Some lawyers have cautioned President Goodluck Jonathan to stop differentiating between the acts of stealing and corruption.
The President had during his 8th presidential media chat on Wednesday maintained that there was a difference between the two acts. This came several months after he first made a similar statement.
He said, “If somebody is a thief, he is a thief. We should not use the word ‘corruption’ to cover a case of stealing. Thieves should be called thieves.”
However, a lawyer and human rights activist, Prof. Itse Sagay, said in a telephone conversation with Saturday PUNCH that there was no technical difference between the two acts and that persons involved in either should be made to face the wrath of the law.
He said, “In a broad legal sense, they are the same. Stealing is taking what belongs to another person without the consent of the owner with the intention of keeping it permanently.
“Corruption is using an office to acquire the resources of an organisation without working for it and without the organisation’s awareness. Looking at it, using an office as a political office holder to acquire what belongs to the state results to stealing.
“Ultimately, every act of corruption is an act of stealing. There is no question about it. There is no moral or ethical difference between them. Both are criminal, immoral and anti-social acts and nobody should attempt to make one look lighter than the other. People who commit either should be dealt with seriously.”
A civil rights lawyer, Fred Agbaje, said President Jonathan’s differentiation between the acts was clear evidence that the President’s government is corrupt.
He said that the President was only giving two terms for same offence.
He said, “Defence of stealing as different from corruption is indicative of the fact that President Jonathan’s administration is morally bankrupt.
“What the President has said is an admission of guilt and that his government is corrupt. It is a distinction without substance. It is calling one object two different names.
The nomenclature may differ, but the substance of both allegations is the same.
“Which of them is allowed in our law whether he calls them in different names? They are both punishable under our penal laws. Stealing is even worse than corruption. Both of them carry a legal element of deliberately taking what does not belong to someone with the intent of depriving the taxpayers.”