by Dolapo Aina
Justice most of the time is sold to the highest bidder and the law is simply a mirage.
“Who are we? We are no longer normal…. Nigeria is a giant embarrassingly trapped in dwarfish height.” –Dr Oby Ezekwesili (the immediate past Vice-President, Africa Region of the World Bank), guest speaker at the Akintola Williams distinguished lecture series.
While chatting on Facebook messenger with a close childhood friend who resides in America (in the afternoon) of Friday, the 5th of October 2012, he asked this writer, if this writer had seen the video on YouTube of the 4 undergraduate students of University of Port Harcourt, who were lynched to death. This writer told him not yet. During that weekend, unknown to this writer, the video had gone viral on the internet. When another childhood friend showed this writer the video 4 days later, this writer didn’t have the nerve to watch it a third time. This wasn’t one of those horror flicks a la The Saw, Hammer House of Horror or Frankenstein. This video was nothing but gruesome, barbaric and savagely orchestrated.
A day after viewing the video(while this writer’s mind was still coming to terms with what was viewed), this writer attended an Akintola Williams Distinguished Lecture Series at the MUSON Centre, on the 10th of October, where Dr Oby Ezekwesili was the guest speaker. The theme of the lecture series was “Good Corporate Governance as a Tool for Wealth Creation.” In summary, good corporate governance isn’t all about private firms’ responsibility but also government’s responsibility. She said “the end purpose of good corporate governance ought to be to maximize the creation of corporate social values….. What are our values? Who are we? We are no longer normal.” She continued by opining that “our present “normal” carries the evil seed of our nation’s demise”. She almost wept when she talked about the video of the lynching of the UNIPORT 4 in the Aluu community in Rivers State. She stated that, “if we don’t tell ourselves the truth about our present realities, we are in trouble. Something is fundamentally wrong.”
Now, what is wrong is that Nigerians are no longer acting normal. Abomination has become normality. How many Lagosians and Nigerians (going to their various places of worship either on Fridays or Sundays) would witness hit and run accidents but won’t stop to help the victims? All because of the hindrances cum official bureaucracies from the police? How does the reader explain these statistics? $400billion stolen since 1960. 34trillion Naira (from 1994 to 2009) can hardly be accounted for. 38million Nigerians are jobless. 500 firms have collapsed in the last 5 years. And if the money stolen isn’t a cause for concern for Nigerians, the Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron was quoted as saying, “if the amount of money stolen in Nigeria, happened in the UK, UK would no longer exist.”
The video brought to the front burner what had always existed but never discussed on such a national and invariably global scale, albeit simultaneously. That there is the total distrust for the agencies of security and the rule f law, largely due to the total breakdown of good corporate governance at the public level. How does the reader explain this fact that black boxes of crashed planes always get missing or are never found in Nigeria? Cumulative silence at this near-absence of good corporate governance at the public level has made people feel alienated from the institutions of the State. That is why a community would distrust all the agencies of security and rule of law and mete out instant justice (not jungle justice as a lot of people termed it) to the 4 undergraduate students. Speaking of justice, the term “Jungle justice” appeared on several blogs and posts. That’s a term probably coined by whites talking down and looking down on Black Africans during the slave trade or colonisation eras, and in a weird way adopted by Nigerians and whomever else. Someone opined that “It’s a shame that crimes committed are named that (jungle justice). It is horror crimes straight from the pits of the Hades/condemned. The likes of which are committed everywhere on earth and has nothing to do with jungle. It’s a racist term–should not be used at all.”
The distrust of the rule of law isn’t only confined to the public space. Even the agents of the rule of law are not left out. Some months ago, a news item was in some dailies, of a police officer who shot two of his colleagues. The remaining colleagues apprehended the killer cop. And after some deliberations with their DPO (Divisional Police Officer), the killer cop was extra-judiciously executed by his colleagues. This happened in Nigeria! Cumulative silence by all and sundry should be heaped on everyone (including parents of this present generation who rosily “paddled their own canoes” in the 60s, 70s, 80s but allowed moral, political and social abominations metamorphose into normality). Parents of this present generation might pass without witnessing a good government with credible and forthright leaders. All because decades of collective nonchalance, which has resulted in a situation whereby the present generation of young people have a herculean task of clamouring for and effecting change. And their opinions were aired and posted on the BBC WHYS (World Have Your Say) programme which discussed the video of the Uniport 4 and other related Nigerian issues. Below are some of the comments, opinions, observations and pertinent questions of concerned Nigerians posted on BBC WHYS Facebook page, which would strike several chords with readers.
