Opinion: For Madam Odili And Journalist Salem – By Lasisi Olagunju
In a very recent interview with The New Yorker, an American news magazine, Professor Wole Soyinka was asked to name his favourite song of Fela. He had no problem quickly declaring that “My favorite is ‘Zombie.’” And what was his reason? He answered: “That song, ‘Zombie,’ applies not merely to the military in terms of their conduct to the people of this nation, but ‘Zombie’—and that is what Nigerians have not yet realized—they have become mimic people. They act like zombies. They accept orders, even if those orders are intolerable. They develop habits that they should not develop.”
Zombies are the living-dead; they are humans without human qualities. A zombie citizenry enables crime to rule. What does it take for a country to become a criminal entity? Someone said you know a land is in the vice grip of criminal organizations when its official rein is re-purposed to power private agenda and the people hail their Hitler. You see the state failing and falling but the power elite tell you your eyes aren’t seeing right. They insist ‘failure’ is ‘success’ by other routes; the ‘bush’ is the ‘road’ and the people agree with them or acquiesce to their designs. When the skies of such worlds rend and tumble, we think the regime is failing. No. It is not the government that is failing; “it is actually criminal organizations pretending to be governments that are succeeding.” The words in quotation marks above belong to Sarah Chayes, author of ‘Thieves of State.’ The writer says when gangs take over elements of state, daily experience of personal humiliation becomes the people’s lot; and when the people’s personal dignity is injured by the overbearing state, the people develop a sense of grievance; the “people can get angry.” Here, the author is wrong. In Nigeria, no matter how wounded we are, there is no anger anywhere in our heart; we shift and adjust and move on.
The government can prey on the people; there is no problem here. Things happened last week that tell us this is not an ordinary country. In a single day and on a single piece of paper, our Senate approved a loan of $16,230,077,718; €1,020,000,000 and a grant component of $125,000,000 for the Buhari government. The loans were approved without the terms and conditions. Those ones could come later – or may forever not come. The Senate was too much in a hurry to share and spend what it did not earn. The Senate signed and opened a blank cheque for the executive. There were gasps of shock and horror. These per-second billion dollar loans, who will pay them back? Definitely not the loan takers and the sharers of benefits. We were shocked but the shock vanished almost immediately it bumped on us.
Things are happening. Did you watch the parade of those said to have invaded the residence of Justice Mary Odili? We were told they were fake agents and specialists; we agreed. We were told government knew nothing about the invasion; we agreed. The invaders had a court order for their gestapo act. The attempted search was fake; was the search warrant fake? The magistrate who signed it, was he fake too? No. Those suspects are a perfect combo: (fake) journalist, (fake) lawyer, (fake) policemen, (fake)soldiers, fake everything and fake other specialists in the cell and at large. This may be a new low for us as a nation. But is the drama really completely new? French philosopher and sociologist, Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, in the introduction to his ‘Art of Revolt’ argues that “only rarely does something new emerge in the political sphere.” He, however, explains that while the architecture of misbehaviour is constant in politics, by “good fortune, new matters of contestation, new sources of outrage, and therefore new battles unfold without end in the social world.” In the drama of Odili’s travails are the cliches of noisome acts of the diseased Nigerian state. What is new here is the dimension of the insults to the collective intelligence.
Closely following the Odili action film was the public exhibition of a man who confessed that he killed the Vanguard reporter, Tordue Salem, whose corpse was announced discovered on Thursday, November 11. He had been missing for a month, last seen on October 13, 2021 somewhere in Garki, Abuja. This ‘suspect’ said he hit the journalist and ran. He said he was on top speed. He said “the place (where) I knocked this person down is a criminal place; everybody knows that place.” So, for the journalist to be in that place that day, he must be a criminal or what was this man saying? He actually said he thought the journalist was an armed robber. He said other things. The police believed his confession and paraded him as a trophy. With our silence, it appears we’ve accepted him and his story. He appeared calm in the video I watched. He did not look like someone shamed by his high crime; he flaunted no air of contrition. He was a Nigerian, through and through, delivering a message of sorrow with supernatural calmness.
