Redressing our reign of impunity

Obo Effanga, obo.effanga@gmail.com

For those, like me, who have the gift of memories of events, whether sweet or bitter, they will recall that Sunday, (July 10) marked the day in 2003 that Dr. Chris Ngige, as a sitting state governor, was abducted. Yes, a sitting state governor, with all the paraphernalia of office and security details was abducted by agents of his political godfather, leading to a series of shenanigans in Anambra State. Afterwards, complete mayhem was visited upon the state with hoodlums moving about and destroying vestiges of government authority. This was all in an attempt to force the governor to leave power for refusing to accede to the dictates of an unelected (and perhaps unelectable) moneybag who bankrolled the governor’s political ambition. Interestingly, the combatants all belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party, the then ruling political party in Nigeria.

When their stratagem failed, they turned to a backdoor attempt to impeach the governor, using just a few legislators, less than the required number. And all those things happened with the tacit support of the Federal Government. This is because while all the madness lasted, federal agencies and officials like the police and the attorney general of the federation were either involved in or failed to act to restore sanity. Anambra became a theatre of the absurd for a long time while this madness was described by the PDP, as “a family affair”.

Within the next few years, the template of illegal and backdoor removal of state governors was replicated in Oyo and Plateau states and on each occasion, the Federal Government abetted the lawbreakers until the Supreme Court put an end to it, affirming the previous decisions of high courts and the Court of Appeal, which decisions the federal authorities refused to obey.

As I recollect that season of anomie, I also remember that on July 9, 2013 being the eve of the 10th anniversary of the desecration of democracy in Anambra, the Rivers State House of Assembly equally erupted in violence. As it happened in Anambra State, the Rivers’ situation was also caused by the unbridled ambitions of members of the political class. This time round, the parties had parted ways following the defection of some PDP members to the All Progressives Congress. In asserting their powers and trying to capture significant political clout, the politicians, irrespective of their political parties, left nothing to chance, including human lives and limbs.

In all those cases of brigandage, violence, killing and maiming brought upon our country, our people, our property and our image by the politicians, hardly does anybody get punished for the crimes. This is because we too easily accept that the crimes were politically motivated and when the politicians kiss and make up, nobody should be made to pay for it. I have always differed on this line of thought. I consider every crime as crime, no matter the platform on which it was committed. A crime by a religious bigot or a defender or believer in a cultural practice or by students in the name of “aluta” or by any campus confraternity member in the course of settling scores is as much a crime as that committed by the man who steals motor parts in a mechanic shop.

When we fail to punish crimes, we breed impunity. When we excuse one crime, we give impetus for future offenders to demand to be excused also as of right or an entitlement. And this excuse comes not only in failing to prosecute and eventually jail for crime, but also when we grant clemency or amnesty for crimes, especially for spurious and shifty reasons. Example includes where the offender is part of the elite or political class. Even the concept of plea bargain touches on this same attitude of excusing the big or connected crooks. How many times have petty thieves been allowed to a plea bargain, knowing that the effects of their crimes are less devastating on society than the crimes of the big crooks?

I understand the point about a plea bargain helping reduce the time and resources of the state on lengthy prosecution. But for whatever it is worth, such should not in practice amount to someone getting away with blue murder. There must be conviction and actual term in prison and should come with a caveat that on no account should the state grant amnesty to the convict; at least not within 10 years of conviction. I still find it nauseating that a Salisu Buhari was granted state pardon by President Olusegun Obasanjo soon after his conviction for fraud and lies related to academic qualifications he never had and thereafter made to head a federal board within the education sector. It was equally a national shame that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was granted state pardon by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The only reason those men were pardoned was because they were politicians and the Council of State, which has the duty to advise on it, is populated by politicians. What we have therefore is a tyranny of the ruling class and conspiracy of politicians and the elite to protect their class against the rest of the society.

Unfortunately for us, we have a rather pliant if not naïve citizenry who are too often misled and deceived by the elite to fight each other in the name of protecting the interests they believe they share with some of the elite. So, whenever there is a misunderstanding among members of the elite class, the combatants are quick to play on the primordial affiliations with the oppressed masses. And those ones would shout on behalf of the elite who share the primordial affinity with them. That way, the oppressed hardly escape oppression as they are unable to unite and fight their common enemy. And the elite get away with impunity.

In the current democratic tenure, we have seen several instances of criminality perpetrated by the political elite occasioning violence and even deaths. How come nobody has been tried or jailed for most of these, including the violence in the legislative chambers? We have also harvests of crimes in our communities, including the large scale decimation of villages by marauders masquerading as herdsmen. Most of these cases end up where they are reported in the media without further information about arrest and prosecution, let alone conviction and sentencing.

It is clear that we can no longer trust the public prosecution mechanism as currently constituted to do justice to cases of crimes. This is because the federal attorney general doubles as the minister for justice and is appointed by a sitting president and the same happens with the state attorney general appointed by the state governor. They often see themselves as mere partisan politicians appointed to do the bidding of the appointee rather than see themselves as appointed by the state and therefore owing allegiance to the state.

One way to address this is to separate the office of the attorney general from that of minister or commissioner for justice. The office of attorney general as well as that of the police service should be granted fiscal autonomy and the appointment of the heads insulated from the influence of the president or the state governor. It will help if the heads of these agencies have fixed tenures, longer than those of a president or governor and their appointment is subjected to scrutiny by the legislature. In the case of the attorney general, I propose that the nomination be made by, say the National Judicial Council, screened by the legislature and appointed by the president or governor.

  • Follow me on twitter @obobef
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