One comment went thus, “what baffles me is that this act was carried out in broad day light and in the midst of so many people. Were the boys’ sins so grievous that no one could stop the men who were beating them up? I think not just the state governor, but the President has to intervene in this case. Despite what they might have done, this sort of jungle justice, beating young men to death on the streets in the midst of everyone including children just doesn’t sound right.”
Another commented thus “burning people alive is a common thing in Aba here in Nigeria. But this one has gotten international attention maybe because it involved university students and it is recorded on video but it is not common in Rivers state.”
Someone opined thus “though I’ve not watched it, we all seem to miss one point, failed system. If there is a working legal system where a thief is arrested, judged and sentenced then the masses would be pleased. If you’re robbed violently and the robber bribes for his freedom you’d not be glad.”
A Peter Emegweali commented thus “sadly the case of mass mobbing of individuals is not a new occurrence in Nigeria. There are several cases almost on a monthly basis across the length and breath of that nation. Unfortunately there is lawlessness across that land. Individuals are regularly macheted and burnt by crazy mob especially when it is in cases of robbery or other silly accusations. Where I lived in Nigeria for over 28 years it is common knowledge that any thief caught in that area is beaten to death and tied to a cement block and thrown into the river that is in that area. The police are not in existence in a lot of places. Justice most of the time is sold to the highest bidder and the law is simply a mirage. I have lived in that city and I graduated from Uniport. But as sad and gruesome as the ALUU 4 boys suffered, it is a recurring decimal in that hell hole Nigeria.”
Another posited a pertinent question “the community agreed to kill the 4 boys…they were paraded for 3hours…common…why didn’t they send out SOS alerts for them to be saved, while they were being paraded to the area of execution.”
A Nigerian in America by the name Obagwono Oghomone opined thus “we should define the oath taken by Nigerian Law Enforcement Agents before agreeing to the term “To Serve and Protect with Integrity”. I don’t think at random if you pick any rank and file to dissect the meaning of that quote, they’ll give you anything meaningful, “Who is responsible for that flaw?” Yet firearms are given to these same fellows to protect you, how safe do you think you are when a uniformed man who doesn’t understand the code behind him carrying that fire arm is asked to protect you? I saw that video and I’ll weep Justice till my tears bleed for those young boys. I have seen several killings in Nigeria on the internet and it is so sad that someone would rather feel fulfilled capturing the video than being the one to stand against such an act or be the one to rather call the authorities. There was a nearby divisional police station with a head, “FHQ Abuja is the source of any power given to any NPF personnel? What standard procedures are put in place for officers who have failed to do their job? Has the IGP authorized the CP to take the DPO in for questioning based on existing standard procedures in situations like this?
Obagwono Oghomone went further to opine that “has the President questioned his line of authority concerning this matter? Was there any nearby checkpoint around that scene, because news fly as fast as the wind? So any checkpoint within 1000m would have heard of crowd gathering and by default uniformed or not, as long as you have an NPF number, it should be your concern. “What is the attitude of Nigerian cops towards reporting a suspicious scene and a crime scene?” The mode matters, Do you report like you are talking to your girlfriend or like it is an SOS call? Armed robbers have been shot dead, they were suspects before their death, innocent or not how strong and effective is a standard procedure to check if the tagged law enforcement hero wasn’t just trigger happy and wasted some innocent lives? To the government of my great country Nigeria, “What is the state of the art technology in terms of communication to send Rapid Response calls in the Law Enforcement System?” Who monitors the time of Response? “Air response vehicles (Helicopters with trained sniper personnel) for situations like this? How many Police Posts and Stations have state of the art gadgets to operate from a remote location? Paper mapping systems not to talk of GPS.
Obagwono Oghomone went further “what maintenance culture effectively monitored would be put in place to continuously manage this system? “Do you give a man a fire arm to protect people when he has a family at home to feed and expect him to do the Job successfully when his salary can’t even take care of him alone? What benefits and incentives are in place to ensure this system doesn’t fail? How come such a sensitive section of a government employed persons of poor understanding of their objectives in our system? So many ideas in my mind, but the question is, Does my government (NIGERIA) care? Why allow untrained personnel (Area Boys and Hoodlums) carry out Police duties in the guise of vigilante? Because if my government really cares, so many and more of the issues with the law enforcement system would have been taken care of and probably Ugonna, Llyod, Tekana, & Chidiaka; and many others who have lost their lives in this barbaric manner would have had an equal opportunity as the murderers who are going to be tried in some court and probably given some years sentence.”
