By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
An Abuja High Court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced the former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye to 14 years for criminal misappropriation and breach of trust.
Dariye who represents Plateau Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, was found guilty of obtaining fraudulently the sum of N1.162 Ecological Fund as governor of the state in 2004.
The Senator, who served between 1999 and 2007, was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for diverting the state’s funds while in office.
Delivering judgment on the suit on Tuesday in Abuja, the trial judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko, held that Dariye used a fictitious company, Ebenezar Ritnal Ventures, in diverting the sum of N160 million from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) payment mandate that gave out the state’s share of the Ecological Fund in 2001.
The judge also found him guilty of misappropriating the sum of N250 million which he siphoned through a firm, Pinnacle Communications.
Dariye had diverted the money from the Ecological Fund which was meant for the channellisation and reclamation of areas damaged by erosion in the state.
The court described the criminal misapplication of the about N2 billion that was meant for the people of Plateau as “appalling.”
Amongst the beneficiaries of the illegal fund were the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the North East and the South West zones, which the EFCC later recovered its own share of N100 million as well as the state’s PDP chapter which got N66 million as slush campaign funds.
Justice Banjoko ordered the EFCC to return the recovered monies to the coffers of the state government, saying that “they are the ultimate victims of the injustice” that was perpetrated by Dariye.
In sentencing the former governor, Justice Banjoko said: “The criminal misappropriation and breach of trust by Dariye underscores the tragedy of corruption in Nigeria.
“There should be no compromise to corruption by whatever shade. Corruption will forever remain corruption.
“Having found the defendant guilty of 15 of the 23- count charges, he is hereby sentenced to two years imprisonment for criminal misappropriation. While he is sentenced to 14 years imprison for criminal breach of trust. The sentence is to run concurrently,” the judge declared.
The court directed the EFCC to return the N80 million it has so far recovered from the fraud to the Plateau State.
The judge had in the course of the trial dismissed an allegation of bias levelled against her by Dariye.
Similarly, the court dismissed an application by Dariye in which he sought to recall an ex-British police detective, Mr. Peter Clarke, who was an EFCC prosecution witness in his trial.
Justice Banjoko held that Clarke, who had since retired from the Metropolitan Police, and left Nigeria immediately after testifying in the case with his current destination unknown, “is not a compellable witness within the territorial jurisdiction of this court.”
She held therefore that “a court does not make an order of recall of a witness in vain and put the trial in abeyance.”
The court, however, allowed part of Dariye’s application seeking to recall the EFCC’s first prosecution witness, Mr. Musa Sunday, who is the Investigative Police Office (IPO).
In the application seeking the judge’s recusal, separate ruling, Dariye asked the judge to disqualify herself from further adjudicating on the trial on the account of bias.
The judge held that since defendant’s trial commenced, she had kept to her judicial oath to be fair to all.
Dariye, a former governor of Plateau State between 1999 and 2007, and now senator representing Plateau Central, was prosecuted by the EFCC on 23 counts of diversion of the N1.61bn Ecological Fund meant for land reclamation and flood channellisation works at Bokkos part of the state.
The prosecution led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) had on June 10, 2016 closed its case after calling 16 witnesses among whom were Sunday and Clarke, who had travelled down to Nigeria from the United Kingdom (UK) to testify against Dariye as the ninth prosecution witness.
On his part, Gariye had opened his defence and called 10 defence witnesses when he, through his lawyer, Mr. Garba Pwul (SAN), filed the application seeking the recall of Sunday and Clarke to enable him ask the witnesses fresh questions.