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Polscope: Corruption and the Judiciary

02 Feb 2013

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Polscope with Eddy Odivwri
eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com, 08053069356

About a fortnight ago, I was involved in an argument with a kinsman. As it is often usual, when two or more Nigerians are gathered, the topic of discussion is the government.  And so in this case, the topic of discourse was the Nigerian project: why it is as it is. My kinsman had lived over two decades in the Netherlands. So his views were naturally influenced by the template of a near perfect system. While another cousin and myself argued furtively that our problem is corruption and greed, my kinsman maintained that it is not corruption. He said the root of our problem is the Crime and Punishment module used in Nigeria. We almost gave him no chance to explain himself, believing that indeed, every Tom, Dick and Harry (whoever they are) knows that corruption is the bane of Nigeria’s development. But carefully and gently, my kinsman outlayed his arguments, and in no time, we all modified our positions, agreeing with him that indeed, the fuel powering corruption is the failure of the Crime and Punishment module.

If there was any more example needed to buttress that position, Justice Abubakar Talba of the Abuja High Court provided a perfect one last Monday. His Lordship, in his exalted learnedness, listened to the guilty plea of Mr John Yakubu Yusuf who admitted converting  N23.3 Billion Police Pension fund in his care to personal use.  Yusuf is/was a Director in the Civil service.    After listening to all the arguments—from the prosecution and Defence counsels,  Justice Talba  in convicting Yusuf, sentenced him to two years imprisonment with an option of N250,000 fine each on the three count charges to which he pleaded guilty. And so, with flashing ease, from his breast pocket, Yusuf pulled out crisp wads of Naira, counted out the miserable N750,000, throws it at the judge, and walks majestically into  his chauffeur-driven posh car (with  humming AC all the while) outside the court room, and drives home, with the air of an accomplished mission.

But he had not gotten home, when Nigeria was literally set ablaze, from the kitchen of the social media. Everyone was fuming with blistering anger. Even my mechanic had a loud voice in dissecting the judgement. The users of Blackberry, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc were busy mobilizing  Nigerians for a mass movement to protest the judgement. In no time, almost everybody knew something was fundamentally wrong with a judgement that “punishes” a man who stole N23.3 Billion by asking him pay the fine of N750,000. And he walks home a free man. Did the learned Justice understand the import of his ruling? What percentage of the ill-gotten wealth is the fine? And he goes home to enjoy his loot? What happened to asset forfeiture?

Nigerians thought we had seen the worst judge in Justice Stanley  Egbo-Egbo of the Abuja High Court, with his unconscionable rulings and judgements a few years ago.  But with the new trend being set by Justice Talba,  Egbo-Egbo may have just been a judicial apprentice in indiscretion.

I have heard arguments on the punishment prescribed by the penal code against such crimes. I do not know if that was what guided the judgement of Justice Talba, which everybody has described as less than a slap on the wrist. The law is made for man, not man for the law. If Judges can on their own discretion give very tough bail conditions, how come the same judges are not able to exert maximum punishments for crimes, especially those that touch on gross inhumanity?

But aside the hoopla around the curious judgement, I have a greater worry with a system that allows one man to steal as much as N23.3 Billion before he eventually gets caught. The rougish Yusuf must have stolen the said amount over time. If a Director can steal as much, how much did the Perm Sec of that ministry steal? Indeed, where was the Perm Sec when Yusuf was robbing the till blind? Where was the Accountant of the ministry? Where was the Auditor of the ministry? Where were the relevant committees in the National Assembly who should exercise oversight functions as to know why pensioners were not being paid their monies, even when budgetary provisions had been made? Where were they all? As J.P Clarke would say,  “We are all Casualties”. How could a man have such unfettered access to the people’s commonwealth without let or hindrance? It is not unexpected that Yusuf had a set of people on the financial chain that he had regularly bribed to enable him undertake the pillaging of the treasury.

Nigerians are about 165 million people. But one man decides to steal N23.3 Billion meant for pensioners. And he feels cool in his house. Whereas, everyday, pensioners are collapsing and dying on the long queues waiting for their little allowances. Sometimes they protest on Abuja streets. They curse and grumble, bemoaning their fate and regretting serving the nation diligently only to be treated with ignominy. But the Joseph Yakubu Yusufs (a chain of virtuous scriptural names) of this world, was storing away their wealth in his own lucrid tank. How greedy can a man be?

So the issue of my kinsman’s argument comes up here. Yusuf could sustain the gut to continue stealing because he knew that the system is warped. He knew that even if he got caught, he will settle the system and will wriggle his way out of whatever noose there is. He knew the price tag on all the personnel on the justice chain. Last Monday, he played out the scenario he drew in his head. And we were all spectators.

