|John Yakubu Yusufu|
A nation can thrive under disbelief but not on injustice ~ Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio
The above quotation from the eighteenth century great scholar, Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, summarizes the prerequisite of justice for any society to progress. This wise word rings as if he is living in today’s Nigeria. Nigerians do not get justice from their system in any form. History has it that part of the reasons he went to war was due to the glaring injustice which pervaded the then Kingdoms. It is very likely that Nigeria of today is similar to what was obtainable in his then domain before he went to war, after trying unsuccessfully to change the situation through preaching and admonition.
Few days ago, precisely 28th January, 2013, the social media was washed with the news that one John Yesufu Yakubu, one of those criminals who stole the police pension funds that ran to the tune of 32.8 billion naira was handed a paltry jail term of 2 years. But he would as well go home and enjoy his loot if he paid a paltrier sum of 250,000 naira as fine. Other says 750,000 naira. This is immaterial. The news also that he forfeited 325 million naira in properties to Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) is irrelevant. Haba! 325 million is just a 0.0099 fraction of the looted 32.8 billion. Those who deal in numbers know that this is insignificant.
On social network sites, people shouted, barked, screamed, heaved, grumbled, fretted, shocked, flabbergasted, surprised, hit by the news, agonized, sulked and so on. I was not at all caught by any of those. My remark was just this: Na today! If I was at all surprised it is because that Nigerians are amazed by the judgment. For me, it is a deja vu. Where were Nigerians when Lucky Igbinedion, the ex-convict governor of Edo state was asked to part away with three million naira for stealing nine billion naira of state funds? In spite of the celebrated conviction of Bode George, our court or the EFCC did not dim it reasonable to ask him to return anything from the 85 billion naira he diverted. But he emerged from the two years rest in prison as the darling boy of the ruling PDP. The conviction of both Tafa Balogun and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha for looting public funds did not make them become common Nigerians struggling to live.
Also, Celilia Ibru who used public deposits in her bank to acquire properties worth over 190 billion naira all over the world only spent four months in the hospital as her prison sentence. What about the Haliburton gangs whose co-conspirators were found guilty in Europe and America, but the Nigeria attorney general said the federal government had no money to prosecute them and so they were let to go and enjoy their corrupt enrichments. The fact is that those who were named in the Halliburton bribery scandals were the Nigerian government officials themselves. While the Nigeria government shows reticent from prosecuting anyone in the Halliburton scandal, Jeffery Tesler whom the US accused of facilitating the distribution of 132 million US dollar in bribery to Nigerian government officials was made to forfeit 149 million US dollar in assets. Reasoning along the same line like the Nigeria attorney general, Rep. Elumelu and co were said to have written to president Jonathan last year to ask the court to discharge them, because the money the Federal Government had spent in prosecuting them was more than what they were accused of stealing from the rural electrification project. The presidency heeded their ‘advice’. They are now walking free and writing Nigeria statute book.
It is understandable while people expressed such reactions to the pension thief judgment. This is for the reason that five days earlier, a 49-year-old Mustafa Adesina was sentenced to two years in jail in Abeokuta for stealing vegetables worth 5,000 naira. He would only evade prison if he paid the sum of 10,000 naira as alternative to the jail term. Yes, 10,000 naira fine for 5,000 naira crime, but 250,000 fine for 32.8 billion naira theft.
It means Adesina would have to go and steal another 5,000 naira, joined it to the 5,000 naira vegetables, if he had not consumed it, to get out of jail. Certainly, he is going to be prison for the next 3 years. However, John Yakubu Yesufu who stole 32.8 billion naira already paid out 0.0076 or 0.022 fraction of his loot and he is free. The subsequent news that he was re-arrested by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) following public outcry might just be a gimmick. Was it not the same EFCC which entered into the plea bargaining that set him free?
Comparing what Yesufu and the big criminals before him got as convictions to the punishment handed down to petty thieves across Nigerian courtrooms, it become clear that punitive judgments in Nigeria is not for the rich and the mighty. Few instances here would make things more lucid. In mid 2012, 18-year-old Adamu Abubakar was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with an option of 365,000 naira fine for trying to buy oranges with a fake 500 naira Nigeria currency at Darazo Market in Bauchi. In Ilorin in September 2012, Pastor Oloruntoba Ibitoye was sentenced to a nine-month jail term without the option of a fine for stealing a sheep valued at 3,000 naira. The recovery of the sheep from him notwithstanding. A 27-year-old Azeez Lekan of Gishiri village in Abuja was sentenced to six months in imprisonment in November 2012 for picking 1,200 naira from the pocket of one Alhaji Bala. The stolen money was recovered from Azeez. He was asked to pay another 2,000 naira as a substitute for the jail term. Also, in December 2012 in Abuja, Abdullahi Suleiman and Abdullahi Mamuda were sentenced to nine-month imprisonment with an option of 3,000 naira for stealing nine iron rods. Like Yesufu, all the convicts above pleaded guilty to the charges but that did not make them pay less than they stole so that they too can go home and benefit from their spoils. Rather, the stolen items were recovered from them and they were equally sent to jail.
