Nigerians are a fascinating people. We agree. That Nigerians are a lawless bunch is not an exaggeration. To deny Nigeria's lawlessness as most of our corrupt politicians and I-don't- care fellow citizens do or to defiantly ask "what about other countries like US and UK" is to dream that, in the flush of dawn, Nigerian sky glowed with empyreal beauty. In Nigeria, although the law is in the books, it is bent so much that it appears either to be neglected or to not exist at all. In the United States, the law reigns supreme; no one is above the law. Even the United States President Obama is under the rule of law. He cannot be above the law or do things the law prohibits. His role is to uphold the Constitution, to encourage enforcement of the law, and to see that the law applies to everyone evenly across the land. He ensures that everyone is respectful of and in obedience to the law.
Obama can be impeached and removed from office as assuredly as President-elect Hillary Clinton or Republican frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump if either one is elected would be, even arrested and hauled away to jail if he/she willfully contravenes the law. Can we say the same thing about Buhari? Obasanjo? Surely, the same American law applies to me a Nigerian American as well as to the U S members of Congress and judiciary. Can we say the same thing about Nigerian laws and their application to all Nigerians, including the politicians, judges, or employees manning our ports and oil refineries? The law is absolute, superlative, extreme, and placed on the highest pedal. For example, Bill Clinton, former United States President, was faced with investigation and possible indictment for trespassing against certain ethical standards.
Wrong application of rules has consequences far more devastating than we can imagine. The effect can be dire, portentous, terrible, or horrible. If you are a Nigerian governor known to have been stashing 2 billion dollars of public money in Swiss account, certain consequences will follow. What prevents a secondary school principal from embezzling the entire school fees the students have paid? Managers of the Ports Authority would overcharge customers in addition to seizing property of those refusing to pay the overcharge. Police manning our checkpoints would demand bribes from conductors and kill those who refuse to pay. Prices of garri at Ogbete market would rise when merchants conclude that "government is eating all out money."
You are a Nigerian legislator and you have joined the syndicate of celebrated thieves raiding your country's treasury and looting public monies . Aren't you aware that the money you are stealing is beautifying other people's land while the constituency you are elected to represent is decaying and riddled with poverty and infectious diseases? Do you mind knowing that after your death from vehicle suicide, cardiac arrest, or kidney failure in an Indian hospital, your children cannot have access to the billions you have dumped at the Swiss Bank? Know you not that at your death your grave is marked with a song that reads.
Here lies a Nigerian with soul so wasted he never had learned until it's too late
Money is nothing when hoarded but creates something when shared with others
It enriches those who receive and those who to others do freely give
None are so rich they can have it all; none so poor they can do without it
It creates happiness at home, goodwill in the nation, and love worldwide
For none can take it when leaving the earth and all must leave it here on earth?
As a small child growing up in Nigeria, I overheard friends often say: " A thief runs when nobody is pursuing. "What pursues the thief? The pursuer is guilty conscience, a sense of right and wrong, or the fear of being penalized for transgressing against a code of conduct. The American law is said to have matchless supremacy. Words used to describe good, equitable laws include: without equal, beyond compare, unparalleled, unrivaled, incomparable, perfect, unique, inimitable. Does the rule of law exist in Nigeria? Yes, it absolutely does exist. Is the Nigerian law applied evenly across the board? The answer is no. The stark tragedy in the Nigerian context is in the application of the law.
You could wager or gamble all the dollars you have in the Bank Of America, including the Naira you have been saving at Equatorial Bank, Lagos, that most citizens in Naija know when they contravene or are in breach of laws criminalizing certain behaviors, such as, bribery, stealing by the taking of property of another or killing by the taking of life of a neighbor, for example. Unfortunately, very unfortunately, most Nigerians refuse to acknowledge the rule of law, or have not been indoctrinated into obeying rules. Nigerians have not been encouraged to assert their legal rights under the law. They are awash in Jungle Law Very regrettably; most Nigerians often notice that the laws promulgated to govern them do not apply equally to each and every citizen just the same. The Nigerian law has incomparable futility or ineffectuality, meaning it is regarded as being inconsequential. It can be stomped in the dust with feet of shameless bribery and unabashed effrontery or impudence, meaning rudeness, disrespect, or audacity.
My country Nigeria has every good law on the book, but it takes more than being on the book to have a stable civil society. We need obedience and respect. Was Chief Obasanjo under the law? Is he was, why did he attempt to seek the 3rd term? Is Buhari under the law? If he is, why does he look the other way when Christians arebeing slaughtered by bad Boko boys who gained notoriety after General Buhari lost the elections?
