Nigeria’s lean dogs and fat cows revisited

The sentencing last week of Femi Aseye to death by hanging for dispossessing two people of their valuables such as a Blackberry, a Techno mobile phone and a wristwatch compared with the slap on the wrist judgment often handed over to politicians and well-heeled members of the society brought to the fore the injustice in the nation’s justice delivery system and calls for a repeat of Nigeria’s lean dogs and fat cows, an article that was first published in this column in October 2011. Enjoy.

Is Nigeria duplicitous? The more I reflect on this question the greater my conviction in the affirmative.  Our country is not one despite our pretence to the contrary and the focus here is not the over-flogged division along ethnic or religious lines; rather it is justice or lack of it. This is one major factor that underscores the un-oneness of our country. Whether a person gets justice or not and even the kind of justice he gets is a function of his social or political standing; who he knows or is friends with, not essentially the rightness or wrongness of his actions or inactions.

Samson Siasia and Ucharia Uche are both guilty of failing to qualify their teams; Super Eagles and Super Falcons respectively, for continental competitions but they got different treatments. Uche, the lean dog was summarily disengaged from the team within three days of her team’s loss to the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroons but the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), the employer of the coaches, is still shilly-shallying on the fate of fat cat Siasia three weeks after the match that saw the Eagles out of the 2012 African Cup of Nations. Definitely, what’s sauce for Uche’s goose is not sauce for Siasia’s gander.

But the charade is not a preserve of the country’s football administration; it percolates to every facet of our national life. On October 8, 2010, a Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, found Mrs Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank, guilty of a three-count charge of negligence, reckless grant of credit facilities running into billions of dollars and mismanagement of depositors’ funds. She was given a jail term of six months on each count but the term had to run concurrently. But let’s not forget the corollary of Mrs Ibru’s indiscretion on the economy. Let’s not forget that businesses have gone to wrack and ruin, some people’s investments in the bank have become totally worthless, just as careers have suffered severe setbacks because of Ibru’s imprudence. But all she got as punishment for all the woes she visited on our economy was six months imprisonment, and I learnt she spent most of the time on a hospital bed.

Contrast Mrs Ibru’s incident with that of Emmanuel Edet, who was sentenced to a jail term of six months by an Abuja Magistrate Court on August 29, 2011 for stealing recharge cards worth N2, 000. Or that of Moshood Afolabi, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour by an Osogbo Magistrate Court on January 28, 2011 for stealing two rams. Or that of Chibueze Anebe, who was sentenced, on July 13, 2011, to six months in prison by an Abuja Magistrate Court for stealing a motorcycle. The conclusion will be that big time fraud as its great reward.

Should fat cat Ibru, who ruined many businesses and lives, be committed to prison for six months just like lean dog Edet, who stole N2,000 recharge cards? Should Afolabi, who stole two rams, rot away at the Federal Prisons, Ile Ife, for 24 calendar months while Mrs Ibru was only confined to a bed in a luxury hospital for six months? If Ibru got justice, what did Edet and Afolabi get?

What manner of justice system deters minor misdemeanours while encouraging tragic transgressions? Arguably the propensity of criminal activities in the country is a consequence of the incongruent justice that abounds.

On July 26, 2011, a Makurdi Chief Magistrate Court convicted a woman, Priscilla Ikyobo, of kidnapping and extortion and sentenced her to eight months imprisonment. But the court gave her an option of fine. For kidnapping, she was given the option of paying N5, 000, while she was asked to pay N4, 000 as an option to going to prison for extortion. Meanwhile, the ransom demanded by the lady and the two men she conspired with to kidnap the victim was N2million. Pray, what percentage of N2million is N9, 000? The judgment handed down to Ikyobo was nothing but a fillip to other kidnappers.

And so was the judgment given in December 2008 to Chief Lucky Igbinedion, who left office as Edo State governor in May 2007 and faced a 191-count charge of money laundering and other corrupt charges at a Federal High Court. But sequel to a plea bargain agreement, he had the charges reduced to one, which was that he neglected to declare his interest in a bank account.

Igbinedion pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to a fine of N3.5 million, the equivalent of the amount in the said account. No further reference was made to the corrupt charges earlier leveled against the two-term governor or the setback the state suffered as a result of his alleged misdemeanour. When not quite long ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) tried to re-open the 191-count charge case, Igbinedion hinged his defence on the law of double jeopardy. He claimed that he had already been punished for the same offences the EFCC was re-opening and the judge let him off the hook.

Thus, when recently some former governors were arraigned for a series of malfeasance, they were largely unmoved, they knew they could always toe the Igbinedion line, plea bargain, pay a paltry part of their pillage to the state and live happily thereafter.

But what does that do to the people? It fills them with a feeling that big time misconduct has great recompense. This, to say the least, is dangerous as it could result in anarchy. The best way to stave off the grave consequences is to steady the scale of justice and not tilt it in favour of anyone.