Monday, May 29

Offa and the Death of Beggars

There seems to be a common denominator that all children of God are equal. It is on this basis that there is the jurisprudential doctrine of everybody being equal before the law. How true this is, is a subject of empiricism. A dispute may arise if you belong to certain school of thought which seriously disputes this claim that everybody is equal before the law. In truth certain event seems to validate the claim that everybody is not equal before the law. Maybe that was what was playing in the mind of William Shakespeare when he wrote in his book; Julius Caesar that; ‘…when beggars die comets are not seen, but heaven themselves blaze forth on the death of princes’

What has Offa got to do with beggars? Typical of most towns in Nigeria, Offa is populated by innocent men, women and children who live in an environment where government business is not about their welfare. Every day is a constant struggle to survive and that survival includes the fear of being inflicted with structural and individual violence. So it was that on the 5th of April 2018, the innocent woke up to continue their daily battle for survival. I guess they must have all prayed to God to guarantee their coming and going, and where possible invoked the holy ghost to cover them with the blood of Jesus Christ. Of this motley crowd of innocents lurked what has become a familiar danger – the ghost of violence. And soon the dam of violence was broken and blood took over the street of Offa like flood. As usual, we wailed and appealed to God to intervene so that the perpetrators of the heinous crime are brought to justice. For the first time, the Almighty seemed to have answered our prayer as more than 22 persons have been arrested in connection with this crime. But like everything about us, the water is about to be muddled as some rich men have been fingered as having collateral relationship to the tragedy of Offa. 

The story is simple in the course of the police investigation of this matter, it was discovered that the persons apprehended have all forms of relationship with Nigerian Senate President, Bukola Saraki. It is important to note that all the parties in this case agreed that a good number of the robbers arrested were persons known to the senate president to the point of agreement that they were his hirelings with job description of political thuggery. The key ingredient of being a thug in Nigerian politics is the inherent capacity to use violence where and whenever same is demanded from the thugs by their patrons. A further fact of this story is that they had guns given to them by their patrons. It is on the strength of these facts that the police invited the senate president as a person of interest, a standard procedure in criminal investigation. But all hell has broken loose because of this.

The deluge of arguments which for us borders on mischief have had our favourite catch-all phrase; witch-hunt being thrown into the mix against the senate president; next is the unfathomable argument that the senate president having better cookie jar at his doorstep cannot descend to the level of engaging in armed robbery and that it is irresponsible for the police to invite the senate president on such a subject matter. Further is the theory that most politicians maintain super prides of thugs, as such Saraki’s case cannot be different. Emboldened by these arguments, the National Assembly in Abuja has embarked on war path with a threat to impeach the president. In all this, where is the fate of the 33 innocent Nigerians that were slaughtered for the simple reason that they stepped out in pursuit of their daily existence? We shall examine these 3 issues one after the other. 

The first is the issue that Saraki is being witch-hunted. I think there is a serious abuse of the word; witch-hunt. I am yet to understand this exceptional value that Saraki represents for which he is politically being witch-hunted. It becomes a tragic narrative of our system where every political leader within the Nigerian political system pleads witch-hunt as a defence for every suspected criminal transgression even when there are no legal statutes or precedents backing such a defence. Alternatively they will use the word persecution, but of interest is the fact that none of them has ever denied the fact of committing the crime they were being accused of. For instance in this case, there is no dispute of the fact that there was a robbery at Offa and there is no dispute of the fact that the persons arrested had links with the political family of Bukola Saraki. And there is no dispute of the fact that that link is anchored on one fact perpetration of violence by political means. Lawyers among us will argue that the rules in Rylands vs. Fletcher should not apply as they could not have been said to be escaping from Saraki’s care to cause harm. Fine and good, but the other way to interpret this logic is to ask; what is the consequence of buying a gun for a non-state actor? It may then be a faulty logic to say that since he could not have sent them to commit robbery that there is no probable offence he could be linked with. The only way to arrive at the fact of him being above suspicion is subjecting him to interrogation where possible. I am sure if Robert Mueller were to be a Nigerian, people like Mike Flynn, former National Security Adviser to Donald Trump would have been shouting that he was being witch-hunted. 

We can concede about the abrasive nature that the Buhari team is going about the business of dealing with the opposition, but that does not in any way obviate the fact of the crimes they have committed. Yes we know of the allegory of the debtor tortoise and the father-in-law which is that the father-in-law arrested and detained the tortoise in the morning with the hope that the tortoise will pay him his money and early morning passersby rained curses on the tortoise for indulging in one of his mischiefs, but as they were going in the evening, the tortoise was still being detained under the sun and sympathy shifted to the tortoise that whatever crime he committed does not warrant such inhumane treatment from his father-in-law. Beautiful as this allegory is about tact, there is also an African adage that says that the running style of an animal should determine how the hunter should position himself to shoot it.

Secondly is the ingenious argument about the senate president who like the proverbial hunter carrying an elephant on his head cannot stoop so low to be hunting for crickets with his toe. Beautiful as this argument is, the reverse side of it too is that greed may also lead the same hunter, though with an elephant on his head, to decide to hunt for cricket with his toe. An extension of this logic is the contention by some people that the government has enough crimes by Saraki, ranging from his activities at Societe Generale, Governor of Kwara State and the Senate Presidency. Two facts of history show that this argument on all fours is not reliable. What people don’t know is that white collar crimes are much more difficult to prove than violent crimes. This we have seen with Nigerian stolen billions of dollars which have proved intractable to recover from those who have stolen them. And the simple strategy of those who have stolen them with respect to this government is to make sure that this government is defeated in the next general election and take advantage of the new government and retain their stolen wealth. In effect historically speaking, it is not out of order if government applies the Al Pacino tactics on Saraki or its enemies. It simply means taking advantage of the circumstances of each case to put an enemy behind bars. 

On the claim that the maintenance or retention of super prides of thugs has no correlation with crimes, we think this is very disingenuous. Those most vehement in articulating this view seems to have been dominantly from the Nigeria media. Again it is an aberration of peculiar nature that to arm a bunch of men with the aim to commit crime should be taken as a regular act of existence. We are walking a dangerous ground if we do not see the sociological endangerment of this act to the society and do not also see the degradation such acts can cause to the human persons. Beyond that is the ethical question that there are two prides of thugs, and one takes the extra step of committing an illegality with weapons procured for them by their masters cannot absolve them of the criminality resulting from their conduct with the simple excuse that there are other prides of thugs. Further is the danger of this argument which seems to make that which is illegal legitimate in this circumstance. 

What all this argument comes down to is clearly to show that the so called idea of the equality of all before the law is mere subterfuge principally meant to delude the poor into a belief that all men are equal before the law. As it is, a mere invitation to answer query about a fact bordering on possible culpability has elicited so much defence and outrage why the rich will undergo the daily ritual of human existence that their fellowmen are subjected to on daily basis. Is it then surprising why of the total population of the prison inmates in Nigeria, 98% of them are products of sub-cities? The reverse side of it is that of the billions of Naira lost to stealing and graft in Nigeria, 98% of them are stolen by the rich which brings us back to our starting point that the law is a fundamental instrument basically made to protect the rich against the poor. When the poor tangoes with the rich, let the poor bear in mind that it is not safe for the rat and lizard to play under the rain.

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