Why must anyone, such as Nnamdi Kalu, be arrested , detained, and denied constitutional rights without a speedy trial? Why do some Muslims arrogate to themselves the vicious temerity to attempt to convert Nigerian to a Sharia Law state when the country is 50 percent Christians and 50 percent Muslims? Their attempt to intimidate Nigeria into becoming a member of the Islamic League without a referendum is the utmost disregard of the rule of law.
Is Babangida hiding from the law and did he respect the law while he was a leader? Did Jonathan get up from sleep one morning and decided to sign an edict instituting a laissez faire attitude toward national insecurity or whatever sentiment he dreamed of the night before? Do members of the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives pass laws that apply to Nigerians with the exception of their own persons? The current Nigerian law seems to be what one negotiates. What law enabled a Nigerian policeman to order a lorry conductor who refused to give a N100 bribery to alight from the bus and then proceeded to shoot the hapless soul to death in full view of terrified passengers? We can safely say Nigeria operates under the Law of the Jungle.
A few years ago, while this writer was teaching graduate programs at a state university in a southeastern American city, he came face to face with what most, if not all Nigerians in the United States understand to be the interplay of running and being pursued. A Nigerian male had committed a crime involving drugs and shootout with police, and was being sought by law enforcement. He ran to our city in southeast United States to hide from the law. He sought refuge or sanctuary and was harbored in the house of another Nigerian friend.
The alleged criminal was not just hiding; he was doing more than the children's game of hide-and-seek. He hid out of great fear, refusing to venture out even to purchase his favorite beer. He was dreadful, terrified, petrified, and scared stiff. He was nervous whenever his friend drove in front of, beside, or behind a police vehicle. Looking behind or sideways at the approaching police vehicle, that criminally minded Nigerian would complain:" Why are these ndi uwe oji (police in black uniforms) following us?" His complaints were insistent even when the police officers were obviously busy minding their mundane or humdrum business of maintaining law and order. This proves that Nigerians fear American laws but trash the laws of their country.
Living in the United States brings every citizen, including every Nigerian-American, within the law's ambit. Good citizenship implies awareness of the sphere of influence the law has on citizens and what lessons are to be learned from awesomeness of the concept of law. That we respect the law, fear the law, live in conformity with applicable rules, is evident in the daily lives of our law-abiding neighbors. The prospect of being stopped by the police and taken to jail for driving under the influence of alcohol should strike fear into the heart of most law-abiding persons. Yet, the fear of police and laws of the land should teach us about our own rights. Fear of the almighty law invariably confers or bestows certain advantages on law-abiding citizens. For example, you can sue and win monetary damages for false imprisonment.
Recently, a traffic policeman issued this writer a ticket for allegedly exceeding the posted speed limit of 65mph. The ticket alleged the writer was travelling at 81mph, in a 65mph zone. In Nigeria, the police would arrest the writer and extract a bribe and let him go. In America, the writer can elect to pay a fine at the court before court date in lieu of appearing in person. I am choosing to go to traffic court and argue my case. There are a few possible lines of argument. First, Officer was mistaken in his determination of my speed. Checking speed by radar is not faultless since the radar might be inaccurately calibrated. The radar can malfunction without warning while being used.
Next argument is that exceeding speed limit was justified during the morning I was ticketed because motorists were rushing to the work on that pleasant mid-morning sunlight, and I was driving following the flow of traffic. Slowing down was risky and could cause a ghastly accident. Finally, Officer mistook my car for another after spotting a vehicle that looked like mine. He could be spotting a man who looked my age or who was driving a car that resembled mine. It is up to the Judge to make impartial determination of my guilt or innocence. I would submit to the punishment an impartial judge recommends. In Nigeria, I would have as much chance as a snowball in hell to defend myself before a Judge who may be uncontaminated by untoward influences.
Almost every US citizen, including any Nigerian-American, knows his/her rights under the law. We constantly talk about suing someone for infringing upon our rights under the law, and we are apt to fight to defend those rights. The American law applies equally to you and me. Neither of us is above the law. We pay a fine or go to jail if we break the law. We are encouraged to assert out rights and defend them in the courts of competent jurisdiction in the United States to the fullest extent o the law. The most bothersome aspect of most Nigerian laws is their ambiguity or vagueness. The laws in Nigeria are not clear. The Nigerian laws can be and are often circumvented with the impunity of a one-eyed bandit. That one is right does not ipso facto guarantee success at trial. Success is sold to the highest bidder.
