An Ikeja High Court in Lagos last week sentenced Mr. Francis Atuche, a former Managing-Director of the defunct Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank) to six years’ imprisonment for defrauding the bank of N25.7 billion. Delivering the judgment which lasted several hours, Justice Lateefa Okunnu, equally declared guilty and sentenced Ugo Anyanwu, a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank to four years’ imprisonment.
The judge held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) proved beyond reasonable doubt the allegations leveled against the convicts, stressing that they actually committed fraud. Justice Okunnu, however, discharged Atuche’s wife Elizabeth, who was tried alongside her husband and the bank’s CFO.
Since the delivery of the judgment, mixed reactions have trailed the pronouncements. On the one hand, some people applauded the verdict, saying it would serve as deterrent to unscrupulous bank officials who are in the habit of defrauding both the shareholders and depositors. On the other hand, were people who were annoyed with the low jail term slammed on the convicts, saying such was not stringent enough to deter anyone who has the capacity to defraud financial institutions or any other agency for that matter of huge sums of money.
The judgment no doubt, have portrayed the nation’s judiciary as very weak and not determined to come out strongly to support the fight against corruption in Nigeria. For someone who stole such a humonguous amount of money to receive only six years jail term shows how unserious and how unmindful some of our judicial officers can be.
For a criminal to contemplate stealing over N25 billion for six years jail term if convicted, is not enough to deter any criminally-minded fellow from engaging in such a dastardly act. With such an amount of money, the felon can live large and even sponsor mayhem against the state as is currently being witnessed in the country with increasing acts of criminality spiraling and increasing in magnitude and dimension across the country.
Several people have attributed the rising cases of insecurity in the country to the after effect or unbridled stealing of public funds by unscrupulous persons, who would not bother themselves on the proper utilization of such free fund. That is why those criminally-minded elements would continue to spend billions and billions of Naira purchasing arms and ammunition, vehicles, motorcycles and training some never-do-wells to engage in insurgency, banditry and all forms of criminality against the country.
If one should do a proper analysis of the amount of money spent by the sponsors of the various terrorism gangs operating in the county, in addition to kidnappers who, it appears, have taken over all the forests in the country, and also the highly lethal and criminal herdsmen, who have been invading and sacking communities at random, it would become very obvious that access to free money could only motivate such criminal act.
Otherwise, why should someone who suffered to earn wealth and make money decide to so fragrantly invest such resources sponsoring lethal and life-threatening criminality? But, it is obvious that when a felon so criminally and easily accumulates humongous amount of money, such an individual could so easily expend such even on terrorism against the state.
For instance, since the advent of the Boko Haram terrorists, has anyone heard of the investments made by their pioneer or immediate late leaders – Mohammed Yusuf and Abubakar Shekau – to the extent they could so easily be sustaining such infamous activity over the years? Spending the kind of money those criminals spend can only be from sources they did not sweat to get such. And for someone to bring such huge amount of money and throw such into the winds as their criminal sponsors do, can only be propelled by access free and criminal resources.
That is why government should go beyond just wedging war against terrorists and other forms of criminality to try to ascertain their sources of funding. If our intelligence community, or those holding political power, assuming the intelligence community played its roles as they ought to have done, then we should easily establish the nexus between access to easy and criminal resources and sponsorship of such heinous acts of criminality.
Therefore, for a Judge to slam such elementary sentence on a felon who had courage to steal such a huge amount of money, shows how unprepared we are as a nation to really wedge war against high-falutin criminality.
Except those who are placed in authority do their jobs properly and not in a haphazard manner, we shall continue to experience acts of brigandage against our nation and citizens. It amounts to a waste of energy and resources for the anti-graft agency to apprehend criminals, conduct the trial (which usually take years to conclude), only for slight penalty to be handed over to such criminals. We should do what we ought to do on our part so that the aggregate activities would translate to a saner society in our clime. To do otherwise will be akin to running round a circle: you expend so much energy, but end up not achieving so much.