1 February 2013

Nigeria: Justice Talba Not to Blame for Pension Judgment - SAN

Abuja — A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Jibrin Okutepa, said on Thursday that Justice Abdulsalam Talba was not to blame for the judgment passed on John Yusuf over the theft of police pension funds.

Okutepa said in an interview in Abuja that the judge acted within the provisions of the law.

He said that the law under which Yusuf was charged carries a maximum of two years in jail with an option of fine for an offender.

Okutepa said those who arraigned Yusuf under that law should be blamed and stressed that it was not possible for the judge to use his discretion in passing judgment.

"Before we crucify the judge, let us understand what the law under which the man was charged says.

"The provision of the law under which the man was charged carries a maximum sentence of two years with an option of fine.

"Rather than blame the judge for doing what he was expected to do according to law, we should blame those who arraigned the man under that law.

"The EFCC Act for instance has a provision that sentences convicts for over 15 years in jail but the law with the maximum jail term of two years was used and we are castigating the judge.

"I differ with all respect from all Nigerians who are crucifying the learned judge for doing what he did.

"No judge, however powerful, is allowed, under the law, to substitute his feelings for the provisions of the law in sentencing and convicting an accused person.

"If it was a Magistrates' Court, you won't have more than a fine of N20,000 under the same law that Yusuf was convicted by Justice Talba in the High Court.

"So why did the people who arraigned the man in court arraign him under that law do so?" Okutepa asked.

He urged the media to desist from making conclusions on topical and sensitive issues without carrying out thorough investigation.

He said that as the fourth estate of the realm and a powerful tool for national development, the media should go beyond acting based on what the public said concerning topical issues.

"This is what I expected the Nigerian press to also dig out, they have not done so; rather they followed in the euphoria of the outburst of Nigerians and then proceeded to condemn the judge.

"If the judge had sentenced the man to life imprisonment wouldn't the same press say that the judge was taking sides with EFCC?

"If the law makes provision for a heavier sentence and the judge did what he is alleged to have done, then you can question him.

"No judge is trained to be sentimental. He gave the maximum sentence that the law allows," Okutepa said.

Commenting on the process of plea bargaining in Nigeria, the senior lawyer said it was unconstitutional.

He said that convicts should be made to face the full wrath of the law rather than be given concessions.

According to him, convicts should be adequately punished to serve as deterrent to others.

"Plea bargaining is criminal and unconstitutional, it is corrupt and there is no provision for it in our law.

"The law says when somebody is convicted he forfeits the asset that is being plea bargained.

"Are you plea bargaining for a criminal to retain part of the loot?

"If you are sure of your facts, send the man to jail to serve as a deterrent to others.

"Confiscate his property so that others would not acquire wealth believing that they would plea bargain and retain some, while they give some back to the State," Okutepa said.

He called for the prosecuting arm of government to be strengthened to avoid partisanship in prosecution. (NAN)

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