Members of civil rights groups marched on the premises of the Ministry of Justice, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court in Abuja on Wednesday as they protested the light sentence imposed on a former Assistant Director of the Police Pension Office, Mr. John Yakubu Yusuf, who admitted conniving with others to defraud the PPO and pensioners of N27.2bn.
They demanded the investigation of Justice Abubakar Talba of an Abuja High, Court for sentencing Yusuf to only two years imprisonment with an option of N750,000 fine.
Yusuf was, however, rearrested and rearraigned on Wednesday by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for willfully “failing to disclose his interest in a private company known as SY-A Global Services Limited.”
But just as another Abuja High Court remanded the convict in prison custody till March 1, the civil rights groups’ members and students numbering over 200 reminded the National Assembly, the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court of Justice Talba’s past judgments.
The protesters, who are members of the Anti-Corruption Network, National Association of Nigerian Students and Association of Unemployed Youths of Nigeria, wore black T-shirts and carried placards and banners with different inscriptions.
By 10:30 am, they had convereged on the Justice Ministry and barriccaded the gates and later moved to the Supreme Court and the National Assembly, asking for a retrial of Yusuf’s case and the sanctioning of Justice Talba, among others.
Some of the inscriptions on the banners and placards read, “Judiciary is the hope of the highest bidders”, “Egunje don spoil judges”, “Same Justice Talba did Kenny Martins fine”; “the blood of dead pensioners will hunt commercial judges” and “Talbanism: N32bn =N75, 000!!!,” “Bad Maths”, among others.
The Executive Secretary of the ACN and former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dino Melaye, who led a convoy of power bikes, said President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the National Assembly, leadership of security agencies and others in leadership positions must realise that Nigerians were tired of corruption.
He said, “We are collaborating now with Nigerian students and others interested in fighting corruption and part of our strategy is to ensure that we shout barawo (thief) in the North; ole (thief) in the South-West; and Onyeoshi (thief) in the South- East on corrupt people.”
At the Supreme Court, they submitted a petition to Chief Justice Aloma Mukhtar in which they registered their displeasure with the Monday judgment by Talba. A copy of the petition was sent to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN).
It reads: “Nigerians are not so forgetful to recall that this same Justice Talba presided over the Kenny Martins police equipment case until the case was dead and buried. He is also currently being tipped to become the Chief Judge of Adamawa State.
“How else can we describe a situation where Yusuf, a man involved in over N27bn pension scam, was let off the hook with paltry N750, 000 only as fine option or a two- year jail term? We recall that a Magistrate Court recently sentenced a man to two years jail term without an option of fine for stealing a goat worth N5,000.
“You will also agree with us that China is the largest economy today, yet it punishes cases of corruption to serve as a deterrent with capital punishment (death). We call for thorough investigation of Justice Talba and others like him and that appropriate punishments be served them.
“We once again call for eradication of plea bargain. It is evil, nonsensical, archaic and detrimental to our avowed fight against corruption. We advocate for the China option of capital punishment for corruption, in which the family of the convicted and executed persons pay the bill for execution.”
NANS members were led by their Senate President, Mr. Kolade Olaolu, while AUYN members were led by their National Coordinator, Mr. Damesi Momoh.
Before the protest against Talba’s judgment, Yusuf was remanded in prison custody by an Abuja FHC judge, Justice Adamu Bello, after he(Yusuf) was arraigned by the EFCC.
Apart from being accused of not disclosing his interest in SY-A Global Services Limited, which he owns alongside members of his immediate family in his assets declaration form, Yusuf, according to his charge sheet, failed to disclose N289m which the company had in its bank account.
The offences are punishable under section 27(3) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act CAP E1 2004.
Yusuf, who was clad in a grey flowing gown with a sitting cap, pleaded not guilty when the counts were read to him.
“My Lord, I am not guilty,” he said in response to the counts.
Thereafter, prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), asked the judge to set a date for trial.
Yusuf’s lawyer, Mr. Maiyaki Bala, asked the court to defer setting a date for trial and instead, grant a short adjournment to enable his client to file a formal application for bail.
In his response, Jacobs asked the court to remand Yusuf in prison custody, pending the bail application.
But the defence counsel pleaded that Yusuf should instead be remanded in the custody of the EFCC.
“We want to plead for the remand of the accused person in EFCC custody for easy access pending the determination of the bail application,” Bala said.
Jacobs said the EFCC would not object to the defence counsel’s request.
“Pending the hearing of the bail application, if they (defence) have confidence in the EFCC custody, we are not opposed to that,” he said.
Ruling on the matter , Justice Bello, ordered that Yusuf be remanded in prison custody, pending the bail application.
“The case is adjourned till March 1, 2013, the accused person will be remanded in prison custody and the court will fix the date for any motion the accused person will file for bail,” he said.
Jacobs told journalists after the court session that the EFCC would not be satisfied until the pension thief was committed to serve a reasonable term in prison.
He said, “Before we proceeded on the plea bargain arrangement with the accused person in the pension fraud case, we made it clear to him that it was on a custodial arrangement and forfeiture of money.
“It was when that agreement was reached that the Attorney- General of the Federation and the Chairman of the EFCC approved.What happened after was to our greatest surprise – it was unheard of, the value system of this country has gone down.We will pursue this case until we get a custodial sentence.”