The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the conviction of former Plateau State governor, Senator Joshua Dariye on criminal breach of trust and his subsequent sentencing to 14 years imprisonment, although the jail term was reduced from 14 to 10 years by the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
However, the apex court in the same judgment quashed the criminal misappropriation of funds charge in which Dariye was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
The apex court five-man panel while delivering judgment in the appeal filed by the former governor against his conviction and sentencing by both a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the Court of Appeal, Abuja, the Supreme Court held that both the lower and trial courts were right in their findings on the criminal breach of trust filed against the ex-governor under Section 3115 of the Penal Code.
In the unanimous judgment which lead decision was delivered by Justice Helen Ogunwumiju however disagreed with the two lower courts on the misappropriation of funds and subsequently quashed or dismissed the charge.
The misappropriation of funds brought against Dariye under Section 309 of the Penal Code carries a maximum of two years imprisonment.
Justice Adebukola Banjoko had in 2018 sentenced the senator to 14 years in the criminal breach of trust, but was reduced to 10 years by the appellate court
The appellate court further reduced the two years imprisonment imposed on the former governor in the charges of misappropriation of funds to one year.
A five-man panel of the Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Mary Peter Odili, had, after hearing Dariye’s appeal on December 17, 2020, fixed judgment for March 12, 2021.
Dariye had in his appeal, prayed the apex court to upturn the November 16, 2018 judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, which convicted him and sentenced him to 10 years for diverting public funds estimated at N1.162 billion while he was Governor of Plateau State.
A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Stephen Adah, in its decision, upheld an earlier judgment by Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), delivered on June 12, 2018
The trial court convicted Dariye on 15 counts relating to the offences of criminal breach of trust and criminal misappropriation, contained in the 23-count charge on which he was tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In upholding Dariye’s conviction, the Court of Appeal noted that the prosecution, led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) effectively proved its allegation of criminal breach of trust and criminal misappropriation against the ex-governor.
The Appeal Court however faulted the trial court for convicting Dariye on counts 12 and 23, which it said the prosecution did not prove.
It also faulted the trial court for imposing the maximum sentences on both offences of criminal breach of trust and criminal misappropriation.
The Appeal Court proceeded to reduce the 14 years sentence for the offence of criminal breach of trust to 10 years, and reduced the two years sentence for criminal misappropriation to one year.
While arguing the appeal before the Supreme Court on December 17 last year, Dariye’s lawyer, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), a former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), asked the court to either reverse his client’s conviction or reduce the 10-year jail term handed him by the Court of Appeal.
Agabi, had after adopting his written argument, prayed the court to allow his client’s appeal and set aside Dariye’s conviction and sentence.
He argued that Dariye’s conviction was speculative and urged the court to show mercy on him.
He however added that, should the court be minded to disallow the appeal and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeal, it should reduce the sentence substantially.
Lawyer to the respondent, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) countered and urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the concurrent findings of the two lower courts.
Jacobs contended that a public servant was not better than the common man in the eyes of the law.
The Supreme Court in the judgment upheld Dariye’s conviction only on count one which borders on criminal breach of trust and quashed the rest 14 charges.