THURSDAY Column WITH Mohammed Adamu
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Today it is ‘others’, tomorrow, it may be you! This is what ‘they’ have been telling ‘us’: concerning Dino Melaye, the prodigal, adult-delinquent of the ‘Red Chamber’ who faces a charge of arming killers in his home State, but who plays ‘trick-or-treat’ with the Police so as not to make himself amenable to the law. Yet ‘they’ say that ‘we’ should not support what ‘they’ are doing to this quintessential lawmaker of our time, lest ‘tomorrow’ it becomes our turn to suffer the same ‘impunity’! And ‘they’ said the same thing also, concerning Dasuki, Jonathan’s National Security Adviser who superintended over the free sharing of 2.1 billion dollars meant for the purchase of weapons to fight Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. But ‘they’ still warned that ‘we’ must not support ‘what ‘they’ are doing to this wonderful man of practically chocking benevolence because, as they said, it could be ‘us’, someday, to suffer the same fate! By the way ‘they’ said no less to ‘us’ concerning Olisa Metuh, the erstwhile effusive spokesperson and agent provocateur, of the PDP who, after admitting he received blood money from Dasuki, is still playing sick in court, hoping to kill two birds with one stone: escape justice and perchance, also keep the ‘loot’. Yet ‘they’ say that ‘we’ must condemn what they are doing to this poor, innocent man, Metuh; or else, it may be ‘us’ tomorrow to suffer the same ordeal. Not to forget what they are now telling ‘us’ concerning Saraki,-the paranoid, power-obsessive Senate President who, like his eccentric protégé and alter-ego, Dino, allegedly tends to a cult-killer squad at home. They say that we must not support what ‘they’ are doing to this man, or else it may be us tomorrow.
Why must we stand for the cold hands of the law ‘today’ when it might be ‘us’ who would suffer its grip ‘tomorrow’? But the question arises: ‘why should ‘we’ worry that what happened to Dasuki or what is happening to Dino and Metuh, or what could happen, soon, to Saraki may also happen to ‘us’ tomorrow? Not unless ‘we’ too have our minds filled with the same ‘mens rea’ to do the things that they have done when that ‘morrow’ comes. Or shouldn’t only those who dare to do the ‘crime’ worry about the possibility of doing the ‘time’?
And as if these eminent ‘victims’ allegedly of Police and court brutality are heroes of some public spirited ‘class’, ‘moral’ or ideological struggle, many who have risen to their defense, sometimes exceed the ludicrous and shoot even to the profane? Some of them have the gumption to go quoting the famous words of that German anti-Nazi theologian, Friedrich Martin who, speaking for the ideological underdog, once said: “First, they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a communist; then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic; then they came for the trade unionist, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a trade unionist; then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew; then finally, they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me”. It was extreme profanity that such hallowed revolutionary words of a radical progressive should be wasted in agonizing the fate of such eminently culpable reactionaries. By the way, even when ‘they’ claim to fight the cause of justice, they are not only unable to conceal that trademark of unrepentant banditry, but they betray, always, a wicked self-preserving motive for whatever ‘cause’ it is that they claim to champion. It is the reason they want ‘us’ to stand up for the ‘bad guys’ in the disobedience of the law; so that whenever we have the chance also to be ‘bad guys’ the law would either have been de-motivated to tackle us, or there will also be fellow ‘bad guys’ to stand up for us. That is what they are telling us. It is their hope ‘today’ that the ‘law’ should be de-motivated to do ‘right’ so that, tomorrow, it should be lawful that the ‘law’ dares not to bar any ‘wrong’. They claim to be altruistic ‘today’, yet they are un-penitently selfish in their dream of a ‘tomorrow’ in which they hope to benefit from breaking the law! They are so sullied by the filth of today they have virtually given up all hope of an immaculate tomorrow.
Why must we encourage those accused or suspected of committing crime to rebuff Police invitation or to resist Police arrest? Or why must we encourage accused persons –no matter how highly placed- to ignore court summons? One of the major planks of the doctrine of the ‘rule of law’ is ‘equality before the law’. The kid-gloves treatment of Dino Melaye reveals one thing, namely that the criminal justice system in Nigeria is becoming unnecessarily overindulgent of the excesses of eminent suspects or VIP accused persons. We must demand equal treatment of police suspects or accused persons by the police and by the courts. If we have never been offended by the handcuffing of ordinary suspects or accused persons, why must we be offended, for example, by the sight of a manacled Metuh even after prison officials had said that he was an unruly, destructive prisoner with a penchant for chewing up evidence.
Both ‘suspects’ and ‘accused’ persons are presumed ‘innocent’ until the contrary is proved. And it is that ‘presumption of innocence’ that justifies the maxim of law which asserts that “it is better to err on the side of mercy”. Meaning that it is better that a ‘mistake’ of law frees the ‘guilty’ than that it convicts the ‘innocent’. Nothing can be more anticipatorily protective of ‘suspects’. Yet even ‘suspects’ -against whom legal proceedings have not commenced- no matter how trifling their alleged ‘offence’, can and do suffer some transient inconveniences occasioned by law. The mere fact they are under investigation imposes a duty of cooperation with the law; either to give a statement or to make themselves available often at times inconsistent with their personal convenience. They may surrender their privacy and, pursuant to a warrant, be obligated to make their homes amenable to search; or they may have their ‘personal freedom’ temporarily curtailed either by a duty to report regularly to the law, or to remain within timeous reach of the law -as long as investigations are ongoing.
Herein lies the inadequacy of the ‘presumption of innocence’. It does not immunize against the burden of ‘suspicion’ or ‘accusation’. The law may temporarily infringe on the personal liberty, privacy and or convenience of suspects and accused persons. In fact merely labeling a person ‘suspect’ is itself a virtual ‘sentence’ already and can remain a stigma that perches for life on his ‘dignity’ and his personal ‘integrity’ in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society. But that is just the way the cookie of the criminal justice system crumbles! And maybe that was why Jeremy Bentham, the British philosopher, economist, jurist and social reformer said that “every law is an infraction of liberty”. And so if ‘suspects’, no matter the gravity of their ‘alleged’ offences, are not to suffer any inconvenience of law, for the reason merely that they are ‘presumed innocent’, we might as well amend the law to free citizens even from the burden of being called ‘accused’ or ‘suspects’. Or so I think.