A High Court of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Gudu, Abuja yesterday sentenced former Plateau State Governor, Mr Joshua Dariye to 16 years in prison.
Dariye’s sentence followed his conviction on 15 counts on the offences of criminal breach of trust and criminal misappropriation. The court freed him on eight out of the 23 counts for which he was tried.
Mrs Adebukola Banjoko sentenced Dariye an APC senator (Plateau Central), to two years for misappropriation and 14 years for criminal breach of trust.
The sentences are to run concurrently, implying that Dariye will spend 14 years in custody.
Dariye was arraigned by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on July 13, 2007 on a 23-count charge in which he was accused of diverting Plateau State’s funds estimated at over N2 billion, using his private company Ebenezer Retnan Ventures.
Part of the state’s funds diverted by the defendant was the N1.162 billion he received from the Ecological Funds, using the name of Plateau state.
Dariye pleaded not guilty to the charge, but before trial could commence, Dariye filed an application challenging the competence of the charges and the jurisdiction of the court. He argued that he ought to be tried before a Plateau State High Court and not FCT High Court.
On December 13, 2007, the trial judge heard and dismissed Dariye’s application for lacking in merit. Dariye appealed against the ruling of the court. But Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of Justice Banjoko. Dariye subsequently took the matter to Supreme Court.
On February 27, 2015, Supreme Court dismissed Dariye’s appeal and ordered him to submit himself for trial.
In the course of trial before the High Court of FCT, the prosecution called 10 witnesses, while the defence called 16.
One of the prosecution’s witnesses was a retired Metropolitan Police officer, Peter Clark.
Clark had, while in office, investigated Dariye when he was arrested in United Kingdom on money laundering charges while serving as a governor.
While testifying, Clark said Dariye was still wanted in UK for money laundering charges because he allegedly jumped bail.
He gave details of Dariye’s alleged extravagant spending, including purchase of a pen for £7,000 (N3.4m) in London, before the former governor was arrested.
Delivering judgment yesterday, Justice Banjoko, found among others, that Dariye diverted and misappropriation Plateau State’s funds using his company Ebenezer Retnan.
She said while evidence revealed that the company was not registered and had no record of any contract with Plateau State Government, funds flowed from the state’s agencies into the company”s account which Dariye opened and ran stealthily.
The judge noted that the account opened in the company’s name in then All States Trust Bank, Abuja had no picture of the owner, no traceable address, but had Dariye and one Haruna Daniel as signatories.
The judge wondered why Dariye operated an account without allowing the normal documentation that revealed his identity if his intention was not to use the account for illegal purposes.
Banjoko also found that Dariye, after collecting the N1.162 billion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) cheque from Ecological funds office of the Federal Government in Abuja, rather than deploy it for the purpose for which it was meant, decided to divert it.
She noted that, in the course of diverting the money, Dariye gave N100m each to the PDP in South West and North Central.
The judge said evidence revealed that the money paid to South West PDP, which was paid through then Minster of Special Duties, Mr Yomi Edu, was later returned by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, but that there was no evidence regarding whether or not the money got paid into Plateau State account.
She said the cash paid to North Central PDP through a company – Marine Float Limited – said to be owned by former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar was yet to be recovered.
The judge found that Dariye also gave then Permanent Secretary of Ecological Fund Office, Mr Kingsley Ikumah, N80 million, which he said was gratification for facilitating the prompt release of the funds.
Banjoko wondered why Dariye chose to share funds specifically meant to address the ecological challenges in some communities in his state to people and agencies without any relationship with Plateau State.
She also found that, of the N1.162 billion released for the state, Dariye only released N550 million to the state, thereby changing the character of the money and concealing its source.
The judge equally found that Dariye paid millions of Plateau State’s money to a company, Pinnacle Communications, without evidence that the company executed valid contracts for the state.
She said in all, Dariye betrayed the trust reposed in him as a public officer with dominion over properties belonging to Plateau State.
At the judge’s pronouncement that Dariye was guilty, the senator, who had sat calmly in the dock, sought the court’s permission to be allowed to visit the convenience.
