By Ojelimafe Anthony
Adamu Abubakar who was arrested on 19 March, 2012, at Darazo market in Bauchi State, Nigeria, while trying to spend a fake N500 Nigerian currency with an orange seller in the market was on 2 May, 2012, sentenced by Justice M. T. Salihu of the Federal High Court, sitting in Bauchi. Adamu a.k.a. Damina Suruku, 18 years, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. He was found guilty on all four-count charge for dealing, altering and being in possession of fake Nigerian currency notes; charges which were brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
How does one juxtapose the trial and conviction of Abubakar against the trial and conviction of Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, former CEO of Oceanic Bank (now Ecobank) who pleaded guilty to three of 25-count of fraud and mismanagement and was on 9 October, 2010, sentenced to six months in prison for fraud and ordered to return over $1.2bn (£786m) in cash and assets? She was one of the bank executives held in connection with the near-collapse of nine banks in 2009. Mrs Ibru’s sentence, was the result of a settlement agreement, Judge Dan Abutu told the court in Lagos on 9 October, 2010. Her sentence on the three-count charge was for six months each, but ran concurrently. This means she spent only six months in jail. And very unfortunately, we all knew how she ended up, spending the jail term in a private hospital.
There is no doubt that Abubakar acted in contravention of the law. By the provision of Section 20 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006, Adamu is liable to imprisonment for a term not more than 15 years and not less than 5 years without an option of fine. In the same vein, Section 14 and 15 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, states what constitutes an offence against money laundering. Specifically, Section 15, Sub section (1) (f) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, states clearly that any person who, being a director or an employee of a financial institution or designated non-financial institution, contravenes the provisions of section 2,3,4,5,6,7 or 10 of the Act, commits an offence and is punishable with a fine of not less than N250,000 or more than N1 million or a term of imprisonment of not less than two years or more or both fine and imprisonment. This is the offence Mrs. Ibru contravened. The big question now begging for an answer is: why a slap on the wrist for such a heinous offence by Mrs. Ibru and the killing of the fly with a sledge hammer in the case of Abubakar?
I am not in any way rationalizing the offence of Abubakar. There is no doubt that a thief is a thief irrespective of the item stolen. A man who stole his neighbour’s goat or handset valued at N10,000 is not holier than a public officer who stole N10 billion of public fund entrusted in his office. Or better put, Abubakar who was arrested while trying to spend a fake N500 note with an orange seller in the market, and Mrs. Ibru who stole over $1.2billion (£786m) in cash and assets of depositors’ funds in her bank are both thieves, but of different categories.
If anything, from the “ordinary man’s” point of view, Mrs. Ibru should have been apportioned 20 times the penalty of Mr. Abubakar. But unfortunately, the reverse was the case. Was there something Justice Dan Abutu and Justice M. T. Salihu of the Federal High Court, sitting in Bauchi knew that we don’t know? Or is it a case of the sermon of Professor Jerry Gana who said whatever you want to do, do it very well. Meaning, even if you must be a thief, steal very well. Steal big, for which the judges are happy with Mrs. Ibru and angry with Mr. Abubakar.
When things like these happen, those who do not know the powers of the EFCC are quick to point fingers at the Commission and conclude that EFCC did not send so so so and so person to ten or twenty years in jail. The facts remain that the EFCC has the powers to arrest, investigate and prosecute. The powers to convict are entirely that of the judiciary. There is no doubt that all financial crime suspects are fairly prosecuted within the ambit of the available laws for EFCC, But that much cannot be said of the processes leading to the conviction by the judiciary.
Other instances abound where high profile suspects or politically exposed persons, PEP, attempt every trick through their counsel who are usually Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, to frustrate their trial or at least prolong the trial sine-die, as we witness presently in the trial of all ex-governors facing corruption charges in courts across the country. If you ask me, my humble submission is that the judiciary is a willing accomplice. Why grant frivolous injunctions that will not help the anti-corruption crusade when all hands are supposed to be on deck?
Other examples of alleged judicial connivance in aiding and abetting the corrupt in the Nigeria society are found in this test case. Why would a man who is being tried for N17, 482.84 fraud charge be granted bail in the sum of N2 million, while those being tried for N540 million are granted bail in the sum of N1 million only each. To me, this is judicial irony. You doubt me?
The EFCC, on 14 June, 2012, arraigned the Chairman, Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission, OSOPADEC, Adebowale Henry Ajimuda and four others before Justice Gloria Okeke of the Federal High Court, sitting in Akure, Ondo state, on a 13-count charge bordering on fraud, embezzlement of public funds and conspiracy to commit fraud to the tune of over N540 million.
In her ruling, Justice Okeke granted the accused persons bail in the sum of N1 million each and one surety each in like sum. Each surety must not be less than a Director in the Federal Civil Service. Before adjourning hearing to 26 September, 2012, Justice Okeke ordered the accused persons to report to the Ondo State Commissioner of Police on the first Wednesday of every month.
Similarly, the EFCC, on 17 July, 2012, arraigned Mr. Buchi Francis alias James Ochala before Justice Olukayode Adegbola Adeniyi of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, sitting in Abuja, on a one count charge of fraud. The charge reads: “That you, Buchi Francis alias James Ochala, on or about the 7th day of March, 2012, in Abuja, within the judicial division of the Federal Capital Territory, did dishonestly withdraw the sum of N17, 482.84 from the account of one Okpara Kelechi Peace at Zenith Bank without her consent and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 287 of the Penal Code cap 532 Laws of the Federation 2004”…… In his ruling, Justice Adeniyi granted bail to the accused person in the sum of N2 million with one surety in like sum. He said the surety who must be a public officer of any grade level should also swear to an affidavit of means. He adjourned the case till October 22 and 23, 2012, for commencement of trial.
Please let us all cry out to the judiciary to save Nigeria from corruption and corruptive tendencies.
•Ojelimafe, a public commentator, wrote from Abuja.