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Our Season of Anomie

16 Oct 2012

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The Wig & Skirt, By Funke Aboyade. Email: Olufunke.aboyade@thisdaylive.com

Finally, after putting off the evil hour for as long as I possibly could, I watched the video of the lynching of the Aluu 4. Quite frankly my timing was off, having had my supper less than a couple of hours before. ..

The video was all of three and a half minutes, but for a long time I sat numb, covered in goose flesh. I did not cry, but I felt physically ill. That I didn’t eventually throw up was the surprise. I wondered if their parents had seen it. No parent should ever have to see their child suffer in that manner. It would, I thought, be better to die than have to see that happen to your child. My son is 23. It didn’t bear thinking about. No animal in fact should have to suffer that way; even animals for slaughter get to die quickly - indeed in many major religions it is obligatory to slaughter an animal destined for the soup pots as quickly and as humanely as possible, accompanied even by prayers. In other religions, it is even forbidden to eat meat - such animals are regarded as sacred. How much more a precious human life!

Then, I wept. For the young men who had suffered such horrific deaths. For their families, relatives, friends and fellow students, and for those who mourned with them. For their futures that never were. For the misguided children who were also bystanders and/or participants in the lynching. For the gate the barbarians had breached and freely entered. For the lack of (effective or perhaps, as alleged, complicit) police presence - in spite of the fact that the lynching went on for at least three hours. For the reputation of our dear country. For all young persons in Nigeria. For all parents in Nigeria. For the possibility that, in spite of the video evidence the perpetrators might ultimately go scot-free. For a country that engenders such impunity regularly.  For the trauma that all those who watch, see or hear about the video or photos surely must undergo. For a criminal justice delivery system that commands such little or no confidence in it that resort to jungle justice is increasingly, for many disillusioned citizens, now Option A.

News of the lynching had filtered in as the International Bar Association Conference which I attended in Dublin ended. I had tried to ignore it in the vain hope that doing so somehow meant it wasn’t true, it was simply too gruesome to contemplate. Arriving in the country two days after the story broke and the video went viral however, I was confronted by the reality of it all.

Coming on the heels of the Mubi massacre of 46 students (as confounding as that was), and the appalling report of the lynching on the grounds of witchcraft of a 70 year old woman in Omuo-Ekiti , it seems we have a crisis on our hands. Impunity reigns supreme. The practiced ease with which these crimes are now carried out beggars belief. That, and the fact that almost always the perpetrators go scot free. But then, it didn’t just happen overnight. The turning point – for the worse – I think was when a serving Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice was hacked to death in his own home and…nothing happened. Perhaps those responsible for his killing thought it was a mere game of politics and they had rid themselves of a thorn in the flesh and taught a few lessons whilst at it. I have written several times about the consequences of that unresolved killing in this column, and I will never tire of repeating it: a country that cannot solve – indeed, does not care or have the will to solve – the killing of its Chief Law Officer 11 years down the line is a sitting duck for just about any kind of impunity. That country has declared open season on impunity of all kinds of criminal conduct. This is our season of anomie.

Perhaps this time, the story will be different. The Inspector-General of Police has waded in given the distrust families of the Aluu 4 have expressed for the Police in the locality who were alleged to have stood by and done nothing.

Identifying and arresting the culprits should be a slam dunk. Charging them to court and prosecuting them, another.

As for the children who watched and clapped, knowing no better, who joined a mob baying for blood, ‘Make e die, make e die!’, what to do? They certainly cannot and must not be charged. But do we leave them to then continue on their dehumanised path? I think the state government must step in via the relevant Ministry dealing with youths and ensure medical professionals (child psychologists for instance) counsel these children. Local NGOs whose forte the welfare of the Nigerian child is can also be actively engaged. Putting these children in the juvenile criminal system is not the solution.

But this has to be addressed holistically. There’s no point ‘sorting out’ those children, only to return them to families with the mindset that caused or encouraged this to happen in the first place.

Now that we have been exposed as a country where human life is worthless societal changes have got to take place. It would be easy and convenient to seek closure on the Aluu 4 by simply condemning the dreadful act – until the next time it happens. Yes, it was savage; certainly the perpetrators must be brought to book and dealt with to the full extent of the law. However, sadly, this does not speak to the real issue, because at the core of this is a tragic demonstration of lack of faith in our law enforcement and criminal justice system.

We have got to be vigorous and unrelenting in teaching the lesson that jungle justice does not pay. But how do we achieve this, given this demonstrable lack of faith? An overhaul of our entire criminal justice system would be a good starting point. When there’s confidence in a system that works, the propensity to take the law into our hands will greatly reduce. Not all this requires a great deal of money.

For instance, in the absence of state police which many believe is desirable, the Nigeria Police can begin to actively engage the communities in their locale. There have been a few success stories regarding this but they are way too sporadic; this model needs to be replicated nationwide. This way, trust is imbued between both the Police and the communities they serve. With this in place, the Aluu 4 saga would have most likely not had a chance to even be contemplated. Their innocence (or lack thereof) would have been very quickly established. Lawfully.

There’s no need for a rehash of what ails the system and what needs to be done – countless reports, which lie unimplemented, have already done that.

What makes the Aluu 4 particularly remarkable is what category of victims they were - undergraduates with bright prospects of becoming tomorrow's leaders. We all know that dozens, if not hundreds, of Aluu incidents are perpetrated across the length and breadth of Nigeria every year (see the statistics below). Truth be told we have seen a perverse evolution of vigilante justice from informal neighbourhood 'necklacing' to the more organised but nevertheless extra-judicial processes of ethnic vigilante groupings by whatever name called. It all still amounts to a spectacular failure of our system of law and order...

When the victims were petty thieves with no names society simply looked the other way - a form of complicity that is that much worse because of its insidiousness. Few have ever paused to ponder where in the civilised world (which we mostly aspire to) is summary execution without trial the punishment for petty theft or even other serious crimes. For many of us, it’s just one less criminal on the face of the earth, and good riddance. But as it almost invariably happens when we tolerate, even encourage, injustice (cloaked in the less harsh term ‘jungle justice’) to others, there may be no one to speak for us or our loved ones if the roulette wheel brings up their own number.

A disturbing dimension to the Aluu 4 lynching are the reports, though yet to be substantiated,  that the mob was egged on by the police who urged them to finish off the students. Another version has it that they stood by passively. This raises a totally new array of issues: a public demonstration of loss of faith in the criminal justice system by even the Police?! An outsourcing of the Police's wrongly assumed but widely exercised powers as extra-judicial killers? This is something the Inspector-General of Police must investigate and disclose. And bring to book the Policemen involved. If he’s going to clean up the Force this is as good a place as any to start.

As we condemn and mourn the cold blooded murder of precious human capital, from Omuo-Ekiti to Omuokiri-Aluu and Mubi, the last two within the space of  just a few days, let us tackle the real issue: insisting on and putting in place a criminal justice system that works.

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