Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, will today know his fate as a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) deliver judgment in the alleged N1.162bn fraud trial against him.
The judgment will be delivered by Justice Adebukola Banjoko, who had earlier sentenced and convicted the former governor of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame to 14 years imprisonment without an option of fine.
Dariye, was charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC], in a 23-count count for allegedly diverting the state’s Ecological Fund to the tune of N1.16 bn belonging to the State to a private companies including Ebenezer Retnan Ventures and Pinnacle Communications Limited.
After calling a total of 16 witnesses, his counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi [SAN], told the court that they have closed their case and applied for a written address.
“My Lord, I am pleased to inform your Lordship we are closing the case for the defence and we will like to address you,’’ Agabi said.
Mr. O. Atolagbe, who was holding the brief of Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the EFCC prosecution, did not object to the application.
Dariye had on September 18, engaged Agabi, a former Attorney-General of the Federation, as his new counsel after his lawyer, Mr. Garba Pwul withdrew from the case.
The trial was of the former Plateau State governor was not without twist and controversies. For instance, in March 16, 2017, his counsel, Garba Pwul, SAN, had informed the Court that he intends to withdraw from the case.
Moving his application to disengage himself, Pwul said; “After painstakingly going through the status of the case, I have come to the position my lord, to withdraw further appearance in court for the defendant,” Pwul said.
He further informed the court that: “There has been two appeals against my lord’s last ruling and subject to instruction of my client I will still appear there “.
In objecting the application, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, argued that there were legal procedures required to be complied with before a counsel whether on side of defense or prosecution can disengage from representing a client.
Making reference to Section 349 (7) (8) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015, which deals with “non-appearance and non-representation of legal practitioner”, Jacobs noted that a counsel had a greater responsibility to the court not only to the client.
He said: “A legal practitioner, other than a law officer, engaged in any matter shall be bound to conduct the case on behalf of the prosecution or defendant until final judgment, unless allowed for any special reason.
“Where a legal practitioner intends to disengage from a matter, he shall notify the court, not less than three days before the date fixed for hearing and such notice shall be served on the court and all partiers.”
Having exhaustively quoted from the Act, Jacobs urged the court to “dismiss the application as incompetent”, arguing that Pwul did not follow the procedure laid down by law, and “his intention was to put the court in a state of helplessness”.
However, Pwul argued that three lawyers had represented Dariye before him, since 2007 when the trial initially started, and that the 1999 Constitution (which he said superseded the ACJA) has enshrined in Section 36 (6) “the right of the defendant to choose who will represent him in court”.
He further argued that if there was a party delaying the trial, it was the prosecution. Pwul noted that “anytime we make an application, the prosecution always objects and this amounts to nothing but finger-pointing to cover up their own actions of delay”.
He said: “I have taken the path of courtesy and respect to tell the court that I want to withdraw from this case, else I would have just left unceremoniously by way of absence in court, and so I believe this courtesy and my path of honor should be commended.
“Moreover, it will serve no useful purpose to compel an unwilling counsel to defend criminal charges against his will, as skills and commitment are involved and no amount of court order can cause these attributes to come out of an unwilling counsel.”
Responding, Jacobs noted that Pwul in his arguments did not indicate that he was withdrawing based on the instruction of Dariye, and “the law must be upheld, since he is still enjoying the confidence of his client”, adding that the three other lawyers referred to by Pwul represented the defendant at a time the ACJA was not yet in existence.
At this point, Pwul again rose up to respond and waxing philosophical, said: “We shouldn’t force a horse to the stream when we cannot force the horse to drink water.”
Justice Banjoko then asked: “Who is the horse?”
“I am the horse,” Pwul responded.
The trial had also witnessed another twist when Dariye asked the judge to disqualify herself from the trial over alleged bias against him.
However, Justice Banjoko ruling on the motion seeking for her disqualification from the case, said: “I have no interest whatsoever in this case and I have so far presided over the case without fear or favour, and in line with my oath of office and so the motion lacks merit and is accordingly dismissed.”
Before that, the case had travelled to Supreme Court which ordered the former governor to go and face his trial.