Way back in the mid-90s when we began to cut our teeth as rookie journalists, a colleague of ours who used to cover the Crime beat at that time, got himself a ‘brand new’ tokunbo Datsun Cherry. Of course, he literally cleared out every dime in his two bank accounts to pay for the car: a whooping N28,000 (twenty-eight thousand naira). It was no mean feat and we had gone out to celebrate and ‘wash’ the car somewhere in Surulere, Lagos. Haven taken a bottle or two above his usual capacity, another friend nominated himself and rose up to offer a toast: ‘So, who said crime does not pay?’, he began. We did not allow him to finish – else other customers at the joint would begin to suspect what line of business we were into.
But that one-liner has served me well over the years. Yes, crime pays, it only depends on what side of the coin one is looking at. Take for instance what has happened in the country since the dawn of democracy in 1999. It would appear the first persons in the line of beneficiaries of the dividends of democracy were those who, over the years, had invested in one crime or the other. First, it was former senior public officers (Perm. Secs, Directors, ex-this and ex-that) who had helped themselves, while providing the bureaucratic and technocratic back-up for the military regimes as they plundered the public till, that had any reasonable financial war-chest to fund campaigns and contest election.
And when they got into the fray, they recruited all manner of roughnecks who they paid handsomely to unleash their boys on opponents, help snatch ballot boxes where necessary and, when the need arises, to thumb-print on ballot papers procured ahead of actual polling. Of course, the boys got paid well – at least, enough to ensure a steady supply of weed and spirits. In so many instances, some of the boys even got to be picked to run various local government councils – either as councilors or even chairman outright.
Several others found their way into the state house of assembly or even the national assembly, where they could fix their own remunerations at whatever figure they so desired and pass it into law. Those who could not find accommodation within the new governments were left to fend for themselves with arms and ammunition procured for them to prosecute the election. For these ones, robbery, kidnapping and pipeline vandalisation became the more preferred vocation. It would later be taken to another level in the Niger Delta, where the miscreants soon joined the agitation of the rights activists.
The rest, as they say, is history. They were granted amnesty, pampered, spoiled, lavished with government contracts and appointments, given outright cash, sent abroad, placed on monthly salaries. In short, crime, again, paid off. Suddenly, people who should be in jail became the first-line beneficiaries of government patronage. They are really, the first to enjoy the dividends of democracy. But everybody agreed it was not too much of a price to pay for peace. I too agree.
And because we treated the Niger Deltans (by the way, my Imo State is also a beneficiary), so lavishly, cynics now allege that the North has managed to concoct its own militants as well. The argument is: If they do not get derivation or generous IGR or any mineral deposit that is of any interest presently to the federal government, they could at least bargain with Boko Haram. Of course I consider that a wicked assessment of the situation.
But, considering that we have lost more Nigerians in this Boko Haram insurgence of the last couple of years than we lost in decades of agitation in the Niger Delta, I think it may not be a bad idea to pay an even higher price for peace than we paid in the Niger Delta amnesty programme. We are desperate for peace. But let’s not forget; there can be no peace without justice. That is where the CAN point comes into play.
But then, my question to CAN is: if we oppose amnesty for Boko Haram, on the ground that we’d be forgetting the fate of their victims, would it be better we stick to our guns and allow Boko Haram continue with the bloodletting? If we take care of the Christian victims and their families, what happens then to the Muslim victims? And the other victims who do not fall into any of the two categories? And if we don’t spend the money on amnesty and let it trickle down to the masses (whose poverty and unemployment have served to feed Boko Haram with a ceaseless supply of suicide bombers, what is the guarantee that the money would not be stolen by those in Abuja? Or their brothers in the state capitals? Or their distant cousins in the local government headquarters?
