JOHN NWOKOCHA raises a question: Who is next?, after the conviction of two former governors, Jolly Nyame of Taraba state and Joshua Dariye of Plateau state, in the high profile cases of money laundering and corruption trials of former governors, since 2007
Dariye’s walk to prison
Tuesday, June 12, 2018, the former governor of Plateau state, Senator Joshua Dariye was convicted to 14 years imprisonment by the High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice Mrs Adebukola Banjoko, for corruption, what it called criminal misappropriation of funds.
Justice Banjoko found Dariye guilty of diverting N1.162 billion state ecological funds while he was governor between 1999 and 2007. Similarly, the court sentenced Dariye to two years in prison for criminal breach of trust
Delivering its ruling the court held that while it gave no option of fine, the sentences are to run concurrently.
It would be recalled that the former Plateau governor, who is representing Plateau Central in the senate was first arraigned on a 23-count charge for the offence in 2007, by the anti-graft agency-EFCC.
But the trial was stalled for over eight years following Dariye’s smart attempt to prevent his prosecution being continued after the Supreme Court ordered the senator to proceed with his case in 2015.
The sentence, verdict
“In the absence of concrete evidence justifying these payments, it can safely be described as misappropriation,” said Banjoko
Banjoko found Dariye guilty of 15 out of the 23-count charge brought against him.
Dariye was convicted for two main categories of offences, namely criminal breach of trust which attracts a two year sentence for each affected count and criminal misappropriation which has a penalty of 14 years.
The sentences are to run concurrently which means he will spend a maximum 14 years in jails.
In their defence, Dariye’s lawyers led by Kanu Agabi, former Attorney General of the Federation and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had said 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.
Also, Agabi submitted that the prosecution had a duty to present all the participants in the said diversion, to court as witnesses.
He further argued that failure of the prosecution to present all the participants rendered their evidence defective.
Citing a previous ruling where six bankers were tried for their alleged involvement in the said transfer while Dariye served as governor, Agabi argued that 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.
In the light of this, Agabi 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.
Also based that stance, Agabi contended that since the Federal High Court in Kaduna acquitted the bankers for lack of evidence, the trial of Dariye on the same diversion amounts to an abuse of court process. According to Agabi, the fate that befell the bankers should also be advanced on his client.
In his submission, Agabi argued that the evidences adduced by the same prosecution in both trials were incoherent.
But according to the judge, the issues raised by the defence, included fundamental matters that needed to be analysed.
She cited parts of the judgement from the previous ruling mentioned by Agabi.
Banjoko said the ruling of the federal court acquitting the bankers was premised on the fact that the prosecution did not include the principal actor in the case of misappropriation.
Reading through the previous judgement, Banjoko said failure of the EFCC to include Dariye in the charge meant that “no iota of evidence was adduced in court to show that the cheques (acted upon by the bankers) were fraudulently procured.”
“I am unable to see how the disbursement has shown any dishonest misappropriation. Did Mr Dariye misappropriate it for himself? If so, no evidence was shown,” Banjoko had stated while reading through the previous judgement by the federal high court Judge, Liman J.
“It is clear from the above that the facts and evidence of misappropriation were not brought to the fore,” said Banjoko.
She said that the decision of the federal court to discharge the bankers was accurate except that it was due to the absence of Dariye in that trial.
Acquittal of Dariye
In respect of the controversial acquittal of Dariye by the Plateau State House of Assembly committee, Banjoko said the committee had recognised its inability to proceed with investigations into the offence against Dariye following the filing of the matter in court.
The judge said the committee noted that the matter had become subjudice and was about suspending its investigation before it dramatically announced a decision, discharging Dariye from allegations against him.
She said, “That conclusion was gotten from the air”.
Dariye begs for mercy
Shortly before the verdict was read, Dariye’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro, described his client’s actions as the product of ignorance.
The defence counsel blamed the military system and the bank for the actions of his client.
According Erokoro, Dariye who is a charted accountant was misguided when he approached the bank for financial assistance.
Responding, Jacobs drew the attention of the court to the many years of legal battle embarked upon by the defendant.
As he was speaking, Dariye suddenly stood up in the witness box and asked the prosecution lawyer to be merciful.
Hear the former governor, “Be merciful. You are a Christian, your name is Jacob”.
The judge noted the efforts of Erokoro but added that “there should not be compromise in corruption. Corruption is corruption.”
After the judgement, Dariye was led into a police van from where he was transported to Kuje prison where he will for 14 years unless the ruling is upturned by the appellate court.
Trial of high profile corruption cases
The conviction of Senator Dariye came just two weeks after a landmark conviction of former Taraba state governor, Reverend Jolly Nyame, who was jailed for 14 years for misappropriation of state funds, in a judgement also delivered by Justice Banjoko.
Jolly Nyame was convicted of misappropriating N1.64 billion from the state’s treasury through shoddy stationery contracts which he awarded at the tail of his eight years administration that ended in 2007.
In passing verdict Justice Banjoko had said:
“…I must say that I am morally outraged by the facts of this case; the people of Taraba State had elected the defendant, a clergyman, on three different occasions; their expectations must have been very high.
“How would he begin to explain to the people of Taraba State his actions? How would he explain such a colossal loss to the people?…”
Remarkably, Nyame’s trial was yet the longest trials that started in 2007. However, before his conviction, former Adamawa state governor, James Ngilari, in March 2017, was sentenced to five years prison term for corruption, making him the first Nigerian former governor under this dispensation to be so convicted by a court of law, while Nyame is the second governor to be jailed in Nigeria.
It is interesting to note that Nyame had almost everything going for him, in terms of support and cooperation of his people, which were given to him in full. That was why they gave another chance to govern them when his tenure, that started in January 1992 was truncated by a military insurrection in November 1993, the people of Taraba who were still excited by the idea of having a “man of God” as their governor voted for him again when Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999.
So, Nyame ruled Taraba for eight uninterrupted years between 1999 and 2007 after winning.
The conviction of the two former governors in a space of two weeks raises fresh hope for logical conclusion of the trials of former governors for similar offences of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement of their state treasuries. In the light of the landmark convictions, public expectations are high that the cases that have been lying dormant at the various high courts would conclude soon, as the public is waiting to watch them in the Witness Box, again. Besides, their conviction is expected to serve as a lesson for serving governors and public office holders.
The other pending cases are those involving former governors include Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti) – 2006, Saminu Turaki (Jigawa) filed in 2007, Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu) – 2007, (Orji Kalu)-2007 and Rasheed Ladoja (Oyo)-2008, Peter Odili (Rivers).
Other cases are; Danjuma Goje (Gombe) filed in 2011; Timipreye Sylva (Bayelsa) 2015; Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) 2015; Sule Lamido (Jigawa) 2015; Audu Abubakar (Kogi) -2007; Adebayo Alao-Akala (Oyo) 2011; Gbenga Daniel (Ogun) 2011; Michael Botmang (Plateau) Aliyu Akwe Doma (Nasarawa) 2011; Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Gabriel Suswan (Benue)Attahiru Bafawara (Sokoto) 2009 and Ikedi Ohakim (Imo) 2015.
The question is: Who will be the next convict? Another question begging for answer is:
Who is delaying ex-governors’ corruption cases trial?