By Olawunmi Ojo
After a 12-year trial period, Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State and Chief Whip of the Senate, was yesterday brought to book for offences committed against his people. In the wake of Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999, Kalu was one of the governors elected to steer the affairs of the states of the federation and help fulfill the yearnings of the masses for purposeful governance and true development. But amid actions that simulated development and got praise singers christening him ‘the messiah,’ he plundered the state’s till, grossly under-developed his people and set the tone for their sustained impoverishment.
Shortly after stepping down as governor in 2007, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) took him to court on a 39-count charge bordering on diversion of about N7.65 billion from the state’s purse. And yesterday, after a drawn trial, he was handed a 12-year jail sentence at a Federal High Court in Lagos by presiding judge, Mohammed Idris, for money laundering.
In addition to the sentence, Justice Idris ordered that Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, be liquidated and its assets forfeited to the Federal Government. The senator, Slok Nigeria Limited and Udeh Udeogu, a former director of finance and accounts in Abia, were found complicit in the diversion.
The established offences were said to be in contravention of section 17(c) of the money laundering (prohibition) Act, 2004, as the EFCC had argued that the defendants breached section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, CAP 77, laws of the federation 1990.
The ignoble list
Kalu joins an ignoble list of former governors, especially from the class of those who mounted the saddle in 1999, who have been convicted of corruption and/or diversion of funds meant for the development of their respective states. Last year, Justice Adebukola Banjoko sentenced former Taraba State governor, Jolly Nyame, to 14 years’ imprisonment for fraud. A few weeks later, former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye, was found guilty of diverting about N1.2 billion ecological funds at an Abuja High Court and sentenced him to 14 years in prison.
Others who have suffered similar fate include former governor of Adamawa State, James Bala Ngilari, former governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Delta State, Jame Ibori and former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyesegha.