For a former governor of Plateau State, Senator Joshua Chibi Dariye, the journey to Kuje prison did not start when the judge hit the gavel on June 12, 2018. It started on December 12, 1999.
While delivering judgement on Tuesday, June 12, Justice Adebukola Banjoko of a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Gudu, held that the evidence presented by Bamanga Bello, an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), revealed that when investigation began in 2004, a fictitious account Dariye opened in States Trust Bank (now defunct) on December 12, 1999, exposed his monumental misappropriation of Plateau State funds, including a N1.16bn ecological fund.
The witness said the bank and some of its officials aided the former governor in manipulating bank transactions and concealing information about the identity of the account owner. Dariye represents Plateau Central in the Senate.
Detailing the activities of his team of investigators, Bello said the fraud perpetrated by the bank was uncovered by analysing documents related to the account opened by Dariye, using an unregistered company, Ebenezer Retnan Ventures.
He said, “Sometime in 2004 I was co-opted to investigate a case of alleged conspiracy, abuse of office, misappropriation of public fund and money laundering against former Governor Joshua Dariye.
“In the course of the investigation I was given the documents relating to Ebenezer Retnan Ventures account to analyse. The account opening application form is for an individual current account, but the name of the account is written as Ebenezer Retnan Ventures, which is not an individual. The date of birth was written as July 27, 1957. Ebenezer Retnan is not an individual and cannot have a date of birth.
“For nationality, it is Nigerian. Ebenezer Retnan is not an individual and cannot have a nationality. For occupation, it was written as businessman. By the time the account was opened, the real owner was Dariye. Then, he was a public servant, not a businessman. For employment, it said self-employed. At the time the account was opened, the real account owner was not self-employed, he was a public servant.
“One of the signatures on the form was confirmed to be that of Dariye while the other was found to be fictitious. The address given was found to be fictitious because it could not be located. The office address of Ebenezer Retnan Ventures was not written, but there must be address of an account holder before an account is opened.”
The witness had told the court that there was no picture of the account owner, which meant that there was no means of identification. He added that some of the bankers who aided Dariye to divert the N1.16billion ecological fund meant for the state in 2001 had been convicted by a Federal High Court in Kaduna.
The court was told that Dariye started fraudulent activities few months from his first inauguration in May, 1999 as governor of Plateau State.
Still a wanted man in London
Another major evidence that exposed how Dariye had misappropriated Plateau State funds was from Peter Clerk, a retired detective in the Metropolitan Police in London. Clark told the court about the operations that led to the arrest of the former governor in September 2004.
Clerk said he was also involved in the investigation of a former governor of Bayelsa State, the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, for money laundering in London before he jumped bail.
He said the Metropolitan Police started investigating Dariye in January 2004 when some fraudulent activities were observed on his nine accounts in Barclays Bank. He was later arrested in his room at Mariot Hotel on September 28, 2004 while on a visit to London.
“From the examination of Mr. Dariye’s account, he travelled all over the world. From his passport, we saw stamps of several countries. We found seven pairs of shoes, which cost £700 each. He paid £7,000 for a pen. He purchased a lot of things in high luxurious stores,” Clark said.
He also said that when Dariye was arrested, £43,000 was found in his hotel room. He added that on the same day, £50,000, out of which £40,000 belonged to Dariye, was found with a lady, Christabel Bentu, who claimed to be his personal assistant. She was in another room in the same hotel. He said his colleague searched a property belonging to Dariye and found £11,995.
He stated that there was one Joyce Oyebanjo who was helping Dariye to pay utility bills in London and routinely receiving funds from him for the maintenance of his (former governor’s) three children and properties. He said the woman was later arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment for money laundering.
Clerk explained that a property in London worth £395,000 was seized from Dariye by the UK government and the proceeds repatriated to Nigeria, along with other funds seized from the former governor.
According to him, the purchase of the property was funded by one Lucky Omohuwa of Pinnacle Communication (a company Dariye paid N250million from the N1.16bn ecological funds of Plateau State).
Clerk stated that Dariye was later released on bail and was expected to return to London in December 2004, but he never did. The witness said a valid arrest warrant was, till date, still pending against the former governor after jumping bail to Nigeria.
“In September 2004, I looked at Joshua Dariye in the eyes and said to him, ‘I know you are a religious man.’ I asked if he would come back on December 14, 2004. He said ‘yes’, he would, but he failed to show up. Bentu also failed to show up.
He said the Metropolitan Police deliberately did not ask for Dariye’s extradition to London because he was under immunity as a serving governor, but that soon after he completed his tenure in 2007, the EFCC filed charges against him. And since domestic trial takes precedence over foreign trial, he relaxed.
While the Metropolitan Police and the EFCC were gathering evidence to nail Dariye for money laundering, eight of the 24 members of the Plateau State House of Assembly issued an impeachment notice against him in 2006. In his defence, he stated that the notice was invalid as the eight did not form a quorum. When a crowd of Dariye’s supporters tried to prevent the Assembly members from entering their building, riot policemen fired into the crowd, killing two protestors.
Dariye was impeached on November 13, 2006, with Clerk’s evidence before the panel serving as the decisive piece. However, on April 27, 2007, the Supreme Court refused the appeal of the Plateau State Government and ordered the reinstatement of Dariye with immediate effect. Following his reinstatement, he went back to office and concluded his tenure as governor on May 29, 2007 and the legal battle with the EFCC began.
The final lap
Eleven years after his first arraignment, Dariye was convicted on 11 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment on each, the maximum sentence provided for by the law. He was also convicted on four counts bordering on criminal misappropriation and sentenced to two years imprisonment on each, the maximum allowed. The judge, however, held that the sentences would run concurrently, meaning that Dariye would spend a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Aside the N1.16bn ecological fund, Dariye was also found guilty of criminal breach of trust as it regards N204million, N53.6million and N21million, being funds of the Plateau State Government.
The court ordered the EFCC to pay the N80million and other funds recovered during investigation to the coffers of the Plateau State Government. The court, however, did not make any pronouncement on the N100million said to have been paid to Marine Float, a company said to be owned by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The court was told that the EFCC was still investigating the matter.
Dariye’s conviction came barely two weeks after the same court sentenced a former governor of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame, to 14 years imprisonment for similar offences.