By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“When a leader encourages the culture of impunity, the society is lost and it makes the work harder for the rest of us”.
– Prof. Wole Soyinka
The current socio-political perversion of the Nigerian state, courtesy of the twin paradoxes of anomie and anarchy in a so called democracy, reads like a fast-paced book of fiction and evolves like a midnight horror movie. Nature, abhors vacuum. That may perhaps explain the sudden emergence of one Sheik Ahmad Gumi, an Islamic cleric as the master negotiator between fully armed bandits and some state governors up north, with the collapse of government as the provider of security for the citizens. As Isabel Allende, the Chilean journalist and author rightly noted: ”Nothing is as dangerous as power with impunity”.
So, Gumi is emboldened to stroll into the much-dreaded forest hideouts of kidnap kingpins called bandits and fully armed herdsmen both in Zamfara and Niger states. And he returns safely to advise the slumbering political leaders on the best way forward. What could that be? That the Federal Government should without further delay accord the bandits who have maimed, raped and sent some of their victims to their early graves amnesty just like it operated during the tenure of Umar Musa Yar’Ardua (of blessed memory) for the Niger Delta militants.
Explaining to Gumi and his likes that there is no moral and economic justification for comparing the actions of the militants and the heartless bandits terrorizing innocent lives is like pouring water into a basket! While the militants took up arms to draw the needed attention to the criminal neglect of their oil-rich geo-political zone by the federal government, that has for decades fed fat on its God-given resources, the armed bandits on the other hand, ride roughshod on the waves of sheer laziness, brazen extortion and religious extremism. No other geo-political zone in Nigeria would have watched on, arms folded while their environment was left naked to massive oil spillage, the killing spree of aquatic fauna, despoliation of their farmlands and left to stew amidst debilitating diseases.
But Gumi wants the killers, kidnappers and rapists provided with “reasonable means of livelihood including jobs, working capital, entrepreneurship training as well as clinics and school”. Read that again! The sense of revulsion yours truly felt going through all these is enough to give up on Nigeria. But we cannot. Not now and not ever. Our unrelenting pursuit is that of good governance. For instance, in the wise words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “In a well governed state, there are few punishments, not because there are many pardons, but because criminals are rare; it is when a state is in decay that the multitude of crimes is a guarantee of impunity”. Let us all digest these as food for thought. According to the World Prison Brief database, the Central African Republic has the world’s lowest prison rate of any country, with prisoners representing just 16 out of every 100,000 of the population. Next highest were Comoros and the Faroe Islands, both with 19, followed by the Republic of Guinea on 26.
Of great interest is that of Netherlands, a country that has no one to put behind the bars! Back in 2013, Netherlands had 19 prisoners only and some five years later, in 2018, the country had no criminals! That has been one’s dream for our dear country, Nigeria. Who says it not possible? It is achievable if we have the right set of leaders and political structures that promote the spirit of patriotism and selfless leadership. We are talking about politicians who do not have to steal billions of Naira to pay for party nomination forms, bribe greed-driven godfathers, party members and eventually electoral officials to be elected into office, to serve the self instead of the state.
Instead, their noble aim would be to seek for the best for the majority of the people and not to satisfy their whims and caprices as dictated by ethnic jingoism and religious sentiments to the point of pampering criminals as Sheik Gumi is currently canvassing.
As Marcus Tullius Cicero succinctly stated: “The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong”. That explains the insidious and unpatriotic policy of granting amnesty to terrorists who have wasted several innocent lives only to be rewarded with free food, accommodation, clothing and the very western education they took up arms against!
It therefore, goes against the grains of natural justice, morality, equity and peaceful society for the governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, to repeatedly call on the federal government to grant amnesty to the so called “repentant” bandits. These are conscienceless and cruel citizens who have killed or kidnapped hundreds of fellow Nigerians in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna and Nasarawa states in recent years. Forgiving them stands logic on its head. We are now in a better position to understand why the payment of huge sums of ransom to the kidnappers of Kankara students has emboldened those with similar criminal minds to execute what recently transpired in Kagara, Niger state. And Gumi has stepped in where the soldiers dared not tread! So, who is fooling who and which Nigerian is still allowing himself to be fooled again?
According to the ‘Wall Street Journal’, three boys out of the 344 victims of the kidnapping at Kankara Science school said that the kidnappers told them that a ransom was paid for their release. The boys endured beatings, threats and deprivations at the hands of their kidnappers. But the Jihadist group, Boko Haram which claimed responsibility for the abduction has been empowered with more funds to buy more sophisticated arms and ammunition to waste more innocent lives.
This was my candid position when the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai admitted paying off Fulani herdsmen with millions of naira with the expectation for peace to reign in the state, as agreed years ago. But has peace returned to the state? Up till the moment, Kaduna State remains one of the killing fields of the country; couched with increased Christian victims. As el-Rufai has admitted, the bandits are used to big money far above what can be earned by legitimate means. What a country!
Now riding a similar ship of grand betrayal by the vampire bandits is the Katsina state governor, Aminu Masari. His policy of Dialogue and Amnesty Programme to pay off the criminals running into millions of naira has had the opposite effect. The killings continue! All these means that even the current state governors have not learnt enough lessons from former governors of Bornu and Rivers states.
If indeed, the statement credited to the Niger State governor, Sanni Bello that, “we don’t believe in what Gumi is doing” is to be taken seriously, the bandits should be fished out by the policemen and soldiers, publicly prosecuted and punished according to the law. Only this would serve as a form of deterrence to other young minds waiting in the wings to fly.
A government, going by Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 constitution as amended is supposed to be a father-figure; to protect and provide for members of the family, not pampering errant children only to cry over spilt milk when the harm has been committed. What moral lessons are the Gumis teaching our children? To steal, rape and kill with the hope of forgiveness through some insulting amnesty programme? Never again!
Baje writes from Lagos