Have Nigerian judges now decided to treat the criminal poor like the
On Tuesday 13 March 2014, a magistrate, Mrs. Chinyere Nwacheonwu, handed
down an unusual sentence to a man accused of stealing money from an Abuja
Church: she asked one Augustine Bala (27) to sweep and clean for one month a
church where he stole N27,950 from a tithe box.
Bala lives at Mpape, a slum that was to be pulled down last year but for
the intervention of human rights activists. He however travelled to Holy
Trinity, the Catholic millionaires’ church in the high-brow Maitama District of
Abuja FCT, to perform the act.
An eagle-eyed security man in the Church apprehended Bala and handed him
over to Police at the Maitama Division. Brought face-to-face with the judge, he
quickly accepted guilt and begged for mercy:
“Please, my lord, have mercy on me; I have made a great mistake. I
would have asked the church members for help instead of committing sin onto
There are at least three possible explanations for Bala’s “heavy”
punishment. It could have been the simple but profound acceptance and plea that
melted the judge’s heart. It could be that the judge doesn’t care much for the
new-found craze among some Catholic Priests to collect tithes – like other
prosperity-preaching religious movements. Or could it be that our judges are
listening to the social media argument that they are unfairly punishing the poor who
steal peanuts while letting go the rich who steal in millions and
billions of Naira?
Are we then getting into a new
era where the criminal poor can now expect to also be treated like the criminal
rich – with slap-on-the-wrist judgments?
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