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Stop rewarding ‘repentant’ criminals

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By Ochereome Nnanna
Bayelsa State has become a hotbed of strange news of late. You will recall that only in March this year, the Governor of the state, Seriake Dickson, declared war on rumour mongering and set up  a “high powered committee” to tackle the monster.

The newest info from President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state is that the Bayelsa State Government has offered a one billion naira worth of “empowerment” to 10,000 “repentant” cultists.

*Suspected cultists paraded in the community
*Suspected cultists

Now let’s pause to ponder. Bayelsa is the least populated of the 36 states of the federation, with an official population of 1.7 million people according to the 2006 census. This suggests that one in every 17 persons in Bayelsa is among the “repentant” cultists.

If you remove from this group those too young or too old to engage in the usually active and vigorous activities of cults you will come up with even a high proportion of “repentant” cultists out of the entire population.

Now, if 11,000 people (the total number of “repentant” cultists as contained in the news report) decided they would no longer engage in demonic activities, only goodness knows how many are still out there as “unrepentant” cultists.

Personally, I do not believe that the 10,000 are genuine cultists, forget about whether they are repentant or not. I do not even believe Bayelsa has that many of them. In any case, how was the government able to define who a cultist is, and what makes one a “repentant” cultist? My suspicion is that Governor Dickson’s own idea of dealing with cultism in his state was to embark on the newest pet approach to problem solving by our current crop of political leaders: abuse of amnesty.

Bayelsa did not start it, and the state is not the only one doing it. Abia offered amnesty to “repentant” kidnappers. The Federal Government, under pressure from Northern leaders, is considering offering amnesty to “repentant” terrorists in the North.

President Jonathan was arm-twisted to set up the Alhaji Tanimu Turaki Committee to explore amnesty for Boko Haram and other murderous Jihadist outfits because when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was alive, he offered amnesty to Niger Delta militants in exchange for peace in the oil producing region, and it worked.

So, more and more political leaders are turning to this lazy approach to apprehension of high crimes without deeply considering the long term effects rewarding “repentant” criminals. For instance, we started from militants, then kidnappers. We moved on to terrorists. And now, Dickson has expanded the offer to cultists. Nothing will stop another governor enamoured with this style of governance from extending it to “repentant” armed robbers, serial murderers and ritualists.

Our youth are being dehumanised with these offers of largesse to “repentant” criminals. Thousands of innocent Bayelsa youth had to sign up as “repentant” cultists in order to benefit from the N100,000 per head which the one billion naira comes to.

Up till date, thousands of young people from the Niger Delta (including those posing as such) often gather to block our highways, particularly East-West Road, Gwagwalada-Abuja Road and Warri-Benin Road, to press their demand to be included in the post-amnesty bonanza for “repentant” militants of the Niger Delta. As soon as Boko Haram decides to accept the amnesty offer, millions of almajiris dressed in rags will storm booty centres to be given their cuts as “repentant” Boko Haram terrorists.

What, pray, is this country turning to? Where do the innocent, long suffering, struggling and law-abiding youth come in? We see them everyday in the traffic, hawking all sorts of goods under the sun, moon and rain. Millions of graduates and school leavers crowd street corners and watch the scene go by.

They are wasting their years in idleness, and watching the crooked ones among them being given the bounties of the state for posing daunting security problems for the government and the people of Nigeria. They are getting more and more convinced that in this country, the leaders prefer to favour criminals rather than law-abiding citizens. We are practising reversed civics.

This has got to stop.

We must restore the dignity of the Nigerian citizen by returning to the path of civilised governance. The primary duty of elected leaders is to maintain law and order, and not to open the public treasury to “repentant” criminals. How should they repent if crime is made to pay? They will only spend the money and come back for more, as some of the so-called “repentant” militants are doing. They will create more problems to keep the free money coming.

There are two firmly established methods of determining that a former criminal has indeed repented. The first is that the criminal, on his own, quits.

The second is that he is caught, arraigned in the courts, tried, sentenced and sent to jail. When he gets there, he is trained in skill acquisition as part of the correctional process. While in jail, a small portion of stipends he earns from his work is set aside and given to him at the completion of his term of incarceration.

The state creates an enabling environment for such ex-convicts to reintegrate in society. They are given a second change to live decent lives. If they are able to fit back into society without slipping back into the life of crime, then they have indeed repented.

This is a well established system of maintaining social stability. With this system, criminality is deterred and only the few genuine criminals are there for society to contend with. But the “amnesty abuse” style being popularised by our political leaders makes criminality seem attractive. It makes governance seem like a huge joke; in fact a sick joke.

You cannot build a great nation this way. Let those who are incapable of maintaining law and order desist forthwith from seeking election into exalted offices. And when they do, let the electorate keep them out.


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