An Abuja High Court, on Wednesday, dismissed a N2.5bn fraud case preferred against Mr Emmanuel Agati, Plateau State Finance Commissioner when Senator Joshua Dariye was governor of the North-Central state.
Also discharged and acquitted were three other respondents in the 14-year-old case – Messrs Sham Damisa, Nuhu Madaki and Silas Vongbut, former Accountant General, Director of Treasury and Deputy Director, Inspectorate, respectively.
Justice Adebukola Banjoko of Court V, Jabi, who discharged and acquitted the quartet, said that the case lacked proof of evidence.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged the accused with criminal conspiracy, breach of trust and misappropriation of funds belonging to Plateau State.
Justice Banjoko, in her judgement, described the case as “a wild goose chase which lacks the necessary proof of evidence to convict the four accused persons”.
She consequently discharged and acquitted them.
Banjoko was the same Judge that tried and convicted Dariye, the accused persons’ former principal, and sentenced him to a 14-year jail term.
Dariye was thrown to the gallows for misappropriating ecological funds belonging to the Government of Plateau when he served as its helmsman between 1999 and 2007.
“The prosecution has woefully failed to establish a prima facie against the four accused persons in all amended 10-count charge against them.
“Most times, the prosecution will withdraw or abandon the pursuit of proof of their evidence even during cross examination that might have helped their case.
“This court found that all the defendants are not guilty of the criminal conspiracy, breach of trust and misappropriation of funds belonging to Plateau. They are hereby discharged and acquitted of all the charges,” she declared.
The anti-graft agency had claimed that the accused persons had, either individually or collectively, siphoned ecological fund belonging to Plateau, between 1999 and 2007.
Mr G. O. Adekola, EFCC Counsel, had told the court that the accused persons had criminally conspired, criminally breached and misappropriated various ecological funds amounting to more than N2.5bn.
He said that the crime was perpetrated through an unregistered Firm, Ebenezer Retna Ventures, adding that the offences were contrary and punishable under sections 96 (1), 309, 315 and 8 of the penal code Act of Cap 532 law of the federation of Nigeria 1990.
But Chief Garba Pwul (SAN), the defence counsel, who rejected the allegations, urged the court to dimiss EFCC’s claim and discharge and acquit the accused who, he claimed, had no hand in the said offences.
Speaking to newsmen after the judgement, Pwul expressed happiness that he was given the opportunity to prosecute the matter to the end.
Pwul, who described the judgement as “apt” and “articulate”, said it had proved that his competence was not in doubt.
“The unbiased posture of the Judge is not in doubt because it is the same Judge that tried and convicted Dariye that discharged and acquitted my four clients.
“There is, therefore, nothing like a witch hunt. All was based on the evidence placed before her (Judge).
“I am glad that justice has been served after a 14-year trial. I have been vindicated because there were insinuations that I allowed Dariye to be convicted, which is not true.
“Before the trial, Dariye debriefed me from handling his case even when I was yet to take my witnesses, including Agati and Damisa.
“In criminal matters, the defendant must at least deny on oath. These four persons all testified and denied all the claims on oath. It was based on the denial that they escaped,” he asserted.
According to him, when he insisted that Dariye must give evidence, he was dropped and replaced with another lawyer, who didn’t take anymore witnesses nor allowed Dariye himself to testify.
“I am glad that the people of Plateau will now know better. I am also happy that these four persons, who have been discharged and acquitted, will have confidence in the justice system of Nigeria,” he said.