31 January 2013

Nigeria: Court Remands Convicted Pension Director in Prison

Photo: Leadership
Court gavel.

A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered that a former Director of the Police Pension Board, Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu, who was convicted last Monday by an Abuja High Court for stealing N23.3 billion be remanded at the Kuje Prison in Abuja.

Yusufu was arraigned Wednesday by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly stealing N289 million belonging to the police pension fund.

The amount allegedly stolen by the former director is distinct from the N23.3 billion for which he was convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment or given the option of fine of N750, 000 by Justice Mohammed Talba of the Abuja High Court.

Yusufu pleaded not guilty to the fresh four-count charge slammed against him by the anti-graft agency.

His counsel, Mayaki Theodore, made an oral application for his bail, which was vehemently opposed by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), but the trial judge, Justice Adamu Bello, told the defence counsel to formally file the bail application.

The judge ordered that the accused person be remanded at the Kuje Prison till March 1 when the matter will come up for hearing.

The anti-graft agency, which was miffed over the two-year jail term or the option of a N750,000 fine handed to the convict who pleaded guilty to the charges preferred against him, had filed a new four-count charge against Yusufu.

In the new charges, he was also accused of keeping a N250 million deposit for a private company, SY-A Global Services Ltd, floated in the name of his family members as directors and for refusing to disclose the asset in his asset declaration form.

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

Yusufu was also accused of fixing another N10 million on behalf of his private company bank account at First Bank of Nigeria Plc, where he was the sole signatory to the account.

The convict was also alleged to have fixed another N29 million in another bank account and failed to disclose his interest in his asset declaration form.

Yusufu's remand in Kuje Prison coincided with the demand by the House of Representatives yesterday that EFCC and the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) appeal against the lenient sentence handed him by an Abuja High Court on Monday for embezzling over N38 billion belonging to the police pension fund.

The lawmakers also resolved to set machinery in motion to review the provisions of the penal and criminal codes to provide stricter punishment for criminal breach of trust among public servants and political office holders in Nigeria.

In a motion sponsored by the House Minority Whip, Hon. Samson Osagie, and nine others, the lawmakers expressed outrage over the judgment that handed a two-year prison sentence with the option of a N750,000 fineto Yusufu, after pleading guilty to stealing over N38 billion.

Osagie noted that the monumental fraud in the police pension fund had resulted in untold hardship for retirees of the Nigeria Police Force, who have had their pensions unpaid for several months.

According to Osagie, the sort of judgment handed out by the court could only serve as an incentive for public officers entrusted with the management of public funds to engage in more acts of corruption.

"The judgment in this case did not meet the justice of the matter, given the huge amount of fraud committed by Mr. John Yusufu in the police pension fund.

"This judgment has been widely criticised by both lawyers and civil society groups. It has been a slap on the wrist as the sentence ought to have been strict to deter other public officers from meddling with public funds," he said.

The House resolved that EFCC and the AGF should appeal the judgment with a view to seeking stricter punishment for the offences under Section 309 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria, 2007.

However, in the course of the debate, some members faulted the motion on the premise that subjecting the ruling of the court to a review by the legislature was not the appropriate course of action.

Some lawmakers argued that the trial judge merely acted on the law and exercised his discretion within the ambit of the law.

They further argued that the judgment of a court can only be reviewed by an appellate court.

Also commenting on the lenient sentence handed the former pension director, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar called on the Federal Government and National Assembly to make the anti-corruption laws stiffer as a deterrence against white-collar criminals in the country.

Atiku, who was reacting to Yusufu's sentencing, said that the issue brought to the fore the major defects in the country's anti-corruption laws.

According to the former vice-president, "President (Olusegun) Obasanjo submitted a stiffer draft law which, however, was watered down by the then National Assembly."

He said rather than trading blame, Nigerians should also look at the weaknesses in these laws and call for urgent review of the laws.

According to Atiku, the purpose of punishment is to serve as a deterrent and the ultimate desire to produce remorse in the hearts and minds of offenders.

"This, however, cannot be achieved when the punishment is made so light as to make criminality attractive," he said.

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