Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nigeria: Who are the criminals?

Written by Clement Muozoba/Codewit News

Many years ago, in one of his albums, the late Reggae exponent, Peter Tosh asked this question, ”Everybody is talking about crime, tell me, who are the criminals?” This becomes more relevant in our life as a country today. In a media chat with some selected journalists, which was transmitted live by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) a few weeks ago, the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, admitted that kidnapping had become a national issue. Again, he admitted that it had become a lucrative industry and that there were some ‘big men’ behind the small boys in the field. He also said that his government was after those big guys. He specifically pointed out that kidnapping had paralysed commercial activities in the South-East in particular.

Obviously, the president is not wrong. Kidnapping and its twin brother, broad daylight bank robbery, believed to be operated by the same syndicate, have held the South-East to ransom. Funny enough, a friend of mine described kidnapping as a nomad who went out wandering from the South-South. On reaching the South-East, he found a clement environment and settled there and began a flourishing business with headquarters in Abia State.

On the 11th of June, 2010, the Lagos State Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Wahab Oba, was kidnapped with three other journalists and their driver in Abia State. As if to show that kidnapping is not just a South-East problem, Hajia Labara Abdullahi, the mother of Sani Lulu, the impeached President of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), was kidnapped in Kogi State. Many questions have been raised on why this strange business has defied all solutions. The complications following some of the kidnapping incidents have raised no fewer questions. As at now, no answers have been provided. The one answer readily available is that there is lack of security in the country.

It will be recalled that apart from Lagos State, no other state has provided the Police Force with logistics than the South-Eastern states. I‘m sure that Anambra has been praised for providing the Police with not less than 150 operational vehicles, two armoured personnel carriers and other things. Yet, whenever kidnapping is mentioned, the state is not left out. It is true that some of the kidnapping incidents are mere political hypes, but some are also true and many of them are attributed to the ineptitude of the law enforcement agents, especially the Police. In Anambra State, which is fundamentally considered a business state, the Police have been said to find a haven for their own business. Hence, more often than not, they spend their time collecting the Nigerian ‘Green Card‘ on the roads and allowing the kidnappers and other criminals a free access. This has equally caused untold accidents which have claimed the lives of Nigerians and even some men of the Nigerian Police.

Many in the South-East now believe that some law enforcement agents must be involved in these violent crimes in one way or the other. Some people believe that some of them either engage directly in the business as kidnappers or as negotiators for ransom. This, according to them, is why kidnapping has refused to go. The popular belief is that on the days of the violent crimes like the bank robberies, the check-points are always deserted to pave the way for the criminals. It is also believed that the cases where the law enforcement agents are killed are largely due to improper arrangement, lack of information or misinformation between the security agencies and the criminals. That is why many never believe that the Police in their present form can provide security for the Nigerian citizens. The most horrible part of this is that on many occasions, the Police have turned their weapons on innocent citizens in ‘intentional‘ accidental discharges which have sent many to their untimely death. Why has reforming the Nigeria Police become such a Herculean task?

In June this year, Nigerians witnessed a horrible scene in the House of Representatives. It was a free-for-all fight between just 11 out of 360 legislators. People were beaten black and blue, clothes mercilessly torn to shreds and thanks to God that nobody was stripped naked. The cause of the fracas was allegations of fraud against the Speaker of the House, Oladimeji Bankole by the Progressive Group led by Dino Melaye. The speaker was accused mainly of misappropriating N11b capital vote of the House in 2008 and 2009 financial years. In the same vein, in a serendipitous discovery, our distinguished senators’ earnings per annum were uncovered as follow: Basic salary - 2,484,245.50; hardship allowance at 50 per cent of Basic salary - 1,242,122.70; Constituency allowance at 200 per cent of BS - 4,968,509.00; furniture allowance at 300 per cent of BS - 7,452,736.50; Newspaper allowance at 50 per cent of BS - 1,242,122.70; Wardrobe allowance at 25 per cent - 621,061.37; Recess allowance at 10 per cent - 248,424.55; Accommodation at 200 per cent - 4,968,509.00; Utilities at 30 per cent of BS - 828,081.83; Domestic Staff at 75 per cent of BS - 1,863,184.12; Entertainment at 30 per cent of BS - 828, 081.83; Personal assistants at 25 per cent of BS - 621,061.37; Vehicle maintenance allowance at 75 per cent of BS - 1,863, 184.12; Leave allowance at 10 per cent of BS - 48,424.55; severance gratuity at 300 per cent of BS - 7,452,736.50; Motor vehicle allowance at 400 per cent of BS - 9,936,982.00 (every 4 years); Total = N29,479,749.00; Senator‘s Salary per month = 2,456,647.70; Grand Total (109 Senators) = N3,264,329,264.10 (Newswatch, July 12, 2010, p.14). This unfortunately is happening in a country regarded largely to be poor and where an average Nigerian lives below a dollar per day. Folake Lebi, a US-based consultant lamented this situation in the same magazine thus, ”I wonder why these thieves in the National Assembly talk of economic saboteurs in Nigeria. I wonder if they have the sense to introspect long enough to see themselves as worst robbers Nigeria has ever encountered.” By this, Lebi means that the condemned criminals in Kirikiri are saints.

Election rigging is now regarded as normal in Nigeria and no serious punishment is meted out for the systematic robbery of the people‘s mandate. One can boldly say that many of our political office holders are with stolen mandates. It is only just a handful of the states of the federation especially those who claimed their mandate through the courts that can be said to have elected governors. Even the immediate past president admitted that the process that threw him up with the incumbent president as his vice was marred by irregularities. That was where it ended. But if we still think correctly, is there any crime greater than the theft of the people‘s mandate? We now have a new electoral umpire, Professor Attahiru Jega. Before him, Nigerians had witnessed sham in the name of elections and the professional riggers boasted openly, always sure of rigging and none had ever been brought to book. Can Jega move beyond his predecessor, Professor Maurice Iwu? Can he withstand the politicians‘ enormous financial inducements?

We have heard of billions upon billions recovered by our anti-graft agencies where they were stashed away in foreign banks. Where are the monies and who stashed them away? On many occasions, the leadership of the anti-graft agencies has been accused of complicity. In fact, many believe that some of the leaders of such agencies were planted to protect the sacred cows. As a result of that, no serious cases have been made against some of the obviously corrupt ex-governors and other politicians, except to settle some scores. Many are of the view that some of their case files have mysteriously been lost in the custody of the agencies while those with countless charges have surprisingly been discharged and acquitted.

Though kidnapping holds sway these days, it should not distract us from the fact that it is not the one and only crime in the country. If the truth has to be told, what Chinua Achebe pointed out many years ago as the problem of Nigeria is still there and is worse now. Ours remains a problem deeply rooted in corruption of our leaders and has given birth to a confusion of what crime is and who the criminals are. If the corridors of power can be swept clean, kidnapping will naturally solve itself. But there is the lack of courage to begin because many are involved.

Culled from Codewit News