Barely three weeks after Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the Federal Capital Territory High Court sentenced the former governor of Taraba State, Mr. Jolly Nyame, to 14 years in prison without an option of fine, she, again on Tuesday sentenced the former governor of Plateau State and serving senator, Mr. Joshua Dariye, to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges fraud totaling N1.6 billion.
In a judgment which took her six and a half hours to read, she convicted the ex-governor on 15 out the 23 counts preferred against him in July 2007.
The judge sentenced Dariye to two years’ imprisonment on each of the five counts bordering on criminal misappropriation and 14 years’ jail term on each of the 11 counts of criminal breach of trust.
However, she ruled that all the sentences would run concurrently, implying that the convict would have to spend 14 years in jail.
The punishments imposed on the ex-governor for the two categories of offences of criminal breach of trust and criminal misappropriation are the maximum as provided under sections 315 and 309 of the Penal Code Act, respectively.
In all, the judge convicted him on 15 counts while she threw out eight of the total 23 charges on the grounds of either duplicity of charges or lack of sufficient evidence.
“I can’t imagine such a brazen act. Is it the transfer of as much as about half a billion naira from the state’s Ecological Fund into a personal venture account? Everybody is a victim here,” she said.
She said from a random check of some documents tendered as exhibits, she discovered that “the defendant was, in fact, richer than his state.”
“This is a trauma of the trial; and there should be no compromise to corruption, by whatever shade or colour, or region, rich or poor; corruption will forever be corruption.
“Every case is different on its own, and I have no personal animosity, I’m just doing my job the way I know how to, and not only the Ecological Funds were misappropriated, but funds from the Plateau State government,” she added.
Dariye, a chartered accountant, who served between 1999 and 2007, was arraigned in July 2007.
He was said to have, on behalf of Plateau State, on July 19, 2001, collected a cheque for the sum N1‚161,162,900 from the Ecological Funds Office in Abuja, and deposited the cheque with his banker, the defunct Allstates Trust Bank Plc, Abuja branch, where he was said to be operating an account in the name of an unregistered company, Ebenezer Retnan Ventures.
He was said to have cleared the funds with the bank “without paying the cheque into the account of Plateau State Government.”
Following her analysis of the testimonies and exhibits tendered, the judge also said Dariye took steps to hide from the state government the source of the fund, which was released by the Federal Government “to address the ecological problems of the state.”
The fund was released for the “flood channelisation” and “reclamation” of some mining-ravaged parts of the state.
But Dariye was said to have paid only N550m from the over 1.16bn to the state account.
The judge noted in her judgement that the ex-governor converted the balance to his personal use and for his party, the Peoples Democratic Party.
He was convicted for transferring N160m to his unregistered company known as Ebenezer Retnan Ventures on July 11, 2001.
He was said to have paid N80m into the Union Home account of the then Permanent Secretary of Ecological Funds, Mr. Kingsley lkumah; N100m into the account of Marine Float Limited, a company owned by a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar.
He also transferred another N100, 000,000.00 to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), South-West, through the then minister of special duties, Mr. Yomi Edu.
Apart from the ecological funds, there were also funds belonging to the state’s accountant-general’s office, which Dariye was said to have diverted.
Earlier, Dariye’s counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi, had argued that the fact that the charge sheet against his client did not indicate that the diverted funds were taken “dishonestly” meant that a case of fraudulent intention could not be proven against Dariye.
Agabi lso submitted that the prosecution had a duty to present all the participants in the said diversion, to court as witnesses.
Agabi who was a former attorney general of the federation, further argued that failure of the prosecution to present all the participants rendered their evidence defective.
Agabi also submitted that the prosecution ought to have been bound by the findings of the Plateau State Assembly committee which found no case against the defendant.
Besides, he said the case against his client should have been viewed with the principle of “estoppel” which requires that once a ruling is delivered regarding a given issue, no other court should commence trial on a case of similar composition with the one already decided upon by the sister court.
Agabi cited a previous ruling where six bankers were tried for their alleged involvement in the said transfer while Dariye served as governor.
He contended that since the Federal High Court in Kaduna had acquitted the bankers for lack of evidence, the trial of Dariye on the same diversion amounts to an abuse of court process.
He contended that the fate that befell the bankers should also be advanced on his client adding that the evidences adduced by the same prosecution in both trials were incoherent.