Spurred by the uproar that greeted the judgemnent, Yusuf was re-arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and arraigned for concealment of assets. He is now on holiday at Kuje Prisons. He deposited N250 million in Fixed deposit account , and several other millions of Naira  in different accounts in the name of XYA Ltd, a company he owns with members of his family.

More and more people are now preferring to take their cases to international courts since justice is not quite assured in Nigerian courts anymore. Judges, largely, have become a new set of scourges. Highly placed judicial personnels do deals with raw criminals across board, at the expense of the system, for their own selfish interests. The courts are full of corruption cases that never get done with. The governors of the Class of 99, who were accused of varying degrees of corruption have not been visited with any judgement, five years after leaving office. They gallivant the streets with vexatious swag. They go about delivering lectures, and advertise the message of “we-have-overcome-the-system”. But under one year, James Ibori, former governor of Delta State was tried and jailed in a UK court. Some of such governors have gone to the senate and returned. Yet corruption cases of Billions of Naira are hanging on their heads. They do not fret or bother because they know those cases are going nowhere. They understand the language of the judges. They know the password that unlocks impunity. And that is why we are where we are, as a country.

If Henry Okah was tried in Nigeria, the case would have dragged on forever or get convoluted midway. But in less than two years, the South African court is done with Okah and his terrorist creed.

A certain Jagaba had his hand cut off by the Zamfara State government in Year 2002 for stealing a cow, in this same country.
Many have been languishing in jail for ten years or more for stealing tubers of yam or even loaves of bread, in this same country. 

The judiciary is supposed to be the last gate of society’s sanity. But if that gate is now manned by languid, drunken, compromised and careless guards, then the rest of society is in trouble. A big trouble. That is probably where we are. The scripture says, if salt has lost its taste, then it is not good for anything else, but to be cast down and trodden under the feet of men. The judiciary is supposed to be peopled by characters of balanced integrity, but if that attribute is no longer assured, then the judiciary has burnt its essence, what is described in corporate marketing as its Brand Capital.

Canticles...

Will the Mega Party Overrun PDP?
I
am so glad Nigerians will soon have a breather.
Really?  How? PHCN has been transformed?

I am not talking about PHCN. It is the coming deliverance on the political terrain.
Deliverance?  Have we  been under a spell or a siege?

Look, the good news is about the coming of the mega party. A political party is about being born. A party that would end our woes with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A party that would liberate Nigeria.
I am lost. Which party are you talking about?
The party does not have a name yet.

That is the problem! The party is yet without name and you are so hopeful of its messianic niche. You don’t know these people called politicians. You have to have a sixth sense to understand them. You talk with high scale naivety. You mean you really believe that the merger talks will work and produce a so-called mega party that will displace the PDP?

Why not? Eh? I say why not? Are you implying that Nigerians are stuck with the PDP? Look, the stakeholders in the merger talks have said it will be concluded by June this year. All efforts are being intensified to clear all grey areas. The content of the PoU that will guide the symmetric merger is being fine-tuned. In fact, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has commenced the mediation between General Muhammadu Buhari, his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
What is PoU?

Protocol of Understanding,  which is a higher version of MoU.

And you truly think that Bola Tinubu will subsume his ambition for Buhari or vice versa? Look, let me assure you that the first bout of trouble will be in the name the party will come up with. You will see them fighting over whose name will be sacrificed, whose logo will be upheld and all such political inanities and warts.

I think you are unduly pessimistic. Just wait and see. They are matured persons. They are resolved to come together to fight a common enemy--- the PDP. They are committed to ensuring that all strategies are deployed to achieve victory. So while you are seeing the bottle as half empty, others are seeing it as half full.

Do not forget that they had attempted a merger before the 2011 elections. Did it work? And you think their psyches and egos have undergone political surgery now for them to agree?

Don’t forget there is now another party in the deal—the ANPP. I am assuring you that the synergy of these three powerful parties will knock the PDP out of reckoning and free Nigerians from the clutches of ineptitude and political shenanigans.

Did you say “powerful parties”? How powerful are they? How many states do they control in total compared to the PDP?  If you ask me, I will say the three named parties do not call the shots in the polity. How much do they have or can they boast of? At the end of the day, it is largely a contest of quid--- it is about who has the deepest pocket.

You miss the point. Buhari is like a political deity in the north. His people will follow him wherever he goes. He doesn’t have to have money, as long as he is the torch bearer. The Jagaba himself has undoubtable regional influence in the entire South west and beyond. Go and check your political statistics and you will know that as soon as you rein-in the votes from these core zones, the rest will fall in place. Trust me!

How can I trust you? You are looking at one side of the coin. Don’t forget that the field is always looking greener on the other side, until you cross over.

Ok, ok. Let’s stop arguing. June is just four months away. Let us wait and see how the mega party plan works out.
For you to believe me, you will see that June won’t be June. The goal post will keep shifting.

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Politics

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