By Bisi Lawrence
The trial of the former Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Hamza AlMustapha, who was accused of the murder of Kudirat Abiola, eventually came to a decision a few days ago, with the judgment that he be hanged by the neck until dead. Kudirat Abiola was an energetic personality, who rose to support the claim of her husband, Chief MKO Abiola, as having won the presidential elections acclaimed as the fairest and best that Nigeria had ever known.
The Lagos High Court presided over by Justice Mojisola Dada, was the scene of high drama starring the supporters of the former CSO, and typical of earlier trials of a political flavour. Indeed, the episode was not without its own connections with politics, though it had no direct links with any political party.
However, the cause of Al-Mustapha is now suddenly espoused by the fearsome “Boko Haram”. The terrorist group has threatened dire reprisals in the event of the sentence, or any measure it considers untoward against Al-Mustapha, being carried out.
In the light of that warning, the statement of the defending counsel describing the judgment as “the end of an era” in the protracted case, carries more weight beyond the notice of appeal that was subsequently given.
But, if we may pause here a bit, the statements of counsel usually delivered outside the entrance courts’ buildings must be repugnant to people who cherish due respect for due process. These statements are usually for the television audience, and some of them are made in grating disrespect of the courts’ pronouncements made only a few minutes earlier.
The high regard due to a judge and the judgment he issues from the bench, should be preserved in public, especially by members of the bar. I believe that a law should be made against this scurvy habit of pleading a case on the staircase of the court, especially after it had been lost; it should not just be discouraged, but severely sanctioned. In the case of Al-Mustapha’s trial, his counsel’s reactions were expressed in terms that almost vilified the judgment.
The record of this Islamic sect, as it is freely characterized, would support the view that its threat may only be discountenanced at a grave risk. On some significant memorable occasions, it has performed actions very close to what may now even be described as the fulfillment of promises, as different from mere threats.
The Christmas Massacre at Madalla, near Abuja, is still very fresh in our minds though superseded in numbers, but not in sheer horror, by other bloody incidents. And now, the spearhead of the terror may be aimed at the judiciary, according to the announcement made by the sect. That sounds ominous.
The judiciary, as it is, has been all but overwhelmed by the other two components of our triumvirate pattern of democratic government – that is, the executive and the legislative. It appeared to have survived an era of domination when it had to pander to the wiles and ways of the powerful executive, especially during the military interludes of our history.
But commendable courage has seen it through those days of misgivings about its truly being the last hope of the oppressed. This new season of self-recovery on its part, and renewed confidence among the people, is the worst period for it to suffer the encumbrance of coercion and humiliation in the discharge of its duties. The way to counter the intimidation, and defeat the threats, can only be through firm and unyielding security, in particular, and an iron-cast protection of the elements of the judiciary.
Based on the response to similar threats in the past, one may be left in the cloying arms of dismay. This is one boast that we cannot afford the Boko Haram to live up to. It is abundantly clear that if we cannot have justice unhindered and, in any way, untrammeled in this country today, we are finished as a nation.
No power, whether in the aristocracy of wealth, or birth, or influence, may be allowed to function against the authority and freedom of justice. The issues that beset us, away from those of the purely political arena, but are stridently loud in their demand for justice, are simply too grave to be set adrift for want of the stable anchorage of propriety as ordered by the law. We may briefly refer here to the revelations of the probe into the management of the petroleum subsidy.
The more that is said about the affair, the clearer it becomes that some aspects of correctness have been wantonly infringed, and that several of the actors deserve to be brought to book. What machinery could be employed to achieve that if justice is handcuffed in any way?
More specifically to the point, however, we know, and must now openly admit, that we have now passed beyond the point of the empty declarations of making members of Boko Haram, especially the actual perpetrators of terror among the group, to face the “wrath of the law”. That sounded more and more hollow, until quite recently when some inroads appeared to have been actually made into the mystery of the terrorists’ individual identities.
There would seem to be no great astonishment as to their station in life; we had suspected, all along, that they were no riff-raffs. But it has not brought us very close to the motive of the murderous group, though there has been no scarcity of assertions, and suggestions, and assumptions. So, what does the Boko Haram want?
There is the time-worn deposition, emanating with the flush of its initial appearance, that the sect was against Western, or European education, and was set to destroy all institutions aligned to it. The lie was easily given to that by the fact that the proponents of the idea were themselves products, at least partially, of such institutions.
Then it was put out that the murderous attacks inflicted on the North-Eastern area and its populace were a kind of vendetta as a reprisal for the alleged judicial murder of the sect’s founder at the hands of the police. So, some policemen and officers were arraigned for trial, but it did not seem, in any way, to pacify the Boko Haram who escalated its terror tactics to include suicide attacks, a phenomenon as alien to the Nigerian clime as snowfall.
The frequency of the raids on innocent communities grew, as the boldness and confidence of the perpetrators. And so also the veil concealing real reason behind all these killings. What is the real objective of the Boko Haram?
And then sheer politics was called in to bear the burden of the mystery. Someone remembered that someone had stated that if some party did not win the last elections, the country would be made “ungovernable” for whoever won. Although it was an open statement, allegations have been made on several occasions from a distance around the statement, but without any specific mention of the source.
The law of libel has a deterrent content that evokes caution on public utterances, especially when the onus of proof need be discharged. The wile of prevarication was brought into play, and it has remained a case of “someone, somewhere, at some time, actually said something like that.”
That reality has also affected other aspects of the Boko Harum scourge. The victims of the attacks turned out to be predominantly of the Christian faith. The coloration of a religious conflict was glaring even at a distance. But no one seemed anxious to hit the nail on the head.
The closest that the head of a Christian organization came to the point, was that the atrocities committed by the Boko Haram were motivated by a “religious philosophy”. The plain truth is that a philosophy of any religion is a purveyor of the values of that religion, and cannot be separated from its core precepts. It expresses the intents and purposes of its principle through the prosecution of projects that it animates and excutes.
It is no wonder then that there are people who are not taken in by the argument that more Northerners have been killed by Boko Haram than Southerners. That may be true since many of the victims also belong to the Christian faith, though Northerners. What that does not assert or prove is that more people of other faiths are being massacred than Christians. It is well known that there are those who are considered as “expendables” in warfare, apart from people who even willingly offer themselves in “religious” suicides. The bombing of a mosque cannot be equated with a spate of destruction visited on dozens of churches, either.
The people who do not openly describe what is unleashed by Boko Haram on Christians as a religious war, are careful not to be charged with inciting disharmony in the country, even though the shape of things tend to take that pattern.
Those who can speak to the Boko Haram ought to warn them of the danger of breaking up the ‘” country. Already, people are fleeing from some parts of the country back to their home states. And yet the sect promises to visit more havoc on a very important arm of our government.
I believe that it is yet not too late to talk to one another as human beings in an effort to settle a problem against which the use of force, leading to the death of hundreds of innocent victims, appears to be of little effect. What does the Boko Haram really want?