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70 percent of Nigerian youths may become ex-convicts, judge warns

"I am of the view that some of these youths can still be saved by counseling and probatory punishments in order to let them know that their future is tainted if they are convicted. They can never be appointed to any position in the public service and in fact their private lives are also tainted"- Justice Taiwo Taiwo

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja at the weekend placed on probation, a 20 year old Yahoo boy, Aifuwa Courage Osasumwem, after he pleaded guilty to impersonating an American with the intent to defraud.

Justice Taiwo Taiwo exercised the court’s discretion, with reference to the fear of the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that given the prevalence of cybercrime in the society, 70 percent of Nigerian youths may become ex-convicts and society would be doomed.

Justice Taiwo explained that the principle behind his decision was that some of the youths can still be saved by counseling and probatory punishments rather than tainting their future through conviction.

Osasumwem was arraigned last Wednesday and he pleaded guilty to the one-count charge.

This charge reads: “That you AIFUWA COURAGE OSASUMWEM sometime in 2020 at Abuja within the Jurisdiction of this court did fraudulently impersonate a United States Citizen named Van Diesel on Facebook account, geraldbuttler-01117@gmail.com with intent to obtain money from one Patty Burrier.

“You thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 22 (2)(b)(ii ) of the Cyber Crimes (Prohibition, Prevention ETC) Act 2015 and punishable under Section 22(2)(b)(i) of the same Act.”

Prosecution counsel Mrs A. Amedu called the attention of the court to the plea bargain agreement filed in the court’s registry on March 16, 2021 which was signed by the Defendant’s counsel P. O. Osime, the Prosecutor, the Defendant and the Investigating Officer on March 11, 2021.

She prayed the court to make the plea bargain agreement the judgment of the court.

But the judge declined, noting among others that punishment is not the main aim of the criminal justice system, but that it is also geared towards rehabilitating the defendant so that he will know that crime does not pay.

Justice Taiwo held: “Given the prevalence of cyber crimes and in echoing the fears of the current Chairman of the EFCC, if care is not taken, 70 per cent of our youth may be termed ex convicts and our society is doomed.

“I am of the view that some of these youths can still be saved by counseling and probatory punishments in order to let them know that their future is tainted if they are convicted. They can never be appointed to any position in the public service and in fact their private lives are also tainted . Who wants to be called an ex-convict? Going further they can never contest for any public office as an ex-convict. In fact they carry, all through their lives from youth, the indelible mark of a criminal or ex convict.

“I will in the light of the above refrain from convicting and sentencing the defendant. This means I will not give effect to the plea bargain agreement in view of the fact that with respect to the defendant, I will exercise my powers under the ACJA 2015…

“Based on the provisions of ACJA 2015 which I have reproduced above, I have put into consideration the age of the defendant, that he is still young and thus can still turn a new leaf and be a responsible person; I have put into consideration the trivial nature of the offence and I have come to the conclusion that it is inexpedient to inflict a punishment on the defendant but expedient to release him on probation.

I shall therefore not convict the defendant but I shall discharge him conditionally by entering into a recognizance and by this, he will depose to an affidavit to be of good behaviour and not to engage in any criminal activities henceforth.

” His father who was in court when he took his plea shall be his surety who shall also depose to an affidavit that he will henceforth counsel the defendant and monitor him so that he will not engage any longer in any criminal activity.

“It is hereby also ordered that once a month from the 1st of October, 2021, for six (6) months inclusive of the month of October 2021, the defendant shall appear at the EFCC office in Abuja for counseling. His counselor will be the prosecutor or any officer in charge of counseling at the EFCC office.”

He warned the defendant and his surety that failure to visit the EFCC, his recognizance will be forfeited and the court will give effect to the terms of the plea bargain.

“The defendant is hereby warned that if he is caught engaging in similar criminal act for which he is charged to this court or any other court in Nigeria or if he engages in any criminal activity, the court will not be lenient on him. He will be given the maximum sentence if found guilty of any offence. On this note, the defendant is hereby discharged,” Justice Taiwo held.

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