By Dele Sobowale
“Having power destroys the sanity of the powerful. It allows their irrationalities to leave the realm of the dream and come into the real world”.
Before providing the excerpts promised last week, let me draw your attention to a news report last week. Chief Henry Nwokengbade, the Chairman of the Transition Committee of Ukwa West Council, Abia State was arrested and is to face trial with over 30 people for their alleged roles in kidnapping in the state.
The real news was actually buried in what was not written. The man was appointed just a month earlier by the state government to head the Council. Surely, one would assume that the government would have appointed someone with integrity to the post. Was it then a mistake that the accused was selected to head the Council?
Similarly, a former Deputy Governor was arrested for a crime allegedly committed in 2006, and prosecution was shelved – until now. The crimes included gun running. Yet, for four years the man walked around free. Are we witnessing the politicization of prosecution of criminals? Is this a quest for justice or political vendetta?
More to the point, Ukwa West has long been known to the people of Abia State in general, and the people of the area in particular, as the centre of kidnapping in the state for more than two years. Yet, government turned its back on it until the crisis became a disaster.
What has made the difference? The simple answer is POLITICS. The change from PPA to APGA to PDP has suddenly turned former allies to mortal enemies and the impunity the kidnappers enjoyed from official protection has been removed. In my four trips this year to Aba, Ukwa West invariably came up as the main operation point for kidnapers in the state.
If ordinary citizens knew this, what then were the security forces and the security officers doing until 15 kids were snatched and Aba became part of global news for the wrong reasons? For part of the answer, read the following written in June 2010, after my visit to Abia State.
“FROM OWERRI AIRPORT TO ABA
The difference is clear once you cross the state line from Imo State to Abia State. The addition of soldiers to the police stationed at the check points speaks volumes about the change in the circumstances of the people living on both sides of the line.
Judged by the numbers on the roads leading to Aba, the force is sufficiently intimidating to ordinary people. Whether or not it will deter the criminals is yet to be determined because most of the robbery and kidnapping takes place off the highways. At the moment the collateral damage to ordinary travelers is more noticeable than any successes the security forces have achieved. Granted, this is only the beginning of the major drive to rid Aba of the hoodlums holding it in a vice grip.
It is even quite possible that the security forces, especially police and army, have achieved diminishing returns because several check points are placed so close as to constitute not additional security but incremental delay to law-abiding travelers.
The short distance between the Aba-Owerri roads junction and the Port Harcourt-Aba-Enugu Expressway has nothing less than 12 check points – most of them of dubious value from the standpoint of security.
ABA TO IKOT EKPENE
If Owerri-Aba road is already acquiring a nightmarish dimension, the closest thing to hell a traveler can experience anywhere in Nigeria today, except on roads leading to Jos, is the Aba-Ikot Ekpene road. Quite apart from the fact that the Aba to Akwa Ibom State line is one of the worst stretches of Federal roads anywhere in the country.
Travelers, and commercial drivers plying that road have, for years, been subjected to the worst form of abuse that those employed to protect the citizens of any country should ever have to experience. The police have for long added insult to injury; the army has now started to add beastiality to the oppression as I will detail later.
Consequently, as those in the public transport I boarded from Aba, instead of engaging car hire service uniformly said, “it is difficult to differentiate between armed robbers and the police and now the army sent to protect us”.
Indeed, while, not everyone is a victim of armed robbery and kidnapping, the security forces on this road have ensured that virtually everyone is a victim of extortion and brutality added as an extra dividend.
One of the unintended consequences of this is the almost certain lack of co-operation which the police and the army needs to succeed in their mission. Instead of one group of enemies, the people are confronted with three groups of antagonists – the hoodlums, the police and the army personnel. For the elite, who are the subject of kidnappers (nobody kidnaps a pauper except for ritual purposes), the presence of the beefed up forces might bring some relief, but for the trader at Ariara market or the transporter plying roads leading in and out of Aba it amounts at the moment to an extra burden to carry”.
N191B: AREA BOYS VIEW OF A NATIONAL TRAGEDY
“To murder one’s reputation is a kind of suicide, a detestable and odious vice”.
Henry Felding, 1707-1754 in Tom Jones.
(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p. 213).
Just a few years ago, when Professor Soludo was still busy dancing all over the world, I had written on these pages that “Most Nigerian bankers might as well be described as robbers in designers suits”.
Very few people took notice and the few who did probably did not believe it. Now, that the first judgment has been handed down concerning the operations of one of the most highly celebrated banks and bankers in Nigerian history, perhaps people will now believe the truth.
Let me quickly summarise in a few short sentences how we at Jankara University view this tragedy – to the nation, to the banking sector, to women, to the church which ordained her and to an illustrious family.
First, in plain arithmetic, all the Area boys and girls in Nigeria would have had to work 24/7 for almost five years to steal N191b. Don’t forget that with plea bargaining it means that the amount involved was more than N191b.
Yet, no Area Boy ever received a sentence so light for stealing a mere N191 from a judge. Now we know the truth about justice in Nigeria – don’t we? The real criminals get off lightly every time.
When one of the leading lights of a sector, a national honours recipient is found guilty of great crimes, it leaves an endurable question. How many other criminals in the same bank were in collusion with her while pretending to be “professionals”?
“What a man can do, a woman can do” or do better. Are we now supposed to assume that this extends to high crimes also? If so, God help us.
Pentecostal churches and their emphasis on success without adequate stress on integrity have accorded a lot of dubious characters the titles of Deacons and Deaconesses. They also refer to all their members as “children of God”. Well, if a “child of God” filches N191 b of other people’s money, what is “a son of the devil” supposed to do? Steal the CBN? Meanwhile, an illustrious family name has been tarnished forever. Suicide.