What is the common denominator between the attempted electoral coup in Adamawa State and the recent lynching of a final year student of Obafemi Awolowo University? Impunity! We have, over the years, got so used to getting away with bad behaviour that we now strive to outdo whatever malfeasance is considered the current champion in infamy.
It is difficult to beat the Adamawa drama in sheer brazenness. To my knowledge, this must be the first time anywhere in the world that a contestant in a state election would be declared winner without announcing the scores. The Resident Electoral Commissioner simply threw away all caution and hijacked the role of the returning officer. In momentarily playing God, he almost threw the state into anomie but for the quick intervention of his bosses in Abuja.
For me, the most disgraceful aspect of the national embarrassment was that it all happened under the very noses of top law enforcement officers including the commissioner of police. Where else would you have a crime of such gargantuan significance being committed in front of live television cameras under the protection of top security agents. This one beats Donald Trump’s insurrectionists hands down; they didn’t have the privilege of being protected by police and security chiefs.
Don’t go too far in seeking to make sense of the whole charade. It happened because it could happen. It happened because the resident electoral commissioner (REC) thought he could get away with it. Those who rigged elections in the past were rewarded with high profile appointments or contracts. The public would make some noise for a few days and then it would all die down and the beneficiary of the fraud would take office.
Oh Desperation, thy gender is feminine! Apparently, Madam Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, alias Binani, was in on the game all the while for, no sooner had the REC, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, acted his own part of the script than she emerged to read her “acceptance speech”. She gleefully accepted the fraud and tried to rope in President Buhari into the heist, thanking him for his support and congratulating him for producing the first female governor in Nigeria.
Everything went into the mix: name dropping, braggadocio, sleight of hand and a complementary crowd of jesters posing as diehard party loyalists. Incumbent Governor Fintiri who already had an unassailable lead before the circus show was being told in the vernacular of politics that what a man could do, a woman could undo.
Those who allege that it was all pre-planned point to the fact that the national embarrassment was beamed live on the federal government-controlled Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). I haven’t yet heard the National Broadcasting Commission go into epileptic overdrive over NTA’s indiscretion, or am I missing something? Had that broadcast of an attempted civilian coup been done by a private TV station, we all know that the authorities would have rolled out sanctions immediately.
The ignominious show was a new low in bad behaviour. Just when you thought you had seen it all, bang comes another confounding farce, the type that beggars all its predecessors. It is not prophetic to say it will happen again (because it will — and soon, too) unless we somehow find the mojo to punish all those implicated in the slapstick. Otherwise, sometime in the not-too-distant future, we may be confronted with a situation where some crazy election official would announce the victory of a new president while voters are still queuing to cast their ballot.
If we truly don’t want it to happen again, then we must cast aside political sentiments, dispassionately prosecute all those involved in this assault on our democracy and swiftly dispense justice. This would serve notice to anyone who may be inclined to cross that bridge of infamy in future.
The other unfortunate event born out of habitual impunity was the killing of a Part 5 student at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) over an allegation of stealing.
Life came to a gruesome end for Citizen Okoli Ahize Chizoputam, a final year Civil Engineering student when a mob simply decided that he no longer had any right to live on the basis of an allegation that he had stolen a mobile phone. We can trace what happened in 2023 to a mass murder that occurred in 1999. OAU is not the University of Ife of old. A marked shift in temperament occurred in July 1999 when a group of cultists invaded the university and killed five student leaders.
The student leaders had earlier apprehended nine cultists identified as members of the Black Axe. The cultists had in their possession one submachine gun, one locally manufactured gun, one axe, a bayonet and the black regalia of the Black Axe cult.
The students followed laid down procedures and handed over the cultists to the police through the university authorities. But the system failed them. A former Vice-Chancellor of the university, the highly respected Prof. Roger Makanjuola, recalled the sad details in his book, Water Must Flow Uphill.
“The case was heard on 31 March, and to the utmost amazement of everyone, the Chief Magistrate discharged and acquitted the arrested individuals. The students who had apprehended the cult members were not called as witnesses. The investigating police officer, Corporal Femi Adewoye, claimed that the witnesses could not be located and actually stated in Court, “I tried to contact the complainants in this case, all to no avail.
“To date, there is no complainant in the case. Since all the accused persons denied the allegations against them and there is no complainant, there is no way the allegations can be proved.” This was the submission of the prosecuting police officer! Usually, in such cases, witness’ summons were served through the University Administration but this did not happen. The trial was concluded in two court appearances in eight days.
“The Chief Magistrate also ordered that the submachine gun be sent to the police armourer and the other exhibits be destroyed, thus eliminating all the evidence, and making it impossible to re-open the case. The Judicial Enquiry recommended that the Magistrate be reported to the Judicial Commission for appropriate disciplinary action. Nothing came of this, as nothing came of all the other recommendations of that Panel.”
From then onwards, the cultists were emboldened and had on-and-off clashes with the students union culminating in the massacre of five student activists, including George Iwilade, the Secretary-General of the students’ union, and maiming of eleven others by 40 masked Black Axe cultists. The savages had invaded Awolowo Hall where most of the student leaders resided around 4:30 a.m., clad black regalia and armed with shotguns, hatchets and cleavers.
As a concerned alumnus, I raced to Ile-Ife as soon as the news broke. We all wanted to see what we could do to reduce the pain and counsel the surviving members of the student leadership. But when I was conducted to see how the body of one of the victims had been carved and mutilated, I knew that Great Ife would never be the same again.
From that time, the students resolved never to entrust their safety to the system again. A culture of self-help started gaining ground as students resolved to settle scores by themselves. That was how they devised their own unique code of justice dispensation. Cultism was considered the ultimate crime. It attracted the death penalty. Once identified and apprehended, a cultist was as good as dead.
Next in gravity was what they called “maximum shishi”, which entailed mob action against the convict for any serious crime such as stealing. The student leaders were the prosecutor, judge and jury all rolled into one.
Minor offences attracted “Minimum shishi” — a specified number of lashes on the culprit’s bare back.
According to Abiodun Awolaja of the Nigerian Tribune who recently analysed the students’ resort to self-help, “The students had to resort to this method to tackle theft, indecent assault rape, bullying, etc, in the face of the refusal of the state to punish the June 1999 killers. The students, in their wisdom or lack of it, thought that the psychological pain inflicted by the punishment would deter crime… Strangely, the practice worked and the university campus became literally one of the safest places in Nigeria.”
The saga of using impunity to correct past impunities can be directly connected to what happened to Okoli Ahize Chizoputam. May God rest his soul and comfort his family.
As in the Adamawa case, we have to resolve to derail this train of impunity by ensuring that the identified ring leaders of the murderous OAU mob are brought to justice swiftly. Otherwise, impunity will continue to feed murderous appetites and homicide will become a badge of honour.
- Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021