The APC-nPDP “Merger”: 5 Things

Although it’s a bit of a misnomer, as the “New PDP” neither ever acquired a distinct corporate personality nor was recognised as an actual political party, but a “merger” with the All Progressives Congress (APC) was announced today. As the news spread on Twitter, a hitherto latent pragmatism also spread with it.  Suspicions about the leanings and probity credentials of the APC leaders gave way to acceptance that Nigeria isn’t yet ripe enough to be led by a party of saints. There was palpable excitement at the notion that a party that didn’t exist a year ago now has 18 governors (and numerous federal legislators) in its fold. What are the implications of this merger, though? Here are a few naïve thoughts from my de-tribalised, de-politicised, de-everythinged mind

1. An Epic Clash Awaits in 2014/15

Forget for a second, if you will, about the potential presidential candidates. Lick your chomps instead at the prospect of the mother of all muscle-flexing between Federal and State might. Incumbents typically do not lose elections in Africa. In Nigeria, the ruling PDP’s candidate has won every presidential election since our then (and still?) nascent democracy was born in 1999. The PDP has wielded control over the fabled “machinery” of elections since then. However, it was overwhelmingly the largest party in the past and its majority has now been halved. Federal Machinery is no more than an agglutination of Municipal Machineries. With Municipal (i.e. State) Machinery no longer aligned with Federal purpose the outcome may remain unknown for now, but it is sure that the jostling will be the busiest, rowdiest, most legendary election campaign (and spending, let’s be honest) that us 45’s and under have ever seen.

2. Shine Ya Eye

My twitter bio has been updated, to indicate my availability to provide electioneering services that cater to the vanities of elite Nigeria. I am not a ballot-stuffer and I have never brandished a weapon against a fellow human in all my life. To be honest, I want nothing to do with that side of our peculiar electoral process. However, I can do and coordinate the fancy stuff that we, the electoral minority, like. After all, a credible campaign consists of serving the illiterate masses empty platitudes and attempting to beguile the elite with concrete policy. If the epic spending predicted in point 1 above proves true, then there is going to be a big “mahkate” for consultants. Get your consultancy on.

3. Jagabanism is Next to Progressivenessism

Slate the Jagaban Borgu all you like but dismiss him at your own peril. This dismissiveness I speak of is not just in the context of the opposition parties (as the political calculations suggest a South-Westerner is unlikely to be a popular presidential candidate for another 20 years or so) but even with the APC aficionados. Sure, he is building a family dynasty, with the good lady senator senating and the Iyaloja General doing whatever it is Iyalojas do, but perhaps the Tinubus will be the Kennedys or the Bushes of Yorubaland – with due apologies to FFK. With the opinion most people express about him online, I think, given his astute succession planning in Lagos State, it is either he gets an unduly bad rap or Governor Fashola simply is not the saint we imagine him to be. Lagos has progressed unquestionably under their watch however, so it is clear that the man knows a thing or two about developmental spending.

4. Dry Bones Will Live Again

It was said recently, citing sources from within the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, that the reason for its poor record of enforcement recently was  a lack of funds. No money to chase stealers of money; the sad irony.  We can rest assured, however, that this hitherto missing money or a good Executive substitute for it will be delivered to the EFCC and they will begin to pursue their statutory mandate with renewed vigour and unprecedented fervour. That the scope of their sights is set on members of the burgeoning APC will be a minor footnote in the quest to kick corruption out of government. Never mind the fact that the N255m armoured car scandal refuses to go away, even with the feeble Wag-The-Dog tactics of an attack on an empty ministerial car by unknown gunmen. But I digress.

