The face of justice in Nigeria, by Christopher Akor - THE BUSINESS PACKAGE


Thursday, August 5, 2021

The face of justice in Nigeria, by Christopher Akor

On December 12, 2015, some members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) were doing their normal procession in Zaira and blocked the convoy of the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Burutai. After some altercations, the army promptly mowed them down and for added measure, levelled their Hussainiyya centre, brutalised and arrested the leader of the group, Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife. To cover up the gruesome killings, the army took away the corpses of those killed, set fire on them and buried them in mass graves.


When the news broke, the military attempted to lie its way through, accusing the sect of trying to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff and denying that the army massacred many of the group’s members. However, a panel set up by the Kaduna state government to investigate the killings finally indicted the Nigerian army for the Zaria massacre. The Kaduna state government confirmed to the panel that 347 IMN members were killed and buried in secret mass graves.  Specifically, the panel indicted Maj. General Adeniyi Oyebade, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army’s 1st Division in Kaduna for authorising the operation. The Panel stopped short of indicting the Chief of Army Staff, General Burutai who also bears responsibility for, and has defended, the killings on several occasions.  As the Panel rightly found out, the killings are a crime against humanity and those responsible should be brought to justice.


However, in a bizarre twist, the Kaduna state government banned the IMN from operating in Kaduna instead of pushing for the punishment of all those indicted. Also, security agencies began a systematic clampdown on the group in major states in Northern Nigeria. Consequently, the group’s members have been brutally maimed and killed in Jos, Abuja, Kano, and Katsina while protesting government’s actions against the group and the continued unlawful detention of their leader, his wife and other members of the group since their arrest in 2015.

El-Zakzaky and his wife were held in DSS for two and half years despite several court orders that they should be released. Then, to stall on their release, on May 15, 2018, they were arraigned before a Kaduna state high court for culpable homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace.

Last week, the courts not only discharged and acquitted them, but also declared the charges incompetent as there was no offence committed by the cleric and his wife.

Of course, it was known all the while that El-Zakzaki and his wife committed no crime. They were the wronged party. Six of their biological children and hundreds of their followers have been killed, their houses and properties destroyed. A panel of enquiry established all the abuses. But instead of punishing the perpetrators, the Buhari administration decided to revictimize the victims and set about persecuting them in such a blatant manner that it drew the attention and sympathy of the world.   


The Nigerian police is a criminal organization

In 2008, as an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan, I decided to write my long essay on the Nigerian police and spoke to so many policemen (from the lowly to very senior officers). After examining the extant literature on the Nigerian police and talking to men of the force, I came away with the distinct feeling that the Nigerian police is a criminal organization. Virtually every report or study on corruption in Nigeria released since 1999 has listed the Nigerian police as the most corrupt institution in the country. An example is the September 2017 study done by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union. So severe is the corruption that they routinely waste innocent human lives in pursuit of illicit bribes.

A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) captured my impression about the police: “Corruption in the police comes right from the top. It is customary that Commissioners of Police and others posted to ‘lucrative’ posts render returns to the IG. Similarly, DPOs also must make returns to their commissioners and the rank and file are also expected to make returns. The IG and top police brass convert to personal use their security votes – which runs into millions of naira monthly. The average policeman on the road is thus emboldened to demand for money and extort motorists. The dismissal of policemen caught extorting money from motorists are all gimmicks and cover-up tactics.”

But despite the preponderance of evidence that the entire police is rotten, beginning from the top, Nigerians always prefer to believe the lie that it is only a few bad apples soiling the image of the organization. Like a columnist quipped recently, “our insatiable but often unmet hunger for heroes predisposes us to be susceptible to frauds masquerading as saviors.”

It happens that Nigeria’s most celebrated, most decorated and most popular policeman is just an ordinary criminal. But much more than being an ordinary criminal, he has the backing of the law. He terrorizes both innocent citizens and fellow criminals like himself, extrajudicially murders, tortures, detains, and extorts them, seizes their property and money and converts them for personal use.

The details of his atrocities were all over town, but as usual, we will always discount them as mere rumours. Now that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States has presented a fraction of incontrovertible evidence of his criminal activities, we’re all acting shocked as if it was a new revelation. And make no mistake about it, Nigeria’s nepotistic leaders and the thoroughly corrupt hierarchy of the police will do everything in their powers to block his extradition to the United States to face the charges.

What about his victims? Of course, they’ll never get justice, just like the numerous victims of police brutality that led to the #EndSARS will never get justice.

But like Sargent Shriver, founder of Peace Corps once asserts, “…injustice is more unbearable than hunger; injustice causes more dope addiction than the greed of the producers and pushers of heroin because injustice creates the customers – those who have lost hope in everything. Injustice is the cause of poverty; injustice robs every person of human dignity. Injustice sows the seeds of rebellion.”

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