What is the guarantee that their ever will be any dividend of democracy to these bottom-of-the-ladder Nigerians in this our might-is-right polity? Is it not because it is now clear that government discusses with only those who have a proven propensity to commit crime and hold the state to ransom that every unemployed youth (and even elders) in the Niger Delta is claiming to be an ex-militant who is entitled to government largess? Is that not why some people from one particular ethnic group in Delta State are now turning round to say they should be incorporated into the amnesty programme because they too surrendered guns. Even when they made it clear back then that they were no militants but were surrendering guns they used for self-defence and inter-tribal wars.
For me, therefore, I think we should just grant this amnesty across board – to every Nigerian. Let us grant it to the Itsekiri youths, to the Akwa Ibom youth who recently carried placard to Abuja, to the 5,000 Abia youths who recently petitioned the national assembly claiming to be ex-criminals who want to turn a new leaf. To journalists (including those four from Leadership newspaper) whom the government continue to brand unpatriotic, to the cult boys in our various campuses, to all former and serving governors whom EFCC and ICPC and Code of Conduct Bureau are hounding all over the place, to the serving governors like Amaechi, Lamido, Babangida Aliyu and all the others accused of terrorizing Jonathan (let’s forget about tracking down the people behind the posters that emerge overnight), to Akpabio, Shema, Suswam and all the others accused of terrorizing fellow governors on behalf of Jonathan. We should also grant amnesty to Bamanga Tukur and his state governor, so we can stop this over-heating of the polity with talk of removal or no removal. Amnesty should also go to Oyinlola, Segun Oni and the people who kidnapped Okonjo-Iweala’s mum. Bode George is also deserving of the amnesty (or is it pardon) granted Alamieyeseigha.
In short, let’s grant amnesty to everybody, because we have all sinned and fallen short of the vision of our founding fathers. We can then make a new beginning. We can even extend the amnesty to the pension fund thieves, to pipeline vandals, to the ministers who stole generating sets, to the IGPs who looted the police blind, to the police over extra-judicial killings, to the subsidy cabal and the rest of them. We could forget that Otedola ever released any tape. Let us pretend that we are not suspecting any lawmaker of tucking dollars into his Shagari cap. As my people would say, let’s just take whatever stung us in the darkness of night to be mosquito, and not dig any further. Let us grant everyone amnesty and make a fresh start.
My only problem is with the Boko Haram people who do not want to accept the amnesty deal. They insist they are the ones who should be granting the rest of us amnesty. Even that is acceptable with me. Let Boko Haram grant us their own amnesty. Let us tell them that we are sorry. Let the married men amongst us look at it as a wife/husband situation; you still have to apologise even when it is clear that you are the wronged party.
So, my plea to the Boko Haram leaders is: dear jihadists, if you would not accept our offer of amnesty (on the ground that it is you who should be granting us the amnesty), could you then, please, grant us your own amnesty. We are ready to accept. Since you are the maker, giver and detonator of bombs and other IEDs, please, could just agree to stop and give us your conditions.
We are sorry for trying to defend ourselves from your bombs and bullets and knives. We know we have offended you by failing to view Islam strictly from your own perspective. We are sorry for reading the wrong Quran and Hadiths. We are sorry for refusing to turn Nigeria into an Islamic society and suspending the 1999 Constitution for a Sharia regime. But since the deed has already been done, and it is too late in the day to begin to retrace our steps, could you please, show us some magnanimity by granting us amnesty from the wrath of your angered commander – for we are helpless. Every effort to stop you by force has unleashed more death on our hapless citizenry. Yes, the same citizens we claim to want to protect from your ubiquitous executioners.
It usually works like this: After you have slaughtered some of the citizens in an attack, we, in the guise of coming to smoke you out from the place, end up killing more innocent citizens – because your messengers of death would have quietly vanished into thin air before our JTF people get there. And since the task force must have evidence to prove that they are ‘on top of the situation’, they open fire on anybody they sight there. Yes, we chop off the head in order to cure ourselves of a headache. Just consider it as our own dividend of democracy from you and grant us amnesty.
The frank talker
I am sure, by now, nobody is still in doubt whether or not crime pays.