In April 2013, Senate President David Mark called for the execution of oil thieves and those engaged in bunkering activities. Curiously, he did not call for the execution of those involved in the oil subsidy scam or those politicians responsible for stealing millions of dollars every year for the last several decades in the country. We have a dumb way of making laws in this country. We harshly penalise the underclass, but gently slap the wrist of high-rolling offenders.
Unfortunately, even the public — the vast majority of the Nigerian public — have come to accept this legal abridgment. No wonder why the typical Nigerian would bow and prostrate before million-dollar thieves but beat up and burn pickpockets. They would pray for the man who just stole their votes and by extension, deprived them of their human and civil rights, yet abuse and curse the man who pointed out the violations.
Because we’ve had administrations that do not fully and openly address problems, we have become used to solutions driven by passion and irrationality. Not enough critical thinking takes place. Not enough reflection takes place. We don’t pay too much attention to short and long-term ramifications. And even within the judicial and legislative branches, we don’t seem to spend enough time thinking about the cause and origin of crimes. All we want are harsh punishments that satisfy the citizens’ sentiments and raw emotion. As a collective, we want to punish and punish some more instead of devising ways to mitigate our propensity for crimes and ethical violations.
Within the South-South and South-East geopolitical zones for instance, many states have laws that prescribe death penalty for kidnappers. They include Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Edo, Abia and Anambra states. And on Friday, October 18, 2013, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State went further by signing a law that amends the previous one (Kidnapping Provision Law 2009). Among its many provisions, the law states that, “Any premises where victims of kidnapping were held would be demolished.” Was he kidding? Is he kidding the indigenes and inhabitants of Edo State?
Demolishing houses belonging to “terrorists” and their sympathisers was a tactic used by the Israeli government to punish and dehumanise Palestinians. Not minding international outcry – and not minding the fact that they were violating international law and decency, the Israelis bulldozed several thousand homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Although the Israelis called it “deterrence against terrorism;” really, it was a crime against humanity. Today, Oshiomhole wants to embark on the same inhumanity in Nigeria.
Of greater concern to me is the idea of executing kidnappers. This is a cruel and unusual punishment for a crime that is basically a manifestation of the fetidity that Nigeria has become. All the governors of the states with such laws belong to the class that made Nigeria what it is today. There are at least a dozen other crimes that warrant death penalty in the country. For instance, why don’t we start by executing all the men and women who, since 1985 at least, have been wasting the country and its human and natural resources? Let’s start with that!
But no! No serious-minded politician wants to genuinely address our national problems, but is very much interested in making laws that assault common sense and pragmatism. The same system that exalts thieves in high places – rewarding them with national honours, contracts and political appointments – sends to prison petty thieves. Now, they want to execute small-time criminals.
I am not dismissing kidnapping as a painless crime. No. It takes its toll on the victims and on friends and family. It is materially and psychologically tasking and draining. And indeed, I am not dismissing kidnapping as a petty crime. Not at all! But the fact is that in the scheme of what ails Nigeria, kidnapping is a fly on the wall. But unfortunately, the traditional and social media sensationalise it – making it seem as if kidnapping takes place every moment of the waking moment.
What many Nigerians outside of the South-South zone do not know is that kidnapping is a game, a tool used by many of the elite and politicians to score points, avenge loses, or penalise opponents. It is similar to the way they used restless youths to rig elections and settle scores; similar to the way they encouraged and financed militant groups to cause havoc in the oil-producing communities and to make governing hellish.
And really, when you take into consideration the vast majority of the kidnapping that has taken place since 2005 or thereabout, you will see that less than two per cent of the kidnapping is “criminal in nature.” So, instead of the elite/politicians to agree amongst themselves to stop this dirty game, they want to execute the same young men that have been doing their biddings.
The vast majority of our politicians are inconsiderate, they have no conscience. No moral compass. The same is true of the rich and powerful. They prey on the gullible, the poorly educated and the hungry. They prey on the hungry and angry youths and then manipulate them to commit crimes against their communities and against their private and public opponents.
Think this through: If Police reports show President Goodluck Jonathan’s blood brother was responsible for kidnapping the President’s ardent of critics, would the said brother be prosecuted and, if found guilty, executed? What governor or Judge would see to it that the execution takes place? And would Oshiomhole demolish the private home of the Oba of Benin or Tony Anenih if their nieces or nephews were found to have used their private homes? But imagine what would happen if the said perpetrators were from the shantytowns.
Believe me: Governor Oshiomhole and his counterparts know this to be true. If they will ever be honest with themselves is another matter. In Edo, as in Bayelsa State and elsewhere, the governor and the security service know what’s going on more than 90 per cent of the time. But the show must go on. Otherwise, how would they justify their security vote allocation?
And finally, assuming you know nothing about the art and science of kidnapping in the South-South zone, then, you must know this: Political-kidnapping will end when the elite and the ruling class get tired of it. And criminal-kidnapping will end if and when we pay genuine attention to good governance and nation-building.