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N750,000 fine for N23bn fraud?: Another national joke

By Olusola Adegbite

I cannot find it in me to exult in this hour, but my pen, acting as attorney, has taken these notes.

There is inevitably something comical about the political enterprise in this country; something decidedly non-prosperous in reason. Does it not seem the people are falsely imprisoned, though it appears it can only happen in Nigeria? Someone admitted, in court, to taking part in the stealing of N23.3 billion of pension money; that person, a former Assistant Director in the Police Pension Office, in inordinate vanity and a dreadful humiliation of the country's national character in another classic, now known as the Police Pension Scam, and after months of back and forth, he gets 2 years' imprisonment, with an option of paying a fine of N750, 000 only! What does the country get? Nothing but an embarrassing applause! What do the people get? Shock, perhaps disbelief, pain and visions of destroyed hopes.

May I ask: did our government not spend more than N750,000 to prosecute Mr John Yakubu Yusuf? Maybe am just wondering. The matter has gleefully been reported as success of the odious plea bargain scheme. Even though I am a lawyer being familiar with that phrase, my mind begins to extrapolate on the things of the deep, and somehow this epiphany that can only be occasioned by logic leads me to perhaps what Plea bargain indeed means here, another word for the arrest of justice and its subsequent trial on the altar of bargain, and by the time bargain is closed, the highest bidder is throwing a party. Sounds to me more like Justice auctioned to the highest bidder.

I thought there is something referred to as the Mischief Rule in the Canons of Interpretation, a rule which I suspect solemnly calls on today's actors in the theatre of law and justice to reach out to the original intention of the Parliament, to help them unearth the mind of the then makers of the Law, to order their steps in doing justice. In the same vein, I would suppose that the makers of our criminal and penal sanctions must have had the likes of Mr Yusuf in mind while drafting our laws. But was it the intention of those same lawmakers that a man guilty of stealing N23.3 billion be handed a 2-year sentence that can simply be exchanged for a paltry sum of N750, 000? Certainly, I think not. Some have even attempted to advance the argument that, after all, the man has forfeited 32 items of property to the state and returned part of the loot. I am confident that position would be easily rubbished by the submission of any law undergraduate student studying elementary Criminal Law. Is the administration of our criminal justice system not rooted in punishing both the “mens rea” i.e. Intention and the “actus reus” i.e. act of an offence? Where a man steals N23.3 billion, as we have in this very ugly story, and is later caught, and by reason of his being caught turns around, his return of the loot is not an escape route for him, given that it is incumbent on the law to still go ahead and punish his criminal intent. The law presupposes that the act of stealing is first and foremost anchored on the criminal intent built in the mind, which is buttressed by the fact that if he wasn't caught, he would automatically have escaped with the loot. More importantly, the punishment of this criminal intent is to serve as a deterrent to the others who may want to ride on the crest of his 'success'. What all will admit without the slightest hesitation is that reconciling the John Yakubu Yusuf's case with the above requirement will amount to nothing but trying to ferry a camel through the eye of a needle. Certainly, it is one case that will stand tall in our Hall of Fame of national absurdities for a long time to come. It is the saddest judgement I have ever heard of, it is the greatest attack on our collective intelligence.

Beneath this mess simply lies our fatal inability to live up to reasonably expected behaviour as it obtains in other climes; rather those in charge remain stubborn managers of an iniquitous system. Every arm of government regales in the exercise of its powers, ambushing the people and nailing the remnant of their hopes and aspirations of justice to the cross. Definitely, those who come after now would ask painful questions of those who seek to mismanage today. Is it not said that Justice must not only be done, but must be manifestly seen to have been done? Is it not said that it is not the letter, but the spirit of the law that eternally waters the tree of Justice? Do we have a tree around here, talk less of watering? So what did we get at the end of the jamboree? The rogue walks out of the courtroom, majestically with a triumphant swagger, attended to by his cronies in wild jubilation, making phone calls back home for them to start the party. He has cheated his country again, like other big men have done before him and is not remorseful.

He has defeated a country that does not know what it is doing, boasting to himself, challenging those who even prosecute him to cast the first stone. And then a press conference is organised in the courtyard, where in public view, the nation's dirty linen is displayed for all to see. Retrospection is thrown to the garbage bin, sanity becomes a luxury, and in the worst show of disrespect for those great men who moulded the concept of justice, a nation without morals and burdened with leaders without conscience, is again made a laughing stock before a looking world. This is the best time in our nation, we are indeed grateful to the builders in government who all built their mansions on the nation's shame and helped remove a block each day from the collapsing integrity of their fatherland. No wonder Professor Chinua Achebe refused to be honoured. It simply means that what an Elder would see standing, certainly such is not given to a Child, even if he conquered Mount Everest.

Adegbite practices law in Kubwa, FCT < [email protected]>