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Eddie Iroh: A case for justice in Nigeria

by Eddie Iroh

In this perversion of justice, the okada owner is only a metaphor for the vast majority of Nigerians. If I may venture to give a very personal example, in 2005, in my very last year in office, I got an allocation of a plot of land in Abuja. It was the only one I applied for and the then Minister of FCT, Alhaji Abba Gana, personally approved it and directed his then Permanent Secretary, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, to process the allocation.

On the other hand, in the case of our own Niger Delta, where there was open and protracted violence, there was general acknowledgement that there had been a measure of injustice against the people. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, with no vested interest other than the truth of the matter, resolved to address and redress the conflict with his Amnesty programme. It is the same formula that had worked for Britain in resolving the conflict with the militant IRA in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland and the Niger Delta today enjoy considerable peace, primarily because the existence of injustice was recognised and redressed. Both proved another Denning aphorism that when justice is done, no person wins or loses; only justice wins. In like manner, President Jonathan has set the machinery in motion to determine, among other things, whether Boko Haram has a legitimate claim to any form of injustice that can and could be addressed. Of course identifying injustice where it truly exists, as distinct from where it is claimed to exist, is the first step towards redressing it, as long as both parties are sincere.

imagesI emphasised that peace does not necessarily mean the absence of conflict and physical violence; rather peace means the presence of justice, truth and fairness.

This is perhaps an appropriate time for our nation to calmly look deep into the goatskin bag of our collective wisdom and consider the true meaning of our creed of justice as enshrined in both our constitution and coat of arms, as we quest for better models and modus vivendi, for existence and co-existence, after 100 years of union. As Nigeria pauses for a moment of stock-taking, she is faced with a huge array of national issues and challenges. They range from the current menace of Boko Haram to a proposed National Conference on the very future of the federation; from our economic development to the cost of living, and from strikes, university education and the future of our burgeoning population, and indeed including the privatisation of our commonwealth like PHCN, as well as the management of our natural resources. To tackle these issues and challenges over the months and years ahead, the precondition of justice anchored in truth is a sine-qua-non for lasting solutions to these myriad troubles.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

But pray what is justice? Who is he? What does he look like? One thing for sure is that he is not the justice of selfish interest, whether ethnic, religious or political. For those that seek this kind of justice, no concession, compromise or concept of truth and fairness will satisfy. For this kind of people, their idea of justice is the one that says what is mine is mine, and what is yours is negotiable! Rather I have in mind the kind of justice, which the great British jurist Lord Denning described in the simplest yet most profound terms as: Giving everyone his due. As I was contemplating this intervention, I came across a blog by a young Nigerian, which was the very antithesis of the Denning definition. She wrote that injustice is when

As Nigeria contemplates the future of her union, it is important we recognise the self-evident fact that there cannot be peace in the home, in the community and in the country as a whole without truth, justice and fairness. It is from these two that peace flows and reigns. If I may, let me cite the example of the United Kingdom, a society I know almost as well as my own Nigeria. I never cease to marvel at and be filled with admiration that a country which literally invented the slave trade, colonialism and racism, eventually made moral restitution by turning itself into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and tolerant society. Britain stepped back from her inglorious colonial past and carved out a proud place for herself as a tolerant nation, in a manner that non-colonial powers like Russia, for instance, can never boast of. I am often baffled by the effort British authorities put into protecting the human and civic rights of ethnic and religious minorities. I do not of course discount the continued existence of racism in British society as in many white societies. For while you can legislate against racial discrimination, you cannot make laws against the racial prejudice that exists in the hearts of human beings. But I know no country with more laws, bye-laws, court rulings and precedents against racial and other forms of discrimination, as well as for the protection of the rights of ethnic and other minorities, than the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

As we prepare for the talks that will precede The Talk, it will be an enduring service to the nation if we are truthful to ourselves in addressing the core issues at the root of the persistent discord that afflicts the nation and affects its progress towards greatness. We must recognise that justice and fairness are Siamese twins, which in turn give birth to peace. We must fairly and honestly purge ourselves of ethnic, religious and party political bigotry that often blights our national discourse, and try to embrace the truth that cleanses, purifies the soul and enthrones justice. I wish that in the end a new nation can emerge, one that will be more tolerant and much fairer. For in truth it is a source of great personal pain for me that my rights in the United Kingdom are far better protected by the state than my rights in Nigeria, the country of my birth. Sadly, there must be millions of Nigerians with similar stories of their own.

In a recent newspaper interview, the young journalist ended with a question: “What is your philosophy of life?” I had no hesitation in replying: JUSTICE. He prompted me to elaborate on my monosyllabic response. I told him that justice is the pre-condition for almost every basic value that a state or the citizen requires to achieve peace and progress. For me justice is the palm oil and red pepper sauce without which we cannot heartily enjoy the roasted yam of peace and harmony.


Read this article in the Thisday Newspapers

I emphasised that peace does not necessarily mean the absence of conflict and physical violence; rather peace means the presence of justice, truth and fairness. As the late Pope Paul VI said, if you want peace, work for justice. The late John F. Kennedy of America put it even more succinctly. In his last State of the Union Address, before he was brutally assassinated in 1963, JFK told the American people: the absence of war does not mean peace. In his contribution to the publication of the National Peace Forum in 2004, our own Donald Duke, then Governor of Cross River State, added his own dimension. Peace, he wrote, is the aftermath of justice and goodwill to all. Duke was basically saying that from the fountain of justice, peace flows. The late Ikemba Nnewi, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, concurred with Duke in the same publication, saying peace is the outcome of social justice.

In different ways, on different scales and in various areas of our national life, this and other forms of injustice are the lot of many of our citizens who often have no opportunity for redress. And when this is extrapolated upon the wider communities and ethnic nationalities who in one way or the other feel genuinely deprived, denied or marginalised, the nation would not know peace even if there was no open conflict. A nation ignores such silent discontent at its own peril because still waters run deep. This was the miscalculation by Arab leaders that led to the uprising of the Arab Spring. Its lesson was beware of the silent majority who are suffering and smiling.

(1) a law enforcement officer seizes your okada and takes it for himself and even rides it on the very roads banned for okada;
(2) the law enforcement officer arbitrarily seizes your okada, sells it to someone else and pockets the money;
(3) 200cc motorcycles can be bought only in ‘Alausa’ if you want particulars for the vehicle.

Eventually he did the honours and I paid all the legal and statutory fees and got my C of O. But as soon as I left office and the district in question was developed with essential infrastructure, thus attracting a high selling price, a fellow Nigerian connived with his kinsman, slipped a pre-dated application into my file and claimed that there had been a “prior-allocation.” The incumbent minister revoked my allocation without notice and without due process. Considering that my allocation was handled at the highest level, I found it hard to believe that there had been no due diligence to ensure that there were no encumbrances on the plot I was given. It was just simply that someone lied to deny me my due. My greatest pain in the matter was that in the United Kingdom where I was a mere resident, there is no human being from the Queen to the Prime Minister who would arbitrarily revoke my allocation for which I have fulfilled all statutory requirements. In such an unthinkable event, the Member of Parliament who represents my constituency would demand an emergency meeting of the appropriate parliamentary committee to defend my right and entitlement. Similarly, the law enforcement officer who appropriated the okada motorcycle would never wear the uniform of the police force again and might even end up in jail. The state would be seen to be defending the rights of the citizen and justice would be seen in action.

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