Barely two weeks after an Abuja High Court jailed a former Governor of Taraba Stat, Rev. Jolly Nyame, the same court yesterday convicted and sentenced a former Governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, to 14 years imprisonment for diverting public funds to the tune of N1.126 billion. Dariye, who is a serving Senator representing Pla- teau Central, was the governor of Plateau State from 1999 to 2007.
The Federal Government had filed a 23-count charge against Dariye, out of which the court found him guilty of 15. The trial judge, Justice Olubukola Banjoko, who was the same judge that jailed Nyame, held that she was satisfied that the defendant, being a public officer that had full dominion and control of ecological funds the Federal Government released to Plateau State in 2001, converted and diverted same for his personal use. The court further held that the ex-governor criminally misappropriated funds and acted in violent breach of public trust and his oath of office.
The court later discharged and acquitted the ex-governor on eight counts which it said was not sustained with sufficient evidence. Before the sentence was passed, Dariye pleaded with the court to temper justice with mercy, describing himself as a victim of circumstance. In the allocutus made through his counsel, Paul Erokoro (SAN), Dariye said he was deceived by his bank. Erokoro insisted that his client, who he said served his state diligently, became tainted owing to pervasive corruption in the public service. According to him, “This man has suffered. We urge my lord to temper justice with mercy.” He added that the case of his client was different from that of Nyame who was jailed 14 years for stealing public funds.
However, prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), urged the court to impose the maximum sanction, accusing Dariye of failing to show any remorse for the crime he committed.
“My lord should consider the conduct of the defendant who has stalled his trial since June 2007. Is he remorseful about what he has done? He is not! He has not shown any remorse. He still believes that he has not done anything wrong.
“The prisons are congested with the poor and those that cannot afford their daily meal, but the big men are not there,” Jacobs said.
He, therefore, urged the court to give a sentence capable of serving as a deterrent to other public office holders. Angered by the submission, Dariye challenged Jacob, accusing him of deliberately inciting the court to take severe decision against him. “You are not God! Your name is Jacob, as a Christian you should have mercy! You cannot predict my state of mind. Let’s not spoil tomorrow because of today. Can you raise your hand to swear there is a saint in Nigeria?” Dariye yelled from the dock. Delivering judgement which lasted for over six hours, Justice Banjoko held that she was not persuaded by Dariye’s claim of being a victim.
She stated that it was a “brazen act of systematic looting” while the defendant held sway as the governor. The Judge noted that Dariye was, at a point, richer than his state. The court later sentenced the defendant to two years imprisonment on each of the counts bordering on misappropriation.
He was, however, handed 14 years for the counts involving criminal breach of trust. The court held that the sentence would run concurrently, even as it directed EFCC to return all the funds it recovered in the course of the investigation into the coffers of Plateau State. The court had, earlier in the judgement, noted that following a Mutual Legal Assistance Request from the Metropolitan Police in London, it was uncovered that Dariye sequentially laundered funds from Nigeria into National West Ministers Bank in the United Kingdom, using an account he opened in the name of a fictitious firm.
The court also observed that a former detective with the Met Police, Mr. Peter Clarke, who testified as the ninth prosecution witness, PW-9, during the trial, disclosed that Dariye wired funds from an account of the fictitious firm – Ebenezer Rednar Ventures – operated with All States Trust Bank in Nigeria, into nine separate accounts he opened at Barclays Bank in London. Justice Banjoko held that “evidence before the court confirmed huge outflow of funds from the Plateau State treasury, into accounts Dariye operated with All States Bank and Lion Bank (now Diamond Bank), using the name of the fictitious firm.” Describing circumstances that surrounded the opening of the accounts as suspicious, as no picture was used in the opening mandate, the court stressed that signature of the exgovernor appeared in four places on the account opening documents.
“The admittance by All States Bank that it granted the defendant waiver to operate the account without the required mandate picture, led to prosecution and conviction of some of its key officials. “The forensic analysis confirmed that signatures on the account operated in the name of Ebenezer Rednar Ventures belonged to Dariye. The account was opened on December 19, 1999, without proper documentation and with false and untraceable address,” the judge held.
She observed that Dariye had, in his statement before the London Police and the EFCC, admitted that Ebenezer is the name of one of his children.
“As at the time the account was opened on December 19, 1999, the defendant was still the governor of Plateau State. Wrong account opening forms were used, details were falsified, all in a bid to conceal the identity of the true owner of the account,” the court held.
It noted that one Daniel Haruna, who was the second signatory to the said account which was opened as if it belonged to an individual but operated as a corporate account, could not be located. The court maintained that Dariye was “the face behind the mask” that operated the account, stressing that the defendant, being a public servant, was not permitted by law to operate a foreign account.
“The court is satisfied that Ebenezer Rednar Ventures and Chief Dariye are one and the same person. The defendant is adequately capable of answering to any charge against the firm,” she said. While reviewing the proof of evidence that was laid before the court, Justice Banjoko observed that the sum of N280 million from the ecological funds was said to have been shared to three beneficiaries, among whom included former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who allegedly received N100 million through his firm, Marine Float.
A former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, was said to have also received N10 million, even as EFCC told the court that whereas the money that was given to the ex-VP was for the North-East wing of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the defendant equally donated N100 million each to the South-West and South-East wings of the party on July 20, 2001, as well as N66 million to the Plateau State chapter of the party to be shared to all the 274 wards in the state. Justice Banjoko held that Dariye failed to adduce any reasonable explanation for the funds he released to the ex-VP and the PDP.
The court also held that it was satisfied that Dariye was guilty of dishonest misappropriation and criminal breach of trust. It noted that out of the total ecological fund, only N550 million was paid into the coffers of Plateau State following a hand written instruction the defendant gave to All States Trust Bank which he used to clear the cheque from CBN. Though the court held that EFCC could not establish that Dariye used N250 million to acquire a flat in London it, however, found the defendant guilty of illegally using funds meant for ecological project for other purpose.