We don't fear good laws nowadays in America because a good law is our friend when we comply with its terms. It gives us courage. Let the police stop you on the highway. You will almost shove your driver's license and insurance card in his face. Then, you would almost stab a warning finger at the police and sneer: "Officer, why are you now stopping me? What probable cause? What law have I broken now?" Perhaps, you have made an illegal u-turn, fail to change lanes properly, or forget to buckle up. The penalty is a fine which you would promptly pay before the court date, or you could go before the Judge. Breaking the law wastes valuable time. It takes money from your pockets. It inconveniences you and takes you away from attending to other more pressing tasks. Therefore, it is to our advantage and peace of mind to obey the law no matter how unfair we deem it to be.
The situation is different in my dear country Nigeria, isn't it? I hear Nigerians with money or powerful political connections do feel or see themselves as being untouchable. They seem to live above the law with peculiar aggrandizement. That's why a man can go to his village, and pay a policeman N5,000 to place a man he consider s to be a threat in a slammer house for a few weeks until the briber is able to leave the village. Unfortunately, a man caught red handed in the very act of killing his wife with a machete or taking someone else's land will talk back at accusers. "So, what will you do about it?" He has no remorse or guilt because, according to him (1) "The law does not apply to me since it doesn't apply to the police or the president;" and (2) "I can bribe the police or judge and be declared guiltless." The Nigerian criminal can even stand before omnipotent God and declare in his right mind: " Heavenly Judge, I'm not guilty of breaking this law."
Just consider former governor James Ibori 's innocence in Nigerian courts and guilt on every count in a London court. This gives me a sinister idea: if you do me wrong overseas and if I catch you at home, I will bribe a policeman/kotma/ndi uwe oji to lock you up on trumped-up charges until I am ready to release you or until I kick you hard many times on your ass. Sometimes, I think the law of the jungle has some sinister benefits. Call them the JA's, the Jungle Advantages.
But the rule of law facilitates my peace of mind. When the law rules I sleep better, drive better, move around better, and talk to my friends better. I'll have no need to build my house in Nigeria enclosed within the protection of high walls fortified with broken bottles or pointed jagged metals. There will be no need to pay a dibia (witch doctor) a lot of money to provide me with some magical concoctions or drinks to enable me to avoid being poisoned or taken hostage. There would be no need to seek a witch doctor who may inject some mixture of water and powdered roots into my veins to protect me against gun shots.
When laws are good and evenly applied across the board, I will not give N100 to every thug that throws old tire and dirt across the road inside the market to prevent my exit until I give a bribe to avoid an illegal kidnapping . Why must I pay the official N200 road toll at a Lagos checkpoint and N100 to a hideous robbery team inside the dusty market? The market has Mr. Barawo, the dusty checkpoint man! But, when I poked my face out of the window into the dusty air and bellow at that Barawo Checkpoint thief: "Oya, I wan go. I beg-o take those stupid dirt out of my way. Driver, make we go." The barawo would smile, pointing a dirty finger at his mouth and stomach and saying: "Oga, I wan make I chop small." He was the perfect picture of a hungry/starving thief seeking food. God, forgive me for being uncharitable.
My heart would melt out of pity for that man, one of God's wretched sons. "Driver, here, giveam N100 and make we go." Then , I wanted to slap the driver who kept reminding me, "Oga, dis no be America. Na Naija you de. You go give this people something." He is encouraging me to give bribes to a self-appointed traffic control thief. I am still upset about giving too many backhanders/bribes already. I am still angry with my friend named Felix who is attempting to convince me that "In Nigeria, you have to give this people some bribes if you want anyone to work for you." Shiege! So giving bribes and breaking the law are rights de passage demanded by force? The role of lawlessness in Nigerian crisis is obvious.
Bad laws make me lose sleep and hard-earned money as you can see. I had given N500 gratuity to a bank teller in Lagos to look up my account number and give me my balance. I became impatient at a roundabout delay as night was falling. I beckoned the starving officer to approach the taxi I was riding in. I then slapped his hand and left dirty N100 in his clammy, greasy palm so my taxi would be allowed to move on. I had accompanied my friend Felix to NEPA office to pay for his overdue 2-or-3 months N7,000 electric bill.
Felix and I walked behind the NEPA building to say a few words to a famished/hungry clerk. Felix handed the clerk N200 bribe, and he issued a N2,000 receipt. We used the N5000 left over from the original N7,000 bill to purchase a quantity of petrol for our Toyota and kerosene for the generator. Felix also bought a few bottles of Heinekens. Shit! The Jungle Law in my ancestral home can be so overpowering and frustrating particularly when you are dealing with a lawless people like Nigerians who know how to take undue advantage of the law in lawless society where bending or circumventing the law promulgated to protect citizens, is tantalizing entertainment. You can't resist saying "Shit". It appears that lawlessness plays a significant role in a conundrum in reference to a riddle whose answer is a pun, a paradox, or a Nigerian crisis whose answer is uncertain.