EDITORIAL: Sanity Until Justice Is DoneColumnists, Editorial, Featured, Featured Contributors/Columnists, Latest News Friday, September 19th, 2014
By Tajudeen Balogun, Head Nigeria Bureau, Lagos
Within four months, their cases were heard, defence by their counsels were presented and finally, the judgement was delivered followed by a ‘deafening bang with gavel’, – sign of confirmation of the rulings. Such was the case on Monday, September 15, 2014, when 25 dissident soldiers who were court martial for making attempt on the life – (mutiny) of their General Officer Commanding (GOC), Major General Ahmed Mohmammed in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. They all earned various verdicts from the Martial President, Major General C. Okonkwo.
The very touching aspect of the Martial’s President ruling was the conviction and death sentence on the 12 out of the 13 military officers found guilty of the serious offences charged.
Like in the open court, when law and morality clash, the former holds sway while the latter is humbled. This was exactly what happened on Monday as pleas for clemency, pressed on various strong sentiments by counsels to the convicted fell on the deaf ears of the martial judge.
Still, court martial is different from the conventional courts. Here, cases are heard and judgement given in a jiffy (within good time frame). This contrasts the norm in the normal courts which hear cases indefinitely and sometimes till when records of some would have gathered dust on the shelve and doctored by the mischievous judicial workers.
Jasper Braidolor, David Musa and 10 others will not be the first to be convicted by court martial. Historically, Late Colnel Dimka on February 13, 1976 spearheaded a coup which resulted to the death of the generally acclaimed Nigeria best Military Head of State, General Muritala Mohammed. In the end, he, General Bisalla, Major Rabo and 28 other officers were deemed guilty of conspiracy by the Secret Special Military Tribunal and therefore were convicted and executed by firing squad.
During General Babangida military junta, a soldier and an avid writer, Major General Mamman Vasta bid final bye to the world, as he was executed on March 5, 1986, following involvement in a failed coup. Vasta was then the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and a member of the highest decision making body – the Supreme Military Council (SMC). Bisala and others as well as General Vasta cases were dispensed within few weeks.
The last mutiny before the latest was perhaps the alleged coup in 1997 during the military regime of the late taciturn Head of state, General Sanni Abacha. The coup which was widely regarded as a frame up implicated some top ranking retired and serving officers(then), including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Abacha’s second in Command, General Oladipo Diya, General Tajudeen Olarenwaju and others.They were found guilty of act against the state, therefore convicted. The make believe coup eventually consumed General Yar’Adua as he was allegedly poisoned in prison.
Still, the Monday conviction was the most tragic and very unfortunate of all the military court verdicts. Very pathetic, as the condemned 12 and the jailed were victims of decay in our system. Specifically, they were preys to loss of values and standard in orientation and institutions, which were rooted in corruption in virtually every aspect of life in the country.
The serious offences charged against them were directly related to the above. Else, how does one explain infantry soldiers who complained about measured supply or lack of allowances, foods and medication? What do you expect from officers who lacked adequate sophisticated weapons to confront dreaded and daring insurgents? Can one expect any commitment from the officers who seemed to have lost touch with the military authorities and lacked trust in their GOC? Ironically, the capital punishment came despite that the General escaped the mutiny unhurt.
But like it was established earlier, these are moral questions and before the law, they must give. But in actual sense, their circumstances must still be given a second thought. Really, so many other Nigerians face similar ordeal and even more on account of greed and lack of discipline on the leadership. It is a fact that the Nigerian military men then who were adjudged very brave, patriotic and up to the task at the battle front were disciplined, inspired and well-motivated. It is painful the training remains the same then and now, yet what is lacking is systemic values and standard and the result of this are the unfolding tragedies.
These officers therefore must not die. The President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces should wade in and seriously consider how the death sentences could be commuted to jail terms. Mr. President is covered by the law to exercise this right and he should not hesitate while debate on justice and sanity in the country continues.
Justice dispensation is discouraging in Nigeria. Most times, common man is mostly punished for committing civil or criminal offences. For instance, the country had contended with so many cases of corruption and mourns many politically motivated killings. So many of them unlike in the military court are necessarily delayed or went into oblivion and died naturally.
The killers of Chief Bola Ige, Harry Marshall, Dele Giwa, Funsho Williams and host of others during the past civilian and military regimes up till date are unknown (officilly) to the general public. Justice – delayed and denied.
Corruption and abuse of privileges of office is another angle to challenge of justice dispensation in Nigeria. Many prominent Nigerians have been named one time or the other in ritual killings. Recall the Lagos cannibal, Clifford Orji. This suspect dealt in human body part and was reportedly have the big wigs on the list of his clientele. He was purportedly tested and certified insane, hence final bye to his case!
The corruption case against former assistant Director in the Police Pension office, John Yakubu Yusuf and six others over the embezzlement of N23.3 billion from the police pension fund and the infamous ruling by Justice Mohammed Talba of an Abuja High Court is stll fresh in memory. Justice Talba on January 28, 2013, convicted and sentenced Mr. Yusuf to two years imprisonment with the option of N750, 000 fine after pleaded guilty to three counts of an amended 20-count charge. Another justice robbed!
