An Abuja High Court on Wednesday discharged and acquitted four former Plateau Government officials standing trial for a N2.5bn fraud case instituted them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The officials are the Former commissioner of finance, Mr Emmanuel Agati; the Accountant General of the State, Sham Damisa; former Director Treasury, Mr Nuhu Madaki; and Dep Director, Inspectorate, Mr Silas Vongbut, who stood trial for 14 years for criminal conspiracy, breach of trust and misappropriation of the funds of the State but were acquitted for lack of evidence.
Justice Adebukola Banjoko of High Court V, Jabi, Abuja, in delivering her judgement, described the 14 year-old case as a “wild goose chase” which lacked the necessary proof of evidence to convict the four accused persons and consequently discharged and acquitted them.
Chief Garba Pwul (SAN), who defended the freed officials, said that he has been vindicated by the judgement of the court, which convicted Senator Joshua Dariye three years ago.
“Justice Banjoko is the same judge that tried and convicted Dariye and slammed 14 year jail term on him over the misappropriation of the Ecological Funds belonging to the Government of Plateau State during his eight year tenure as Governor,” Pwul said.
The judge, in her judgement, said, “The prosecution has woefully failed to establish a prima facie against the four accused in all amended 10 count charge labeled against them.
“Most times the prosecution will withdraw or abandon pursuing proof of their evidence even cross examination that might have helped their case,
“This court hereby finds that all the defendants are not found guilty of the criminal conspiracy, breach of trust and misappropriation of funds belonging to Plateau State, so are hereby discharged and acquitted of all the charges, ” she declared.
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 N2.5,bn through one Unregistered Firm, Ebenezer Retna Ventures and therefore committed offences 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 Pwul had objected to such claims and urged the court to dimiss EFCC’s claim and discharge and acquit the four accused, whom he claimed had no hand in the said offences.
Speaking to newsmen after the judgement, Pwul expressed gladness that he was given the opportunity to follow the matter to the end.
Pwul, who described the judgment as “apt” and “articulate” said, “my competence is not in doubt.”
“The unbiased posture of the judge is not in doubt because it’s the same judge that tried and convicted Dariye, is the same judge that tried these four persons, discharged and acquitted them
“Therefore, there is nothing like witch-hunting. All was based on the evidence placed before her (judge).
“I am glad that justice has been served after a long 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 clams 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 for another lawyer, who didn’t take anymore witnesses nor allowed Dariye himself to testify.
Pwul concluded, ” l am glad that the people of Plateau will now know better and equally these four persons discharged and acquitted will have confidence in our Justice system of Nigeria.”