5. Plus Ca Change…

Asari Dokubo and co will no doubt, in the wake of the moves to unseat their “Jesus Christ on earth”, remind us that it is Niger Delta oil that is running through all our veins and that removing the incumbent president would be akin to ripping each of our hearts out of our bodies. It will be of no consequence, should this president be removed by a popular vote. It is “their turn”. Then, as elections draw closer, and the president begins to lie down before men of God for prayers, religion will also join tribalism as an honoured guest at the electoral feast. General Buhari, did not lie prostrate before the archbishop of Canterbury during his recent visit, so GEJ is well ahead in the picture polls. Pictures from the Jerusalem walkabout will resurface and Buhari will have to defend why he contracted the Mossad to abduct Umaru Dikko. Allegedly. Then the president will reduce the barriers for accessing the Nollywood World Bank Fund. So those ones will come out and act and sing for him again. Then North will be awash with “Sai Buhari” posters. Then the polity will be unbelievably heated up, in spite of the tepid warnings from the presidency…

Jurisprudential Conundrum

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jurisprudence is probably the most important subject of study for would-be lawyers and anyone trying to understand how legal systems work. Jurisprudence provides the “back-story”, if you will, to why we have the laws and legal principles we have today. Theories of state and government have led to laws guaranteeing the separation of powers of government, as well as representation in government by virtue of a people’s assembly. Similarly, the evolution of thought over time on what constitutes justice has also impacted on how different societies punish crime differently. This is why, for instance, amputation as a punishment for stealing and execution for murder are acceptable in some countries and not in others.

Our legal system, including our criminal jurisprudence, like most countries in the Commonwealth, was handed down to us by the British while Nigeria was a colony. This system of law is generally referred to as “Common Law” and countries that practice it are referred to as Common Law jurisdictions. Now, for most CLJs, crimes are punished to achieve the following purposes:

  • Retribution – that punishment must be the convict’s “just desserts” for committing a crime. In other words, the punishment meted out to the convict should be commensurate with the offence committed.
  • Deterrence – that punishment should discourage the convict from repeating the offence, and also serve as a disincentive to the community at large
  • Rehabilitation – that a component of punishment should be attempting to give the convict a different philosophy to life, such that he does not even want to commit the offence again.
  • Incapacitation – that, in appropriate cases, offenders who are too dangerous be removed from society, ostensibly to the benefit of the society.

According to the Judicial Commission of New South Wales (Australia is a member of the Commonwealth), the following are the reasons for which a court may impose a sentence on an offender:

  1. to ensure that the offender is adequately punished for the offence,
  2. to prevent crime by deterring the offender and other persons from committing similar offences,
  3. to protect the community from the offender,
  4. to promote the rehabilitation of the offender,
  5. to make the offender accountable for his or her actions,
  6. to denounce the conduct of the offender,
  7. to recognise the harm done to the victim of the crime and to the community.

(See here and here for enlightening discussions on justifications for punishment).

In its Strategic Plan for 2008-2011, the UK’s Office for Criminal Justice reform said

The fundamental test of any justice system is its effectiveness in bringing offences to justice. This means that the prosecution is well-managed, the guilty convicted and the innocent freed in a way that meets the needs of victims and treats all sections of the community fairly…It means criminal justice helping to deter crime because offenders know that be caught and punished and ensuring that, when caught, they do not reoffend…The public needs confidence that offenders are being punished and that crime does not pay.”

This background is necessary for a fuller understanding of what happened yesterday, in the prosecution of one Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu (formerly (??) of the Police Pensions Office), for his role in the theft of N39bn of Police Pension Funds. Yusufu, in court before Justice Abubakar Talba yesterday, admitted his role in the theft of roughly N23bn of the stolen funds, in connivance with others. He was charged under section 308 of the Penal Code (of 1959) and was sentenced under section 309 of the same law. Consequent to his admission of guilt on 3 counts and allocutus on his behalf by his lawyer, Justice Talba sentenced Yusufu to 2 years imprisonment on each count (to run concurrently, ie cumulatively, only two years) with an option of a N250,000 fine on each count, forfeiture of 13 houses and the sum of N325m. Public indignation at the proceedings has been torrid.

