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Crime and Punishment in Nigeria…2, By Olusegun Adeniyi

By News Express on 14/01/2016

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Ever since what is now glibly described as Dasukigate broke out, I have maintained a studied silence despite all the goading from readers who would like to know my views on some of the critical issues that have been laid bare: abuse of public trust, lack of accountability and transparency in the management of public finances, elite conspiracy in political corruption, gross impunity and utter disregard for extant rules. There are also people who would rather I wager in on the handling of the whole sordid drama by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) viz-a-viz the application of the rule of law which presupposes innocence for all accused persons until proven guilty in the court of law. Yet, there is a third group (led by @MrPa_Johnson) whose interest in my opinion is informed more by the compensations received by THISDAY for the 2012 bombing of its premises in Abuja by Boko Haram and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) for circulation disruption.

While I still want to keep my own counsel on the whole unfortunate saga, I can see the bigger picture beyond some of the salacious stranger-than-fiction details. Such is the level of official perfidy that I doubt if EFCC officials can even claim credit for busting the scandal that smells impunity writ large. The point being made here is that most of what transpired were not “kickbacks” and the common Nigerian game of percentages that required any rigorous investigations; they are cases where funds were simply transferred from public tills to some private pockets.

What that means in essence is that what we are dealing with right now are crimes for which there is a collective guilt given the way we have all conspired to elevate elected (and  appointed) officials over and above critical public institutions. But that also brings us to the question about whether the approach being adopted by this administration to deal with the problem would bring any lasting result after the current public excitement about the revelations must have waned. That precisely is the kernel of the intervention by Professor Okey Ndibe in his column of Tuesday, titled “The war begging Buhari’s attention” which I commend to President Muhammadu Buhari and his handlers.

Even when I am still not prepared to dabble into the scandal, I cannot but remember that the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col Sambo Dasuki, at his infamous Chartham House lecture in February last year, described our soldiers as “cowards” for complaining that they were not given arms to fight. “There was a problem in the recruitment process. We have people who are using every excuse in this world not to fight. If you don’t want to fight, it’s not your fault: get out of the army. If you are there, there are certain things you are expected to do. For now, fighting is one of those things. If you don’t want to fight, don’t make excuses and say you are not armed, you are not equipped,” said Dasuki at the time.

If all the allegations against the embattled former NSA that the bulk of the money he collected from multiple government sources to buy arms for fighting Boko Haram was diverted towards the failed re-election project of President Goodluck Jonathan, then the soldiers he described as “cowards” deserve a public apology. But I want to give Dasuki and the former president (who is yet to speak on the issue) the benefit of the doubt that the allegations are not true; and that the humongous amounts of public money reportedly shared among members of the “100 Million Naira Club” and sundry others were some inherited fortunes from the Dasuki/Jonathan families. Besides, and this is also crucial for fairness, it is not all the funds domiciled in the NSA office that is/was meant for arms purchase while some of the politicians also collected the money (for which they are being accused) from political wheeler dealers without any contact with the former NSA. How do you criminalise such people without falling to the charge of political partisanship?

However, what concerns me today is not so much the handling of the Dasuki saga but rather that we have managed to create two jurisprudences in our country: one for the rich and connected and the other, for the poor. If you belong to the latter category, no matter how minor your infractions are, you will be punished severely by the law. On the other hand, the rich and the powerful who have the means to secure the services of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) are most likely to get away with any crime, however heinous. No society advances with such dichotomy in the application of the rule of law.

That was the point I tried to underscore on this page on July 30 last year, Crime and Punishment in Nigeria and the argument is worth repeating against the background of another story that perhaps only a few Nigerians paid attention to even when it was also widely reported in the media.

Last week Thursday (January 7), a Kado Grade 1 Area Court, Abuja, sentenced a 27-year-old man, Sunday Vincent, to three weeks imprisonment for “wandering” around the streets of Abuja without any satisfactory explanation. The prosecutor, Zeerah Doglass, had told the court that the convict was arrested by a police patrol team and that the offence is punishable under Section 198 of the Penal Code. However, in sentencing Vincent, the judge, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq, gave him an option to pay a fine of three thousand Naira (N3,000) which, as it would turn out, he didn’t have.

