Anthony A. Kila
There is no doubt in my mind, given the ways things are going in the country; Mr Garba Ogbede should not be allowed to remain at his present position: The man should either be sacked or promoted.
Who is Garba Ogbede? You might be wondering. I won’t blame you if you don’t know him. You are probably not an Abuja based criminal, journalist or lawyer.
The man is a Judge who sits in an Abuja court. The same city where some politicians, military officials and government contractors are currently going in and out of court with hoards of lawyers attending to their adjourned cases.
Unlike the Judges presiding over cases regarding looting of public funds, diversion of state resources, bribery of election officials and money laundering, Garba Ogbede presides over cases of stealing by common thieves and he wastes no time with them or on their cases.
Garba Ogbede recently made news for sentencing an unemployed 30-year-old bricklayer to three months imprisonment for stealing two packets of Maggi cubes, albeit with an option of 15,000 Naira fine.
Yes, three months imprisonment for stealing two packets of Maggi cubes! The value of the latter, they tell me is about seven hundred Naira.
Garba Ogbede is not new to such judgments. Before then, the same Judge made news, in March this year, for sentencing a 20-year-old student, to three months in prison for snatching a bag valued at N25,000 and containing a cell phone worth N12,000, two pairs of canvass valued at N8,000 and N10,000 cash. In that case, the Judge ordered the felon to also restitute the items stolen.
In April, the same Judge sentenced a 20-year old mechanic, to a three-month jail term for stealing a mobile phone worth N11,500 and also ordered the restitution of the looted sum of N11,500.00.
In May, Garba Ogbede sentenced a 22-year-old businessman, to three months prison time with an option of fine in the sum of N20,000 for stealing N3,060. Naturally, the Judge also ordered the convict in this case to restitute the money stolen.
Three points are worth noting in the listed cases and more.
Number one is the duration of the cases. In Mr Garba Ogbede’s court, cases do not seem to go on for more than a month. Within twenty-five working days the prosecution comes to court, pleads its case; the accused party does the same and the Judge decides. Accused persons do not fall ill in Mr Garba Ogbede’s court and they don’t have the need to go abroad for medical treatment, health issues or to visit their families. Their crimes and penalties are very made in Nigeria and they do not have the voice to invoke witch-hunting, political motivated persecution or similar extrajudicial motives.
The second feature is the constant restitution of loots. A convict is not only jailed and or fined; he or she is actually asked to return what was stolen. A very commonsensical sense of judgment, most will agree. Clearly Mr Garba Ogbede does not seem to believe that looters should return only part of what they looted. In his own court, a thief must return everything he stole plus do some time or pay a fine. Bitrus A. Mallam, a former cashier with the Kaduna State Local Government Pension Board, who got a fine of 100,000 Naira for stealing 8.6 Million Naira must be thanking his stars that he did not end up in Garba Ogbede’s court.
The third point has to do with the severity of his sentences, and here we begin to judge the Judge.
Generally, how do you feel about a judge that hands down three months imprisonment for stealing two packets of Maggi cubes? Are we to consider his sentences harsh or just right?
Comparatively, what do you make of a judge that passes such sentences in a country where some accused’s court cases are taking forever? How do you react to news headlines about stolen billions of Naira, frozen assets and properties worth over billions in our national currency? What does one make of the type of justice reserved for the poor unemployed miserable thieves that mostly plead for mercy and understanding when caught and the justice reserved for the rich powerful looters that lie, fight and cry foul when caught?
We really need to make up our minds as a people and as a government. We need to decide if the outlier Garba Ogbede is an aberration that needs to be eliminated from the system or a benchmark against which other Judges should be measured and a level to which they must aspire.
It is legally unjust and morally indecent to have a system where the poor and very wretched amongst us are speedily and severely punished for petty crimes whilst the powerful and privileged are allowed to play with the system.
Whining or even discussing the tendencies of highly paid lawyers to frustrate the judicial process is not an acceptable option or exercise. Frustrating court cases is a legitimate position for defense counsels. It is the Judge’s duty to ensure that such does not happen and it is the duty of the prosecution to make a convincing case pointing out where the defense is wasting the court’s time.
Join me if you can @anthonykila to continue these conversations.