30 January 2013

Nigeria: Steal a Goat, Go to Jail, Steal Billions, Pay a Small Fine


The wag who once said that "when you are stealing money in Nigeria, steal billions", clearly knew what he was talking about. There is an inverse relationship between the amount of money one steals and the likelihood of his being sent to prison by a "court of law."

I am talking about the ruling handed down by the Federal High Court in Abuja two days ago. Mr John Yakubu Yusufu, one of eight men and women standing trial over pilfering N40 billion in police pension funds, pleaded guilty to the 3-count charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC]. The former assistant director in the Police Pension Office was specifically accused of conniving with others to steal about N23 billion, to which he pleaded guilty while his co-accused persons pleaded not guilty.

Mr Yusufu's guilty plea was not a case of absent-mindedness because EFCC had found N325 million in his bank account. At the current assistant director's salary in the Federal civil service, he wouldn't earn this money in 100 years even if he doesn't spend a kobo out of his pay. That was only the tip of Aso Rockberg [to Nigerianise the popular English phrase] because in addition to the money, EFCC discovered and seized 32 "choice landed properties" belonging to Mr. Yusufu in Abuja, Lagos and Gombe. He couldn't legally own such properties if he had worked for 1,000 years!

Quite alright, Yusufu's lawyer Maiyaki Theodore Bala pleaded with the judge to show mercy because, according to him, his client showed remorse, was a first-time offender, had forfeited money and houses to EFCC, has a wife and three children, has aged parents, has high blood pressure and a chronic heart condition, is a community leader, and has many other kids who depend on him to pay their school fees.

These were very sweet words from the lawyer, and the judge completely fell for them. He sentenced the convicted pension thief to [wait for it] two years in jail on each charge, to run concurrently. He then completely eroded even that by giving an option of N250,000 fine on each count. Our friend Mr Yusufu happily dropped N750,000 in the court and walked out a free man, probably whistling and chuckling as he went.

To describe this judgment as a travesty will not be fair to the Oxford Dictionary or even to Roget's Thesaurus. Many people have been sentenced to stiff prison terms in Nigeria for stealing goats, pairs of shoes, cheap telephone handsets or even kegs of locally brewed beer. A man whose actions led to the misery, impoverishment and even death of hundreds of police pensioners walked out of the court essentially without punishment because even the N750,000 he paid must be a residue from the pilfered N23billion. In essence, poor police pensioners paid for Mr Yusufu to walk out of the slammer after he conned them out of billions and billions.

This travesty must be appealed and upturned. It is shameful and disgraceful. The message it sends to all public officials is, if you really steal a lot, you will never go to jail. But if you steal a pittance, you could rot in jail.

Temporary problem, permanent solution

I was looking yesterday at the picture of the man at Mando, Kaduna who was found hanging from a tree after his family declared him missing. It turned out that he went to a nearby bush and hanged himself from a tree.

What for? Unless a suicide note is found by the family or the police, we will not know for sure why the man took this drastic step. But the usual reasons why some people go out and hang themselves include rejection by a loved person, debt, failing an exam, forced marriage, misery due to prolonged unemployment, grief due to death of a loved one etc. A British television wag once said of suicide due to debt, "That sounds to me like a permanent solution to a temporary problem..."

Copyright © 2013 Daily Trust. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.