The judge obliged him, and when proceedings resumed, his lawyer, Mr. Paul Erokoro, tried to downplay the offences which he described as “some mistakes”.
Erokoro was part of the legal team led by a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Kanu Agabi, that took over the defence after Dariye had called all his 10 witnesses.
Erokoro blamed the lawyers that handled the defence before they came in. He said Dariye was “a victim” of some situations including poor defence and the culture of corruption that pervaded the Nigerian society.
In urging the judge to impose a lighter sentence on his client, Erokoro said the case against Nyame, jailed by the judge barely two weeks ago, was different from Dariye’s.
He also noted that his client, like many other “pioneer governors” elected on the return of democratic rule in 1999, was ignorant of some financial procedures.
The lawyer, who noted that the judge’s decisions were almost never upturned by the Court of Appeal, said “we are forced to fall on your mercy”.
“I have appealed against two of your judgments and I did not win. They said you were right,” he said.
Responding, Jacobs urged the court to impose the maximum sentence to serve as deterence to others.
He said, “The era of go and sin no more can no longer be done in the new era of the Administration of Criminal justice Act. A lesson must be told.
“He is not my enemy, but people should bear the consequences of their acts. If you can’t bear it, then don’t do it.”
At a point, Dariye asked to be allowed to speak. The judge allowed him. He told Jacobs to be fair to him and not to further foul the judge’s mind against him.
After listening to the allocutus (plea for mercy) from the defence and the prosecution’s response, Justice Banjoko rose for about 30 unites.
On her return, before pronouncing her sentence, Justice Banjoko made an observation. She noted that from the bank statements tendered in court, Dariye appeared richer than his state and could have aided the state rather than diverting its resources.
She also observed that 20 members of Plateau State House of Assembly, visited UK during the defendant’s impeachment, to submit a letter of protest to Tony Blair about the state of emergency imposed on the state.
She said members of the delegation, which included then Commissioner for Information, Mr Patrick Dapong, by embarking on the journey in July 2004 forgot that Nigeria is a sovereign state and was not under any form of colonial rule.
The judge said they displayed their ignorance of international laws and norms. She noted that the trip was absolutely a purposeless visit and a reckless squandering of public funds.
In reference to Erokoro’s plea for leniency, the judge noted that the defendant and others, who aided him in committing the offences, were “adults capable of making their own rational choices.
“We cannot begin to count the physical, moral and sociological costs involved in this whole tragedy of corruption that we call normal.”
On Erokoro’s statement that corruption was pervasive in the country, Banjoko said “whether corruption is endemic or not, there should be no compromise irrespective of your tribe, your religion or your socio-economic status. An act of corruption will always be act of corruption.”
When about to pronounce the sentence, she directed Dariye, who had all the while seated in the dock, to stand up, which he did.
Banjoko, who commended the prosecution for a job well done, said the prevalence of corruption and criminality in the nation’s public space required drastic measures.
The judge noted that the defence was shabby in the conduct of its case. She said it committed avoidable errors and called witnesses that eventually added nails to its coffin.
Banjoko noted that one of the defence witnesses, who was deputy chairman of PDP in Plateau State, confirmed receiving N66 milllion diverted by the defendant from the Ecological Funds, on behalf of 274 wards in the state.
The judge noted that from his conduct and the way he spoke, the PDP chieftain did not see anything wrong in the defendant treating state’s funds as what could be used to fund his party.
She directed that all funds so far recovered should be paid to Plateau State. She also asked EFCC to make efforts to recover more of the looted funds.
Dressed in a flowing black stripped, sky-blue agbada, with a cap to match, Dariye arrived at the courtroom around 9.00 am. He went into the dock when the case was called about five minutes later.
After the judge announced the sentence and rose around 5 pm, armed securitymen, who flooded the courtroom took charge.
They led Dariye, who came to court in his official car as a Senator, into a waiting pick-up van marked: HH43ABC.
He was driven out of the court premises around 5.25 pm, while his official car was driven behind by his driver, with some family members inside.