In an innovative, landmark judgment, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja released, on probation, Aifuwa Osasumwem, a 20-year-old cybercrime defendant, on Friday.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo declined to uphold a plea bargain agreement Osasumwem entered with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The deal with the commission followed Osasumwem’s guilty plea to impersonating an American with the intent to defraud.
The judge referenced the fears of Abdulrasheed Bawa, EFCC Chairman, that given the prevalence of cybercrime, 70 percent of Nigerian youth might become ex-convicts and the society would be doomed.
Taiwo explained that the principle behind his decision was that some of the youths can still be saved by counselling and probational punishments rather than tainting their future through conviction.
Osasumwem was arraigned last Wednesday and he pleaded guilty to a one-count charge bothering on cybercrime.
“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, [email protected], with (the) intent to obtain money from one Patty Burrier,” the charge read in part.
“You thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 22 (2)(b)(ii ) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention ETC) Act 2015 and punishable under Section 22(2)(b)(i) of the same Act.”
Mrs. A. Amedu, the prosecution counsel, called the attention of the court to the plea bargain filed in the court’s registry on March 16, 2021, which was signed by P.O. Osime, the defendant’s counsel, the prosecutor, the defendant and the investigating officer on March 11, 2021.
She appealed that the court made the plea bargain its judgment. But the judge declined, noting, among others, that punishment is not the main aim of the criminal justice system but rehabilitation.
Justice Taiwo held, “Given the prevalence of cybercrimes, and in echoing the fears of the current Chairman of the EFCC, if care is not taken, 70 percent of our youth may be termed ex-convicts and the society is doomed.
“I am of the view that some of these youths can still be saved with counselling and probational 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 recognisance, 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 counselling. His counsellor will be the prosecutor or any officer in charge of counselling at the EFCC office.”
He warned the defendant and his surety that failure to visit the EFCC would lead to his recognisance being forfeited and the court would give effect to the terms of the plea bargain.
“The defendant is hereby warned that if he is caught engaging in a 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 with him. He will be given the maximum sentence if found guilty of any offence. On this note, the defendant is hereby discharged,” Justice Taiwo said.
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