Posted by Eric Ikhilae, Abuja | 10 June 2019 | 1,176 times
More than one year after the Court of Appeal in Abuja sentenced a former Assistant Director in the Federal Civil Service, John Yakubu Yusuf, to a two-year jail term upon his conviction for the theft of about N24 billion from the Police Pension Funds, the convict is still walking about as a free man.
The agency that prosecuted the case and appealed up to the Court of Appeal – the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) – failed to ensure the enforcement of the judgment given in its favour.
Over a year after the March 22, 2018 judgment of the Court of Appeal, which reversed an earlier judgment of High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and sentenced Yusuf to a cumulative term of six years (two-year per count on a three-count charge), Yusuf has not been made to serve the jail term.
Enquiries at the EFCC and the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) confirmed that Yusuf is not in prison but currently living as a free man and has not made any further refunds in contravention of the express orders of the Court of Appeal.
One of Yusuf’s lawyers told The Nation that the convict has since appealed the Court of Appeal judgment at the Supreme Court, but conceded that such an appeal cannot act as a stay of the execution of the judgment.
The lawyer, who sought not to be named, said: “The practice is that he will be in prison and pursue his appeal from there. He could only be released if his appeal succeeds. If it fails, he will be made to serve the entire term of imprisonment.”
Following a plea-bargain arraignment with EFCC, Yusuf had pleaded guilty to a three-count charge in which he was accused by the EFCC of stealing about N24 billion from the Police Pension Funds.
Based on his plea, Justice Abubakar Talba of the High Court of the FCT in Gudu, in a judgment on January 28, 2013, convicted Yusuf and sentenced him to a two-year imprisonment per count with an option of N250,000 fine per count.
Yusuf chose the fine option and paid N750,000 in 2013.
Embarrassed by the manner the judge handled the Yusuf case, the National Judicial Council (NJC) castigated Justice Talba for what it called “unreasonable exercise of judicial discretion” and suspended him for 12 months without pay.
In a statement conveying the NJC’s decision, NJC’s spokesman Soji Oye said: “The NJC under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON, at its meeting on April 24 and 25, 2013, suspended Justice Abubakar Mahmud Talba of the FCT High Court from office for a period of 12 months without pay.
“Justice Talba was suspended from office following the findings by the Council that he did not exercise his discretion judicially and judiciously with regard to the sentences he passed on one of the accused persons, Mr. John Yakubu Yusuf, in the police pension case of FRN vs Esai Dangabar and five others.
“It will be recalled that the NJC at its emergency meeting which was held on February 20, 2013, set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the allegations levelled against Justice Talba in the Police Pension case of FRN vs Esai Dangabar and five others.
“The Council, however, observed that the charges that had been brought by EFCC against Mr. John Y. Yusuf in the first charge sheet containing counts one to 10 under Section 315 of the Penal Code, which provides a maximum jail term of 14 years and fine, were dropped by the EFCC counsel and substituted with another charge sheet with only three counts under Section 309 of the Penal Code, which moulds a lesser punishment of two years imprisonment with or without option of fine.
“The NJC, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, also issued serious warning to Justice Talba to desist from unreasonable exercise of judicial discretion in all matters brought before him.
“On the various petitions written against Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court, who is to retire from service on May 18, 2013, the Council considered his responses and decided to seriously warn him.”
The EFCC appealed Talba’s decision and, in its judgment on March 22, 2018, the Appeal Court, Abuja, upheld the prosecution’s appeal, upturned Talba’s judgment and imposed two years’ imprisonment per count (without an option of fine) and ordered Yusuf to refund N22.9 billion to the Federal Government.
Yusuf has appealed the Court of Appeal judgment at the Supreme Court.
When asked why Yusuf was not serving his jail term, EFCC’s spokesman Tony Orilade argued that it is not part of the agency’s responsibilities to ensure that a defendant against whom it secured conviction and sentence serves the jail term.
He said: “After a successful appeal by the EFCC, the appellate court, on March 22, 2018, upturned Justice Talba’s judgment and handed Yusuf a six-year jail term.
“He was further asked to pay a more adequate fine of N20 billion, N1.4 billion and N1.5 billion on counts 17, 18 and 19, totalling N22.9 billion.
“If there is any question(s) on the whereabouts of the convict, it should not be directed at the EFCC but the relevant agency that should take custody of Yusuf.”
NPS spokesman Francis Enobore said he was not familiar with the Yusuf case.
He argued that it was impossible for the Prison Service to, on its own, scout for individuals to be imprisoned.
Enobore said it was the duty of the prosecuting agency, with arresting powers, to ensure that a person against whom it secured conviction and sentence is delivered to the prison authorities, accompanied with the decision of the court, for the purpose of serving the sentence.
He added that in the case of the EFCC, there ought to be no excuses because the commission carries out arrests and has the power to ensure that a convict is delivered to the prison authorities to serve his/her jail term. (The Nation)
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