THE nation’s strive for a corrupt-free polity suffered a great set-back with the unpopular sentence meted-out to the former official of the Police Pension Board, John Yakubu Yusufu, who was given a two-year sentence on each of the three-count charge with an option of paying a fine of N750, 000, an amount the convict shamefully and promptly paid to regain his freedom.
Yusufu had admitted stealing N23billion out of the over N40billion found to have been stolen from the coffers of the Nigeria Police Pension Fund between January 2008 and June 2011 but was let loose in a questionable judgement delivered by Justice Abubakar Talba of the Abuja High Court.
The judgement has been condemned by virtually all segments of the society within and outside the shores of the nation as ‘a travesty of justice’.
The Nigeria Labour Congress had noted thus: “This judgement is not in the public interest and cannot be acceptable to Nigerians who are continuously worried about their future in retirement should the judiciary continue to encourage those caught with public funds with convictions that are clearly not punitive enough for the convict to be remorseful; the judiciary will be encouraging the Nigerian people to opt for jungle justice and treat these high profile criminals the same way pick pockets are treated”.
The National Assembly had described the judgment as “evil, nonsensical, archaic and detrimental” to the country’s avowed fight against corruption and makes it a laughing stock in the eyes of the international community in that it served “very little non-deterrent charges and fines for multi-billion naira thieves”.
As expected, there have been a series of protests and outrage over what has been described as ‘light sentence’ given to Yusufu.
This has warranted discussing a number of issues that should not be swept under the carpet if we are ready to learn from past events.
First, the judgement is nothing but a reference point for public office holders to steal public funds. At best, all the would-be thief needs to do is to just keep some for the settlement of fines. The manner in which Yusufu quickly paid-off the fine and was chauffeur-driven out of the court premises has sent a wrong signal.
Secondly, the judgement has further exposed our several deficient laws that are out of tune with modern day realities. Or, of what use is a law that cannot deter a person from running afoul of the law?
Therefore, the amendment of Section 309 of the Penal Code and Criminal Code is more than necessary. The Penal Code, which became effective in 1960, is the criminal law used in the 19 Northern states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The Code – applicable in the predominantly Islamic states – is modelled after the Criminal Codes in Pakistan and Sudan. Present day realities demand a review of such laws that are legion in our statute books.
The role of the judge is also questionable. Not a few people hold the opinion that Justice Taliban might have been compromised with the judgement by settling for the most controversial alternative. In the entire saga, the judiciary got the most bashing.
If the judiciary can no longer serve as the bastion of hope for the people, this portends grave consequence for our polity.
Thus, there is the need for an objective and transparent process for the appointment of judges to ensure that only the highest quality candidates are chosen. But under the present arrangement, judges are made to feel indebted to a particular politician or senior judge who appointed them. That is why recent court cases have remained controversial.
As obtainable in other saner climes, nothing is too much to make judges comfortable. Their salaries and emoluments must be reasonable and commensurate with their status, position, experience, performance and professional development for the entirety of their tenure.
On the other hand, as public officers, corrupt judges should be stripped of immunity in corruption or other criminal cases to put a stop to rampant cases of judicial corruption (which in this case entails inappropriate financial, material and non-material gains) aimed at influencing the impartiality of the judicial process by any actor within the court system.
The systematic looting of pension funds over the years by corrupt government officials has resulted into untold hardship of our senior citizens that had put their active years into active service without having anything to show for it. They are regularly seen dying in hundreds in the bid to claim their entitlements that may never come.
There is, therefore, the need to put under checks, the vulnerability of public service to incessant fraud, indiscipline and corruptive practices.
It is rather unfortunate that Nigerians are becoming familiar with more controversial court judgments that have soiled the image of the judiciary. In the past, such judgements had generated a lot of tension and posed serious threat to the country’s image and stability.
A few examples suffice: The ruling of September 25, 1979, on the interpretation of 12 2/3 per cent of 19, which bordered on the election victory of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, which was contested by some political parties which participated in the election, especially the Unity Party of Nigeria and its leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The case was warranted by the provision of the Nigerian Constitution, which in Section 126 (2) had stipulated that a candidate for the office of president shall be deemed to have been duly elected, where, in a situation there are more than two candidates for the election, he has the highest number of votes cast at the election and has not less than one quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states of the Federation.
Again, we have another controversial judgement delivered by the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme of the Abuja High Court. For this, the late Ikpeme was perceived as the handy instrument by the Ibrahim Babangida-led military to truncate the entrenchment of democracy and the validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections contested by the late Bashorun Moshood Abiola, of the defunct Social Democratic Party and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the then National Republican Convention.
As the nation was awaiting the final word on the election – declaration and eventual swearing-in of the purported winner of the election – Professor Humphrey Nwosu, Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, announced the suspension of further release of the election results.
Many anxious Nigerians were glued to their radio and television sets as the results were being released in 14 states with Abiola leading.
Nwosu had said that NEC suspended further action on the election because the unregistered Association for Better Nigeria, headed by Arthur Nzeribe, maverick politician, filed a suit at Ikpeme’s court alleging that the Jos convention of the SDP, which selected Abiola as the party flag bearer was inconclusive and could not have formed the basis for an electoral contest or democracy.
Mr. ADEWALE KUPOLUYI wrote from the Federal Varsity of Agric., Abeokuta, Ogun State