A few days ago, I stumbled on a video clip of the parade of some criminal suspects arrested by the police in which one of the suspects paraded was interviewed by journalists. In the exchange between the journalists and the suspect, he revealed the genesis of his venture into violent crimes. According to him, his travails started when he stole a phone handset and was sentenced to prison. It was inside prison that he was tutored on how to graduate into higher crimes and the attractions in criminal enterprises.
Upon serving his time and his subsequent release into society, he took to armed robbery-cum-rape of his victims. When asked about the whereabouts of his parents, he confessed that they were still living and around in town but they cared not about him. Unlike most criminals or suspects that would be pleading for leniency or a second chance, his position greatly differed. His appeal simply was that he should be ‘wasted,’ the police term for extermination or killing of suspects. When queried further as to why he would prefer being killed to being alive, his answer simply was that if he was tried and convicted, he would end up in the same prison where he would learn more acts of criminality in terms of skills, the ultimate end of which is that he would return to wreak more havoc on the innocent. He, therefore, would prefer being eliminated to being alive.
Before interrogating the issues arising from the short narrative, let me quickly deprecate the act of exposing the personality of the suspects to the media and, by extension, the public. It is not only an unconstitutional act but also demeaning and inhuman. The Constitution of Nigeria presumes suspects to still be innocent until convicted by a competent court of law. What if that suspect is eventually discharged or acquitted, which, most times, is the story? What happens to his image that has been battered and disparaged beyond redemption? In many cases, the outcome often confirms the correctness of the Yoruba proverb that ‘ori yeye nii m’ogun, taise lo po,’ which literally means ‘of all convicted of criminal charges, many are innocent.’
Pardon me if you feel offended as a victim at one point or the other but the lawyer in me insists that I must interrogate this aspect. This is not to say that the act of shaming criminals with its attendant merits is condemnable, but the point being made is that such should always be after conviction by the competent court of law. Having made this observation, let us now examine the matters arising from the above video interaction illustrated. The first message from the clip is a matter of common knowledge to all Nigerians, including the appropriate authorities in charge of Nigeria’s correctional service. This is the failure of the correctional homes to rehabilitate any criminal sentenced to the facility. The truth as I have elsewhere narrated is that the country’s correctional homes are centres for breeding more criminals rather than redeeming suspects or convicts. See my column in the Daily Sun of November 14, 2019, “Nigeria correctional facilities and need for reformation (Part 1) https://www.sunnewsonline.com/nigeria-correctional-facilities-and-need-for-reformation-i” and November 21, 2019, “Nigeria correctional facilities and need for reformation (Part 2) https://www.sunnewsonline.com/nigeria-correctional-facilities-and-need-for-reformation-i-2”. Apart from the overcrowding that is a constant feature of the correctional homes, where there is hardly any segregation of criminals and suspects or the gradient of crimes, it lacks totally anything welfare. No healthy suspect goes in and comes out healthy. Certainly, he would have caught one affliction or another. These and many more form the shortcomings of the correctional homes. As remarked above, the most important point is, however, lack of reformatory capacity. The video narrative depicts how a petty phone thief eventually graduates to a violent criminal as a result of indoctrination received at the supposed correctional home.
The clip equally unveils parental failure, which has become very rampant in our homes and largely preventing society from any form of progress. This again has become a feature in the country. Most parents no longer have time for proper upbringing of their children. They pursue economic survival to the detriment of the children. Even, some neglect this parental responsibility for other social and unimportant tasks. That is even where the parents themselves do not conspire to make their children criminals as a result of inordinate search for wealth.
We have heard of how some parents formed Yahoo Mothers’ Association and thronged the offices of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to demand the release of their criminal children. Some parents even buy laptops for their children and enroll them under successful Internet fraudsters to go and learn the illicit trade. Most of these mothers introduce their children to money rituals and what is now popularly known as ‘Yahoo plus’. You then see young boys who drive exotic cars without any meaningful economic means. How do you then persuade another youth that education is the key to the future when he can afford to rake in millions by pressing some miserable keyboard of a computer and hire a university graduate to drive him in his ill-gotten automobile? This may be part of the outcomes of the soaring rate of breakdown in family units as well as family values.
It is no more news that morals, values and virtues have collapsed. The quest for short-cuts to success is now a common feature while moral priority has been debased. Money or wealth is now more treasured over and above any other achievement. The concept of omoluabi in Yorubaland, Nwa azu ru razu in Igboland and Mutumin kirki in Hausaland has disappeared in our nation.
The society now places more premium on wealth than any other achievement. In the circumstances, what do you expect as the products other than more Hushpuppies and Woodberries? In fact, within the leadership of the country, children watch their supposed role models turning into ‘hush rottweilers and iron berries’. Society is equally to be blamed. Religious homes are no longer sanctuaries for reformation or indoctrination of what is right. They have joined the trend by worshipping money and preaching prosperity all over. My reminiscence of growing up is that religious bodies preached more of good reputation than anything else. This has vanished from the society. Again, what is the role of the educational institutions in all these? They simply are not there again. Gone are the days when the upbringing of children, even in the absence of parental guidance, was often impacted by schools. The teachers undertook part of this responsibility then. Again, this has disappeared as teachers themselves mostly lack this basic virtue of good behaviour. Thus, they have nothing to pass on.
Many of them are now examination malpractice mercenaries who conspire with exams candidates to defraud the system. Beyond incapacity, they do not even have the time for the pupils. Apart from the incompetence of some of them and the misadventure of going into teaching as a result of lack of alternative, they are largely distracted by their own challenges. Hence, they equally succeed in impacting nothing on the pupils in terms of values, morals or virtues.
The last and most important component of this engagement is the net result of the suspect under diagnosis. What happens to the fellow? Would the police waste him as requested or prosecute him and he ends up again in the ‘deformation’ centre? In civilized societies, such a suspect is turned into an asset immediately. Granted that the prisons are incapable of delivering the desired dreams of reformation; in this isolated case, both the police and the society prevailing on the authority, can make something positive happen. The suspect, who already confessed of no support from anyone or his parents, should be resettled by the police and trained into the intelligence corps of the police force. This is what makes foreign security workers appear to be miracle workers. The police will derive first-hand reliable information from this kind of suspect who already has the capacity to mix and sift information from the men of the underworld. I have witnessed this in other countries and I believe this should be emulated. The suspect must neither be ‘wasted’ nor sent to the ‘deformation home’.
Neither of the two is in our collective interest as a society. I am not oblivious of the controversy surrounding the attempt to convert some ‘boko haram suspects’ into useful elements, but I reckon that, the fault lies mainly in the deradicalization scheme, which appears shaky. I believe, with the necessary rejig, it may still work better for the society. It is needless to remind us that we need to wake up to our responsibilities as parents, religious and society leaders and teachers in whichever capacity we are engaged. The children we fail to train today shall tomorrow become the albatross of those we trained.
No sensible society abandons its future only to be attending to mundane things. I must not conclude this piece without solicitation for more attention for the correctional homes, particularly in terms of funding. The legislators must appropriate more funds in this regard. The good or bad news is that some of them may end up being tenants in such facilities as we are already witnessing. As you lay your bed, so shall you sleep on it. A word is enough for the wise!