Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Whispering Drums With Maigani

by Musa Ibrahim

A Nation Gone Wrong

April 10, Lagos.

Bernard Ogedengbe, 29, Bartholomew Ouroh, 26, and Lanval Ojuolape, 29 the first victims of Decree 20 were executed by firing squad (without the courtesy of blindfolds) at an execution yard in front of Kirikiri Prison before a crowd of curious, morbid and aimless people. Public reaction to these executions has been one of horror. Many people have said that killing drug traffickers was unnecessary. The reaction of the SMC is that everybody found guilty under Decree 20 will die, but...

Decree 20, known as Miscellaneous Offences Decree is only one out of the many decrees spewed out by the Buhari military junta ever since they came to power. But bad as the other decrees are, Decree 20 is the most fearful because it mandates a death sentence by firing squad on a whole range of offences from armed robbery to counterfeiting, illegal petroleum dealings, cocaine pushers (not consumers) etc. Justifying the promulgation of Decree 20, Buhari, the head of the military junta stated that: "The scale of our social problems left us no alternative to the course which we are pursuing... Given the utter failure of exhortations and mild punishments in the past we concluded that the scale of the problems called for extraordinary punishment." And yet it is not true that there have been "mild punishments" for criminals in the past.

During the Obasanjo regime, armed robbers were shot almost on a daily basis. Today, in spite of all the decrees and the shootings the rate of armed robbery is still on the increase. The three young men murdered recently were said to be cocaine pushers, so will their death stop those taking cocaine? After all, who are those that can afford to buy cocaine? Are they not the rich, the privileged and those in leadership positions? When Indian hemp or marijuana invaded Nigeria in the 70s, 90% of those who smoked it were soldiers not just the recruits alone but military governors and some members of the supreme military council as well. It is the same thing with cocaine today. So where does the country go from here? Are these measures a desperate act of self righteousness by the regime? Oftentimes when African leaders are faced with a problem, enough thought is not always given before arriving at a solution. In the end, nothing changes. In a modernising society like Nigeria, death by firing squad for the flimsiest of offences is sure going to boomerang in the future. Take the debate on violence on television for example.

Within the past few years vocal critics of television have speculated that certain types of television programming, particularly violent programmes, can have negative effects on the viewing public. Using the social learning theory, the critics concede that people can learn from television in much the same way as they learn from teachers, parents or friends. Further, they contend that a society that is repeatedly exposed to a diet of aggressive acts on television is likely to be more aggressive than a society which is not, because according to them, anti social behaviours such as aggression and committing a crime can be learned vicariously and applied under certain circumstances and conditions.

There is again George Gerbner's cultivation theory whose basic thesis is that the symbolic world (or the media) shapes and maintains i.e. cultivates audiences' conceptions of the real world, in other words, their constructions of reality. It also asserts that even when committed in the name of law and order, acts of physical aggression are suspected of inciting impressionable viewers to commit similar acts. The execution of Nigeria's Decree 20 has the dangerous tendency of instilling anxiety and a feeling of alienation among the populace from the government. And rather than soften criminals, it is likely to breed more criminals.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. Why do people take to crime? It has to be desperate circumstances, like the ones the Buhari regime has driven many Nigerian youths to. The rate of unemployment is staggering. Retrenchments of workers who are mostly the youths have not stopped. And to add injury to all these, there is no equality of sacrifice from the leaders. In this life, people accept a lot of pain if everybody is going through the chute together, but as soon as one discovers that someone is goofing, the whole venture can come unravelled. And this is exactly what the Buhari regime is doing. It is goofing.

Along with the three cocaine pushers tried by the Decree 20 Tribunal and sentenced to death was a woman, Mrs Akinrinade, the wife of an Army Captain. Her crime was illegal petroleum dealings. When the decision of the military tribunal reached the Supreme Military Junta, the council decided to render mercy to the woman. Her death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Now what do you make of this? The main objective of this regime as they have persistently told everybody is to "deal with economic saboteurs". Oil is Nigeria's only means of livelihood and tampering with the industry is the worst form of economic crime anybody can commit against Nigeria. It is more heinous than pushing cocaine. But never mind, I know why nothing will ever happen to illegal petroleum dealers. Is Buhari himself not guilty of this offence? Are members of the Supreme Military Council and their collaborators not lifting oil and selling illegally in the Black Market? So who is supposed to fire the first shot?

Aliens go home

The one thing that gave the Shagari administration its worst image internationally was the expulsion of illegal aliens from Nigeria.

Now Maj-Gen Buhari has also given an ultimatum to illegal aliens in Nigeria to leave. This time it is Nigeria that has closed its borders and would not open them for any reason, not even to let out the estimated 700,000 they are expelling.

Most of the affected people have been sacked from their jobs which immediately strips them of their residence permits rendering them unable to purchase airline tickets with Naira.

They cannot leave the country by road, because the borders are closed, they cannot leave by air because they cannot buy tickets with naira because they have no residence permits, because they have been sacked from their jobs. And the edict is that they must leave the country. I wonder if they are expected to grow wings and fly.

Soldiers of both the Rawlings and Buhari ilk do seem to have very curious logic.

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