The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Alooma Mukhtar, has promised that the National Judicial Council (NJC) look into the controversy surrounding the questionable judgement delivered by Justice Abubakar Talba of the Abuja High Court in the conviction of a self-confessed pension thief, Yakubu Yusufu.
The CJN made the pledge through the chief registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Sunday Olorundahunsi, when two groups, the Anti-Corruption Network and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), led a protest march to the Supreme Court in Abuja yesterday.
The CJN said that there was the need 'to take appropriate action' on the matter in order to reassure the public that the judiciary remained the last hope of the common man.
The protest letter of the groups was accepted by Olorundahunsi behalf of the CJN.
Justice Talba gave the controversial judgement last Monday when he sentenced the former director of Police Pension Board to a two-year sentence on each of the three-count charge with an option of paying a fine N750,000, a sum the convict promptly paid and regained his freedom. The development was sequel to the guilty plea where Yusufu admitted that he stole N23billion from the police pension funds.
But the Anti-Corruption Network and NANS, in a joint peaceful protest yesterday, threatened to unleash an Egyptian-like protest within 14 days if nothing was done to remedy the situation.
The procession, which was led by a former member of House of Representatives, Dino Melaye, in company of NANS president, Yinka Gbadebo, and ex-president of West African Students Union (WASU), Daniel Onjeh, started at 11:36am at the office of the attorney-general and minister of justice, where the protesters delivered a letter of protest entitled: 'Travesty of Justice and Mockery of Judiciary By Justice Abubakar Talba.'
The police and other security men at the entrance of the Ministry of Justice barricaded the premises, which led to a mild drama where Melaye jumped the fence to register his displeasure with a police officer who had earlier given a no-entry order, resulting in an altercation between the duo after which the protesters proceeded to the Supreme Court complex.
But Melaye, who described Justice Talba's judgement as 'satanic', demanded, among others, a re-trial of the pension theft culprit, investigation of Justice Talba, eradication of plea bargain - which he described as archaic - and the entrenchment of Chinese-type capital punishment where the cost of the execution is paid by the family of the culprit.
The two organisations, according to Melaye, were also giving the CJN a period of 14 days to act, and it failed the protesters would return to occupy the Supreme Court.
The protest march, which ended at the Supreme Court premises, had the protesters carrying placards with various inscriptions like: 'Judiciary: Hope of the Highest Bidder', 'Judicial Corruption our Major Problem', 'Jankara Judgement for Pension Thief', 'N23bn = N750,000 Talbanism', 'CJN Investigate Talba' just as they chanted 'Injustice Talba Ole.'
Judgement ridiculous, NBA insists
Meanwhile, the Ibadan branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned the judgement delivered by Justice Talba against pension fund thief Yusufu, describing it as ridiculous.
Chairman of the association, Mr Oluseun Abimbola, disclosed this yesterday during an interview in Ibadan.
Abimbola contended that the sentence was not commensurate with the crime, saying that it would be difficult to say that justice was truly delivered.
"To say that it borders on the ridiculous is an understatement," he said. "If someone steals billions and you are asking him to pay a fine of a few thousands and he forfeits assets of a few millions, which he disclosed to you, there is probably a lot more than that undisclosed to you that he gets to keep - and you call that justice?"
"Some people who have supported the plea bargaining structure without a proper knowledge of how it functions in other jurisdictions would be defending that?
"In other jurisdictions where you have plea bargaining, it's not meant to be a slap on the wrist and told to go and sin no more. It is meant to deter. If your crime is such that entitles a court to sentence you to a maximum term of whether life or 25 years, what happens in other jurisdictions, particularly cases that ordinarily would have entitled you to 25 years, you will do 10 or 7 years, not months."
He warned that if the plea bargaining facility is not well applied, it would become part of the corruption the nation would have to deal with, especially on the part of the prosecution.
He also called for a review of the nation's laws that prescribe the different sentences and terms of imprisonment, describing them as deficient.
Court remands Yusufu in Kuje prison
Meanwhile, a Federal High Court in Abuja has remanded Yusufu in Kuje prison till March 1 when his trial will commence for failing to make full disclosure of assets and liability in his assets declaration form, a requirement of all public servants.
The new four-count charge brought on the convict by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission also borders on his failure to declare his interest in a company known as SY-A Global Services Ltd.
Yusufu is alleged to have used the company to lodge N250million with a new generation bank.
Controversy has trailed his light sentence, with the EFCC insisting that Yusufu is supposed to serve time in jail after all his properties might have been seized. This development prompted the anti -graft agency to re-arrest Yusufu over his alleged non-disclosure of assets.
But at his re-arraignment yesterday, Yusufu pleaded not guilty to the four -count charge slammed on him.
Lawyer to EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), told the court that he was ready to proceed with the trial and had two witnesses ready to give evidence against the accused.
He also prayed the court to remand the accused person in prison custody pending the next adjourned date.
But lawyer to Yusufu, Theodore Mayaki, however, pleaded with the court to rather remand the accused in the EFCC custody.
In his short ruling, Justice Bello ordered that the accused be remanded in prison custody. He consequently adjourned the case till March 1 for trial.
In the fresh charge, the anti-graft agency alleged that Yusufu had, on February 14, 2012, knowingly failed to make full disclosure of his assets and liability in the Declaration of Assets Form which he filled by not declaring his interest in a company known as SY-A Global Services Limited, incorporated by him and solely owned by him and members of his immediate family. The offence is said to be punishable under section 27(3) of the EFCC Act, 2004.
He was also alleged to have failed to declare his interest in a fixed bank deposit worth N250million which was fixed in the name of the said company in an account it maintained at Zenith Bank International Plc.
The company was also alleged to have another N10million fixed deposit in an account it maintains at one of the first generation banks. Yusufu is the sole signatory to the company's account.
The EFCC also accused him of fixing another N29million through one Mr. Danjuma Mele, who is also scheduled to testify as a witness in the trial.
The sum was allegedly fixed at Yusufu's behest through Mele's company, Jidag Technical Services Ltd, which had an account in Diamond Bank Plc.
Yusufu was last Monday arraigned alongside other former officials of the Pension Office who were alleged to have pilfered about N39 billion from the pension funds.
He had pleaded guilty to counts 18, 19 and 20 wherein he allegedly connived with the other accused persons to embezzle the sum of N24 billion belonging to the Police Pension Office.