When the like of sentences handed down to John Yesufu, Lucky Igbenidion or Bode George are juxtaposed with the list of cases documented above, one should actually run amok. But methinks what we fail to see beyond our noses, our judges see it beyond their courtrooms. The judge jailed the vegetable thief for his foolishness in stealing a 5000 naira worth of vegetable when he is not an herbivorous animal. The message the judge conveyed was whether the vegetable thief was not aware that big crime pays here. The missive delivers by our judges to stupid petty thieves who pick pockets, steal goat, vegetables, iron rod, moi-moi, Nokia33, etc, is simple and clear. They should go and be like Lucky Igbinedion, Bode George, Halliburton thieves, Cecilia Ibru, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and now John Yesufu Yakubu. While developing this article, I picked up a piece of news that our judiciary did another wonder in Ikare, Ondo state, on the 29th January, 2013. One 23-year-old Adepoju Jamiu will be spending three years in jail without the option of a fine for stealing a-17,000-naira telephone handset. Our judicial system is really a piece of wonder!
I doubt if some old folks who had no iota of formal education would not do better in the administration of justice than some of our so called egg-head in the Nigeria judicial system. I recall a case that happened in the late 80’s. A young man ate two tins of moi-moi from a hawker-a little boy. While he tried to trick the moi-moi seller away so that he could escape, the moi-moi seller got his dummy and stayed put. Then the young man felt he had no other option than to take to his heel. The little hawker shouted: ‘thief’…’thief.’ He was quickly surrounded by an army of people and was being mobbed. A friend of my mother, a middle-aged uneducated woman was returning from market and met the mob. She asked how much moi-moi the supposed thief ate. She paid it off-20 kobo, and the man was let go after both the young man and the crowd were cautioned. She admonished that it could possibly be hunger that drove the young man of such age to ‘stealing’ two peak-milk tins of moi-moi. This by no means a justification for stealing. As a child, I learnt the lesson that compelling situation could drive someone into being a petty thief. Those who have not tasted real poverty may not see the reason in her assertion. But what could have happened if that young man was taken before some of our judges today? He may not have finished serving his prison term.
Coming back to the etched-on-marble words of Sheikh Usmanu Danfodio, the import is that no matter how a country claims to be religious, if the people cannot get justice, especially the low of the society, such country can never prosper. It is just a matter of time before such nation crumbles into deterioration. This is more than a reality in today’s Nigeria. In spite of our claim of being the most religious nation on earth, our country is in the lowest ebb of justice, negating the very foundation of religion-justice. This could be a topic for another day. The fact is that we have misconstrued what being religious is all about. In our own religious nation, the poor who steals out of hunger and unemployment go to languish in jail while the ones who steal the wealth of all of us are set free to enjoy their loots. In such a scenario, you cannot get anything but deterioration of the society.
On the other hand, the climes which we look down upon as being irreligious are more religious in their acts. They dispense justice with reasonable amount of commonsense. Allen Stanford, the man at the center of fraudulent Ponzi scheme in the US, is serving a 110-year jail sentence in the US state of Florida for seven billion US dollar fraud. He was a knight, but when the story of his crime surfaced, the council of Antigua and Barbuda which awarded him the title promptly met and stripped him of it in 2010, before even he was convicted in 2012. Allen donations to political parties and politicians in the United States did not save him from the long arm of the law. In a religious Nigeria, convicted politicians, thieving civil servants and fraudulent individuals are awarded National honours. It is not out of place that the Nigeria’s (G)CON award is now referred to as the (Grand) Con-master of Nigeria!
Still in the irreligious societies of China, America and Europe big-time criminals look remorseful and are aware there is no hiding place for them once the cat was out of the bag. In our godly Nigeria, similar criminals enjoy perpetual injunction from our courts, which means they cannot be investigated for criminal allegations. They stay out of court as long as they play by the rule: Steal huge amount of public funds and donate some to political parties. When EFCC looks in your way; out of the loot hire liars, sorry lawyers, who question the power of the court to try you or continuously ask for lengthy adjournment until Nigerians forget that you are a swindler. Allen Stanford surrendered himself to the authorities few months after he was reported by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Meanwhile, in Nigeria, our SEC, the supposed watch-dog against misdeed in the financial market is currently mired in allegation and counter allegations of sleaze by its present and past officials.
