Nigeria Jails Governor 5 Years For Corruption
Continuing last week’s message of ending corruption in Nigeria, I have even more news to share on the subject – Nigeria has sentenced one of its former governors to five years in prison over charges of corruption. This means that Nigeria is not only serious about putting an end to corruption (see last week’s video here, if you missed it), but it’s also serious about changing public perception that senior government officials can misuse and mismanage public funds with impunity.
The conviction of Mr. Bala James Ngilari, former gorvenor of Adamawa state, by a Yola high court to five years in prison for corruption without the option of a fine is both surprising (this is Nigeria after all), sad (for him and his family though it’s difficult to be sad for too long since dude knew what the heck he was doing), delightful (finally, disciplinary action taken without regard to position and/or wealth) and hopeful (could this sentence be ushering in a new era of accountability, one that Nigerian citizens have eternally craved?).
To understand why this is significant, let me tell you about governors in Nigeria. Nigeria’s governors are powerful. They have a say in who gets to pick presidential tickets, who gets ministerial appointments, who gets awarded federal positions and how the budget (sometimes larger than those of smaller African nations) of their states gets disbursed. These guys and ladies travel around the country with armed guards, a fleet of bulletproof cars and even plain-clothed security personnel. A governor arriving at an event is no easy matter but an occurrence that’s seen for miles. You first feel the ripple of sudden activity – people running to take their seats and everyone assuming a proper posture – then see the fleet of cars (a convoy as it’s called), all black with tinted windows, as they approach. In some situations, there’s the siren that accompanies the appearance. Once the cars stop, someone hops out from one of the other vehicles (an aide) to open the car door of “His Excellency” who steps out to a fawning crowd.
Governors are one set of senior Nigerian officials whose misuse of funds and abuse of power has severely crippled the west African nation and attempts to rein them in hasn’t always been easy given the extent of their reach, but that may all be changing if Mr Ngilari’s sentence becomes the norm. Mr Ngilari was accused of purchasing twenty-five vehicles for the sum of N167million (~$380,000) without following the procedure put in place for these sorts of purchases. In other words, Mr Ngilari bypassed a bunch of steps in order to obtain the necessary approvals and to have the cars purchased. Then after the cars were purchased, eight of them were not delivered to the state government; they just vanished with no word on their whereabouts. Pure speculation here – could these cars be in Mr Ngilari’s private garage perhaps?
Corruption in Nigeria is pretty much a way of life so a conviction on charges of corruption and a senior government official at that, is rare. But the Judge presiding over the case, Justice Nathan Musa, showed that not only does he have personal values which he holds dear but that he’s able to look past position, status or political clout when dispensing judgment. So a precedent has certainly been set by a court having a former governor (he was governor for seven months until May 2015) tried and convicted, with the conviction being jail time vs a fine, hefty or paltry.
Will this sentencing pave the way for more investigations, trials, convictions and sentencing within Nigeria and across the continent? Who knows.And does it mean that we’ll begin holding each other accountable and demanding that public servants demonstrate the ethics and values – honesty, integrity, equity, efficiency among others – that we hold dear in governance? Only time will tell.