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HomeHeadlinesThe Injustice in Bobrisky's Case - Lawrence C Nnoli

The Injustice in Bobrisky’s Case – Lawrence C Nnoli

The Injustice in Bobrisky’s Case – Lawrence C Nnoli

Nigeria’s popular male cross-dresser Idris Okuneye (popularly known as Bobrisky) on April 5th 2024 was arraigned before Nigeria’s Federal High court sitting in Lagos, wherein he pleaded guilty to the offence of abuse of the Nigerian currency(the naira), to wit – spraying the naira notes during social occasions. Upon conviction, the judge adjourned the case for sentencing. On 12th April 2024, the judge sentenced the cross-dresser to a prison term of 6 months without an option of a fine. The conviction was founded on the provisions of Section 21 of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007, which was the law on which Bobrisky was charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. That law prohibits the spraying of currency notes during social occasions. Spraying currency notes during social occasions is a common practice in Nigeria. This common practice often leaves the currency notes dirty and in some cases, mutilated as they are being danced upon by celebrants.

Since the law was made in 2007, few persons have been convicted of this offence, and where such convictions have occurred, the convicts have always been given the option of a fine. This was not to be for Bobrisky, who was convicted and sentenced to a six-month imprisonment without an option of fine.
This judgment has thrown up heavy dust within the Nigerian polity, and rightly so.

First, it must be admitted that the judgment was within the bounds of the law as the prescribed punishment for the offence is ” a term not less than six months or to a fine not less than fifty thousand naira, or to both such fine and imprisonment.” So, according to the law, the punishment of 6 months imprisonment and nothing more as handed down by the court, was not the maximum penalty. However, it is important to note that by this law, the judge has the discretion to determine the final penalty for this offence for each case that comes before the court. So despite not handing Bobrisky the maximum penalty for the offence, the 6 months imprisonment notwithstanding is considered a stiff punishment against Bobrisky given the peculiar circumstance of the case. And a large segment of the Nigerian society feels so for the following reasons:

1. At a time when most Nigerian Correctional centres (prisons) are brimming with large numbers of inmates (both convicts and awaiting trial inmates) and concerted efforts are being made by concerned stakeholders in the justice sector towards decongesting the prisons and ensuring that only convicts who pose a threat to the society are sent thereto, it is expected that judicial officers must weigh seriously every case before them before a prison sentence is given to a convict.

2.It is the author’s conviction that perhaps the judge allowed her emotions to becloud her sense of judicial reasoning and conduct and thus did not follow the Sentencing Guidelines as provided by Section 416(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 in sentencing Bobrisky. Sentencing Guidelines are the basic compass that guides a judge in exercising his or her discretion in sentencing a convict. Judicial discretion is not to be exercised as “it pleases his lordship”, especially where there are laws or precedents relevant towards the sentencing of the convict. In the case of Bobrisky, while the judge may be right in her comments as to the notoriety of the act of spraying the naira at social functions within Nigeria, which was what she convicted Bobrisky of, it is my view that had the judge taken a serious look at Section 416 (2) of ACJA in conjunction with the below bare facts of the case, handing Bobrisky a prison sentence would not have been an option. The relavant facts are:

1. The crime Bobrisky was convicted of falls under the classification of a simple offence.
2. Bobrisky has no known criminal record.
3. There was no “aggravating circumstance” in the facts of the case as the defendant’s conduct did not harm anyone.
4. Bobrisky, upon being charged, promptly admitted guilt and did not waste the time of the court in a lengthy trial.
5. The time and the resources of the prosecuting agency (EFCC) were not wasted in a protracted litigation.
In view of these, the sentence was anything by justifiable.

Finally, the author considers it important to stress that of all the problems bedevilling Nigeria at this time, spraying naira during social occasions should be the least of the worries of a foremost government agency like the EFCC. Instead of stationing their officials at social events to monitor the spraying of naira, the agency should ramp up its efforts in identifying and prosecuting the numerous bandits and kidnappers who are receiving ransoms from helpless Nigerians every day. Afterall, such also falls within the ambit of their statutory duties.

 

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