The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org
We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas”. That was the message contained in the telegraph sent by the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) to their sister, Katherine, in December 1903. Upon receiving it, Katherine excitedly ran to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. According to the text in the December 23, 1991 edition of the Christian morning devotional, “Our Daily Bread”, the editor glanced at the telegraph and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” The story concluded: “He totally missed the big news--man had flown!”
In reporting the death last Friday at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison of Mr. Clifford Orji, with emphasis on his mental state, it would seem that our media failed to appreciate a very significant development that tells a sad but compelling story about our nation: that a citizen died in detention after 13 years without trial. Orji, it will be recalled, was arrested on February 3, 1999 at Toyota Bus-stop along the Oshodi-Apapa expressway in Lagos for allegedly preying on unsuspecting passers-by as a cannibal. 24 hours later, then Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sunday Aghedo, paraded Orji before newsmen as a “mentally depraved” man. The Divisional Police Officer of Makinde Police Station (where Orji was initially taken to for interrogation), Alhaji S.B. Sulola, also said at the time: “From his actions during interrogations, it is obvious the man is mad.” Sulola gave three reasons for his conviction: “People who live around the area said that the man was often naked. Again, he was incoherent while responding to questions. And, thirdly, the police picked him naked, and provided him with a pair of shorts thereafter.”
Even before any psychiatric evaluation, it was obvious to the Police that orji was not normal; which meant that he needed help. But after arraigning him at an Ebute Metta court, apparently to fulfil all righteousness, they dumped Orji at Kirikiri to rot away.
Now let’s contrast that story with two far more serious cases outside our shores. On July 22 last year, at a summer camp in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian right wing extremist, gained access to the island and subsequently opened fire on the participants, killing 69 of them and injuring no fewer than 160 others. Exactly 12 months later in July this year, in Denver Colorado, United States, a masked gunman, later identified as James Holmes, opened fire at a late-night screening of the new Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises”, killing 12 persons and injuring up to 50 others.
In the two instances cited above, the alleged mass murderers were granted all the rights to defend themselves in court. We may be tempted to ask: what is the essence of a judicial trial for people who killed so many people in broad daylight; especially since everyone knows they did it? The answer is simple: the State needed a proper trial to: (1) ascertain, without any doubts, that the suspects (that is what they are) indeed committed the crimes; (2) evaluate their mental conditions at the time of the crimes; (3) establish if they had accomplishes and (4) get all the facts as to why they did it. Put simply, a proper trial would benefit the society beyond the fact that due process would have ensured that an innocent man was not punished.
If we now juxtapose the fair hearing given the suspected killers in Norway and the United States against the handling of the Clifford Orji case, we can see the injustice, as well as the failure to even get to the root of the unfortunate saga. For instance, there were obvious inconsistencies, if not outright fabrications, in the tales told about this case that was never brought to trial. At the time of his arrest, Orji was reported to have claimed that he was in the business of killing people for some unnamed prominent citizens. Police also claimed that items found on him at the time of his arrest were: a cheque for the sum of N88,000, a cell phone, women’s underwear and fresh and roasted human flesh and bones.
Now the questions begging for answers are: If indeed a cheque of N88,000 was found on Orji, what is the identity of the person who drew the cheque and for what purpose? But there are even more pertinent questions: If Orji indeed had a mobile handset three years before the advent of GSM, that could be 090, (a very expensive toy at the time), how did he come about it, what was the number, who was he calling, who were the people calling him, and for what? Even if we argue that we lack the forensic expertise to do DNA on human parts, were there efforts to find out if any missing person around that time could be linked to Orji?
Back in 1999, Orji was presented by the media (aided by the Police) as a man “pretending to be mad” while killing people and selling their body parts to prominent people in the society even when the facts did not support such theory. At the end of the day, a mad man who was left to his own devices by an uncaring society (ruled by mob passions) was humiliated and sentenced to a sure and painful death. Because we allow the security agencies to operate under a presumption of guilt for the accused, especially when such belong to the poor and the vulnerable of society, Orji was stripped of whatever remained of his dignity and criminalised. Unfortunately, since the media also bought into the frenzy, feeding the public with salacious but obviously made-up details, the “investigation” was concluded and Orji was dumped in detention to die by instalment. Aside the culpability of the Police in this tragedy, the Lagos State Government also shares in the blame. On December 18, 2010, then Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Supo Sasore, SAN, offered what can only be described as a lame excuse for the delay in prosecuting Orji: “It has been difficult to convince the police that they need to provide the court with documents on Orji’s state of health”.
Again, on April 12 this year, Deputy Comptroller of Prisons, Mr. Noel Ailewon, said during a visit by the current Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye: “Orji’s health is getting worse. He has gone completely mad, vomiting and even defecating without restraint and is unclad most of the time.” In her own summation, the Director of the Office of Public Defender (OPD), Mrs. Omotola Rotimi, said: “Initially, we took Orji to Yaba Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos, but was rejected because they claimed they did not have long-term medical facilities. Subsequently, he was taken to another hospital in Ewekoro, Ogun State, but was also rejected.”
Interestingly, Ipaye would later tell the media: “Orji is mentally disturbed and no hospital is accepting him. Unfortunately, one cannot be tried except one is mentally stable. So, he is stuck in the middle and all we can do is to find help for him.” That help never came until the man died last Friday. But the greater failing in all these is the disposition of the society yet it is matters like this that define us as a people. When Orji’s mental health issue became public in April, one website published the story under the caption, “Clifford Orji Goes Mad In Kirikiri Prison”. Most of those who commented under the story wondered why Orji should even be tried. To many of them, he should just be killed.
But there were two comments which for me go to the real issue. The first one wrote: “The point is not whether the man ate people’s flesh or not. The point is that the system has failed to deal properly with his case, and the cases of others ranging from those guilty of much lesser crimes to those who are completely innocent. Keeping him waiting for trial indefinitely is not justice, he is still innocent as far as the law is concerned. If he is guilty, let a judge pronounce it and let him be dealt with accordingly.” The second one: “The only thing I consider madness in this case is the system that keeps people locked up awaiting trial for 13 years... We really are insane as a collective group of people. Even the thread has focused on his mental health rather than the obviously more important issues. What if it wasn’t Orji? What if it were someone who got locked up for trivial non-punishable stuffs like insulting the village’s ‘big man’?”.
Against the background that the primary function of government is to guarantee its citizens the most fundamental natural right, which is the right to life, it is a classic Nigerian tragedy that a man who was considered mad by the Police (which makes him not responsible for his actions) was practically subjected to jungle justice until he died. Yet of the famous Latin triad, “Honeste vivere, neminem laedere, suum cuique tribuere” (to live honourably, to injure no man, to render to everyman his due), the one that actually holds the society together is the third. But in our country today, we confer undue privileges on the rich and the connected while cynically denying the poor of their dues—material or legal.
It is sad that Clifford Orji had to die the way he did. The Lagos State government should do more than a mere autopsy. At the very least, Orji deserves a proper burial either in Lagos or at his village in Enugu State and perhaps something to immortalize him as a metaphor for the failings of our criminal justice system. We need to use his case to demonstrate that we are not only humane people but a society governed by law. There could, for instance, be a Clifford Orji Law that takes care of the insane in our society. The essence of the rule of law is to serve as a safeguard against arbitrariness, either from the State or from the mob. Unfortunately, in this instance, both the State and the mob conspired against an obviously mentally challenged Clifford Orji. Until the man died!