Monday, 4 May 2015

Igbinedion Donates N8M To Chief Judge's Book Launch The Day His Son Was Sentenced

An embarrassing scenario for the judiciary played out last‎ Thursday as businessman and father of former Edo State governor, Lucky Igbinedion, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, donated N8 million at the launch of a book in honour of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta while another judge of the same court sentenced his son, Michael, for offences related to money laundering.

Igbinedion  made the highest donation of N8 million at the book launch.
Igbinedion, dressed in all white apparel, mingled freely with serving and retired judges, including senior lawyers who populated the gathering. He hugged and shook hands with those his lawyer, Richey Tarfa, SAN, introduced to him. He came in a brown limousine, with Esama (his traditional title) printed on its number plate.

When it was time to launch the book titled: “Encyclopedia of civil procedures and practices of superior courts in Nigeria,” put together by a group of Senior Advocates of Nigeria in honour of Justice Auta, Igbinedion spoke glowingly about the honouree, describing him as a “bold and courageous judge.”
Igbinedion’s donation of N8m was followed by the N7m put together by some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, led by Alex Iziyon (SAN).
While Igbinedion was eulogizing Justice Auta and making donation at his book launch in Abuja, his (Igbinedion’s) son,  Michael , who was convicted by Justice J. Liman of the Federal High Court, Benin the previous day,  was being sentenced in Benin.
Justice Liman had, on April 29 convicted Michael, younger brother to Lucky and Charles Eboigbodin, the former governor’s personal assistant for money laundering related offences.

Michael was convicted “for receiving cash in excess of the stipulated threshold, while Eboigbodin and a firm, PML Nigeria Limited were convicted on “for colluding to conceal the illicit origin of funds as stipulated under Section 14 (1)(b) of the Money Laundering (prohibition) Act.”

The offences, under Section 15 (b) of the Money Laundering Act carries “a fine of not less than N250, 000 or more than N1million or a term of imprisonment of not less than 2 years or to both fine and imprisonment.” The judge deferred sentencing to the following day.

On April 30, Justice Liman sentenced Eboigbodin to two years imprisonment, but gave Igbinedion an option of N1m fine on each of the three counts for which he was convicted.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had accused them of laundering about N25billion from Edo State’s coffers while Lucky was the state governor.

Lucky, who was equally accused of looting the state got a similar treatment in 2008 when, followinga controversial plea bargain with reached with the EFCC under the leadership of Farida Waziri, Justice Abdul Kafarati (then of the Enugu division of the Federal High Court) sentenced him to six months in jail with the option of a N3.5 million fine.

EFCC pledged to appeal the decision in Lucky’s case.
Meanwhile, two groups, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) and Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA) have condemned what they termed “the slap-on-the-wrist judgment handed Michael Igbinedion by Justice Liman.

CACOL’s Executive Chairman, Debo Adeniran, said in a statement that the judgment was another proof that  the federal government was protecting corrupt people.

“The Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, is not interested in prosecuting anybody. Several people have been indicted, nobody has been made to face the wrath of the law. And for those who were brought before the law, the cases were shoddily prosecuted, to the extent that many of them didn’t get deterrent punishment.

“As a matter of fact, it is a long drawn story of protecting corrupt people. It is unfortunate this is happening in Nigeria despite the many reforms this administration claimed it has brought to our judicial system. This is an indication that the reforms are just charade. The judgment ridicules our judiciary and judicial system,” Adeniran said.

HURIWA has therefore asked the National Judicial Council (NJC) to immediately probe the judge and sanction him for bringing the integrity and credibility of the Nigerian court system into disrepute with this “laughable verdict.”

It advocated comprehensive reforms of the criminal justice system to outlaw the current soft landing and discriminatory lenient sentences usually meted out to affluent persons in conflict with the law who are accused of compromising the integrity of the nation’s judicial system.

“The Nigerian Court System as currently constituted is a respecter of the rich and affluent who are willing to buy justice whereas poor accused persons are allowed to perish in the over congested and poorly maintained prisons,” HURIWA said

In a statement endorsed jointly by the National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, and the National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA urged the incoming national legislature to review the law setting up the EFCC to include very stringent sanctions, including death penalty for such monumental corrupt enrichment crimes by political office holder.

The group argued that this comically lenient sentencing of accused persons who allegedly cornered humongous public fund has ridiculed the nation’s judicial system in the eyes of right thinking persons globally and has further graphically depicted Nigeria as a banana republic whereby might of money is always right.

It called for the probe of the prosecution team handling cases for the EFCC, saying it appears that a particular law firm has gained monopoly in matters of prosecution of alleged theft of public funds and in most instances the suspected thieves are not vigorously and competently prosecuted to come out with very stringent judicial sanctions for serious cases of corruption by government officials.

“How come that only watered down sections of the anti-graft law  applied in the prosecution of highly successful politically exposed persons but this same EFCC somehow succeeds in obtaining harsher sentencing for petty crooks such as rogues who engaged in advanced fees fraud?” the group asked.

The rights group said it was laughable that whereas some lower courts have sentenced alleged thieves of as little as bread to long prison terms, indicted erstwhile politically exposed persons and big time contractors end up receiving ridiculously lenient verdicts in the Federal High Courts.

“These comical errors and well-orchestrated undermining of the anti-graft war through subterfuge and compromise of the court system must be halted now or the people will stop trusting the Nigerian court system,” HURIWA said.

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