Last week saw a very bizarre dimension in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. If the trend continues and the tempo of protesting skewed judgments on corruption cases is maintained, the days of executive lawlessness and cash-and-carry judgments may be over for good. To nip corruption in the bud, after series of disappointments with the government and cumbersome judicial process, the people themselves have begun a new phase of fighting back at the authorities and the law.
Often, when the judiciary pronounces judgment on any national issue, Nigerians analyse the judgment days on end and the propriety of such a pronouncement. Last week they went beyond informal conversations to officially protest the judgment pronounced on an alleged pension thief. In national and social media and on the streets and offices, discussions centred on the assumed light sentence passed on John Yakubu Yusufu by Justice Abdulsalam Talba. Nobody ever imagined the fury, public outcry and condemnation that followed the judgment. Yusufu, a former accountant with the Police Pension Fund, was one of six persons accused of embezzling N32 billion police pension fund. Justice Talba pronounced a two year prison sentence or an option of fine on him. For the three charges involved, the accused was to pay N250,000 amounting to a total amount of N750,000, which Yusufu instantly offset. This further infuriated Nigerians.
Talba may have acted within the confines of the law as has been argued by some legal experts, but Nigerians disagreed vehemently, because they felt the learned judge dwelled more on the legalese than morality. Although the EFCC waded in and rearrested Yusufu, ostensibly for another offence, many think it was just a ploy to pacify. With the outrage that followed that judgment, by now it should be clear to those in authority, that the days of taking the people for granted is over. The attitude of the men in power is pushing Nigerians to the brink.
It is bad enough that they have begun to question/challenge the legal authority, but some day, it will be the turn of the executive. The legislature has always been on the spot. A glimpse of what oppressed people can do is attested to by last year’s fuel subsidy protest. On this latest legal pronouncement, Pastor Tunde Bakare, captured it succinctly at a press conference in Lagos last Sunday: “The judiciary has ceased to be the last hope of the common man; it has become the last refuge of crooks. It is not surprising to see our young people carrying arms against the state via one terrorist group or the other.”
Like the Yusufu case, the Senate last week forced the federal government to recant in the case involving the chairman of the Presidential Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina. The man dribbled the nation and refused to honour the Senate’s invitation to appear before its committee investigating the allegation of misappropriation of pension funds.
Maina went to the ridiculous extent of joining in popularity contest with the Senate. A group of people—some people said he hired them—demonstrated in solidarity with him. However, as the saying goes, falsehood has a short lifespan. Maina’s world crashed on Friday last week when the police, in a twist, declared him wanted. At the time of his Senate’s invitation, Maina would go in and out of the Villa at will. So, what suddenly turned the game against him? The answer is in the vigilance and insistence of the Senators not to be toyed with.
By December last year when Maina called their bluff, the chairman of the committee went spiritual, saying God would pay back Maina in his own coin. Unknown to him (Maina), the senators’ silence was only a bait. From the information available to me, the David Mark-led Senate threatened President Goodluck Jonathan to choose between either impeachment or hand over Maina. The president chose the latter and Maina was declared wanted. Perhaps, civil society groups and concerned Nigerians cried to the senators and they in turn wielded the big stick.
The lesson in the two cases portrayed above underlines the crux of this short piece. It is high time the people took their destiny in their hands and demand for justice, real justice and not Talba’s style of justice. In a country where people go to prison for stealing goat, onions and tuber of yam, a man was asked to pay only N750,000 after stealing billions of naira, just because of a subsisting legal principle called plea bargain. Besides, the case according legal minds, falls within the breach of public trust law, an offence whose punishment is either N250,000 or/and a two year-prison term. The law is truly an ass.
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