Can Nigerians Lynch Corrupt Politicians Likewise? -By Ahmed Oluwasanjo

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |
Ahmed Oluwasanjo

Ahmed Oluwasanjo

 

I reiterate not being an advocate for petty thieves. However, placing the jungle justice they face in Nigeria side-by-side the pat-on-the-back justice cum sheepish support from the public that our administrative and political thieves enjoy, one would be tempted to ask if Nigerians truly loathe stealing. I suppose if petty thieves are to be lynched, corrupt politicians irrespective of their regional, religious or political affiliations deserve to be guillotined because they are responsible for most of our problems in Nigeria. But, in Nigeria we rally support for them instead, why?

It’s good that I make it clear from the start that I’m not holding brief for any criminal, be it a petty shoplifter, an armed robber or a pen-robber. A thief is a thief.

The pathetic story of a young man who was mobbed for allegedly stealing a pot of soup in Calabar on August 23 resonated a lot of questions in my mind. According to reports, while his two partners in the act luckily escaped, he was caught by a raging mob who butchered, doused him with petrol and set him on fire. Gory!

First, I wondered, what sort of hunger or poverty could have led a thinking young man to steal a pot of soup? Well, since common sense is not so common after all, I assume he lacked it.

Second, what degree of hatred for stealing could have made the mob react in such an outrageous manner, knowing well that handing him over to the police after the beating would have taught him a lesson of his life? But, several cases of criminals who were handed over to the police only to be seen on the street the next day moving about freely could probably be one reason people have no confidence in formal prosecution and the justice system.

Despite the warnings against this barbaric act of ‘jungle justice’, it seems to be gaining more acceptance. Sadly, this is not peculiar to a region in Nigeria – from the North to the South, East to the west, the story is the same. But it appears more common in Lagos. I recall the killing of four students of University of Port Harcourt in 2012 was well condemned by the public who called for their killers to be brought to book, which unfortunately hasn’t happened till date.

This dastardly act shouldn’t have bugged anyone if it confirms that Nigerians genuinely loathe thieves, but the way we have deified some set of thieves over the years is contradictory. In simple words, we are good at celebrating administrative and political thieves while we mob alleged petty thieves. Our religious, political and regional sentiments often debar us from collectively taking a stand against our kleptomaniac leaders, whose leadership as brought us to the sorry state we are in today.

Such sentiments are usual expressed as follows: Are you saying he is the only corrupt person among our politicians? Are you saying that there are no corrupt politicians in other parties? This person, that person na saint? The only thing they would not say is, a politician cannot be a thief once he or she is from my region or a party I support. Yet, these sentiments are never considered when an alleged petty thief is to be lynched.

No wonder, we still rank among one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International.

Some years ago during my National Youth Service year in Bayelsa State, I was posted to Amasoma to assist in the conduct of the 2011 elections, which was later postponed due to issues of logistics. I recall the euphoria that engulfed the atmosphere when the erstwhile governor of the state, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha came to where we were assembled to get election materials. I was surprised to see both the old and young cheering out loudly: Alamko! Alamko!! Now, I’m not talking about any other Alamieyeseigha besides the one who was sentenced and served time for money laundry! Today, he enjoys state pardon courtesy of his political son and I can bet that he commands significant followership in Bayelsa State’s political landscape.

Similar to this was the manner in which some Omoluwabis, who ordinarily pride themselves as custodians of sound morals, participated in celebrating criminality. According to reports, they adorned themselves in aso ebi to attend one Peoples Democratic Party chieftain’s thanksgiving service at the Cathedral Church of Christ Marina, Lagos, shortly after his sojourn in Kirikiri Maximum Prisons. Their excuse for such shameful act was that their party man was politically imprisoned. Today, from one of the south western states in Nigeria, an alleged drug baron is a serving Senator of the Federal Republic.

If jungle justice must be abolished in Nigeria, our justice system must be improved by creating strong institutions within and around it that no one can circumvent. This would boost public trust, make Nigerians sheathe their impulsive swords and become more willing to report cases of theft to the appropriate authorities, rather than recourse to self-help in savagely lynching thieves when caught. Likewise, the same institutions would be emboldened to go after corrupt politicians and duly prosecute them, since a thief is a thief.

In the case of an ex-Aviation Minister from the South-East who served under the Goodluck Jonathan administration and was embroiled in an extra-budgetary scandal involving the purchase of two armoured cars for her office, youths in Enugu protested vehemently against her sack, after all, she was prudent enough not to have bought armoured shoes and headgears. Today, she is also a serving Senator.

Coming up North, a few weeks ago, we saw how the Northern talakawas thronged the airport to welcome an erstwhile governor of one of the Northern states and his two sons, shortly after they were granted bail from Kano prison where they had been remanded for an alleged contract kickback racket worth N1.35 billion. Some of the jubilant supporters even said he was the best thing that happened to their state, not minding that, according to the National Bureau Of Statistics, their state is one of the poorest in Nigeria, with over 70 percent of its people unable to afford daily meals, lacking access to potable water, healthcare and education. Good enough, this survey was done during the accused governor’s administration. To trivialise it all, they claimed his prosecution was a mere witch-hunt.

But, why are we like this?

I reiterate not being an advocate for petty thieves. However, placing the jungle justice they face in Nigeria side-by-side the pat-on-the-back justice cum sheepish support from the public that our administrative and political thieves enjoy, one would be tempted to ask if Nigerians truly loathe stealing. I suppose if petty thieves are to be lynched, corrupt politicians irrespective of their regional, religious or political affiliations deserve to be guillotined because they are responsible for most of our problems in Nigeria. But, in Nigeria we rally support for them instead, why?

If jungle justice must be abolished in Nigeria, our justice system must be improved by creating strong institutions within and around it that no one can circumvent. This would boost public trust, make Nigerians sheathe their impulsive swords and become more willing to report cases of theft to the appropriate authorities, rather than recourse to self-help in savagely lynching thieves when caught. Likewise, the same institutions would be emboldened to go after corrupt politicians and duly prosecute them, since a thief is a thief.

Ahmed Oluwasanjo writes from Abuja and can be reached on [email protected]

 

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