For goodness sake, from where are our laws and judges made? What kind of justice system sent a man to prison for two years for stealing vegetable, yet set free (it is an aberration to call that stupidity a conviction) another man whose crime has resulted into countless death of pensioners while waiting in queue to collect their unavailable pension. The crime John Yakubu Yesufu and his criminal gangs committed had caused death, home to be broken, children of pensioners to drop out of schools and some pensioners perpetually disabled from terminal illness because of lack of their pension to access medical facilities. John Yesufu Yakubu and co in the pension fraud, may God never allow you all to know peace.
This even brings me to the case of another pension thief, Dr. Sani Teidi Shuaibu. While he is still walking about free awaiting trial, the person he paid 60 million naira to help him cleared his name from EFFC and facilitated his access to Vice president Namadi Sambo in order for him (Sani Teidi) to clinch the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP in Kogi state in the 2011 election had been convicted to 15-year jail term. What evidence do need again that criminals rule over us. It means that knowing your way, you can get cleared by the EFCC and get a party ticket. If Teidi had no proof that such things happen in the EFCC and the presidency, he would not have been bold to give out such amount of money, even if it was a crumb of loot. Another point here is that Dr. Sani Teidi might eventually get discharged and acquitted by our court. Wallahi! John Yesufu Yakubu, Dr. Sani Teidi Shuaibu and their likes are better served by those who dispense jungle justice to petty thieves elsewhere in Nigerian towns and cities by setting tires around their neck and burning them alive. Nigerians would have even been grateful to the Aluu community if anyone of these pen-robbers was a substitute for the four innocent souls they murdered last year.
Nigeria is a huge joke in term of criminal justice. That is why people throw joke in the internet spaces advising criminals jailed in serious countries to relocate to Nigeria. This is because Nigeria is where big crime pays and organized financial criminals do not lose sleep. If not for a UK court, James Ibori would have still been a lord in the Nigeria’s space. His mistake was that he was not in the good book of the power that shields criminals. If he had respected President Jonathan, he too could have been a campaign director for the president like Diepreye Alamieyeseigha or become a PDP celebrity like Bode George. He did not quickly realize that power had changed hand and he paid dearly for it.
As someone argued in a piece few days ago, the environment is a big factor in determining people’s behavior. James Ibori quickly transformed to plead guilty to a 10-count charge in the UK because he foresaw what was awaiting him if he had to take the UK judiciary through a tortuous trial. He knew his case was that of being guilty rather than being a mere suspect, so he quickly bowed. This is the same man whom our judiciary could not convict in a 190-count charge, which is why I always find it stupid when EFCC’s media arm brags that it arraigns someone on one hundred plus count of charges. Countless charges that never equal a single conviction are waste of time and resources cum stupidity.
What the EFCC and the Judiciary churn out as convictions are mockery of administration of criminal justice. If these disproportionate judgments are actually in our statute book, they are overdue for review. That is why we must stand up to this injustice. I am not aware if any form of theft is worse than stealing pension fund. Even armed-robbery is less bad than stealing pension fund. If the pensioners had been robbed of their pension by armed robber, they would long have forgotten about it and move ahead with their lives. They would not have died queuing for an already looted pension. Families would not have lost their bread-winners to accidents while travelling to get their pension. Yet, one of the thieves who tortured these pensioners to death or permanent disabilities is asked by our court to go home and enjoy his loot. The rest of the pension thieves will soon go home to continue enjoying their pillage like the other public crook before them.
When General Buhari was asked why his administration jailed corrupt politicians to 100 years of imprisonment? He replied, “They would never see the daylight again to commit another crime against humanity.” A very apt reason. Allen Stanford may not even live up to a total of 110 years, let alone coming out of 110 years sentence to fleece people again. By logic and the principle of equality before the law, if a theft of 5,000 naira attracted 2 years jail term with an option of 10,000 naira fine, a pension thief of 32.8 billion naira should spend 13,120,000 years in jail, or pay 65.6 billion naira in fine. Okay, John Yesufu agrees that 2 billion naira was his share. He should serve a jail term of 800, 000 years or pay 4 billion naira in penalty.
My last line for our thieving, corrupt politicians and civil servants is this: If they can purchase judgments from our courts through fraudulent lawyers, judges and government agency like EFCC, they can NEVER be able to buy JUSTICE. It is just a matter of time. I rest my case.