A concerned citizen who posted the story on a listserv to which I belong sought our intervention and one member immediately detailed a lawyer from her firm to follow up on the matter. And this was the feedback from the lawyer as reported back to us: “I visited the Area Court in Kado where I confirmed that Sunday Vincent was convicted for the offence of wandering and he is at the moment serving his 21-day term in Keffi prison. I further learnt that the Presiding Magistrate is ill and that we will need him to sign a ‘Release Order’ which would be taken to Keffi Prison after the payment of the N3,000 fine. Furthermore, according to the Court officials, if I pay the fine, we might be unable to get the Magistrate (due to his ill health) to sign the Release Order until the convict serves out his term. The fine would have been paid yesterday, but the revenue officer whose schedule is to receive such payments and issue receipts wasn't on seat.”

I am sure many readers are already shaking their heads about the nature of the society we run. As an aside, for some days now, there was this story that the 2016 Appropriation Bill submitted to the National Assembly by the president had gone missing in the Senate. That prompted someone to send a terse message online that the security agencies should move in quickly before some lawmakers “cash our 2016 national budget cheque”. But as I laughed over the post, a friend reminded me that it is no laughing matter because, in Nigeria, as they say on The Charlie Boy Show, “anything can happen”! Now that some senators have been mandated to comb the whole of Abuja and environs for the 2016 budget, let me return to the issue for today which is on the travails of Citizen Vincent.

Let us begin from the police officers who arrested the man for wandering and had to detain him at their station for a week before taking him to court, apparently because he could not “bail” himself out. Yes, we can say that the police officers were merely doing their job, but to the extent that no criminal intent was established against Vincent, I don’t know what purpose was served by his incarceration. Then you have the “diligent” prosecutor for whom the less said the better. And now to the judge who could apply neither discretion nor compassion. And finally, we have the court revenue collector whose dereliction of duty ensures that Vincent cannot get justice even if he meets the condition for freedom.

There is a way in which the actions of all the dramatis personae in the fate that befalls the “wandering” Vincent tell a tragic but compelling story of Nigeria. Of course, there is an argument that we cannot blame the judge who perhaps only adhered strictly to the letters of the law. I have no problem with that, having learnt “wandering” is a crime in some jurisdictions within our country. However, what I have never been able to understand is why judges are usually more lenient when crimes are committed against the Nigerian State, especially by prominent people in the society while displaying no mercy when dealing with the poor.

Two years ago, a Port Harcourt Magistrate Court sentenced a 40-year-old man, James Okosun, to six months imprisonment without any option of fine for stealing a Nokia phone handset valued at Two thousand and five hundred Naira (N2,500). The judge also ordered that the convict be made to serve with hard labour and given 10 strokes of cane by the prosecuting police officer, Sergeant Ikosi Omanoje, before being whisked to prison. In contrast, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, last month sentenced five Filipinos and four Bangladesh nationals to five years imprisonment each, after convicting them for stealing 3,423,097 metric tons of Nigerian crude oil.

“The case of the prosecution is as clear as the daylight,” Justice Buba held, before he added: “It is people like the convicts that have made Nigeria a laughing stock in the eyes of the world. The court must send a strong signal that Nigeria is a nation; not a nation of booty. It is not right for either Nigerians or foreign nationals to deny this country its God-given natural resources through illegal use.” However, the “strong signal” for the accused nine foreigners involved in such a large scale organised crime carried an option of fine: N20 million!

On the whole, what we can see in the ordeal of Vincent as distinct from that of the oil thieves is the class character of the administration of justice in Nigeria. Against the background that we are talking of stolen crude running into hundreds of millions of Dollars, even at the current price, is that a commensurate punishment? Of course it is possible that the judge was also applying the law and what the offence prescribes but we also know there is a pattern to this kind of slap-on-the-wrist sentences for big time crooks in our country. Yet when you run a system where the bigger the offence (and the offenders), the higher the possibility of escaping justice, it is the larger society that is in danger.

•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. Adeniyi can be reached via olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

Source News Express

Posted 14/01/2016 5:14:17 PM

 

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