Section 308 of the Penal Code says “Whoever dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use any moveable property, commits criminal misappropriation.” Section 309 says “Whoever commits criminal misappropriation shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with a fine or both.” Thus, while a 2-year sentence on each count is what the law prescribes, the use of the judge’s discretion to rule that the sentences run concurrently and then give Yusufu the option of a fine is probably what has confounded most observers.

If we look again at the purposes or justification for sentencing, it would be extremely hard to say that Yusufu was adequately punished or that his punishment will serve as a deterrent to other public servants. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the EFCC’s counsel is reported to have complained to Justice Abubakar Talba that the sentence makes a mockery of the EFCC and the Federal Government’s fight against corruption.

I am not sure the EFCC is without blame, however. A cursory glance through the same Penal Code also contains Criminal Breach of Trust offences. Section 311 says “Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property or with any dominion over property, dishonestly misappropriates or converts that property to his own use or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged or of any legal contract express or implied, which he has made touching the discharge of such trust, or wilfully suffers any other person so to do, commits criminal breach of trust.Section 312 says “Whoever commits criminal breach of trust shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with fine or with both.

Of even greater relevance is section 315, which says “Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property or with any dominion over property in his capacity as a public servant or in the way of his business as a banker, factor, broker, legal practitioner or agent, commits criminal breach of trust in respect of that property, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to fourteen years and shall also be liable to a fine.

Unless my understanding is wrong and a pension fund accountant is not one “entrusted with” the funds, I am at a loss as to why conviction was not sought additionally under these sections.

Perhaps a final mention should be given to Yusufu’s allocutus (his plea for leniency after his admission of guit). I am reproducing it, as reported by PMNews, in full –

Yusufu’s lawyer, Mr. Maiyaki Theodore Bala, in his submission after his client pleaded guilty, told the court that the conduct of his client had demonstrated remorse to the court and to Nigeria as a nation for breaching its laws.

 

According to him, ”By pleading guilty, the convict has shown respect to this court and have saved precious time of the court. The court will also find that he is a first time offender without any previous record of conviction, furthermore, he is the head of a family of four, a wife and 3 children, two of who are university students while one is a primary school pupil. These people depend on him for their survival and well being, including the payment of school fees. It is also pertinent to note that he has a chronic heart condition which has aggravated to a serious case of high blood pressure, a condition that requires frequent medical attention. His aged parents are still alive and due to old age, have attendant medical complications which require regular medical attention and both depend on him to deal with these.”

 

The lawyer also told the court that Mr. Yusufu had grown to become a community leader with a number of students depending on him for scholarships, these Nigerian children, according to him, will loose (sic) the opportunity if justice is not tempered by mercy.

 

Continuing in his plea for leniency for his client, Maiyaki told the court that going by the application for complete forfeiture of the assets and properties confiscated from his client, that the EFCC had taken everything from his client and he is left with nothing. He urged the court to exercise the discretionary powers granted it under section 309 of the Penal Code in favour of the convict and give him an option of fine so as to serve as incentive to the other accused persons to take the courage of coming forward to admit their guilt where one exists.

Now, while the primary purpose of allocution is to mitigate the sentence for the offence to which one has just pleaded guilty, is its purpose simply to get accused persons the most lenient sentence possible? Surely not. A child kills his parents but begs for mercy because he is now an orphan? Given the tragic history of pensions and pensioners in Nigeria, the unending tales of pensioners fainting (dying, even) on queues to collect their pensions, the anti-corruption rhetoric of the current federal administration and the huge injustice in N35bn of public funds simply vanishing, should any allocution (even if it were from the lips of the late Rotimi Williams himself) absolve any Nigerian pension thief of jail time?

The fight against corruption needs to grow some mean teeth. The prosecution must push for the most severe punishment available and the brotherhood of judges must censure their colleagues who pervert the course of justice. Our criminal laws, especially as they relate to graft in public office, need periodic reviewing. If, truly, the most severe punishment available for stealing public money is a 2-year jail term commutable to a fine of N250,000, do not be surprised if the queue to confess suddenly elongates, with these criminals smiling all the way back to their banks.