Let’s pretend to write the script of an award-winning film.
EXT. DANBABA SUNTAI AIRPORT, TARABA STATE
Imagine you’re returning to your home state after four years of being away. As you emerge from a private jet, there’s a crowd of mekunus who erupt in cheers and scream your name.
It’s a Saturday, so it’s hard to know for sure if they’re there because they’re unemployed or they really just love you. But you’ll take anything.
You touch down in your white agbada, happy to be back home, and your rich friends are there to shake your hand. The mekunus all want to touch the hem of your garment. You’re happy to allow them, but there are too many, so you ask them to, “Dress back a bit.”
“Give me some air, please.”
You’re not ready to go home yet because you’ve spent most of the last four years indoors. You’re an extrovert that needs some outside noise, so you head to a stadium that’s named after you.
Your rich friends are there, and so are the mekunus who are still fanning about because it’s a Saturday and there’s no Premier League football to watch because of the Queen’s death. They call this a grand reception, and everyone is in a jolly mood.
To the victor, the spoils
It’s time for speeches and the Speaker of the House of Assembly mounts the podium to say really nice things about you on behalf of the absent state governor. He addresses you as, “Your Excellency” and “an iconic figure” so everyone knows you’re a man of timbre and calibre. Then he calls your return home “an epoch-making occasion” so you know he went to school and isn’t a nepotism baby. He concludes his speech with something about forgiveness.
“Forgive and forget, baby. You’re not vengeance.”
It’s now your turn to mount the podium and address your adoring fans — your rich friends and the mekunus who are still there for some reason. A vote of thanks is important, so you appreciate the retired military general in Abuja who made your return home possible.
These are tears of joy
And for your coup de grace, it’s time to talk about the people who were the reason you’ve not been home for four years. You should diss them for keeping you from the comfort of your lovely bed, but you’re not Nyesom Wike and you don’t have his merry band of jesters or the charisma to pull it off.
You’re not him
As the Christian you are, you forgive your haters with your church mind that doesn’t allow you to wish them evil for sending you away from home. You say, “I hold no grudges against anybody, and I’ve forgiven all who God used to send me to prison.”
Prison ke? Who are you?!
You’re Jolly Nyame, and you’re a convicted thief. And the haters you’re forgiving are the people who made sure you faced justice for your crimes.
Unfortunately, this is all real life.
Who’s Jolly Nyame?
In 1992, the people of Taraba State elected Jolly Nyame as their governor, but his tenure was cut short by the 1993 military coup of General Sani Abacha. Six years later, in 1999, he won another election as governor and a re-election in 2003. This leaves him with the rare flex of having won three governorship elections in Nigeria — a very exclusive club.
But when Nyame left office in 2007, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) knocked on his door to bring him the gospel of anti-corruption. “You’ve been a bad boy,” the EFCC said. Naturally, Nyame didn’t agree.
“Whatever this is about, it wasn’t me that stole the ₦1.64 billion, but I may have taken ₦180 million out of a ₦250 million contract I approved to buy stationery for government offices. I’ll return that small change but leave me alone after,” he said, but not in those exact words.
The EFCC didn’t leave him alone, and the two parties dragged the case in court for years while Nyame tried unsuccessfully to become a senator in 2011 and 2015. Finally, in May 2018, Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the FCT High Court considered the evidence again Nyame and gave her ruling:
Justice Banjoko sentenced Nyame to 14 years in prison, but he fought this judgement at the Court of Appeal which shaved his prison time down to 12 years. Still unsatisfied with his mini-victory, the former governor pressed ahead to the Supreme Court to overturn his sentence, but he lost.
These aren’t tears of joy
Many reasonable people would say this was his final bus stop, but Jolly Nyame’s God doesn’t wear flip-flops — he’s an ordained reverend after all.
The government of Buhari (of anti-corruption fame) announced on April 14th, 2022, that the president had granted a pardon to 159 prison inmates and ex-convicts who begged for it. Jolly Nyame was one of the lucky ones. Nigerians were pressed about the pardon, but Nyame couldn’t care less. He was a free man eight years ahead of schedule.
The presidency explained in April that Nyame got his pardon due to life-threatening ill-health. But that hardly looked the case when the former governor finally made his grand re-entry to Taraba State on Saturday, September 10th, 2022, welcomed and feted by the same people he stole from.
What’s the lesson here?
Nyame’s victory lap in Taraba has naturally received some backlash online:
Not only has Jolly Nyame got a slap on the wrist for a crime with far-reaching implications on the lives of people he swore to serve, he’s walking around acting like his release vindicates him. Even worse, the people in government are licking the underside of his boots.
With the 2023 elections around the corner, a man who robbed his state blind is now promising to help reshape its future. It’s a situation that calls for the head of those who released him to get checked by a doctor or a friendly taser.
Nyame’s Taraba homecoming was ugly, chaotic and an insult to the Nigerian justice system, and the only lesson to learn from it is if you want to steal and get away with it in Nigeria, steal big.