BY HASSAN GIMBA
Our current situation of a glaring failure of the rule of law must disturb any Nigerian who has come of age. The average citizen today lives in fear. When you retire into your house, you pray to God to deliver you from evil marauders who have removed peace from the calmness of the night. When the sun rises, you again rely on God to protect you from those who have become the law unto themselves.
In Nigeria today, the rule of law has taken flight. Charlatans carrying guns can erect a checkpoint on any federal road and operate for hours, kidnapping, killing, and maiming passengers. Sometimes they set cars on fire with commuters, comprising women, children, infants, and the elderly and sick, trapped inside.
They can walk for hours unhindered, despite our drones and Tucanos, with tens, sometimes hundreds, of their prisoners from the main road into the bushes. Many times, they videotape such operations up to the torturing of their captives and send them to all to see on social media. They rape their female victims – single or married – irrespective of their age or physical conditions. The unlucky men who tingle their fancies get sodomized, too. And nothing happens because the rule of law does not affect them.
Many of the women who make it out alive come out with pregnancy or, worst of all, with some diseases. Those “captured” with a heavy pregnancy that would not allow them to move quickly or far get shot. This scenario happened to Hannatu Mohammed, a pharmacist in Zaria in August this year. Kidnappers killed her because she could not move fast enough because of her pregnancy. She left behind two children.
There was the story of a captive who gave birth to twins in the camp of these bandits. They fed the newborns to their dogs for breakfast. The woman went mad. Another case was that of a newborn who was fed with sleeping pills once it started crying.
In all these cases and many more — reported and unreported — that cannot be cataloged here because of their quantum, the living victims and their families and friends cry alone. They receive nothing – no justice and do not mention compensation or even condolence – because those who should protect and care for them are engrossed in feeding their fantasies. The rule of law can go to blazes!
In November, gunmen raided the staff quarters of the University of Abuja and made it a hell for two hours. They abducted six people, including two professors, a deputy registrar, and three family members. The minister of the FCT, Muhammad Bello, however, told the university’s governing council that the crime was carried out to raise doubts about the security in place in the nation’s capital as well as attract publicity. How did he know that? Did he confer or confirm with the bandits – as per their motives? Another question: what are the other uncountable and routine crimes perpetrated daily in the country meant to achieve – like the raids on the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), police stations, prisons (I do not call them “correctional” because I doubt if they have corrected anybody) and other government facilities?
What are the daily blockade of roads, killings, burning, maiming, and kidnapping of passengers meant to achieve? What about the attack on the rail tracks, abduction of school children, raiding of airports and houses of individuals to kidnap – to achieve what?
It has reached an unfortunate and unpardonable level that kidnappers negotiate terms of release with kidnapped victims’ loved ones. There are stories that even the military and paramilitary forces pay for their kidnapped members to be released. The forces of anarchy have cowed the enforcers of the rule of law.
Well, true or false, bandits who raid wherever they want and kidnap whoever they wish are now a government. They collect taxes from farmers before the locals can till their farms. They also pay before they can harvest from their farms.
Nigeria’s situation fills all reasonable humans with dread. Last week, just when we were shocked at the unprovoked incineration of passengers on a bus, another sad news hit the airwaves. The people of Maza-Kuka in Ba’are village of Mashegu local government area in Niger state were made to cry when 16 worshippers were shot dead while observing the early morning prayers in a mosque.
Without the rule of law, no nation can survive as an entity. All failed states are so because non-state actors have overwhelmed constituted authority.
Many can swear by whatever they worship that Nigeria is on the brink and that the nation can tip over at any moment. The search now is for who will pull us back. I will, in this treatise, discuss this.
How did we find ourselves in this sorry pass? There is a school of thought that believes our security forces are way below the required number and, therefore, in most cases, overstretched. Others theorise they lack technological facilities coupled with low motivation because of poor welfare.
But is it? Nigeria, with a population of about 200 million, has a force strength of close to 400,000. That is one police officer per 500 or 0.2 percent of the populace. The United Nations (UN) standard for the police-to-people ratio is one police officer for every 450 citizens. Perhaps ours should be one law enforcement officer for 45 people.
Togo, with a population of 8 million, has 4,000 police officers. That is one police per 2,000 or 0.05 percent of the population, but God help you if you break any law in the country. The Benin Republic, with a populace of 11.5 million, has 10,000 police. That is 0.08 percent or one police officer for every 1,150 citizens. But try to break the law in that country and see. These are just two West African countries that have proved that the rule of law thrives, not because of the number of security forces watching eagle-eyed over the population.
Yes, our police lack the technological edge to deal with modern crimes and, worst of all, their welfare and training are not the best. Their salary is paltry and, even at that, they don’t always get paid when due.
The failure of the rule of law here is not so much about the number of our security agents, their low morale, poor application of themselves to duty – very like all public service employees, disruption of morals in the citizenry, and the historical failure to punish offenders. Above all is the dearth of a responsive leadership to bind us into a nation of law-abiding, love-your-brother people.
Therefore, we can say moral decadence is at the root of our problems as a nation. However, that can be corrected with the right leadership. We shall look at this. We shall also look at how failing to punish criminals has affected our collective security and the way out in our next installments.
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