Wanted: A faster wheel of justice
What is becoming worrisome about General Muhammadu Buhari’s second coming is the apparent lack of speed. Considering the antecedent of 2015 when he took several months to constitute his cabinet, one expected a greater appreciation now of the urgent imperative of governance at a faster pace. Today, Nigeria is facing a war of no definite frontier and the enemy camp is populated by ghostly figures appearing occasional as Boko Haram terrorists, kidnappers, ritual killers, de-commissioned suspected Fulani herdsmen and robbers. These new foes are challenging the very essence of the Nigerian state which is to maintain security of life and property. When you open the newspapers tomorrow you will be confronted with new statistics and gory tales about this new war.
There are enough reasons to spur Buhari to immediate action and yet, there is a feeling of languor and reckless ease on his part. The Boko Haram terrorists remain active and they are still keeping Lear Sharibu almost two years on. No one is sure whether the young lady of 16 spirited away with 108 other girls from Dapchi is still alive or not. If she is still alive, she would be a different person now at almost 18, older, wiser and inflicted with horribly experience. Yet our republic, represented by our beloved President, has not been able to get her back home nor punish the criminals who have so mindlessly assaulted our collective humanity.
The criminal enterprise is taking on new dimensions and attracting new recruits every day. In many university towns, young men and women are suspected to have veered into another alley of depravities in the search of quick and illegal wealth. They are armed and dangerous, not with guns and bombs, but with the mobile computer, tablets and android phones. They populate expensive hotels in the neighbourhood of the campuses, spending money as if there is no tomorrow. They are the new dark knights of the Yahoo trade, the internet based fraud that has spurred a new generation of criminals among these youths. Indeed the truth for many of them is that there is no tomorrow.
In the simpler days of old, the entire community was involved in ensuring the security of the community. Any new person entering the community is monitored and his or her movement would be reported at the oba’s palace. His or her host would be expected to take responsibility for his guest’s movement and action. Today, nobody is responsible for anybody. Today, it is difficult to hold anybody responsible for the actions of his neighbour or his guests. To underscore that is happening to us, even religious leaders are now going about with armed guards. For them, angels are not enough!
When we were young during the hot season, people sleep on the corridors of their houses. In the old Ibadan, houses even in the GRA, have no fence except flower hedges and the rich were not afraid of the poor. People were free to travel day or night. By 6 a.m., vehicles from the interiors of the old Western Region would be arriving at Ogunpa Oyo, in Ibadan and the traders would fan out to Gbagi Market to buy wares. They must have left home at 3 or 4 a.m. Then there were no fear that some children could be stolen before day break. Today, even the powerful government officials live behind high walls. Nobody feels safe enough not to feel threatened anymore.Even the priests, the doctors and the traditional rulers are not immune from the long arms of the criminals and kidnappers.
In some communities, new dimensions are being introduced to criminality. A Lagos family built a country home in Ekiti State. For the past three years, they had not visited their country home for one reason or the other. Last year, they decided to visit home and on arrival they were shocked when they realised that the locks to the house has been broken and there were new occupants of their house! They met total strangers occupying the entire house! They were barred from their own home.
One enquiry, one of their neighbours had broken into the houses and rented out the two apartments in the premises. The new tenants would not allow the real landlord into their premises. Who could have believed that an attempt would be made to kidnap a house while the owner is alive and well? Such is the impunity that has overtaken our country.
Yet this impunity percolates from the top. The greatest incentive to criminals is that the last criminal was not caught and when he is caught he is not punished. In our republic, the wheel of justice grinds so slowly, so uncertainly and so erratically that it can be grounded at any time. When a case drags on for so long, the witnesses too, preoccupied with their own lives, would be tired of giving evidences. New lines of evidences may grow cold or disappears and justice would not be serve and the losers would be the ordinary citizens of the republic.
A case in point was the assassination of Mrs Kudirat Abiola, the senior wife of Chief Moshood Abiola whose victory at the June 12, 1993, was voided by the dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida. Kudirat was gunned down in broad daylight on the street of Lagos in June 1996. That night, the Federal Government sent a condolence delegation to the Abiolas in Lagos when the people knew that Kudirat was killed by suspected agents of the General Sani Abacha junta.
In 1998, the Lagos State Government assembled the suspects for Kudirat assassination. Among the suspects were Lt. General Ishaya Bamaiyi, who was Chief of Army Staff under Abacha and Major Mohammed Hamza al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer to Abacha. After almost a decade of trial before many judges, the suspects were acquitted by the Appeal Court and left to the judgement of their conscience. One of the suspects, suffused in the euphoria of freedom, announced he would like to run for President.
There are three great impediments to justice in Nigeria. One is poverty which creates the enabling environment for the devil to fish for his abundant harvest. The second is the inability of the police and other security agencies to do a thorough investigation that would help the prosecution. After Chief Bola Ige, the first elected governor of old Oyo State, was killed as a sitting attorney general of the Federation, the police never did the finger printing survey of the crime scene. Most of the forensic investigations that should have been done were neglected. And then the trial, handled by the Oyo State government, was protracted and it ultimately ended in futility. Therefore, as Professor Wole Soyinka said at Ige’s funeral in 2002, the “murderers are still with us!”
The greatest incentive to the criminal however is the lengthy and mostly futile trial as far as the rich and powerful are concerned. Many former governors have moved to the retirement chamber of the Senate while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, still have them on its VIP lists. Some have been convicted, but most are getting embedded in the power loop without any inkling that justice would its day.
The ball is in President Buhari’s court. His tempo and temperament needs to indicate the urgency of this milieu. It is a poor showing that a month after his inauguration, he is yet to submit his list of ministers to the Senate. He needs to infect the organs of government with the urgency of the moment so that suspected criminals, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, robbers and their fellow travellers, should be served their plate of justice while it is hot. It is time we ensure that justice is served in due season, swift and sure. For the citizens of the republic, that is the next level we expect from our President.
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