Missed a story? Search the news in the box below.

One Country, Two Justice Systems

Share to friends
Listen to this article

A justice system that enables a person to be sentenced to loss of life for stealing N57,000, whereas those that looted public treasuries are allowed to stroll free, wants a swift overhaul, Lillian Okenwa writes

On January 28, 2013, an Abuja High Court uncovered the hypocrisy of the Nigerian justice system when it sentenced one John Yakubu Yusufu, standing trial on charges of stealing N32.8 billion in the Police Pension rip-off to 2 years imprisonment on every of three charges, after which supplied him an possibility of N250,000 high quality on every depend. The former Assistant Director in the Police Pension Office merely paid the N750,000 high quality and walked away. But the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) went on attraction.

Delivering judgment, Justice Emmanuel Agim of the Appeal Court, as he then was, made some observations: “The sentence doesn’t show that it was influenced by issues of the impact of the crime on the society or consideration of the character of the crime… The offence dedicated by the respondent, by its nature, includes a grave breach of public belief, erodes public confidence in public governance, and causes retired law enforcement officials hardship and struggling…

“The ridiculously low monetary sentence as against the mind-blowing and massive amount of over N24 billion stolen helps the convict to effortlessly pay the fine and avoid the pain of punishment for his crime while retaining the proceeds of his crime…”

Then in April 2022 when President Muhammadu Buhari granted state pardon to Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, former governors of Plateau and Taraba states who had been convicted for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion respectively, from their state treasuries whereas they have been in office between 1999 and 2007, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to free all prisoners who had been jailed for stealing.

Falana contended that by Section 17 of the 1999 Constitution, residents have been entitled to equal rights and alternatives in which case state pardon needs to be prolonged to all prisoners who’re serving jail terms for stealing.

Prior to those, a former Governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion was charged by the EFCC in January 2008 for siphoning over $25 million of public funds. He ultimately pleaded responsible. When he was convicted alongside together with his firm in 2008 on 27 counts of cash laundering, the trial judge, Abdullahi Kafarati handed down a light-weight sentence that excluded jail term. Igbinedion paid the equal of a N3 million high quality, agreed to forfeit a few of his properties and walked away.

While the wealthy thieves regularly get slapped on the wrist, helpless Nigerians have been shocked just a few days over the mind-boggling loss of life sentence handed on a 32-year-old vulcaniser by an Ikeja Special Offences Court presided over by Justice Mojisola Dada for stealing N57,000. For robbing a nurse of N57,000 Justice Mojisola Dada sentenced Chidozie Onyinchiz, to loss of life by hanging. The query on the lips of bewildered Nigerians is: Why are politicians and public servants who over the years impoverished and actually snuffed life out of Nigerians allowed to stroll free?

Justice Dada said the convict’s try to wriggle out of the charges was futile. This, she said, was as a result of he had earlier confirmed to the police at Igando, Lagos, that his sufferer, Veronica Uwayzor sighted him and so they each recognised one another on the time of the offence.

According to Justice Dada: “The defendant had stated that the complainant pointed at him as one of many boys armed with a pair of scissors and forcefully snatched her bag containing N57,000 at Akesan Bus Stop. The complainant had stated that neither the defendant nor his confederate, Ediri Endurance, (nonetheless at massive) wore masks which made it attainable for her to simply recognise Onyinchiz just a few hours after the theft. The first assertion of the defendant which he made at Igando Police Station confirmed that he and Ediri went to Akesan Bus Stop on the day of the theft…

“The totality of the evidence before the court is compelling and I find the defendant guilty of the charges preferred against him. He is hereby sentenced to death by hanging and may God have mercy on his soul.”

And so the thieving vulcaniser faces a violent loss of life by hanging whereas people who have impoverished Nigerians, enriched themselves by outright looting of public funds and openly weaponised poverty are celebrated. But as noticed by a former President of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Ayo Obe, “it was the armed robbery element that attracted the (mandatory) death penalty, rather than the amount stolen. Privileged thieves arm themselves with pens and computers, but oddly enough, these are not considered weapons …”

Moreover, since legal guidelines are made by the ruling class in order to fortify their position in the society, these highly effective people make, amend, evaluation and customarily tinker with legislations, with a view to protect their own pursuits.

Daily, people are randomly arrested and hauled into overflowing prisons for ridiculous causes, whereas recognized criminals are left alone. This group of individuals constitutes the best variety of Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATIs) throughout the country. Ola, a panel beater who lately regained his liberty after eight years in jail for failing to cease suspected criminals being pursued by troopers in Lagos, was a type of unlucky Nigerians. When the troopers ultimately handed him over to the police, he was charged for armed theft.

Back to the problem of high-profile crime; in August 2021, an anti-corruption watchdog, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) filed an motion at Federal High Court in Abuja to problem the failure of the anti-graft businesses to successfully examine large corruption in government, which in keeping with the group, had hampered government’s capacity to satisfy the wants of residents.

In December 2022, one other group, the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre), threatened to sue the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria over its failure to research and sanction the suspended Accountant General of the Federation, Idris Ahmed, who’s being prosecuted by the EFCC over the allegation of N80 billion fraud. Nigerians await the conclusion of the matter and plenty of more. In the meantime, small-time thieves are being proven the way out of the world only for utilizing weapons as ridiculous as scissors. Some of their compatriots who’re fortunate are also swelling up the prisons.

As Falana said, “Criminal conversion of billions is worse than armed robbery. In 1974, Fela sang in his record, ‘Authority Stealing’ that ‘pen robbery is worse than armed robbery.’ Today, the few people who steal the billions earmarked for development pave the way for armed robbery, unemployment and poverty.”

In Nigeria at the moment, the 2 primary legislations that take care of crime are the Criminal Code (relevant to the southern states in Nigeria) and the Penal Code (relevant in the 19 northern states). These two legislations which have been promulgated in 1902 and 1960, respectively, have turn into very out of date. From 1999, EFCC, ICPC, amongst others, have been added to legal justice. These businesses nonetheless deal with corruption-induced issues.

Notwithstanding, now more than ever is time to reform the legal justice system. Now more than ever, is the time the Nigerian legislation Reform Commission (NLRC) on whose shoulders relaxation the reform and update of out of date legal guidelines, rises as much as its duty to do the needful.

• Okenwa is a journalist, lawyer and Publisher of Law & Society Magazine.


Previous articleIworiso-Markson congratulates new NDDC boss, Ogbuku
Next articleCommon Errors about Nigeria (II)