6th March, 2013
By Akido Agenro
The conviction by the Federal High Court, Abuja presided over by Justice Abubakar Talba of John Yakubu Yusuf on corruption charges and his sentence to two years imprisonment with an option of N750,000[$5100] has attracted much condemnation from members of the general public who are outraged by the ruling which many believed is too light considering the staggering amount involved in the embezzlement. This has once again brought to the fore the desirability or otherwise of the plea bargain as part of justice delivery system in Nigeria.
Indeed, theft is considered a grievous crime that attracts severe punishment in all communities across the globe. However, it is one of the fundamental canons of justice, one that is time honoured and emulated by the great religions to forgive or be lenient on individuals that demonstrate adequate remorse and admit their crime. Following this precept the Inquisition, tribunal charged with the vicious recrimination of people accused of heresy in Southern Europe in the Middle Ages took great care to ensure that persons that confessed to their crimes against the Roman Catholic Church were given light sentences. Plea bargaining is an integral part of the criminal justice system of the civilized world.
On the rationale behind the much maligned plea bargain, it will be recalled that the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had opined during the trial of Mohammed Abacha in the early part of his regime that plea bargaining is an option borne out of the expediency to settle for a part of the loot from an accused or on the alternative go the whole hog with all the legal hurdles and still end up with little or nothing. EFCC case against James Ibori is an exception that proves the rule yet people keep vilifying the judiciary for resorting to the plea bargaining option in deciding corruption cases. In particular the condemnation of the deals involving Lucky Igbinedion, Cecilia Ibru, Tafa Balogun and others who have taken the plea bargaining option have been most trenchant. Yakubu Yusuf is one of seven persons standing trial for their involvement in the appropriation of fund totaling N32.8bn [$218ml] meant for police pension scheme yet his is the only one among the horde who has owned up to his crime.
Besides, many Nigerians lament to high heavens the absence of laws that provide severe punishment for corrupt public officials to serve as deterrent to others who might be tempted to toe the perfidious path, forgetting that it is not the deficiency of severe punishment in the statute books that is the problem but the inability of our criminal justice system to convict corrupt persons based on the terms of subsisting laws. The fact that the law provides capital punishment for murder yet no appreciable conviction has been secured among the high profile cases except those involving high treason is an indication that it is the criminal justice system that is in need of being strengthened and not the law.
Under a plea bargain agreement with prosecutors Yakubu Yusuf forfeited to the state N325ml [$2.1ml] and choice property numbering 32. If each of the remaining six accused persons should similarly forfeit an amount in cash and property running to the tune of what is recovered from John Yakubu Yusuf how much will be left of the looted fund? For now let us all keep our fingers crossed as the case progresses in court to see who among the advocates and antagonist of plea bargaining will be vindicated.
•Comrade Agenro wrote from Lagos.