N1.162bn Fraud: Dariye Accuses Judge of ‘Undisguised Bias’, Seeks Case Transfer

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 today, 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 lamp 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.
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