Does anybody in Nigeria deserve to be in prison?

Promise Adiele

Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB arrowhead, needs no elaborate introduction. So, let us set aside all the preambles and liturgy of explanations. His name resonates across Nigeria in multiple cognizances.

Gradually, he has become an enigma defying any definite identity. While some people conceive of him as a terrorist determined to dismember Nigeria and imperil South-Easterners in the national project, many others think of him as a selfless warrior, a freedom fighter committed to achieving self-determination for the South-East enclave of the country under the aegis of IPOB.

To the former category of people, Kanu and IPOB must be crushed irrespective of what they represent. But to the latter category of people, the agitation for the actualization of Biafra is infinitely legitimate.

However, some people are sympathetic to the Biafran cause but disagree with Kanu and IPOB’s maniac methods. These people unconsciously and subliminally agree that Kanu’s mob mentality is a direct response to the castrating, hypocritical, binary-standard conditions in Nigeria.

Whatever be the case, Nnamdi Kanu caught my attention in the last few days when, in a rare moment of epiphany, following the horrific events in my state Imo, declared that “no single soul deserves to be in any prison in Nigeria”.

As a man of letters, I will dissect that submission by the IPOB arrowhead and let it form the spine of my musings this week.

Let me quickly state that I condemn all the violence and destruction that took place in Owerri, Imo State over the weekend.

IPOB and ESN have both denied involvement in the internecine but the now replaced Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu and the governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, have implicated both groups. Mr. President is currently on medical tourism in the United Kingdom. Anybody who says he is surprised at the Owerri carnage does not have the spirit of truth.

What happened in Owerri is what Nigeria has become. A country where violence has assumed normal proportions, where those who kill, burn and maim are celebrated. Such a country can only witness progressive descent into chaos and pandemonium.

Once again, I sympathize with all the people who lost properties and lives in the beautiful city of Owerri, famed Nigeria’s tourism capital. Now, let me return to Kanu’s submission because it is so easy to derail when Nigeria is the topic.

According to Kanu, “no single soul deserves to be in prison anywhere in Nigeria”. This statement contains all the attributes of semantic gymnastics, yet redolent with paradox.

The first thing that comes to the mind of a conscientious observer after reading that statement is to think that there are no criminals in Nigeria, therefore, those in prison are innocent and should be set free.

They do not deserve to be in prison. But is it possible for a whole country not to have criminals? Even in the best of countries with the lowest crime rates like Finland and Norway, they have prisons populated by criminals.

How and why then did Kanu say that nobody deserves to be in prison anywhere in Nigeria? There are many criminals in Nigeria, corporate, political, economic, and sundry criminal elements in the land.

There are bandits, kidnappers, certified thieves, plunderers of the exchequer, and all manner of criminals in this country. So, Kanu couldn’t be suggesting that there are no criminals in Nigeria. Therefore, people do not deserve to be in prison. What then does Kanu mean?

Let us look at the second meaning of the submission. In Nigeria, at least since the inception of this administration, there are shreds of evidence that terrorists, herdsmen, and bandits are treated with kid gloves and pampered.

“Repentant” members of the dreaded Boko Haram terrorist group, one of the most vicious blood-thirsty terrorist organisations in the world, are treated as heroes and granted State Pardon. In fact, it was reported recently that some of them were sent abroad to study.

These are criminals, people who have buried Nigerians alive, killed our soldiers, raped women, sodomized young boys, bombed places, destroyed properties, and placed Nigeria in an unenviable position in the world terrorism index.

There are also bandits and Fulani herders who the government has refused to identify as terrorists. These people are almost running over the entire country.

They are in every village, nook and cranny of our local crevices. They block the highways, kidnap, rape, kill, and practically hold the country to ransom. The spirit is consistently dilapidated to see the venerated Sheikh Gumi interceding on behalf of bandits and terrorists.

He has enjoined us all to show them love and embrace them for the crimes they have committed against the state. Gumi knows where these bandits and terrorists are. He visits them at will too.

He is the link between them and the government. He is our renowned negotiator. It is alleged that millions of naira were paid to bandits and terrorists when they kidnapped school children.

No arrest was made, nobody was questioned and no one thinks they deserve to be in jail. Yet, quite shamefully, people who have committed a lesser offence, those who have stolen rice, garri and other petty items for survival populate our prisons and rot in jail.

It is this kind of criminal duplicity that Kanu is referring to when he says that “no one deserves to be in prison anywhere in Nigeria’.

Besides natural law, divine justice frowns at perfidy and treachery decorated and upheld as a system of justice. Indeed, it defies every shade of law or justice to imagine that terrorists are pardoned and pampered, treated as heroes in a five-star hotel while ordinary petty thieves languish in jail.

It is purpose defeating that bandits and Fulani herders are rewarded with incredible sums of money while Nigerians are encouraged to show them love, yet, pick-pockets rot in jails across the country.

It is that sense of justice in Nigeria established on the hills of deceit and shameless moral decay that Nnamdi Kanu calls to question in the quote attributed to him. If indeed people who deserve to be in jail are lords and kings, then let us all open the prisons and apologize to all the petty thieves, minor criminals, and even internet fraudsters.

Let no sanctimonious observer with a mangled sense of orthodoxy remind me that two wrongs cannot make a right.

The Nigerian government must be reminded of the inherent duplicity that abounds in the body politic and our sense of justice when we reward those who should populate our prisons and throw those who have committed lesser crimes into the same prisons. Kanu’s meaning must reside somewhere.

I admire the courage of the Kaduna State governor Mallam El-Nasri Rufai, who has said that bandits and kidnappers in his state will summarily be killed. He emphatically stated that there will be no negotiations with bandits, terrorists, and kidnappers.

El Rufai’s method is what terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers deserve – kill them, wipe them away from the earth and do not negotiate with them. The muse instinctively reminds me of a certain expression, esprit de corps, a lingo spoken by members of the same group to show respect and solidarity.

Lecturers have esprit de corps, military officers have it, police officers have it, bankers have it, engineers have it, lawyers have it, medical doctors have it and so forth.

There is an unwritten rule that when you encounter members of your profession, people who subscribe to the same ideology as you do, you show respect and camaraderie. Could this kid-gloves treatment of terrorists and bandits by the Nigerian government be a case of esprit de corps?

Na question I ask o!!! As long as the government’s treatment of terrorism and crime is selective, as long as Nigerians continue to witness a progressive double-standard in handling crime and criminals in Nigeria, then, nobody should be in prison.

The government must realise that the celebratory status given to selected terrorists and bandits is hurting our security apparatus. If we say killing, burying people alive, rape, kidnap, and sundry acts of violence are not crimes as long as they are committed by certain people, then nothing is a crime in Nigeria and I agree with Kanu on this one, “no one deserves to be in prison anywhere in Nigeria”.

While the government is determined to crush IPOB and ESN to the last man, let the same government also crush Boko Haram, Fulani herders, Bandits and all such terrorist groups.

To spare one and pamper another is bleeding injustice. By so doing, violence, banditry, and terrorism will continue to proliferate in the country. Last weekend it was Imo State. Before then it was Ebonyi State. No one knows where it will happen next.

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Promise Adiele

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