Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Do only the poor go to jail in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s criminal justice system has often been criticised and ridiculed for its inability to secure convictions, particularly for offences perpetuated by high profile individuals. Yet, one recalls the case of a young man, Kelvin Ighodalo, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison for stealing Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s N50,000 Sony Ericsson phone.

Our justice system is inherently flawed but the current debate over reform efforts is lacking in substance as it focuses mostly on efforts to bring corrupt public officials to heel (which is definitely needed, corruption kills Nigerians let’s never forget it) but the brunt of the system’s injustice and unfairness is actually experienced by the poor masses who spend years in jail awaiting trial, while the rich accused of worse crimes, simply make bail and then wait it out while the case is adjourned till it is forgotten.
Nigerian lawyers have become experts at exploiting the system’s weaknesses and there is as of yet, no real punishment for counsels who frustrate trials or undermine the law’s processes. It is only in Nigeria that the accused can refuse to appear in court and where one can be a sitting governor or senator and still have fraud charges to answer to, making a mockery of our country’s laws and the universal ethics and best practices which would call for one to clear one’s name in court before returning to public office.

Terminal illness
Interestingly, every politically connected person accused of corruption always suddenly and mysteriously develops cancer, or some other terminal illness, but the poor rotting away without access to legal aid are not allowed their own gripping theatrics.
Nobody is ever guilty of corruption in Nigeria but the poor; they are always guilty, sometimes of such paltry offences as stealing bread or pepper after which, if they are not lynched by a mob or beaten by the police; they languish in jail, for much longer than the legally allotted time, where they are raped and beaten again, contracting diseases, lucky to escape with their lives.
So tell me, whose human rights are compromised? Photographs of purportedly ill, wealthy Nigerians rumoured to have made away with the gross earnings of a small country, do not prove innocence, rather they prey on our ignorance and short term memory while the many incarcerated Nigerians who often don’t even know what crime they are being held for do not receive either our pity or the loathsome “witch hunt” defence which Olisa Metuh and the PDP popularised. On the subject of Mr Metuh who recently celebrated his 50th birthday in an IDP camp, I wonder what long term strategies he has either considered or proposed to lessen their suffering beyond sharing his landmark celebration with them.
Nigeria is plagued by surface charity and opportunistic gestures which the media feeds citizens as righteous, all part of an elaborate scheme keeping us grateful for crumbs, never daring to demand our rights be respected or enforced. Let us make no mistake if there is a witch hunt in Nigeria, it has always been the poor who have been persecuted simply for being poor and not having the resources to subvert the law. However, beyond updating our laws, we must tackle the social vicissitudes enabling crime in the first place, be it white-collar crime and corruption or organised crime and kidnappings.
Seventy per cent of the Nigerian population is deprived or living outside the laws or rules which normally apply in most societies, fending for themselves by whatever means. It is in this environment that many, if not most, of our future leaders are raised. The Social Justice Policy group, a UK based think-tank, recognises six paths to poverty: family breakdown, educational failure, addictions, economic dependence and personal debt.
The link between social breakdown, poverty and crime isn’t new yet it is ignored if not denied in Nigeria. From the Niger Delta insurgency, to Boko Haram in the North, the solutions cannot simply be based on the military. The dysfunctionality of the Nigerian society breeds insurgency and criminality. Yet, few government policies work towards strengthening families: so many children, or youth feel condemned to a life of poverty and grow up without feeling they are part of something, whether a family or a community that cares for them and empowers them, by either encouraging them or providing them with the tools to make a better life possible. So they are easily led, fed the wrong ideas and fight with weapons, ironically the only accessible tools, for causes they don’t fully understand.
Many of our politicians are victims of our broken country and society where inadequate parenting, abuse, exposure to violence from a young age and to a volatile existence, make it that a boy who grew up without shoes couldn’t see the exceptional opportunity he had before him to liberate this country from those who oppose its greatness: he simply wasn’t prepared to be a leader because our society trains young people for banditry and ethnic opportunism, but not for selfless leadership.

Selfless leadership
Many of our politicians are incapable of empathy for the suffering of their constituents because our society does not breed sensitive, thoughtful individuals: the average Nigerian is so hardened, deadened by suffering that by the time (if he is lucky) he reaches any position of responsibility, all he wants to do is to make up for lost time.
For any real justice reform to work, we must look beyond seeing justice as punishment for wrongdoing (although crime and punishment must follow to act as a deterrent). We must fight social exclusion by creating interconnected communities with strong families, which teach life skills and the value of personal responsibility.
As parents, employees, citizens, dereliction of duty, abandoning our tasks and duties to others, is too frequent, we must take charge of our destinies. Government, to support us, must fix our education system so that poverty ceases to be a death sentence and crime or corruption are no longer the only way one can exist or succeed in society.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
The former Minister of Finance (there is no more coordinating Minister of the Economy as the title usurps the functions of the Vice-President) says about $500 million recovered from Gen.Sani Abacha was spent in the 2004-2005 federal budgets on roads, electricity, education, water and health.
It is interesting then that the majority of federal owned roads remain in an embarrassing state of disrepair and that we have neither electricity, water nor a real health care system. As for education, it would be ludicrous to imagine that the much celebrated (by the PDP) Almajiri schools which are nothing more than edifices without much content would gulp such amounts.
The World Banksays it wasn’t in charge of monitoring how the funds were spent, implying that was up to the government in place at the time. The former Finance Minister, in company of her former colleagues in health, education, etc, should indeed explain, why after such a colossal investment, Nigerians remain so devoid of such basic government services.
Then, the Ministry of Information, could provide Nigerians with infographics explaining just how much   $500 million can transform a country, what it could be used to do. Then perhaps instead of witch-hunting, we’ll talk about public outrage.

Mustapha Audu
A BLOGGER released a story alleging she was raped by the former governor of Kogi’s son, Mustapha, his brothers and friends. Years after the fact, with a grossly inadequate penal code and a police force with neither the will to question high profile suspects or accused, nor the capacity to do so, will we ever know the truth?


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