Opinion: Our collective definition of justice in Nigeria

by Rahaman Abiola Toheeb

There is something sinister about the way we think and about our collective definition and understanding of the word ‘justice’ as a country. When you, a patriot with some modicum of common sense take a critical look into the scope by which different interpretations are being read into justice, you conclude that your country is sick, or perhaps mad, and nothing else.

In Nigeria, from the pedestrian purview, justice is synonymous with words like lynching, ‘jungle justice’, a mob attack, while from the elitist viewpoint it’s an avenue for subduing the commoners into a damnable quietude of class submission. Quite miserable enough, from the legal point of view, justice is a partially corrupt judge donning the wig of bias.

Or what definition can you give to a country that grants widely-known Machiavellian political looters and betrayers of public trust a presidential or national pardon, but can dock and jail hunger-ridden and hapless commoners with hard labour for a pardonable slight defiance? What is the difference between a law that sends a poor man to a 10-year imprisonment upon a simple theft of #1000, triggered by frustrated living, and that of some ignorantly emotional entities among us who lynch someone to an early grave because of a tin of rice?

We may say there is a difference. But to me, if I would make one, the only difference is that the former gives the offenders an opportunity to live an unfortunate life in prison which, in some cases, is more brutal than being given a mob lynch. The fact is clear that those who find themselves in prison today because of a hunger-prone theft are good human beings far better than those luxury-obsessed and selfish opportunists representing us the National Assembly. They’re people who, when given a proper societal concern, can also contribute their quota towards putting the country on the lane of the progressive shift. But your country is bad. They are condemned to jail, some even without trial. What a country!

Irrefutably, it won’t surprise us that hardly would a week pass without having a case of Mr A being sent to 3-year jail for stealing a loaf of bread when he couldn’t pay for bail. When you see this, the question you ask yourself is: if Mr B had had the amount requested by the court for bail, how could he think of stealing? There are many sad narratives like this. And this reminds me of a teacher in my town who was caught stealing garri and subsequently dragged to the police station. During the course of the investigation it was learnt that he was a teacher with a family to cater for. And he had not been paid a salary for over six months. As I was told, the D.P.O was forced to give ten thousand naira to the man and approved his immediate release. This is Nigeria we all want to be proud of. Not a country of ‘jungle justice’.

Similarly, it also reminds me of a governorship aspirant in my state during the last election who said on the radio that there was a time he visited the State’s prison to seek for the release of some convicts. According to him, of the ten people he was able to get out of the jail six told him that they met their water loo because of cheap offences ranging from stealing fowls or a little amount of money and all sorts. My feeling when I heard this is when your country cannot help your situation but can prosecute you for your frustration-provoked missteps, you’re doomed for life!

You may be wondering why this illustration, well it’s because of the video and virally-discussed  pictures of a “7-year old boy” who was gruesomely lynched,  tyred like a kidnapper, before being set ablaze in Badagry area of Lagos State, for attempting stealing garri. If this narrative is true as being told, then for the late innocent urchin death is rest, for he is no more a victim of a callous and clueless state. But for us, that horrible incident has portrayed our society as being nonchalant, malfunctioning, backwards and highly bereft of human sympathy. Second, irrespective of our epochal exposure, we are still the same hysteric country –a land of many misplaced priorities; a country that acts before reasoning.

Because you will wonder what joy was being derived by those bystanders at the terrible scene of that gory incident? What was the joy of those taking pictures without human feeling? And what step has our government taken to bring the culprits of that deliberate attack into the black book? What this story tells us is that Nigeria is the same country that killed four University of Port Harcourt students. We all remember Aluu killing, what it generated and the aftermath of it. This is the same country, your country, my country where the poor become the scapegoats of (in)justice –whether bias or ‘jungle.’

This is the same country where looters of public funds like Fani-Kayode, Buruji Kashamu, Patricia Eteh, Stella Oduah, Dimeji Bankole and many others, who should have been served due justice for stealing, are still enjoying impunity. They live a luxurious life and they still have the effrontery to charge Federal Government and individuals to court for slander and defamation. But for the poor, they remain victims, and that is what they will be until Nigeria and Nigerians unanimously take a new direction into the way justice should be duly served.

The poor boy was a Nigerian; he wore a green cloth– a colour symbolic of our national strength –and yet they killed him. May God make Nigeria better, and most importantly saner. And for those who were at the scene of the incident enjoying how a poor lad became a victim of Lagos scavengers, ‘eyin nuu, Olohun nuu’ (they are left to God to be judged).

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Rahaman Abiola Toheeb writes from Kano

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