A Stiff Sentence for a Pickpocket Con Man

by Sheyi Oriade

Had the notion occurred to, and the possibility existed for, Kelvin Ighodalo to have sought the counsel of a Careers’ Adviser prior to embarking upon his chosen career, for which he is now to spend an extended period behind bars; he might have been counselled to pursue a career path in Nigerian politics. A vocation, for which he seems eminently qualified on account of his proclivity and proficiency for relieving others of what is rightfully theirs and utilising the same for personal benefit. A trait he shares in common with many of our ruling political class. Had he had the foresight to have sought out and followed such counsel, he would today, be reposing in the comfort of opulent government lodgings, well beyond the reach of the law; rather than being confined, as he now is, to the austere and forbidding surroundings of a Nigerian prison. In other words he would have been celebrated, rather than incarcerated!
It is quite possible that up to this point some readers may be wondering who Kelvin Ighodalo is? Such a reaction is not unusual. For until recently, he was in national terms a nonentity. His identity was known it seems, within, but not beyond certain criminal circles encompassing pickpockets and confidence tricksters. His sudden claim to national notoriety is based on an audacious sequence of criminal acts he perpetrated against the governor of Osun State. In full public gaze, he picked the pocket of the governor and stole his mobile phone. He subsequently dialled certain numbers stored on it, and through false pretences, fleeced the recipients of the calls, out of significant sums of money.

As much as one does not commend or condone such action, and indeed one condemns it, there is, however, something very comical about the audacity of it all. How it is, that at a public inaugural ceremony to induct a governor, a pickpocket was able to breach security and rifle through the governor’s pocket? Incredible! It raises questions about the competence of those charged with protecting the governor. I shudder to imagine, what the consequences might have been, had Kelvin Ighodalo been anything other than a misguided pickpocket.

Given his choice of high profile victims, it was always going to be a matter of time before he was apprehended and arraigned before a court of law to answer for his criminal actions. And once this happened and his guilt was established, it was a foregone conclusion that in retribution, he would receive a custodial sentence. Such that, it would be some time before he could once again regain the freedom to pursue his preferred practice of picking peoples’ pockets and personating other peoples’ personalities for pernicious and profitable purposes.

Ordinarily, Kelvin Ighodalo’s encounter with the criminal justice system ought not to raise eyebrows or comment. By conduct and character he is not a model citizen. His matter should have been an ‘open and shut case’. He did the crime and having been found guilty, it was now time for him to do the time. What could be more straightforward? Not this case as it turns out. Due to the extent of the sentence pronounced upon him – 45 years for six counts. One finds this, problematic, particularly, in the light of Lord Hewart’s maxim, to wit, that:

‘Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.’

It seems in this case, that justice was not simply done, it was overdone and to such a degree, that it resembles, in some respects, an injustice. One would have thought it impossible to wrong a man guilty of wrongdoing.

But in sentencing him to 45 years in prison for his crimes, notwithstanding, the concurrency of the sentences (he will serve no more than 10 years in prison), the Osun State High Court has unwittingly invited comparisons and comment about the experience and expectations of lowly placed, and highly placed, individuals in the Nigerian criminal justice system. How for instance, do those members of the ruling class, culpable of picking the nation’s pockets, fare in the criminal justice system, in comparison to the likes of Kelvin Ighodalo?

In Kelvin Ighodalo’s case, it appears that rather than the punishment being delivered to fit the crime(s) it was delivered to fit the individual or, worse still, to satisfy his high profile victims. One recognises that any criminal justice system worth its name, must seek to strike a balance between these different and often competing aspects. Punishment for crime must highlight its seriousness and leave the criminal in no doubt about his wrongdoing, as well as reassure victims of crime, and society as a whole, that the criminal justice system can be depended upon to deal with crime in a fair, decisive, definitive, and timely manner regardless of the status of the criminal. I am not persuaded that all these boxes were ticked in this case.

Whenever decisions relating to the choice, nature, and extent of punishment for offenders are made they should, with due regard to the law, be informed or tempered by the concept of proportionality. Perhaps in Kelvin Ighodalo case, the trial court’s main motivation was to issue an unequivocal message to pickpockets, confidence tricksters and fraudulent extortionists that the law takes a dim view of their activities. Such an approach is not wrong. But it needs to be applied consistently across the board, to ensure that it affects in equal measure those who pick the pockets of governors and governors (the ruling class) who pick the pockets of the governed.

Against a background, in which highly placed members of the ruling class when found on the wrong side of the law have received in retribution, nothing more than a slap on the wrists, in stark contrast to Kelvin Ighodalo’s experience with the criminal justice system, it leaves a poor taste in the mouth. And this regardless of the fact, that Kelvin Ighodalo is not an exemplar of model citizenship. There is no doubt that he deserves a stint in jail for his actions. That much is beyond contention. What is not, however, is the extent of the sentence given to him.

Those in whom, the administration and dispensation of justice is reposed, must ensure that the people do not become disillusioned about the prospects of attaining justice through State institutions; otherwise it will lead to anarchy, as increasing numbers of people begin to subscribe to the notion that:

‘There is no justice, just us.’

But perhaps, I protest too much, for did not, Anacharsis, the philosopher declare millennia ago, that:

“Laws are like spider webs, strong enough to hold the weak, but too weak to hold the strong”.

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