A former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, who is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, before Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT High Court, Gudu on a 41-count charge of criminal misappropriation of N1.64bn state funds will know his fate on February 14, 2017 as to whether he has a case to answer or not.
The prosecution had on November 22, 2016 closed its case against Nyame after presenting 14 witnesses. The trial, however, witnessed a twist on the same day, as the defence told the court that it intended to file a “no case” submission, as it believed that there was no prima facie case established against Nyame.
At the resumed sitting Wednesday, both the prosecution and the defence adopted their written addresses, and gave oral arguments.
Charles Edosomwan, SAN, counsel for Nyame, alluded to the fact that “crucial elements are missing in this case”, and urged the court to “hold that the testimony of prosecution witnesses have been so damaged and can’t be relied on”.
He further argued that there was no direct link between Nyame, and a house allegedly procured by him using the diverted state funds, noting that “nobody tendered registered documents linking him to it”.
According to him, the trial was “an unnecessary waste of time through which an ordeal was inflicted on Nyame, just because he was a former governor”.
Prosecuting counsel, Adebisi Adeniyi, however, countered Edosomwan’s submission, noting that “a prima facie case had indeed been established against Nyame after the prosecution called 14 witnesses who testified to how they assisted him to divert state funds”.
“In the course of this trial, the defendant did not at any time deny that he received some of the money in question, and in fact, he has even said that he is ready to return the money,” Adeniyi said.
He reminded the court that some of the witnesses had confessed in court admitting their several roles during which funds were withdrawn from the state treasury for Nyame’s use.
He said: “Those who took part in purchase of stationery have come to court and explained their roles through which the money was instead, transferred to bank account belonging to close confidante of the defendant, and all these were not contended.”
Citing Exhibit Z6, Adeniyi reminded the court that another witness testified to how money purportedly earmarked for the purchase of grains, were never utilized for what it was pencilled for, but instead, “the money was brought to the defendant”.
He further argued that: “All your lordship will do is to see whether there’s ground upon which your lordship can ask the defendant to enter his defence, not that he is guilty or not, or whether evidence is good enough to convict him, but to say he should defend himself.”
He concluded that in the instant, the prosecution has led sufficient evidence to warrant calling the defendant to enter into his defence.
“We urge your lordship to overrule this no case submission and to hold that the defendant has a case to answer,” he said.
After listening to the arguments, Justice Banjoko, urged both parties to submit the authorities cited in their submissions, adding that “I want to go through all the evidence, and will give my ruling on February 14, 2017.”
In another development, in what seems a plan to frustrate his trial, Joshua Dariye, former Plateau State governor, who is facing a 23-count charge at a Federal Capital Territory, FCT High Court, Gudu, has accused the trial judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko of “undisguised bias”.
Dariye is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for allegedly diverting about N1.162 billion from the state’s Ecological Fund, to private companies and individuals. His trial resumed on January 25, 2016 after the Supreme Court on February 27, 2015, dismissed his appeal to quash the charges and ordered Dariye’s “expeditious” trial.
The prosecution had on June 6, 2016 closed its case against him, after presenting 10 witnesses, including Peter Clark, a retired detective constable with the UK Metropolitan Police, who investigated money laundering charges against him in the UK.
Clark had on May 9, 2016 while being led in evidence by prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, told the court that Dariye remained a fugitive having jumped bail in the UK, and that the fraud charges against him were still pending there. Several documents detailing the diversion of the state’s funds to Barclays Bank in the UK were among exhibits presented in court.
Dariye’s defence team, led by G.S. Pwul, SAN, opened its defence on June 17, 2016 with Adonye Roberts, a former staff of the defunct All States Trust Bank, admitting under cross-examination, that Dariye illegally operated an account with the bank in the name of “Ebenezer Retnan Ventures” – a company to which part of the Ecological Funds were diverted to.
The trial could not go on, on December 9, 2016 as a result of the absence of a defence witness, prompting the judge to adjourn to December 13, 2016. Pwul, though was not in court, was represented by Fidelis Kaatpo. Kaatpo had told the court that: “The court bailiff was unable to serve our witnesses the summons, because they were not reachable.”
At the sitting on December 13, 2016 Justice Banjoko also had to adjourn to January 18, 2017 at the request of Pwul, who told the court that he intended to present two more witnesses, which he was yet to get in touch with. He had also forwarded two motions to the court meant for hearing.
Jacobs had visibly expressed his discontent at the decision to adjourn, accusing Pwul of deliberately acting to delay the trial. The trial judge, who had to step in to calm frayed nerves, however, cautioned the prosecution, noting that the defence deserves to be given ample time to make its case, and “a speedy trial is not having a speedy acquittal or conviction, but is based on the merit of what you put before the court.”
However, at the resumed sitting Wednesday, Justice Banjoko, could not hear the motions, because “they are not ripe for hearing”. She also revealed that “a letter waiting for directive of the Chief Judge” had been received by the court, thus halting the day’s proceeding.
The said letter, which was at the instant of Dariye, was titled, Application for Transfer on Ground of Manifest and Undisguised Bias. Dated December 13, 2016 it was addressed to the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Abuja, with the Seal of the Nigeria Senate, where he serves as Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Procurement.
Dariye alleged that the trial judge “has not found it easy to conceal her anger that I dared to pursue an appeal against her ruling up to the Supreme Court”, adding that “my counsel and I could only watch helplessly as events unfolded in court, and this made me feel so helpless like a lamb waiting to be slaughtered.”
Making reference to the proceeding where Clark testified against Dariye, which dealt a huge chink in his armour, the defendant accused the judge of allowing the prosecution time to bring “a witness from the United Kingdom”.
While Pwul was copied in the letter sent to the FCT Chief Judge, the prosecution, represented by Adeniyi Adebisi was not copied, causing him to express concerns that “if the defendant thought it fit to copy the court and his counsel, he ought to copy us”.
Pwul, however, noted that the letter was from the defendant himself and meant as an “administrative machinery as a way of asking”, and that the motions filed before the court constituted a judicial process that needed to be attended to.
Justice Banjoko, thereafter, adjourned tentatively to February 15, 2017 “for hearing of the applications”, once again citing the import of Dariye’s letter.