In the space of some 48 hours during which some political gladiators used their invested constitutional power to engage in a contest of wills, the infamous Offa robbery has become about them and no longer the victims. First, the police paraded suspects in the same way they have been doing since they first turned crime into a staged spectacle: invite a television crew to project the images of battered crime suspects arranged along with neatly assembled weapons unto our television sets. Second, they announced they had asked the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to answer questions on his connection to the robbers. According to the police, some of the gang leaders in the Offa bank robbery had made confessional statements that claimed that they were political thugs of the Senate President and the Governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed. Third, after the outcry of a witch-hunt that followed the supposed invitation, the police disinvited him and asked that he sent only a written statement.
If the police knew the option of a written statement was available all along, why did they not consider it first before turning the whole thing into a public show? Why did they leave room for a cynical interpretation of the events that the Inpector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris’s invitation of Saraki was the response of the police boss to an earlier summons of him by the Senate? Why were the police unmindful of the possible fallout of inviting a Senate President to give an account of his alleged role in a robbery when they did not already have substantial proof that inextricably links him to the incident? Was the whole plan to rubbish Saraki first and leave him in a reactive mode, denying and mopping whatever is left of his credibility? By the way, summoning Saraki to answer questions in a robbery investigation itself is a crude joke commenting on itself. It is public knowledge that Saraki’s family used to run a bank, Societe Generale. Saraki himself was a director in the bank for a decade before it collapsed with all the depositors’ money. It is an irony they are roping him in with a bank robbery. Bertolt Brecht once asked, “What is the crime of robbing a bank compared to founding one?” The corollary to that question should be, “What is the crime of robbing a bank compared to running a money-gulping legislative chamber in Nigeria?”
By the time the police had completed Act Three of their drama, the initial act of investigation had almost been lost to the politicisation of the whole affair. Saraki, in a typical Nigerian politician fashion, had turned himself into a persecuted victim of strong-arm politics. He claimed he was being framed in retaliation for the recent contest between him and the police IG. Some of his colleagues in the Senate had begun to mouth the rehearsed consolation for a disgraced colleague, and then affirm their cult of brotherhood. On the other hand too, Saraki’s opponents, who also happened to be mostly President Muhammadu Buhari’s supporters, unconvincingly mutter that his police invitation should be seen as the triumph of the rule of law, that we are all equal before the law. They reminded us that if the police could summon the Senate President, it meant that we have judicial instruments that work, and which do not treat anyone like a sacred cow.
While we expend time and energy interpreting the whole affair to see whether democratic institutions are being weaponised to fulfil personal ambitions, the justice due to the unfortunate victims of those robbers is not only being denied but detracted.
Lest we are overtaken by the Saraki angle and all the media blitz that expectedly accompanied it, it is essential to hold on to the basics. The incident was about an armed robbery that occurred in five banks on the same day in the town of Offa, Kwara State. The robbers, according to reports, operated unimpeded for a whole hour and they were barely tackled by policemen who were undertrained, underequipped, and underprepared to take on such audacious robbers. It is a wonder how it was possible for robbers to take on a whole town for so long and they did not perish due to an active and coordinated resistance from the police. The robbers’ sadistic mission did not come to an end until they had not only dispossessed five banks of money but 33 people of their lives as well. Most of these victims were just regular townsfolks and passers-by who happened to be at the right place at the wrong time. The police summons of Saraki has expectedly precipitated reactions, but they are no longer about justice for the victims of the robbers. Instead, it is being treated as a referendum to decide whether Saraki is guilty or not. We should separate the issues. Saraki’s side-show must not taint the whole investigation and turn a matter of justice into a pre-2019 chess game between two politicians.
To be candid, the allegations against Saraki are not completely surprising. Politicians use thugs all the time as their proxies. When those thugs are not actively engaged to cause mischief, they do not merely go into remission. The devil finds other acts of crime and violence elsewhere for their idle hands. We need to face it, thuggery is an established part of our democratic process and embedded in every stage of the process, and both the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party are guilty. Some of those thugs even make their way into supposedly hallowed chambers either as disruptors or as lawmakers. In 2010, a Senate Leader was arrested when a clash between two factions within the ruling political party, the PDP, resulted in the death of a former Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers in Oyo State, Alhaji Lateef Salako aka Eleweomo and two others. The murky fracas that claimed Eleweomo’s life was one of the series in the political contest between key leaders of the party in Oyo State. Just last month too, we were witnesses to the APC ward congress in Lagos being marred by acts of thuggery and violence. One person died in the melee that occurred.
While he was alive, Lamidi Adedibu also had been a thug for some politicians before retiring to be named a so-called garrison commander. He ran a band of younger thugs who harassed and created chaos in Oyo State. He was elevated into the status of an institutional power with the support of an ex-president whose capacity for mischief is equally legendary. From being a thug, Adedibu became the law; he was an extrajudicial, extra-executive, and even extra-legislative power who could remove the governor and implant another one without recourse to due legislative processes. He was sought by politicians at all levels especially when it became publicly known that he had the support of the Presidency.
Politicians’ employment of thugs is frightening. The measure of power they derive from such engagement does not merely come from the weapons they arm them with, but the psychological thrill that they are the extension of the arm of the government. That perhaps explains the rate at which they killed people during the robbery in Offa. I understand (although I do not justify) the thrill of robbers killing policemen but why kill that many townsfolks? It was unlikely that the victims tried to prevent them from robbing the bank. They probably just shot them as a self-aggrandising show of power and invincibility. While our politicians are obsessed with the use and abuse of power, their murderous minions too act out their own apportioned authority by enacting meaningless violence. The Offa bank robbers took so many lives for nothing. Their victims deserve justice that is not steeped in a vendetta.
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