Symbol of Justice
Dele Ogbodo and Tobi Soniyi
The trial of former officials of the Police Pension Fund before an Abuja High Court Monday took a new turn yesterday as one of the accused persons in the N39 billion scam, Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu, who had earlier pleaded not guilty changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.
The judge however, gave him the option of a N250,000 fine.
He pleaded guilty to three out of the amended 20-count charge brought against him and other suspects by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In pronouncing Yusufu’s sentence, the trial judge, Justice Talba Mohammed, said the fact that he was a first time offender who had also saved the time of the court and had forfeited his property and assets to the Federal Government, the court was minded to consider his plea for leniency and temper justice with mercy.
The judge, however observed that the court also had a duty to Nigeria, a country bedeviled with the monster of white collar fraud which had denied Nigerians of better living conditions.
He further stated that section 309 of the Penal Code under which the accused persons were charged provided for two years imprisonment with an option of fine or both.
Consequently, he sentenced Yusufu to two years imprisonment for each of the counts or an option of N250,000.
The jail terms run concurrently.
The prosecutor. Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN), was displeased and protested the option of fine given to the convict.
He said that the punishment imposed by the court made a mockery of the EFCC’s fight against corruption.
Specifically, Yusufu pleaded guilty to counts 18, 19 and 20 where he was alleged to have connived with Mr. Essai Dangabar, Atiku Abubakar Kigo, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, Mrs. Veronica Ulonma, Sani Habila Zira, Mrs Uzoma Cyril Attang and Mr. Christian Madubuike, to convert the sums of N24.2 billion, N1.3 billion and N1.7 billion respectively, belonging to the Pension Office to their own use, an offence punishable under section 309 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, 2007.
Other accused persons maintained their earlier plea in the matter insisting that they were not guilty.
Upon his new guilty plea, the prosecution team led by Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN), urged the court to convict Yusufu accordingly.
He also brought an application seeking for the forfeiture of 13 properties scattered between Gombe State GRA and Abuja which the anti-graft agency seized from Yusufu as proceeds of crime.
Jacobs said the process of illegally withdrawing and sharing monies among the accused persons started in 2007 and ended in 2009, saying that within this period, Yusufu came into office and met this unwholesome practice and continued with it.
He told the court that apart from the 13 properties confiscated from him, that the sum of N325 million found in his account should also be forfeited.
He said: “We urge you to take into account these properties and the money so that the court can make an order for the proceeds from the sales of the properties should go back to the Police Pension Office for the payment of the entitlements of legitimate pensioners.”
Yusufu’s lawyer, Mr. Maiyaki Theodore Bala, in his submission after his client pleaded guilty, he told the court that the conduct of his client had demonstrated remorse to the court and to Nigeria as a nation for breaching its laws.
However, the EFCC has expressed reservation over the decision of the court.
A statement signed by the commission’s Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said the option of fine runs contrary to the understanding between the prosecution and the defence, wherein the convict consented to a custodial sentence with the forfeiture of all assets and money that are proceeds of the crime.
He said the agreement was duly communicated to the judge.
The commission, according to Uwujaren, will study the ruling and respond appropriately.