Opinion

Tunde Leye: How We Carry Our Calabash

We will be kidding ourselves if we refuse to admit the truth that Orwell captured so well in his magnum opus, Animal Farm, that “All Animals Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Other”. It is the reality of life and one would be naïve to act like this was not the case.

But in spite of this, there is one thing that equalizes all men, and it is our mortality. In the certainty of death, all animals are truly equal. It therefore places a high premium on the sanctity of human life and the most serious crimes in most legal systems the world over are those that take human life especially because once life is gone, it is irrecoverably gone.

The social contract between citizens of a state and its government means that the citizens surrender some of their rights to the government and take on some duties, and in return, the government undertakes to ensure that citizens’ rights are respected, social services are discharged, citizens are secured and where there are disputes, provide mechanisms for arbitration under defined rules which we call the laws of the land. Therefore, for example, because I am a citizen of Nigeria, if you steal from me, by virtue of my citizenship, I have surrendered the right to punish you by myself. However, my citizenship bestows on me the right to get arbitration through the justice system and the government has a responsibility to find and prosecute the thief and also get whatever was stolen from be back from the thief. This is how social contracts work. In Nigeria, citizens actively avoid fulfilling their part of the social contract, because government consistently refuses or is unable to meet its part.

The most important right that we surrender to our governments is that to keep us safe, to preserve our lives. The most critical index of a failed government is when the state is unable to secure the lives of its citizens. Every serious government around the world takes this particular responsibility seriously.

Domestically, you cannot simply kill a citizen and get away with it in a place where the social contract works. This is irrespective of whatever armed force, police force or militia you belong to. Your political office or affiliation does not matter. Once you cause the loss of the life of a citizen, the full weight of the government is brought against you. In Nigeria however, citizens routinely lose their lives to law enforcement agents, to marauding street gangs and in political assassinations. Many times, the culprits are seen to be treated with kid gloves and left to walk around with impunity except where the victim is connected to highly placed people in government or the society. Once this is the case, we see the government and security agencies act with alacrity, falling over themselves to condole with the victim’s family and bring the killers to book. So if you are a one of the Apo Six, or the ALUU Four, the chances you will get justice because you are an ordinary citizen is limited.

What we do not realize is that the world watches how we treat our citizens domestically and they replicate such when these citizens travel, all without fear of retribution because it seems the Nigerian government does not place a premium on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

So in the past week, a Nigerian student, Oyamuyefa Alamieyeseigha was found dead under circumstances that suggested foul play in Dubai. This was similar to the death of another Nigerian student, Toba Falode, nine months earlier in February. The Nigerian government was expected to react strongly to this and pursue (as well as be seen to pursue) all legal and diplomatic means to ensure that the deaths are thoroughly investigated and if foul play is indeed proven, the culprits be brought to book irrespective of who they are. But Toba’s mother, veteran journalist Aisha Falode, has had to fight the battle for justice for her son alone without the support of her government. This is in spite of writing the speaker of the house Aminu Tambuwal on the matter. There has been no strong reaction from our government, no public statements to identify with Mrs. Falode and to engage the Dubai government seriously on the matter. In fact, Mrs. Falode’s engagement with the speaker through her letter came four months after the incident, after frustration upon frustration.

This is in contrast with Oyamuyefa’s case where reactions from the government poured in within a day of the report of his death. The difference is not in the body of evidence available. It is not in the circumstances of death. It is in who the young man’s father is. He is former governor of Bayelsa state, Ijaw chieftain and former boss of the president, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s son. And in Nigeria, even in a case of the loss of life of a citizen, it who your father, brother, mother or sister is that makes the difference in the seriousness of the government’s reaction. Government officials, all the way up to the presidency, are falling over themselves to publicly identify with Alams and commiserate with him on the death, issuing strong statements to the UAE government on the need to seriously investigate the matter. This in itself is not a bad thing, as the loss of a child in such circumstances is one in which friends and colleagues need to rally around to show support. But when the apparatus and the full weight of government seems to be lent to the murder of one citizen over and above the other, the world notices this and does not take us as seriously as they should.

My people have a saying “it is how you carry your calabash that the world will help you carry it”. Nothing could be truer. The world over, it is known that if an American, or Israeli citizen is murdered within your territory, the full weight of the machinery of justice within these countries will be mobilized to ensure justice is done. And therefore, everyone is careful and these citizens are more confident and trust their government to act. This is a pride of place that the Nigerian government does not hold in the heart of its citizens and in the consciousness of the numerous countries the world over where Nigerians find themselves. Our citizens cannot be killed in places like Dubai, Ghana, Malaysia, India and many other countries and our government does nothing seriously, until one of the above equal animals in our midst are affected. Because, contrary to their warped belief in different levels of equality, death does not respect any one class over the other.

I hope that justice will be obtained for Oyamuyefa in Dubai. But in the same vein, I hope that justice will be equally obtained for Toba and many others who are just as Nigerian as Oya. This is what it means to be the citizen of a sovereign nation, and it must become our reality.

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Article written by Tunde Leye

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