Activist says the N250 thousand fine in a monumental pension fraud is a “handshake”
An Abuja court on Monday handed a two year jail term, with a N250,000 fine option, to one of six federal officials tried for stealing N32.8 billion of police pension fund.
The sentencing is the first conviction in an elaborate scam that came to light early 2012 involving several top officials, offices and banks.
John Yakubu Yusuf, a former assistant director in the federal civil service, was tried on a 20-count charge alongside Atiku Abubakar Kigo (Permanent Secretary), Ahmed Inuwa Wada (Director), Veronica Onyegbula (Cashier) and Sani Habila Zira (ICT Officer).
Mr. Yusuf’s sentencing came after he pleaded guilty to betraying trust and fraudulently converting N2 billion of police pension funds to private use. The trial continues for the other accused.
Mr. Yusuf admitted to the 19th and 20th offences relating specifically to him, each involving betrayal of trust and the conversion of N1 billion apiece. The maximum penalty for the offence is two years.
Mr. Yusuf is to forfeit property traced to him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, valued at N325 million.
The Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Gudu, Abubakar Talba, had during his ruling, lambasted the accused and raised hopes of a stern punishment. In a twist of events, the judge reeled out Mr. Yakubu’s sentence, much to the chagrin of activists and keen observers. The accused was let go with a rather minimal jail term of two years, if the accused would rather not face the jail term, he would be let go with a payment of N250 thousand.
But the ruling by the judge angered activists and numerous Nigerians who have closely followed the trial. The activists say the ruling smacks of sleaze and raises questions on why the court let the accused go with a minimal jail term or the option of just N250 thousand despite the magnitude of the crime.
“This is not a slap on the wrist, it is a handshake ruling,” said Lanre Suraj of the Human and Environmental Developmental Agenda. “Some may say justice is done, but justice is not seen to be done.”
The ruling would imply Mr. Yusuf will still be retaining about N1 billion after paying his fines and losing the N325 million traced to him.
“This casts aspersion on the integrity of the judge and it may assure those willing to try something like this that crime pays,” Mr. Suraj who attended the court hearing said.
The pension scam, involving several billions of naira stolen from retired police officers, shocked the nation after it broke February 2012 prompting a senate investigation.
The Senate joint committee on public service and establishment has for months, been embroiled in investigations centered on the Head of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, whom the lawmakers accused of championing another fraud.
Mr. Maina, who was brought in to reform pension administration was also accused of sleaze by the lawmakers.
He has been accused of diverting billions of naira of pension funds. He denies the allegations, and accused the lawmakers of seeking bribes. Despite the duration of the probe, no charge has been brought against him.
In December, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, Aloysius Etok, said Mr. Maina may be backed by influential Nigerians in the corridors of power.
Mr. Yakubu and his colleagues were suspended indefinitely in 2012 after the scandal broke.
The EFCC said the complex scheme involved several transfers of huge sums between banks, use of illegal accounts and falsification of names; is said to have been conducted between the officials and a former Director of Police Pension Fund, Esai Dangabar.
Mr. Dangabar was charged. Mr. Dangabar later told the EFCC part of the money was shared among the officials and the pension committees of the senate and the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly denied the allegations, calling it a “pack of lies” demanding proof.