Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, the 21-year-old Nigerian athlete who was found guilty of being in possession of 727 grammes of high-grade heroine, was hanged last Saturday in Singapore city, the Singaporean capital. That, of course, is no longer news. It was the drama of the conviction, and the politics leading up to his execution by hanging that remains riveting even today.
President Obasanjo, probably responding to pressures from certain quarters, wrote a letter to the Singaporean prime minister pleading for a mitigation of the sentence. In his response, Lee Hsien Loong, the Singaporean prime minister, turned down the request, insisting that due process had been followed in the trial and that the death sentence would go on willy-nilly.
Several commentators, columnists and newspaper editorials have sought to take the Obasanjo point of view. Some people even suggested that Tochi didn’t get a fair trial and that he might have been a victim of racism. In all the commentaries, however, no one attempted to prove these allegations.
There were also some groups within the international community who were opposed, as usual, to the sentence because they thought execution by hanging is “barbaric”. Some are against any form of death sentence. Some have said that Tochi was handed over the hard drug by somebody else and he didn’t know the content of the parcel handed over to him.
But as we all know, in Singapore as in Nigeria, ignorance is no excuse in law.
I just find it laughable that some of us would want Singapore to be run the way we run our own country. At about the same time Tochi’s conviction was taking place in Singapore, a similar case involving a certain Hassanat Taiwo Akinwade (alias Wunmi) was taking place in Lagos, Nigeria.
Wunmi was arrested at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, in 2006 while trying to export 1.214kg of cocaine out of Nigeria. Last week, she was finally convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment, or – wait for it – a fine of N1 million in lieu of imprisonment. A slap in the wrist, you would say. How do we expect people to take us seriously as a nation?
It would be reasonable to expect that a successful hard drugs peddler like Wunmi would be able to pay up the N1 million fine right there in the court by simply dipping her hands into her handbag. In fact, in appreciation of such generosity from the state, I would suggest that Wunmi add another N1 million into the coffers of the country and a further N1 million for the judge for his courageous show of solidarity.
The leaders of Singapore do not want to run their country that way and that is why even though their tiny country gained its independence from Britain about five years after us, with no natural resources, it has been able to move from “third world to first”, while we, with all the resources at our disposal, have lapsed from one of the most promising nations of the world at independence to one of the poorest today. Yet, at independence, Nigeria was even considered more developed than Singapore.
The first prime minister of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, would not be surprised at all at the difference between his country and Nigeria today. Yew was prime minister between 1959 and 1990. In his seminal book “From Third World to First”, he talked about a trip he made to Nigeria on January 11, 1966, to attend a Commonwealth meeting.
The night before the meeting, they (the visiting leaders) were hosted to a dinner in which he sat opposite Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Nigeria’s finance minister. He said his conversation with the finance minister remained fresh in his mind.
The Nigerian finance minister told them that he was going to retire from service soon to take care of his shoe-making business. But before then, he had imposed a tax on imported shoes so as to give himself an undue advantage.
Prime Minister Yew said he was shocked. He concluded by saying he went to bed that night convinced that “these people (Nigerians) were a different people playing to a different set of rules”.
Singaporeans would not be surprised that the Nigerian government would want the death sentence on Tochi commuted, and probably repatriated to Nigeria so that we could ask him to pay a mere N1 million fine and set him loose on society again. They already know the kind of leaders who run the country.
From 1965 when Singapore gained independence, then as a small former British colonial trading post, their leaders have built their nation into one of the world’s most prosperous countries with strong international trading links. Its port is one of the world’s largest.
Singapore also has the best airline and the best airport in addition to a per capita GDP equal to that of the richest countries in Europe. The leaders of Singapore offered their country leadership and they take the issue of governance seriously. They will never allow a crime committed on their land go unpunished. And that’s the elementary rule of statecraft that Nigerian rulers still can’t get.
Obversely, Nigeria is a land where anything goes. Apart from the scandalous Wunmi judgement which I have just referred to, the disconcerting case of the murder of Bola Ige is another example.
The fact that Ige was a serving minister under this same government was not enough to attract the government’s interest in getting to the bottom of the matter. Today, the file case on Bola Ige has been closed and the government is not looking for the killers. The state of insecurity has reached very embarrassing levels. Armed robbers and assassins today kill and maim people in broad daylight.
How many armed robbers and assassins have the government of Obasanjo convicted and executed since he came to power in 1999? In those days, we used to witness the public execution, by firing squad, of armed robbers at the Bar Beach in Lagos. This used to serve as a deterrent. Not one armed robber or assassin has been tried, convicted and executed since Obasanjo came in 1999.
Instead the president sometimes talks about armed robbers as if they report to him. He famously said the assassinated Aminasoari Dikibo was killed by armed robbers and not by PDP assassins even before the case was investigated. That’s the president’s idea of running a country.
Today, we have criminals who even receive presidential protection and endorsement. We have a Lamidi Adedibu who does just whatever he likes, including stealing INEC’s electronic voting machines with impunity, and whenever he feels like seeing the president, a presidential jet is sent to him. He is not in jail today because he receives the president’s protection.
Ditto for Chris Uba who once kidnapped a sitting governor, and yet has remained a trusted associate of the president, and currently a member of the ruling party’s board of trustees. We should therefore not be surprised that the Singaporean prime minister rebuffed our president. He doesn’t take him seriously, that’s why.
Some people who tried to make a case for the mitigation of the sentence on citizen Tochi said there are extenuating circumstances in the case. But I’d rather believe the Singaporean authorities who insisted that Tochi was as guilty as hell and therefore should face the full weight of the law.
A country that dispenses injustice does not usually have the kind of success story that is Singapore. Instead, it is in Nigeria that injustice has been elevated to the level of state policy. It is a pity that Tochi had to die. If he had known, he would have committed the crime in Nigeria!
Can We Entrust IG With The Coming Elections?
Last week, six INEC Direct Data Capture machines were found in Lamidi Adedibu’s house in Ibadan. The old rascal of Ibadan politics has started his own rigging in advance. But that is not the problem now. Every society has hoodlums and that is the raison d’etre of law enforcement agents.
But the inspector-general of police who should have ordered the immediate arrest of this crook told the press recently that he was still discussing the matter with the Oyo State police commissioner. Does this not remind you of Tafa Balogun in 2003?
Is Obasanjo retaining Sunday Ehindero to rig the 2007 elections for him in spite of the fact that he has long passed the retirement age? Well, the only thing to say is to remind Ehindero of Tafa’s deserved recompense. Only fools do not learn from the mistakes of others!
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