Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: EFCC Rearrests Pension Thief Yakubu Yusufu

A self-confessed police pension thief, Yakubu Yusuf, was yesterday re-arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Justice Abubakar Talba of an Abuja High Court had, in a judgement he delivered this Monday, freed Yusuf by asking him to pay N750, 000 fine or spend two years in jail after he admitted that he had embezzled N32.8 billion.

As at the time of filing this report, the convicted former director of pension in the Police Affairs Ministry was still being held in the EFCC custody in Abuja and will be arraigned today before a Federal High Court in Abuja on a fresh charge of stealing N300million.

Yusuf was picked up by the EFCC on upon his arrival in his residence.

Sources close to the EFCC told LEADRSHIP yesterday in Abuja that the joy of the family of the convicted director was short-lived as EFCC operatives whisked him away from his home in Abuja for interrogation and later detained him.

But the EFCC legal team yesterday confirmed at the Federal High Court premises that the convict was re-arrested on Monday in connection with another case of fraud.

It was gathered that a four-count criminal charge had already been filed against him, preparatory to his arraignment before a federal high court today.

In the fresh four-count criminal charge, the convicted former federal director was accused of false declaration of assets contrary to section 27(3) of the EFCC Act, 2004.

He was also accused of keeping N250million in a private company, SY-A Global Services Ltd, floated in the name of his family members as directors and refused to disclose the asset in his asset declaration form.

The money was alleged to have been fixed in an account with Zenith Bank.

In the new charge signed by Mr. Chile Okoroma, EFCC director of legal services, the former pension director was also accused of fixing another N10million in his private company bank account at First Bank where he was the sole signatory. He was also alleged to have fixed another N29m in another bank account but failed to disclose his interest in his asset declaration form.

EFCC lead lawyer Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) confirmed that necessary steps had been taken and that the accused person will be arraigned in Abuja today.

The former pension director had, on Monday, forfeited 32 different properties to the federal government as proceeds of fraud in addition to about N400m cash in a bank account traced to him.

His conviction by Justice Talba followed his admission of guilty plea to the criminal charge brought against him under section 309 of the penal code.

NBA, Sagay, others react

But a nationwide condemnation and outrage have greeted Justice Talba's pronouncement on Monday after he asked Yusuf to forfeit 32 houses in the FCT and Gombe as well as N325m in his account.

A cross-section of Nigerians described the sentence as an indication of lack of enthusiasm to fight corruption by government and the judiciary.

The EFCC also condemned the judgement in a statement issued on Monday night, while promising that it would come out with an appropriate response.

Prominent constitutional lawyer Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) described it as outrageous because of the victims of Yusuf's theft who are all old men who had served the country meritoriously.

Ostensibly responding to criticism of Justice Talba's judgement on Monday, the president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Okechukwu Wali (SAN), however cautioned lawyers against indiscriminate condemnation of judges just as he blamed shoddy investigations for the type of judgements delivered by Nigerian judges.

Wali also cautioned branches of the NBA against making statements on national issues, stating that the NBA at the national level remains the mouthpiece of the association.

He said, "I also want to caution the branch against speaking on national issues. You should confine yourself to what happens in your branch; it does not make for orderliness as most times you don't have all the facts.

"The nation's judiciary has come under fire most times due to shoddy investigations and the judge can only give judgements based on what is placed before him.

"Yes we have problems in the judiciary and we will tackle them. That is why we are against branch officers speaking on behalf of the NBA," he added.

But, according to another lawyer, Mr. Alasa Ismaila, the money Yusuf stole can build 14 of a 150-bed hospital fully furnished with state-of-the-art equipment that the Chinese government on Monday handed over to Nigeria. The entire structure and furniture cost $12.5 million, about N1.9 billion.

He said, "The hospital located in Abuja will be used by federal civil servants, some of whom have been stealing Nigeria dry. As President Goodluck Jonathan recently commented, some civil servants have more houses in Abuja than Nigeria's richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. Imagine 14 well-equipped hospitals, distributed in the six geopolitical zones. Imagine the millions of lives the hospitals could save, the billions our nation could save from overseas medical tourism."

Also, a Lagos-based lawyer and activist, Mr. Bamide Aturu, said he was extremely disappointed with the judgement, saying that it "is horrible and shows the kind of country we live in. It shows Nigeria is now the headquarters of corruption in the universe".

"The government is not serious about fighting corruption. The judiciary and lawyers are not serious too about fighting corruption. The people must rise up and fight corruption. I am devastated, amazed and saddened that this kind of thing is happening in 2013. It is a national embarrassment," he added. According to Aturu, this kind of judgment would certainly encourage more people to steal as it now pays to be a criminal in Nigeria. "There should be a protest by the people over this issue and I don't mind to join them. If something urgent is not done to fight corruption in Nigeria, there will be a serious problem."

Also speaking on the issue, another lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, said the judgement was an aberration. He said, "It is a travesty of justice and a complete abuse of the plea bargaining procedure. This is the reason why people oppose plea bargaining."

A Lagos-based lawyer, Chief Benson Ndakara, said: "This is bizarre. From the report, it is clear that there was a plea bargaining and, in any official plea bargaining, the agreement must be adhered to. For the EFCC to have consented to such an agreement is worrisome."

Another lawyer, Mr Alex Uzebu, said the judiciary has missed it, stressing that "it is not a surprise because a similar judgement had been delivered in the past.

He cited the cases of former Edo State governor Lucky Igbinedion, Cecilia Ibru and former Bayelsa State governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. With what is playing out in our judicial system, there is no way corruption can be reduced, he said. "For example, in the case of Madock in the United States, he was not given bail. As I speak to you, he is in jail. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption. The law of punitive correction is strictly applied in democratic society. Why is it that Nigeria's case is different?"

The founder, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, Comrade Debo Adeniran, also denounced the judgement, saying that "is the way the Nigerian government shields corrupt elements in the society. The system does not put machinery in place to punish corrupt people. The government too is guilty of the offence of corruption".

"The judgement is a slap in the face of Nigerians. There is evidence the man knew what the outcome of the judgement would be, which was why he brought N750,000 cash to the court. He has just been given a clean bill of health to enjoy his loot. It is a bad example to the youths of Nigeria. What has happened is not justice," he added.

The spokesman, Save Nigeria Group, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said he was very angry over the judgement, saying that it is "an induction ceremony for another criminal in Nigeria. It is only petty crooks that get punished in this country while the big crooks go scot-free". "The judgment is a confirmation that crime is a big problem in Nigeria. Until there is a drastic action in this country, all these anti-crime bodies being set up are useless," he said.

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