Bobrisky’s conviction and subsequent sentencing: Why the discretion of the court cannot be faulted

Moruff O. Balogun, FIMC, CMC, CMS

The recent sentencing of a cross dresser known as Bobrisky whose real name is Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju has ignited several reactions even among the legal practitioners in Nigeria.
Without doubt, Bobrisky was not the first Nigerian to abuse naira notes in contravention to the provisions of the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] Act, 2007, but it should be noted that there is always a place for scapegoat in law; purposely to serve as deterrent to others and even the would-be offenders.

During his trial, he pleaded guilty to the offence bordering on the abuse of naira notes contrary to and punishable under section 21 (1) of the Central Bank of Nigeria [Establishment] Act, 2007, he proceeded further in his allocutus; begging for leniency and second chance. He cited ignorance of the law on the prohibition of abuse of naira notes. The young man is quite ignorant of the fact that ignorance of law offers no excuse.

His plea of guilty has placed the maximum power on the court without looking at or searching for any other consideration[s] to determine his fate and sanction him accordingly in line with the provisions of the law.

Tampering with or trading in notes and coins:
For the purpose of those who are not still aware of what the law says on the offence/crime of tampering with or trading in notes and coins, the below is the law.

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Section 21 of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act, 2007 provides that:
A person who tampers with a coin or note issued by the Bank is guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term not less than six months or to a fine not less than N50,000 or to both such fine and imprisonment.
A coin or note shall be deemed to have been tampered with if the coin or note has been impaired, diminished or lightened otherwise than by fair wear and tear or has been defaced by stumping, engraving, mutilating, piercing, stapling, writing, tearing, soiling, squeezing or any other form of deliberate and willful abuse whether the coin or note has or has not been thereby diminished or lightened.
For the avoidance of doubt, spraying of, dancing or matching on the naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the naira or such note and shall be punishable, under subsection (1) of this section.
It shall also be an offence punishable under subsection [1] of this section for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the naira note, coins or any other note issued by the Bank.
In this section :
“matching” includes spreading, scattering or littering of any surface with any naira notes or coins and stepping thereon, regardless of the value, occasion or intent;
“spraying” includes adorning, decorating or spraying any thing or any person or any part of any person or the person of another with naira notes or coins or sprinkling or sticking of the naira notes or coins in a similar manner regardless of the amount, occasion or the intent.

The sentencing and the court’s discretion:
The court in LAWAL V. F.R.N [2013] 3 N.W.L.R [PT. 1342] 451 at 471 defined the term “discretion” to include a public official’s power or right to act in certain circumstances according to personal judgment and conscience. A court saddled with the responsibility of exercising discretion is required to arrive at its decision in every case or situations based on the facts placed before it in the very case and apply the applicable law. Its discretion is therefore, likely to wary from one case to another case since the circumstances in each case may wary.

Also, in AKINYEMI V. ODUA CO. LTD [2012] 17 N.W.L.R [PT. 1329] 209 AT 241- 242, the court stated that the general meaning of the word “discretion” includes analysis, appraisal, assessment, choice, consideration, designation, determination, discrimination, distinction, election, evaluation, examination, free decision, free will, freedom of choice, liberty of choosing, liberty of judgment, license, option, optionally, permission, pick, power of choosing, review, selection, self- determination, suffrage e.t.c.

A cursory look at the provisions of section 21 of the C.B.N, Act, 2007 will definitely leaves no one in doubt that the Act gives the court the discretion to impose any of the three options stated under the punishment section on anyone found guilty of the offence stated therein.
The options are:
Imprisonment for a term not less than six months.
A fine of not less than N50,000:00
Both fine and imprisonment.

The court, Hon. Justice Abimbola Awogboro of the Federal High Court, Lagos in his considered discretion settled and opted for the first option stated above and sentenced Bobrisky to 6 months imprisonment accordingly without an option of fine.

Prior to Bobrisky’s conviction and subsequent sentencing, many uninformed Nigerians who unfoundedly opined that one can actually commit an offence and go scot free simply because he/she is ‘sufficiently connected’ were amazed and shocked after the final pronouncement of the court sentencing Bobrisky to imprisonment for six [6] months without an option of fine. The court was even lenient and considerate for giving him minimum punishment; in case you don’t know.

The court in this case has sufficiently sent strong signal to the public capable of redirecting the minds of the would-be offenders, and even those who had done similar acts have started deleting the videos on the internet. That is the power of the court. All these wouldn’t have happened if the court had treated the case with disdain and levity.

Ten [10] lessons the public should learn from Bobrisky’s case:
That ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Therefore, ask your lawyers the legal consequences of your acts and omissions in order to make informed decisions.
That the law is above all authorities and persons.
That it is far better to engage lawyers for proper guidance if you are charged for criminal matters.
That you don’t allow yourself to be used as a scapegoat.
That the fact that others are doing an act which constitutes an offence and no one is challenging them does not make the said act lawful.
That even your big connections may fail you if run against the provisions of the law.
That the court of law is not tiktok or instagram where you can talk anyhow, whatever you say can be used against you in court.
That Nigeria is not a lawlessness country.
That always ensure you don’t put yourself into a legal problem.
Celebrate moderately.


Thanks for reading.

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