After a rather inconceivable and fraudulent judgement passed by Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal High Court Abuja on John Yusuf who embezzled pension funds 5 years ago, the Court of Appeal has now set the former judgement aside and passed a weightier sentence. But has justice fully been served? I mean, John Yusuf stole N32.8 billion Police Pension funds.
On Wednesday, Justices of the Court of Appeal Abuja Division jailed John Yusuf for six years and also asked him to refund 22.9 billion Naira. The accused pleaded guilty to a three-count charge in 2013, having admitted to converting an aggregate sum of over 24 billion Naira of Police Pension funds for his personal use.
However, in a baffling High Court judgment in 2013, the accused had been allowed to go scot free. Justice Talba sentenced him to two years in jail, with the option of paying a fine of 750, 000 Naira. A judgment which almost seemed more like a pat on the back for a good job. It was worse than the theft, and also passes as a punishable crime to issue such a sentence. In fact, the judge ought to be put on trial as well.
After the judgment on 2013, there was national outrage and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on April 26, 2013 approached the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the lower court. The five grounds of the appeal, bordered on the exercise of discretion of the Judge in imposing a sentence on the respondent who pleaded guilty to the three-count charge, in which he admitted converting an aggregate sum of over N24 billion of Police Pension fund into his personal use. That appeal has culminated in this latest judgement.
Even though this recent judgement looks stern, the weight of the punishment doesn’t still measure up enough to the gravity of the crime. Money laundering is akin to murder. People have died as a result of these stolen funds and some have lost their loved ones because some criminal diverted the money meant for their upkeep. A 6-year term and 22.9 billion Naira? The fine isn’t even up to the money he stole.
The Nigerian justice system has been skewed in favour of some so-called VIPs over the years. Ordinary citizens, on the other hand, continue to groan under it. The lenient punishment meted out to these set of people have encouraged impunity and corruption.
Nigerians need to rise up to demand full justice from such cases as opposed to devoting their attention to different forms of jungle justice for much smaller crimes. In many cases, people have burnt alive by fellow citizens for stealing food items electronics, and so on.
This was the chance to go hard on a corrupt government official in order to set a precedence and also serve as deterrence to others. There’s nothing right about going easy on the guilty.