “Where are you taking us to now? Please don’t handcuff me. I will follow you,” he said, his voice quaking.

Despite his travails which reached a head last Thursday, the Senate Chief Whip is still entitled to his salaries and allowances especially considering that he still has the latitude to contest his incarceration at the Supreme Court.

According to Godiya Akwashiki, the senate spokesman, Orji would get his full pay because the matter is still in court and he still has the opportunity to appeal at the Supreme Court.

While he will not perform any legislative function, Orji Kalu still remains a Senator, except his people chose to recall him or the Senate President chooses to declare his seat vacant on account of absenting himself from a certain number of plenary.

But is Orji Uzor Kalu’s conviction a clear indication that the fight against corruption is full blown and not selective? Some Nigerians disagree, insisting that the war is only weighted against those the federal government wants to put out of circulation. Others say all those convicted since Buhari came onboard are Christians.

According to a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani Kayode, “every former Governor and key former public office holder that has been convicted of corruption since Buhari came to power from Jolly Nyame to Joshua Dariye to Bala Ngilari to Orji Kalu are Christians. Make of it what you will but that is a fact. Is it only Christians that steal?”

While some may argue the point raised by Kayode, it is pertinent to draw attention to the fact that the trial of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, is still up in the air despite being found guilty of corruptly appropriating public funds.

In a similar vein, there is a petition against Bola Tinubu, National Leader of the APC, for alleged money laundering at the EFCC. Tinubu admitted transporting cash in bullion vans on the eve of the 2019 election to his house.

The EFCC has not deemed it fit to invite the former Lagos State Governor for questioning. When Ibrahim Magu, the longest acting EFCC chairman, was asked about the petition against Tinubu by a journalist, he snubbed the inquiry, and said ‘’next question, please?’’

Orji Uzor Kalu now joins the inglorious list of former governors Joshua Dariye (Plateau State) and Pastor Jolly Nyame (Taraba State) serving jail terms.

It could be recalled that a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Gudu, Abuja, presided by Justice Adebukola Banjoko on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 sentenced Mr Dariye who was a serving senator to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of criminal breach of trust and criminal appropriation of the state’s funds.

The ex-governor was convicted on 15 out the 23 count charge preferred against him in July 2007.

But a Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja reduced Dariye’s jail term to 10 years. The court reduced the sentence of 14 years to 10 years for criminal breach of trust while a similar conviction for diversion of N1. 62 billion ecological funds was reduced from two years to one year. The sentences are to run concurrently, like the previous judgement in June, means that Dariye is to serve a 10-year jail term.

It is worthy to note that even while in prison (now correctional centre), Dariye is still receiving his full salary and allowances as a Senator representing Plateau Central.

Upon leaving office in 2007, Nyame was charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for a fraud of 1.64 billion naira also in a forty-one count charge of Fraud. In 2007, Nyame admitted to misappropriating 180 million naira out of 250 million naira meant for stationaries in Taraba state and offered to return the same.

On May 30, 2018, Nyame was convicted by the Federal High court in Abuja, under the ruling of Justice
Adebukola Banjoko for the alleged charges against him and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was asked to refund the monies he diverted. The sentence was however reduced from 14 to 12 years by a Court of Appeal in Abuja.

As debate over the effectiveness and sincerity over the corruption fight by the current federal government in the light of the cruel fate that has befallen Orji Uzor Kalu of the APC rages, Nigerians are waiting to see how other cases involving members of the ruling party regardless of religion are handled.

Not a few people are keeping tabs on how the EFCC will conclusively tackle corruption allegation cases involving former governors Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Theodore Orji (Abia); Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto); Peter Odili (Rivers); Sullivan Chime (Enugu); Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano) and Ali Modu Sheriff (Borno).

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