Thoughts On Nigeria’s Judiciary | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Letters, Opinion

Thoughts On Nigeria’s Judiciary

Posted: May 7, 2015 at 12:19 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Ogundana Michael Rotimi


After my article last week, I had in mind to write on a totally different topic this week. But after a Federal High Court in Benin, Edo State, on Thursday, 30th April, 2015, sentenced Michael Igbinedion, to a six-year jail term or an option of paying N3 million for a N25 billion money laundering related offences, I was forced to write this.

Two convicts and four companies were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), before a Federal High court in Benin, Edo State, on an eighty-one (81)-count charge of money laundering during the tenure of Lucky Igbinedion the ex-governor of Edo State.

The two convicts were Michael Igbinedion, a younger brother of the former governor of Edo State and Patrick Eboigbodin an aide to the erstwhile governor.

Justice A.M. Liman who delivered the verdicts, found Michael Igbinedion guilty of three charges on counts 79, 80 and 81 and was sentenced to 6 years jail. By calculation, that is 2 years each for the three counts he was found guilty of, or an option of paying N1 million each for the three offences. While Patrick Eboigbodin was found guilty of ten charges on counts 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59 and was sentenced to 20 years jail. By calculation that is 2 years each for the 10 offences, but without an option of fine.

However, the questions are; what qualifies Michael Igbinedion for an option of fine but makes same not applicable to Patrick Eboigbodin? Why does our judicial system apply cheap verdicts on the rich for huge atrocities committed but tougher and unbearable ones on the poor? Are the laws for the rich different from the laws for the poor?

Our judicial system is not encouraging; it is disintegrating around us. Right in front of us, it protects corrupt political elites and the rich from the wrath of the law but hits hard on the poor for minor offences. The signs of morbidity in the system are becoming unbearable and impossible to ignore.

Every argument I have heard and read about why Michael Igbinedion got an option of fine and why Patrick Eboigbodin did not get same is just lame. To me, those are parts of the ways the rich get away with their atrocities.

I understand that, in section 14 (1) of the Money Laundering Act (2004), the law provided a sentence of two to three years imprisonment for offences centred on money laundering. However, the point is if Michael Igbinedion was not from an affluent background and he himself not wealthy and influential, he might have been found guilty of more than 3 counts of the total 81-count charges against him and others. Moreover, the law says 2/3 years imprisonment; it could have been three years for each count charge against him without an option of cheap fine.

Somehow, our judicial system has a way of making corrupt rich persons walk away with their atrocities and knows how to make the poor rot in jail for offences that are minor and that could be regarded as infinitesimal as compared to those perpetrated by the rich. 

When politicians or highly placed persons steal public funds and are brought to the court of law, the case is twisted as money laundering and Section 14 (1) of the Money Laundering Act (2004) that provided a sentence of two to three years imprisonment for offences centred on money laundering is made applicable to ease the gravity of their punishments. But when the poor steal, they are treated as criminals and sentenced without pity.

On July 26, 2007, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty before a Nigerian court to six charges and was sentenced to two years in prison on each charge. By calculation, he was meant to be in jail for 12 years. However, to make the punishment easier for him, the sentences were made to run concurrently and limited the number of years to spend in prison to 2 instead of 12. And to further make him not to feel the pains, the time was counted from the point of his arrest nearly two years before the sentences. Hence, his actual sentence was relatively short.

Additionally, in 2013, John Yakubu Yusuf, a former assistant director in the federal civil service, was tried on a 20-count charge alongside 4 other persons for stealing N32.8 billion of the police pension fund. He admitted and was found guilty to the 19th and 20th offences relating specifically to him, each involving betrayal of trust and the conversion of N1 billion apiece. At the end, a federal high court in Abuja handed him a two year jail terms or an option of fine of N250,000.

Meanwhile, just 2 weeks ago, the Ogun State High Court, Abeokuta, presided over by Justice A. A. Akinyemi, sentenced a female member of staff of an eatery, identified as Oluremi Olayinka, to 266 years imprisonment for stealing her employer’s N8 million.

The truth is, punishments meted on looters of public resources are too light to serve as deterrent to others. Our judicial system is too lenient on criminals that are rich while the poor suffer heavily for minors. 

Despite the many reforms claimed to have been achieved by the President Jonathan`s administration, our judicial system still lacks justice and fails to administer justice accordingly. It is high time the incoming administration of Buhari & Osibanjo looked into this. The judicial system has a lot to do in maintaining the peace and stability of a nation. Hence, we cannot continue to overlook and toy with the insanity in that system. Our judicial system needs reforms of personnel, processes and polices. Adequate punishments must be served to offenders accordingly and the law must make reasonable provisions for that.

•Rotimi, @MickeySunny