Furthermore, Obagwono Oghomone opined that “in a similar manner our educational system should be simulated for improvement not till when there is a fault that has never been fixed, because on the average in the eyes of our parents any child can be a saint, but behind their backs who knows, Like my father would always say, “I can only vouch for a child who is in the womb, the moment he steps out, he is capable of anything, so I have to watch and monitor him”. I can go on writing, but I don’t have the power to do anything, so I’ll manage the pain in my heart after digesting that video, knowing that my fellow Nigerian can hit a man who is not proven guilty with a stick and say “You don pay your school fees abi?…..” That statement has a meaning, I would think that the fellow hitting with that stick and saying that has a good knowledge of the situation, he knew they weren’t thieves, he knew the real truth, sounds like an intimidating statement truthfully misused considering the situation it had escalated to. Beef as a result of imbalanced circumstances some murderer in Aluu community found himself in, How come about the significant imbalanced system, abject poverty instead of a system where people should blame themselves for not going to school because of flexible opportunities given to tax payers by those who collect and control taxes?
Obagwono Oghomone went further “I’m urging every Nigerian who is against this act to scream justice that is if justice has the right murderers in custody, not some random arrest of innocent people to pay the price of the real culprits. We have printed our fingers on ballot papers for the Nigerian government to serve us, in fairness, they should give Caesar what is rightfully his.”
Someone opined that “so four boys suspected of stealing handset and laptops where caught, beaten, stripped naked, paraded round the community for 3hours and eventually burnt to death, and everyone is blaming the community and the killers, well, lets ask ourselves this question, WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE OF THE POLICE WHEN THE INCIDENT OCCURRED? There is no way anyone will tell me that the police where not called or informed of the happenings, they turned deaf ear.”
A lady commented that “some commentators above claim that in response to the killings, Uniport students have gone on a rampage of the village where their colleagues were killed; burning houses etc….. Does that in any way make the situation better? Would more innocent lives and property not get destroyed by this? It just shows that at both ends of the stick, people are angry, frustrated, deprived and naturally, are venting in the only way they can…. Violence!”
Another commentator posted this on the BBC Facebook page “it is disappointing to see others challenge BBC’s question. It is like trying to avoid the challenging truth. Someone has to ask that question. Murders happen everyday in many places, but where murder/wickedness is cheered on by a mob with glee and without an ounce of compassion, then that society/community is as depraved as hell itself. Nigeria has sincerely fallen into anarchy. It is only now that social media is exposing how low we have fallen. How long do we pause and lament the death of a stranger murdered by armed robbers? A few minutes only because it is a ‘normal’ everyday occurrence. When a woman goes to a police station to report a crime and gets assaulted by police officers, can we still say we function as a country? I remember hearing on the news of a Western female reporter being gang-raped on the street while on duty reporting an uprising. It was fellow women who saw this from their balconies and came out with sticks to fight off the men while other women ran for the police. They didn’t say she is white or non-Arab or not covering her hair. They saw a human being, a woman like themselves and they acted. But in our case, murder was championed by a community, in a country where lynching and burning alleged thieves has been done for ages. We must examine this question from a moral and human rights point of view and set pride aside. We have no pride as a nation. In our hearts, let us fly our flags at half-mast and lament the state of our country.
A lady posted this “robbers came to my house and I went to report to them-the Police. I was asked to pay them so that they can follow it up. Even when you report, then you become a suspect. This is just sad.”
The solutions to this dissipation of moral, political and social values can be found in Kola Oyeneyin’s (a friend and the convener of Sleeves-Up) brilliant article”Nigeria-my faith and my fear” published in Ynaija.com (October 13) and also posted o his Facebook page, where he opined that “this is the time for the genius in you and I to come out and express itself. This is when the Spirit of God should begin to inspire us, to inspire others towards one purpose, solution….The feeling must be that there is no better time to be born in Nigeria than now, and there is no greater generation to belong to than this. Those that are left with any jot of morality should begin to put it to use, and those who can still feel, begin to feel for others. We have been empowered to empower, built to build, supported to support and assisted to assist. We have been raised up to uproot, destroy and plant. This is our mandate, now is the time. I call on all writers to sharpen their pens and begin to write. Artistes, begin to sing songs that can move a generation. Let poets begin to compose words that will resonate down history and painters begin to paint your masterpiece. Those with political will, position yourselves and those with a voice for social justice and equality for all, begin to join or float platforms that will amplify that cry. Enough of empty talk and pointless conversations, our gatherings must be strategic and our strategies must deliver.”
Also, if the citizens of this nation must talk, it must not be a politician-driven talk. It is of necessity that the perpetrators of the Aluu lynching should face the music. But it would be of immense national benefit if the trial is televised. The trial should be televised. If done, Nigerians would all be watching themselves on trial. For we are no longer normal.
Dolapo Aina writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.