By The Nation
Corruption is a tree, whose branches are Of an immeasurable length: they spread Ev’rywhere; and the dew that drops from thence Hath infected some chairs and stools of authority.
——John Fletcher in: The Honest Man’s Fortune (1613; published 1647), Act III, scene 3
Nigeria’s ship of state is sinking and the capsizing ship stinks of seeming alarmingly irredeemable official corruption. It is worrisome to note that a former deputy director in the Police Pension Office connived with others still undergoing trial to steal N32billion, in a country where her Minister of Police Affairs publicly declared that over 4000 police pensioners are yet to receive their pensions for lack of funds.
The position being espoused today is not because one is anti-wealth but it is because this writer is anti-greed. This is because the business of government is gravely being unimpeded by corruption. I have nothing against the smell of rot but something against who hides the smell of rot. One Latin phrase, Corruptio optimi pessima which means: “Corruption of the best becomes the worst,” sums up the entire graft scenario in the country.
Every day, the big men in power are criminally depleting our collective till just to serve their personal end. This criminally awkward trend has been on the increase because the accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference until this case of John Yakubu Yusufu. Nigerians have chosen to say no, in a loud bang, to the festering sore called corruption. Now, they seem to appreciate the logic of what Edward Griffin was saying when he said that “To oppose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism.”
John Yusufu, a former deputy director in the Police Pension Office was accused, arraigned and convicted for stealing of colossal sum of N32.8 billion pension funds, with five others. Their acts injured the felicity upon which the Nigerian society is based. The big issue is not about Yusufu’s conviction, neither was it about the confiscation of his properties. What has generated unbelievable public tumult is the condescending option of fine given him by the presiding judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Justice Abubakar Talba. The stolen police pensioners’ commonwealth would have been enough to offset the gratuity/pensions of verifiable yet-to-be paid police pensioners across the country. Despite this cruelty of action and judgement against police pensioners by those in power that are responsible for stealing their commonwealth, they still rely on serving policemen to protect their lives and ill-gotten wealth. What an irony!
There is no doubt that the custodians in the Temple of Justice are the judges. They are by the rarefied inviolability of their job looked upon as revered men and women that must at all time uphold the torchlight of justice. This perception is excepted because in such places as the United States (US) and United Kingdom among others, judges are believed to be above board. Also noteworthy is the fact that before any one can be considered fit and proper to be appointed on the Bench, he/she must have track record of unimpeachable character. The Bench, and even the Bar, ordinarily should not be havens to men and women with no conscience. The word conscience here is consciously used because when the law as it is might likely cause serious mischief to the society, it is expected that a judge should use his/her discretion by adhering to the dictates of his/her conscience that is the ultimate judge of human actions, because conscience is for centuries adjudged to be an open wound which only truth can heal. The truth in the use of privileged discretion by a judge in criminal and civil matters is what can heal the society from the criminality of corruption, armed robbery, kidnapping and terrorism among others.
Any misuse of such discretionary powers could confirm the age long statement of that philosopher, Marcus Cicero, when he aphorised: “The greatest incitement to crime is the hope of escaping punishment.”With due respect to His lordship of the Abuja High court, his judgement on Yesufu is nothing but an incitement to crime and an impetus to other filchers of public till that they can escape punishment from whatever criminality perpetuated against the state.
Justice Talba in the eyes of the law might be deemed to be following the provisions of the Penal Code applicable in the FCT in dishing out what he considers to be due punishment to the convict. But was he not outraged by the greed of the man? No one is advocating for the judge to bring emotion into law and adjudication; this is not allowed in legal jurisprudence. However, looking at law from the sociological context is permissible in this sphere of legal study. What social effect is Talba’s judgement going to have on the entire country and her governance? Will it dissuade others in power from stealing or further goad them to steal from our collective wealth? Where is the deterrence in the judgement?
The alleged offence is punishable under the relevant sections of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria 2007. The judge has the discretion to fine and equally sentence the convicted man but opted to give him an option of fine. This was what led to insinuations by some members of the public that the judge might have allegedly been compromised. If not, why does he give such judgement that gives him out as someone that has no belief in the often mouthed official anti-corruption war going on in the country and; empathy for the debilitating effect of corruption inflicted by powerful men on the poor masses whose wealth is being stolen with impunity.
Someone conspired with others to steal N32.8billion and the best judgement given him by our court was an option of fine of N750, 000; l doubt if Justice Talba has any conscience. His status as a judge has to be reviewed for dishing out this curiously insensitive judgement. He has flouted the rule established by the great Lord Denning(MR) in the case of Metropolitan Properties Co. Ltd v. Lennon (1969) [email protected] where he said: “Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking: The judge is biased.” In the country today, there is no right thinking man that can align with the auctioned judgement of Justice Talba on this matter.
No wonder, Yusufu was compellingly re-arrested by EFCC and re-arraigned on a fresh count charge of alleged fraud and failure to disclose all his assets. The world is watching how this matter will end just as it would want to know what is delaying the trial of others that conspired with convict Yusufu. The tree of corruption with contagious branches that are infecting the chairs and stools of authority in the executive, legislative, and more sadly, the judiciary must be cut and forthwith allowed to wither away. If Nigeria must witness genuine improvement, the elimination of corruption must be elevated to a state policy, not just clichés meant to give a semblance of work-in-progress by those in power.