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The Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, has faulted the Council of States’ decision to grant state pardon to the former Governor of Plateau State, Senator Joshua Dariye and ex-Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State, who were both imprisoned for stealing public funds entrusted in their care to the tune of N1.16bn and N1.6bn respectively and other sundry offences bordering on corruption.

The recent announcement by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, that the Council of States has endorsed the granting of clemency, pardon and prerogative of mercy to 159 out of 162 applications presented to it for consideration among whom are the former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, and former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, came as a surprise to us. We have always used these two convicted ex-Governors as a reference point for the seriousness of this administration’s war against corruption but since they have now been left off the hook, the whole anti-corruption stance of this administration has been messed up, botched and turned into a huge joke.

We are also conversant with the recent corruption cases that were determined by various courts of competent jurisdiction whose judgments we find amusing considering the humongous amount of money involved and the punishments imposed on these offenders. In some cases, part of the money they were accused of stealing was returned to them while some were handed minimum jail terms even with the option of fines.

We can mention the case of John Yakubu, a former Federal Director of Pensions, who was sentenced to six years imprisonment. Yakubu was imprisoned in 2018 by the Abuja Court of Appeal for defrauding the Federal Government of N22.9bn Police Pension Fund. Recently, The Supreme Court of Nigeria upheld the 2018 decision of the Court of Appeal which sentenced him and also ordered him to refund N22.9bn to the Federal Government. Going by the huge amount of money involved in this case we would have thought he would bag a longer jail term but he was lucky to bag just six years.

The case of Abdulrasheed Maina, a former chairperson of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), is another interesting one. The Federal High Court in Abuja sentenced Maina, to eight years’ imprisonment for money laundering offences involving N2billion in pension funds. The judge, Okon Abang, jailed Mr Maina after convicting him and his company, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd, on all the 12 counts filed against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The judge sentenced Mr Maina to various jail terms ranging from three to eight years, which are to run concurrently. It implies that Mr Maina will spend the longest sentence which is eight years in jail. Justice Abang stressed that though the law made provision for a maximum sentence of 14 years, he said he was moved by Maina’s plea for mercy. This is another case of a criminal that deserves maximum sentencing but was lucky to bag eight years.

The case involving Andrew Yakubu, a former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is another one that must be mentioned. The Federal High Court in Abuja, recently discharged and acquitted Andrew Yakubu of fraud relating to $9.8 million seized from his home in 2017. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), acting on a tip-off in 2017, stormed Mr Yakubu’s residence at the Sabon Tasha area of Kaduna State and found $9,772, 800 and £74,000 in a safe.

The commission arraigned him before Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on March 16, 2017, on six counts of money laundering and other offences. The trial court struck out two of the counts. Dissatisfied with the refusal of the court to dismiss all the counts, Mr Yakubu had further appealed at the Court of Appeal. But the Court of Appeal, ruling on a no-case submission filed by the former NNPC boss, struck down the charges to counts 3 and 4, which border on money laundering offences.

The judge agreed with Mr Yakubu’s defence that the funds were received as gifts in aggregate form and not as a “whole” that could have offended the Money Laundering Prohibition Act of 2011. Mr Mohammed dismissed the EFCC’s argument that the funds were proceeds of crime because they did not go through a financial institution. As a result, the judge ordered the immediate refund of the confiscated sum of $9,772, 800 and £74, 000 to Mr Yakubu. Although, this case may have been lost by the EFCC due to lack of diligent prosecution, the trajectory of most of the high profile corruption cases shows that they are either lost at the courts, or the accused bagging minimum sentencing, lost due to technicalities or granted state pardon even after being found guilty and convicted.
All these are very sad developments for the anti-corruption war, our nation cannot make progress with situations like these. If indeed the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy saddled with the responsibility of visiting the country’s correctional facilities and making recommendations to the President on the exercise of his power of mercy and compassion, to either grant pardon to those that had been convicted, clemency, or some other form of concessions by way of reduction in sentence and term recommended these sets of corrupt politicians for state pardon, we would have expected the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption (PACAC) established in August 2015, with the mandate to promote the reform agenda of the government on the anti-corruption effort, and to advise the present administration in the prosecution of the war against corruption, to counter that move and advise the president against such move.

Prior to this, we were thinking that the sentencing of Cecilia Ibru, Lucky Igbinedion, Tafa Balogun and the rest of them were too little and a mere slap on the wrist, the present one is like a reward for committing corruption crime and a disincentive for the fight against corruption by civil society organizations who are using their hard earned personal money to struggle to expose corruption, report corruption and advocate for the prosecution of corrupt elements and after that is done, somebody somewhere will just recommend them for forgiveness and they would be told to “go and sin no more”. That means that others that are presently serving different jail terms should also be looking forward to state pardon. It is even better for the federal government to throw open the gates of the Correctional Centres because there is no point in detaining petty thieves while mega thieves are being left off the hook. Moreover, these are people that will go to the field, contest elections and win since they already have the wherewithal to buy their way through and once somebody is corrupt, he’s always corrupt and will want to corrupt anything and anybody s/he may come across. It is disservice to the socio-political development of the country. As CACOL, our main concern remains a total commitment and unrepentant avowal to find, name, nail, shame and shun corrupt leaders anywhere, everywhere! Merciless corruption criminals don’t deserve states’ mercy. Anyone who shows mercy to confirmed criminals is complicit in criminality. Whoever is good enough to commit crimes must be good enough to serve the term.

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