THE public’s outrage at the two-year sentence for Mr. John Yusuf, a director in the Police Pension Office, who pleaded guilty to stealing N23 billion out of the N40 billion stolen from the Police Pension Fund, is understandable.
It is possibly heightened by the fact that Justice Abubakar Talba of a Federal Capital Territory High Court gave Yusuf an option of N750, 000 fine which he reportedly paid before being driven home – to freedom.
Six days before the Abuja judgement, an Abeokuta Magistrate Court sentenced 49-year-old, Mustapha Adesina, to two years imprisonment for stealing vegetables worth N5, 000. Adesina had an option of N10, 000 fine.
It is the same law, in different cities that took the two to jail. While blames are raining on Justice Talba, the major problem is with our laws which encourage corruption. Yusuf was also ordered to forfeit about N325m cash and 13 houses.
He was jailed under Section 309 of the Penal Code Act, Cap. 532, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria, the Ogun State version gaoled Adesina.
The law says Adesina who stole vegetables worth N5,000 should suffer the same sentence (or about the same) with a man, whose N23 billion is the equivalent of the eight month’s monthly revenue allocation to States like Yobe and Ebonyi.
“The court has a duty to do justice for not just the convict, but for the society al large. Today Nigeria is bedevilled with the cankerworm of white-collar crime which has subjected the citizens to abject poverty. It is not in doubt that the standard of living of an average Nigerian is declining day by day,” Justice Talba said before letting the man off so easily.
Nigerians would get angrier reading those words. Equally disturbing is the surprise of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, that worked on a plea bargain with Yusuf when the suspect changed his plea from “guilty” to “not guilty”, yet the judge was able to pass his judgement on the same day, on a case he rated “white collar crime which has subjected the citizens to abject poverty”.
The judgement did not reflect those words. The stolen money is the pension of thousands of police men and women, who on retirement walk through mazes trying to get their pension. The misfortune the maladministration of the pension fund has visited on many families did not ring through the judgement.
Corruption, in its worst forms like the appropriation of others’ future, would thrive for as long as the thieves know that all they have to do is steal enough to keep the law at bay. Appropriate laws to fight corruption are long overdue.