Appeal court pass jail term on pension thief, fines him 22.9 billion naira

On Wednesday, an Appeal Court in Abuja overturned a High Court sentence of two years imprisonment with option of 750,000 thousand naira fine, passed on a former official of the police Pension Office, Yakubu Yusuf.

The Court of Appeal's three man panel which was headed by Justice Abdu Aboki, made the unanimous decision which described the sentence
by the high on Yakubu Yusuf for stealing N24bn pension funds as unreasonable and instead passed a sentence of six years imprisonment with an addition of 22.9 billion naira fine.

Delivering the judgement, Justice Emmanuel Agim, called the High Court judgement "light and lenient". He said that the ruling allowed “the convict, who had admitted misappropriating or stealing 24 billion naira, the option to pay the sum of 250,000 thousand naira per count of offence in lieu of serving a prison term of two years for the offence,” to enjoy the huge balance he had in his possession.

Justice Agim, added that the “amount” of the sentences “is paltry, a pittance and unreasonably low” also noting that it was “disproportionate to the amount stolen and therefore can comfortably and quickly be paid by the convict from the humongous amount stolen.”

Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal High Court in Gudu, Abuja, had delivered the judgement which sentenced Yakubu Yusuf to two years imprisonment with an option of 750,000 thousand naira fine on January 28, 2013 as prescribed by Section 309 of the Penal Code Act, under which Yusufu and his co-defendants were charged.

Yusuf had immediately paid the fine shortly after the judgment was delivered, walking away freely but the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission's (EFCC) private prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), made an appeal against the High Court judgment.

The Court of Appeal’s Justice Agim said the considerations of the High Court were contrary to judicially established principles, noting that the properties forfeited by the convict had no monetary value and therefore could not justify the light sentence passed by the High Court.

“I hold that the sentence of fine of 250,000 thousand naira in lieu of imprisonment for a term of two years for each offence is unreasonable, unjust, unfair, irrational, arbitrary, and contrary to judicially established principles as it is not the result of a judicious and judicial exercise of the trial court’s sentence discretion,” he said.

He thereby imposed two years imprisonment on the convict on each of the three counts and in addition a fine of 20 billion naira on the first count, 1.4 billion naira on the second count and 1.5 billion naira on the third count.

He held, “In reviewing the sentence of imprisonment with option to pay fine, as in this case, this court can vary the sentence to one of both imprisonment and fine or imprisonment without option to pay fine.

“Considering the humongous amount stolen, the nature and gravity of the crime and its destructive effect on the country and its impact on retired police officers and the grave breach of public trust, a severe sentence that would deter the further commission of such a crime and prevent the convict from retaining any part of what he stole to avoid him obtaining financial benefit from his crime should be imposed.

“The sole issue raised for determination in the appellant’s (EFCC) brief is resolved in favour of the appellant.

“On the whole, this appeal succeeds as it has merit.

“I hereby quash the sentences of two years imprisonment or a fine of 250,000 thousand naira for each of the offences in counts 18, 19 and 20 and substitute them with the following sentences for each count as follows:

“Count 18: The convict is sentenced to two years imprisonment and in addition a fine of 20 billion naira.

“Count 19: The convict is sentenced to two years imprisonment and in addition a fine of 1.4 billion naira.

“Count 20: The convict is sentenced to two years imprisonment and in addition a fine of 1.5 billion naira.

“The prison terms shall run consecutively and the monetary fines cumulatively.”

Justice Agim expressed worry about the troubles faced by retired police officers who must have affected by the theft of their pension funds, noting: “The offence committed by the respondent, by its nature, involves a grave breach of trust, erodes public confidence in public governance and causes retired police officers hardship and suffering.

“The funds stolen or misappropriated by the convict are police pension funds for the payment of monthly pensions and other retirement benefits of police officers nationwide.

“The theft or misappropriation of over 24 billion naira of that fund would make the prompt payment of monthly pensions to retired police officers very difficult, if not impossible, with attendant hardship and suffering inflicted on such retired officers who rely on their monthly pensions as their only means or source of sustenance in retirement.

“The hopeless, helpless and dehumanising conditions the retired police officers have been put into by this offence that has become habitual and widespread amongst government officials in pensions departments of government whose duties are to be in custody of pension funds and process the payment of gratuities, monthly pensions and other retirement benefits to retired public servants is obvious.”

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