About two weeks after former Taraba State Governor Jolly Nyame was sentenced to prison without an option of fine, another former State Governor and a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Joshua Dariye (APC, Plateau Central) on Tuesday, bagged 14 years jail term.
After a judgment that lasted about eight hours, Justice Adebukola Banjoko found Dariye guilty on 13 count charge of criminal breach of trust while the judge imposed 14 years sentence on each of the count. The court also found Dariye guilty on three count charge of misappropriation of public fund for which he was sentenced to two years imprisonment on each of the count.
Justice Banjoko of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had on May 28, sentenced ex-Governor Nyame to 14 years imprisonment while on Tuesday, found Dariye guilty on 15 counts out of 23 counts preferred against him.
Passing the sentences while delivering judgment in the suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against Dariye, Justice Banjoko held that the sentences are to run concurrently, meaning Dariye will only spend 14 years behind the bar in Kuye prison.
Justice Banjoko further ordered that the amount stated in counts 2, 7,8,and 12 including N176,862,900million paid to Ebenezer Retnan Ventures from the Ecological fund and N204million, among other sums paid to Ebenezer Retnan Ventures from the account of the Accountant General Plateau State be returned to the state.
The judge noted the N100million paid to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), South West which former President Olusegun Obasanjo promptly returned when the matter was brought to his notice.
Justice Banjoko said she would not pronounce on N100million paid to Marine Float, a company owned by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar due to claim by the EFCC that investigation on the payment is ongoing.
The judge said, “I can’t imagine such 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; there’s a litany and trail of woe, which also affects the people of Jos – the beautiful Tin City, where everybody wanted to be, and to find out that its Ecological Fund was misappropriated is the shocking aspect.
“There’s a deep sense of irresponsibility; 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.”
On the allocutus (plea for leniency) by the lawyer to Dariye, Paul Erokoro (SAN), the judge held that “everybody is a victim of corruption. There is devastating trend effects on victims. The perpetrators are adults capable of making decisions and they know the consequence of their actions.”
She noted that “the permanent secretary of Ecological Fund had not only lost his job but was declared wanted. The All States Trust Bank’s certificate of incorporation withdrawn while Joy Oyebanjo who assisted Dariye in London with the transfers of the public fund was jailed three years in London.”
Dariye has been brought to court by the EFCC for N1.16bn misappropriation of Ecological Fund he collected for Plateau State government when he was the governor of state.
Dariye, who wept on Tuesday in the dock during the judgment, made the court to stand down the reading of the judgment twice to ease himself. Dariye personally interrupted the plea for leniency. saying that “Rotimi have not read my mind and he can not raise his hands that he is a saint.”
Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) had described the crimes as “aggravating factors” and called for severe sentencing as deterrent to others”.
According Rotimi, “Dariye exploited his position as a public servant and took government money and misappropriated it.”
Indeed, Dariye, who was first arraigned before the Judge on July 13, 2007, had his application to quash the charges dismissed.
He proceeded to the Court of Appeal, but failed before proceeding to the Supreme Court, which on February 27, 2015 dismissed his application and reprimanded him, condemning his application as “a disservice to the criminal process” in Nigeria.
The Apex Court also ordered “accelerated hearing” of the fraud case against him, thus necessitating the continuation of his trial on January 25, 2016 before Justice Banjoko.
Dariye was accused by the EFCC to have diverted about N1.16 billion Ecological Fund meant for Plateau State, to his personal use, including transferring monies to Ebenezer Retnan Ventures (an unregistered company managed by him) and Pinnacle Communications Limited.
In proving its case against Dariye, the prosecution team led by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), called 10 witnesses, including Musa Sunday, the EFCC investigating officer, and Peter Clark, a detective constable with the UK Metropolitan Police in London, who investigated Dariye in the UK for money laundering offence.
Presenting several documents in court, including bank documents, the prosecution established that Ebenezer Retnan Ventures was not a registered company, and that its account opening process with then All States Trust Bank, was riddled with irregularity indicating “dishonest intent” for opening the account.
The defence team, which was initially led by G.S. Pwul (SAN), before Kanu Agabi (SAN), later stepped in at the tail end of the trial, presented 16 witnesses in its defence.
In the allocution of the defence, which was made by Paul Erokoro, (SAN), who stood in for Agabi, he urged the court to temper justice with mercy, arguing that the bank in question “misled the governor” into engaging in such practice of “private banking”.
Erokoro further said, “He is actually a victim; mistakes were made, but my lord should temper justice with mercy; the lawyer that represented him before did not do a particular good job; this man has suffered,” noting that “the prisons are congested and he is a serving Senator and he is serving his state”.