Uzokwe's Searchlight


They tell us they are fighting corruption yet those who stole the bulk of our money are their cronies; they attend council of state meetings together and party together.
Monday, February 2, 2004


Alfred Obiora Uzokwe

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NEW CRIME POLICY IN NIGERIA - "JUST APOLOGIZE AND GO FREE"



he recent statement credited to Chief Audu Ogbeh of PDP, is as instructive as it is shameful. He was quoted as saying that those who abducted Governor Ngige on July 10 2003, should apologize to the governor and be forgiven. Looking at the statement superficially, one may be tempted to think that he was actually doing the nation a favor. Nothing is further from the truth. In his ill-advised bid to craft an exit strategy for the presidency from the Anambra imbroglio, he is further destroying what is left of democracy in a country where the chief executive is seemingly going Machiavellian.

Every viable and sustainable democracy promotes due process. Due process helps to keep anarchy at bay. It ensures that citizens do not take matters into their hands because all citizens are guaranteed their day in court, with equal justice for all, no matter how well placed or how lowly. Due process even ensures that no matter how egregious a defendant's crime is, he would still have the opportunity to defend himself. In the absence of due process, or when due process has been compromised, anarchy sets in, citizens take matters into their hands and exact revenge in all sorts of ways. The PDP has compromised due process in the nation by their words and deeds and in so doing, turned Nigeria's fledgling democracy upside down.

Some of the judges, these days, seem to make rulings based on what they feel that the executive arm would want. There is no question in this writer's mind that the rulings given by justices Egbo Egbo and Nnaji, on the Anambra state issue, would have been different under different circumstances. The result is that the concept of due process is now suspect in the country, people now shop around for courts that would rule their way. Real due process means that the facts of a case should determine the outcome and that once found guilty, a defendant should be penalized in accordance with the law, to deter would-be offenders. Clearly, crime without punishment begets more crime. That is what we have today in the most populous nation in black Africa.

On July 10, a group of people decided to abduct a sitting governor and forcibly take over the reins of power. In this writer's lexicon, that is called a coup. Their crime is not in dispute and their motive is as glaring as could be. Attempts, in the past, by other Nigerians to forcibly take over the government, were met with summary executions and very long jail terms. The case of Buka Suka Dimka, during the Murtala Mohammed era, is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians because the execution was carried out under the watch of the current president. He would therefore not say that he is unaware of what constitutes a coup. While this writer is not exactly prescribing the same punishment for those who engaged in the coup of July 10, since no one was physically hurt in the process, nevertheless, the constitution prescribes certain penalties for acts that bother on subversion, whether of a state or the nation.

It has been many months since the acts were committed and yet due process has not been brought to bear. No penalties have been meted out and so the people who committed the crime still walk around brazen-facedly. They boast that, as the bible would say, they have Abraham as their father. Well-meaning Nigerians are angry at the fact that justice has not been served in this issue. They are still waiting patiently but Chief Audu Ogbeh has added insult to injury by stating that if the coup plotters apologized, they would be forgiven. One would beg to disagree here; the perpetrators need to be prosecuted and punished accordingly. If, by his statement, the PDP mouthpiece was introducing a new policy in the nation, the policy that says that if you commit a crime and apologize you would go free, then we need to know that. Ogbeh's statement, by implication, means that criminal elements should not need to see the four walls of a court or prison as long as they apologize to their victims. I would like to briefly examine some of the crimes I am talking about:

Armed robbery is now rampant in the nation. Innocent citizens are mauled down on a daily basis. We hear the police saying that they are going after them and charging them to court. Against the backdrop of the new PDP policy, why waste government resources charging them to court? As they are caught, they should just be asked to apologize to their victims and go on home. Nigerians who might be tempted to say that armed robbery is different because people get killed should bear in mind that lives could have been lost during the abduction saga too.

Today, peddlers of adulterated, fake and expired drugs are scattered all over Nigeria. NAFDAC has been going after them with zeal and vigor, burning their wares, charging them to court and getting them jailed. If we must go by PDP policy, why waste government resources trying and jailing them? Infact, some of the offenders have apologized to the nation and even stopped their nefarious acts, but they were still charged to court and jailed. Is there a double standard here or is it just in my eyes?

In overseas countries, 419 ers have practically tarnished the image of Nigeria up to the point where foreign investment has become an illusion. The Nigerian government once prosecuted some 419ers. Why prosecute them? Why not ask them to apologize to the nation and be forgiven? What would that do to the nation though? It will make other people, who have harbored the intent of engaging in 419 activities more brazen, just as other civilians, who may be harboring the intent of forcibly abducting governors, may have become emboldened by what they are seeing in Anambra state.

A few days ago, in Lagos State, Justice James Odunewe of an Ikeja High Court, sentenced 5-Lagos state secondary school students to death for killing a business man [Vanguard, January 30, 2004] Why is it that the kids were not asked to apologize and go free?

It is instructive that the administration of Obasanjo wants to have its cake and still eat it. They have tacitly prescribed two standards of behavior for the citizens: one for those in power or in the corridors of power and one for the rest of us. For example, Tony Eluemunor, a journalist in Abuja was called in by the SSS for interrogation because he wrote a story about an alleged meeting in Otta between the president and some people connected with the July 10 abduction. He was given a lecture, by SSS operatives, about statements that could destabilize the country. But Obj once went to Bayelsa and told them that the civil war was fought because of oil. That statement was not only inflammatory, it was capable of destabilizing the nation by pitting one group against another. Why did OBJ not face the wrath of the SSS? To this writer, the president's statement is destabilizing. Tony Eluemunor was simply exercising his journalistic right.

A few days ago, Umar, wrote a letter to Obasanjo, making several accusations. The presidential spokesperson chastised him and again talked about destabilization of the nation. He warned that the presidency would not condone actions that destabilize the nation. Why is one statement or action more destabilizing than the other in Nigeria today? I have scoured my records and do not see anywhere that the same presidential spokesperson warned the perpetrators of July 10 coup against destabilizing the nation and Anambra. I did not hear the spokesperson warn Justice Nnaji of Enugu about his frivolous ruling, supporting the removal of a sitting governor. I have not seen any record where he warned the police about removing the security details of a sitting governor, even though the man is now exposed to danger, making him spend 38 million naira, which should have been used to pay teachers, in buying a bulletproof vehicle that does not work.

This hypocrisy must stop. They tell us they are fighting corruption yet those who stole the bulk of our money are their cronies; they attend council of state meetings together and party together. Who is fooling whom? They harbor one of the most notorious criminals in Nigeria, a man who supervised the massacre of his people in Liberia. That gives Nigeria a very bad name in international circles and pits one group against another.

Audu Ogbeh must go back to the drawing board and start working on another exit strategy for his master on the Anambra state imbroglio. The one he just proffered is not valid, at least not to watchful and discerning eyes.

HERE I STAND