A chronology of plea bargain compromises in the Nigerian Judiciary
BY EBUN SESSOU & OLAYINKA AJAYI.
Mixed reactions have continued to trail the light sentence imposed on John Yakubu Yusufu, who was convicted for diverting N23 billion Police Pension Fund. Against this backdrop, Saturday Vanguard sought the opinions of Nigerians and reports:
To Yinka Odumakin, spokesman, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the judgment is devoid of justice and a mockery of criminal justice administration. According to him, “the pronouncement of that court casts a spell on the justice system in Nigeria and presents the anti-graft war as a monumental joke.
Eminent jurists like Justices Kayode Eso, Ayo Irikefe, Akinola Aguda et al must be weeping for the bench in their different corners for this new and ugly development. This must be a huge joke in all respect of judicial administration.
“This is a judgement without a sense of justice. We have enough laws to deal with crimes in Nigeria but there is a problem with judges who cannot focus on the law and ignore the faces of criminals. Was it not in the same country and under the same law that a man who stole a telephone handset was sentenced to three years imprisonment 24 hours after a big thief who stole N23 billion was fined N750, 000?
“The judge obviously exercised his discretion in favour of the thief most probably because there was a lot of package in the plea bargain. We don’t need a soothsayer to tell us that some water passed under the bridge for this type of miscarriage of justice.
“The anti-graft war has been rendered worthless even before this shenanigan. What the judgment has done is only to show that the situation is beyond redemption until a thorough and total cleansing takes place in our country.
Asked if the technicalities of the law could allow such judgment, he said: “The Technicalities of the law means no more than the dark lines where agents of injustice affecting the temple of justice complicate the simple truth and confuse the unwary in a bid to deny justice. It is the art of calling a dog a monkey.”
Dr. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons who is also the founding Director, Women Aid Collective (WACOL) in her contribution said: “the sentence only mocks justice. It is perfidious. The essence of punishment is to dissuade, serve as a deterrent and it must be proportional to the crime committed.
“Obviously, this sentence of two years imprisonment with option of fine not even in addition to a fine is ineffective to deal with the hydra headed corruption that plagues Nigeria today. The backlash is that it will encourage white collar crime and undermine Nigeria’s efforts in fighting corruption.
“I understand that the Judge has discretion since there is no minimum sentence under the law but such discretion must be exercised cautiously in any way that it doesn’t ridicule the system of justice bearing in mind that justice is for all and not just the accused but also the society at large.
“We all know the travails of pensioners in this country, especially those in the lower cadre of security sector. Many have lost their lives on the long road to obtain what justly they have worked for. So, where is the justice in this judgment for Nigeria and Nigerians?
“Consequently, I am of the view that the Court should not have given him that option of fine, although, the hands of Court was tied by the maximum sentence prescribed under the law for which the accused, John Yusuf Yakubu was charged. It nevertheless, ridicules justice. Judicial discretion must be exercised judiciously.
“The Penal Code, including the Criminal Code is overdue for reform or legal overhaul and the EFCC should have charged under the EFCC Act. The question is why EFCC charged him under the Penal Code? We have to hold all the parties here to account. This judgment should spur the legislators and the executive if they’re really interested in combating corruption to act and revise our laws accordingly.
“Given the fact that corruption is implicated in our current state of underdevelopment and human insecurity, we should respond with appropriate and effective punishment. The crime of corruption must attract a minimum sentence of at least 10 years without option of fine. This would also limit the discretionary powers of the court and the judge,” she concluded.
Others react Ajayi Olusegun, a PDP Youth leader in Amuwo-Odofin area opines that the Judge who handed down the judgment should be probed. “The Judge should be seriously investigated because the judgment makes mockery of our fight against corruption. It also makes nonsense of the EFCC’s effort towards fighting corruption. For me, the forfeiture of property is just a flimsy excuse and diversionary attempt from the appropriate punishment,” he stated.
A pensioner, Chuke Louis opines that the judgment is unbecoming of some members of the bench. It is obvious that some people are pulling the strings behind the stage. Such punishment would not deter other public office holders who are desirous of doing the same.
Iyabo Balogun, a lecturer in Lagos State Polytechnic said: “What do you expect in a country like Nigeria where the rule of law is for the few rich. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. Both the pension thief, John Yusuf and their collaborators should be dealt with.”
Olufemi Samuel, a civil servant said in the past, good number of members of the bench were role models. He laments that today, it is so disheartening that a judge of such estimable status could not use his discretionary powers to punish a thief and give a stiffer penalty commensurate with the offence committed in order to serve as deterrent to others. “It is unfortunate we are sliding further in our fight against corruption,” he stressed.
Olusola Ajayi, also a civil servant described the judgment as “a pure judicial miscarriage and disappointment. The peculiarity of Nigeria situation warrants the re-introduction of capital punishment. The only language most leaders in Nigeria understand is corruption which is destroying the fabric of our society. The coming generation most probably will save the situation through a revolution,” he stated.