Let us read the report again as published by a newspaper: Parading the suspect before newsmen at the force headquarters in Abuja on Friday, November 12, the police said the driver, Itoro Clement, was arrested following an investigation carried out by the Force Intelligence Bureau. According to the police, Clement who was driving a 2004 Model Camry with number plate BWR 243 BK confessed to having hit Tordue at about 10pm on the night of 13th October, 2021, around Mabushi area of Abuja after which he ran away. The police said it swung into action shortly after Tordue was declared missing and a major breakthrough was made after Tordue’s phone was found at a motorpark in Abuja. Now, listen to what the confessed killer said about that phone: “I thought it was an armed robber that I knocked down until the following day when I saw a smashed phone on my windscreen. The phone was not working again so I threw it away.” That is what the man said about the ‘phone.’ Questions? The man spoke further. He said after the accident, he met some police officers at a checkpoint and told them what happened. He said the police officers advised him to report the matter at the Wuse police station. But did he make the report? The man said he never did.
From Odili to Salem, we watched two confessions in two days, yet there are unasked, loaded questions in the air. It is true that “confession heals, confession justifies (and) confession grants pardon of sin.” It is true still that “all hope consists in confession (and) in confession there is a chance for mercy.” I am, however, not sure that 7th century Spanish scholar and cleric, Isidore of Seville, who uttered those words would apply them to the Nigerian setting. Things get muddled up here – including admittance of sin.
Nigeria is a crime scene. The state and its henchmen hit and run over us every day. And their unscratched car would be on the road the next hour for the next accident. Sometimes, they abduct us and tell the kind of story the exhibit-man told above. Ever watched films of roaming tribal gunmen and of felonious rogues who sin and blur the footprints of their crime? How about the ones where the law is diverted, dragged off the road into swamps of confusion? But, warts and all, our police force has great men and women of intelligence. Can they dig deeper into these crimes beyond the cloudy confessions of the paraded? They should.
How acceptable are those accounts of the horrendous crimes and criminals? The sad happenings and the state’s official ‘explanations’ for them do not collocate with sense. If we want to do detective films, we should go for great ones to copy. Americans have excellent film producers and script writers; some of them may be dead but many are alive. Send our leaders and their agents there. If we want to be bad, let us be intelligently bad. I may not be an avid film-watcher, but I read pictures as they move; I read about films, their scenes and plots. There is the ‘Touch of Evil’ written and directed by George Orson Welles. The twists and turns of that ‘touch’ belongs to the legends. If there are miscues in that work, they exist to reinforce the plot of felony, human theft and society’s ruination. There is Knate Lee’s ‘Kidnap’, a racy thriller of abduction and death and pile-up distractions and resolution. The Indians have their own ‘Kidnap’ directed by Sanjay Gadhvi. There are many more. Each of these works of art speaks to the genius of their creators and respect for the audience’s intelligence. Nigeria and its ‘elements’ should go learn how to act well, capture cynics and do better even in deceit and distraction.
Nigeria is an alley. Its darkness confounds the brightest of humanity. But we should keep the rock of questioning rolling. Tortoise was found cooking stone in a season of hunger and starvation. He told his unsatisfied world to, at least, commend him for doing something to keep hope alive. I salute the Nigeria police for always squeezing water out of the Nigerian conundrum. But it is not over until it is over. They need to do more on these nagging cases. Traumatized Justice Odili deserves justice; the slain journalist cries for justice too. The foundation of justice is good faith and the first duty of society is justice. That is the combined opinion of Cicero, imperial Rome’s statesman, and of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Cicero died in 43 BC, Hamilton died in 1804; almost 2,000 years separate these great men, but justice and its definition unite them. That is to say justice at the beginning of time is justice now and same forever. But Nigeria thinks it can tinker with that universal truth – and it does it, daring us to hiss. Why is it that we think we serve justice when we bury or burn equity with the victim? When our society plays snooker with justice, why do we all look away? Because we are not the direct victims? Should outrage and tears of irreplaceable loss stream from only the eye-sockets of the affected? Daily, we suffer vices, mental and physical but our surrender to the intolerable tells the depth of our decadence. We can’t all be Zombie and Mister Follow Follow and not be run over by drunk drivers of the Nigerian state. No.
– Olagunju, a respected journalist, writes for Nigerian Tribune