There are alleged corruptions and criminal cases mentioned in Nigeria today but have either been neglected or thrown away on want of concrete evidence to pursue them. Little wonder is the recent revelation by the Australian Boko Haram negotiator, Dr. Stephen Davis, who beside his startling allegation accused Nigerian leaders of being timid – lack audacity to get to the root of high profile criminal and economic offences. Even Former President Obasanjo as assertive, blunt and courageous as he, could not break the jinx especially in his eight years regime which lasted between 1999 and 2007.
Surely, it is also not surprising now the way some criminal activities are presently being suspiciously trivialized and approached with the glof hands. After months of his assignment in Nigeria, reports of which (he must have presented to the government) and almost three weeks of his shocking revelation, alleging a former state Governor (origin of Boko Haram) and ex-Chief of Army Staff as suspected insurgent sponsors, all the government has done through Department of State Services (DSS) was the claim that the former Governor “has been and he would be investigated”, while the second accused has been left alone and allowed to offer defence for his innocence. Where is justice in all of these? The Oduagate car scandal is dead and since been buried.
The latest stinking national case of sleazy practice was the $9.3 million arms purchase deal. It is good the Federal Government has admitted knowledge of the mysterious transaction. Yet, the same government and its officials are much aware that such huge sum must be declared as well as its purpose. These were not done and the question is why? The explanations offered by the Nigerian government already have been punctured and rejected, while the sum, over N1.5 billion is now being impounded. Again, the question is where do we go from here; what becomes of this yet mind boggling and strange arms business? When and who will ensure justice is done on this multidimensional and international aborted transaction? Justice; where is it and why is it so elusive in our system?
If former or serving Presidents, Governors, Ministers, Commissioners and VIP are above the law in Nigeria, no wonder the lingering fight over marginalization, tribal, communal and sectarian unrest, nepotism and very grievously, a developing economy with us, all this while. If this is the issue with us here, opposite is the case in the world acclaimed developed nations, which so many times Nigerian leaders lay credence. There, truly, law is no respecter of anybody.
For example, former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich started being questioned by the United States (US) Federal Bureau of Investigation since 2005 for corruption. He and his Chief of Staff, John Harris was later charged with corruption by Federal Prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. They were culpable of the charges, including wire fraud, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to solicit bribes. As a result, Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois General Assembly and removed from office by the Illinois Senate in January 2009.
In Brazil, former Chief of staff to ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Jose Dirceu, made himself available to the Federal police to begin his over 10 years jail terms as he was among the guilty and convicted by the court over an attempt to topple the government. Similarly, former Party President, Jose Genoino and a congressman having returned from leave due to health challenge turned up to serve about seven years jail term.
Despotic former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, after being ousted in 2011 Arab spring was arrested, first tried by former President Muhammad Morsi and now being jailed over embezzlement. His two sons, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, who were targets of the revolution that consumed his almost 30 years administration were jailed for four years, each. Mubarak is still facing some other serious charges as he serving jail term.
Finally, these are cases involving the highs in the various societies and heaven did not fall when the hands of law caught up with them. But when will sanity reign in Nigeria and its nationals have crave for decency? Going back to my start point, if the promptness applied in hearing and rulings as witnessed in different court martial is judiciously and objectively replicated in the conventional courts, certainly, corruption, impunity, power obsession, political assassination, ritual killings, money laundering levels and many other criminal and economic offences will reduce appreciatively in the country. That is justice and the only means to sanity in the polity.
Shifting Front And Back
Beside saving lives and ensuring a healthy living, I respect a lot Medical Practitioners. My respect for these professionals bothers on the fact they are cerebral people, dignifying and a good percentage of them do no deal in frivolities.
This I had initially thought informed the position of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) which happened to be the first professional body that joined issue with the Federal Government three weekends ago, when it announced September 22 resumption date for public and private schools, as against October 13, 2014 previously announced. Interestingly, NMA advised government against resumption while there were still cases of confirmed and suspected Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country. It therefore encouraged that the date be shifted to allow the existing cases be completed. Its Lagos state chapter even demanded December or January next year for schools resumption. Later, the All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS) and Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) joined tilting towards the same direction with NMA.
However, it was shocking to hear the same body barely less than a week after its advice to government shifting ground. NMA National President, Dr Kayode Obembe on Monday, reechoed exactly the Health Minister, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu’s advocacy and his defence since, for this Monday resumption. He said the Nigeria EVD case was still at community risk level and people should not rely “on rumours, lies and ignorance”. Does that mean NMA was also initially deceived? With high sense of responsibility, this was unexpected of a group and professionals I have high regard for. Definitely, something is wrong somewhere. Nevertheless, I maintain my respect for Doctors.
Now that ANCOPSS has also chickened out, leaving only NUT and parents confronting government, the hope is that the teachers baring few days to Monday, will maintain its position. Yes, President Jonathan has commented for the first time on the resumption controversy. However, I strongly felt linking stigmatization to resumption is not a good match. For a disease as deadly as Ebola, stigmatization is natural, only that it requires good sensibility. If we advocate that schools should resume to create an impression we are free from the virus, whereas, we are not, I believe the country is still not getting it right and we are not helping the common goal.
At this juncture, I urge the Federal government within the available shortest period of time, to do an independent survey and sample the opinion of the parents. While that may be given consideration, I put it to the Health Minister again and Mr. President (for the first time) that as they have say in this matter, so also are the parents who are responsible for the lives of these young ones. Therefore, Mr. President, Health Minister and FG, soft pedal on this matter please!
Finally, if NUT could sustain its struggle, it will be appreciated by many parents and support their genuine concern.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @tajudeen balogun.
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