There was shock and surprise in a Federal High Court, Abuja on Monday as a director of the Police Pensions Office, Mr John Yakubu Yusuf was handed only a two-year jail sentence with the option of a N750,000 fine for stealing N27bn from pensioners.
Justice Talba Mohammed delivered the judgement after Yusufu, who had earlier pleaded not guilty alongside his co-accused, changed his earlier stand and pleaded guilty on three counts out of the amended 20-count charge brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Yusufu, who was a former director in police pension department, pleaded guilty to counts 18, 19 and 20 where he was alleged to have connived with Mr. Essai Dangabar, Atiku Abubakar Kigo, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, Mrs. Veronica Ulonma, Sani Habila Zira, Mrs Uzoma Cyril Attang and Mr. Christian Madubuike to convert N24.2 billion, N1.3 billion and N1.7 billion respectively, belonging to the pension office to their personal use.
According to the EFCC, the offence is punishable under Section 309 of the penal code, 2007.
He becomes the first among those accused of complicity in the N32.8bn scam in the police pensions office. He however forfeits 32 houses in Abuja and Gombe, as well as N325million which the EFCC say he obtained through the crime.
Many in the courtroom openly expressed surprise at Talba’s judgement, which brought an anti-climax to the proceedings.
The exchanges among the gathering, which included lawyers, journalists, relatives of all the accused persons and observers, were loud enough for the court clerk to call everybody to order.
The judgement was made more obvious as a slap on the wrist when Yusuf’s lawyer, Maiyaki Bala, said his client was ready to pay the fine immediately after the sentencing. His statement brought tears to the eyes of the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN).
There were indications that Yusuf, who appeared calm and confident in a light green kaftan with a matching green cap, made the payment before leaving the premises of the court, located in Gudu.
Although his bank accounts were reportedly frozen by the order of the court, it seemed he was still able to raise money – perhaps through friends and relatives – as it was gathered that he was issued with a Revenue Collector’s Receipt before he left the court premises.
The convict, who had been on bail before he was sentenced, was driven away in his personal car.
The other accused persons, however, maintained their earlier plea in the matter, insisting that they were not guilty.
The amended charge introduced two more persons who were not included in the earlier charge. These are Cyril Attang and Christian Madubuike.
Attang, who is still in service as director of Finance and Accounts in the Ministry of Communications, had been on a hide-and-seek game with the Code of Conduct Bureau, which had earlier dragged her before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on a five-count charge of having properties which her salary could not have been able to acquire.
She was a director at the Police Pension Office between 2007 and 2008. Within this period, she had worked closely with Yusufu and was discovered by the Bureau to have acquired choice properties in Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi – all within Lagos metropolis – as well as in Abuja. One of her bank accounts which she maintained with a first generation bank, according to the charge slammed against her, had a credit balance of N500 million, whose source she could not explain. This charge was, however, later withdrawn by the Sam Saba-led Code of Conduct Bureau.
She was not in court but the EFCC applied that her name be temporarily expunged from the charges to enable those in court take their plea. No reason was however given by the anti-graft agency for her absence.
A private legal practitioner, Mr. Alex Oketa, had dragged the EFCC to court over the seeming preferential treatment being accorded her as she had been shielded from prosecution even though the agency had found her culpable in its investigation of the police pension fraud. The case comes up Tuesday before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
Attang’s inclusion in the newly amended charge filed by the EFCC on January 25 was calculated to douse that matter.
Yusuf’s guilty plea had apparently taken the courtroom by surprise, but immediately after, Jacobs asked the court to convict and sentence him.
He also made an application for the forfeiture of 13 houses and the N325m. The properties include two units of a three-bedroom semi-detached bungalows at R2, A and B, Sunny Homes, Dakwo District, Abuja; two units of three bedroom semi bungalow- detached at M24, A and B, Sunny homes, Dakwo District Abuja; four units of a 3bedroom semi- detached bungalows, in Abuja; eight units of an Estate of two-bedroom flats, at Gombe, GRA; one unit Semi-detached Duplex at house 21, 4th Avenue, Gwarinpa, Abuja; four units of a two bedroom semi – detached duplex at Bricks City, Kubwa Road, Abuja and one unit of Semi- Detached Duplex, at 14B Democracy Crescent, Gaduwa, Abuja.
His counsel, Bala, said by pleading guilty, his client had shown respect for the court by saving its precious time. He also said his client was a first-time offender with no record of previous conviction, with a young family, including two children in university and another in primary school who depend on him for survival and 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.
“He is also a community leader, with many students depending on him for scholarship, who could lose the opportunity if justice is not tempered with mercy.”
Even though the guilty plea had taken the courtroom by surprise, Jacobs went ahead and asked the court to convict and sentence him.
“We urge you to take into account these properties and the money, so that the court can make an order that the proceeds from the sales of the properties should go back to the Police
Pronouncing sentence on the convict, Talba said he had taken favourable note of the fact that Yusuf was a first time offender, and had also opted on his own volition to plead guilty, thereby saving the time of the court.
But he stressed that the court also had a duty to the country, which had suffered from corruption.
He held that section 309 of the Penal Code, under which the accused persons were charged, stipulates a two-year prison term with an option of fine or both.
Consequently, he sentenced Yusuf to two years’ imprisonment for each of the three counts or a fine of N250, 000.
A displeased Jacobs criticized the option of fine given to the convict, saying it made mockery of the anti-corruption stance of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.