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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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WITNESS TO INJUSTICE

EVERY NEW DAY REMINDS Nigerians and all those who love and watch Nigeria that there is an urgent need for justice in this country.  Given her potentials and resources, Nigeria is very distant from where she ought to be.  Time is running out.  But we seem to be reluctant to do what we ought to do so that we can become the type of country we ought to be.

I flew out of Lagos to Owerri on Monday, July 30, 2018.  The departure lounge at the domestic terminal of the Lagos airport was overcrowded.  There were not enough seats.  Abuja bound passengers, who ought to have left on the 6 a.m. flight were stranded.  They only got on board at 1 p. m.  If you had business in Abuja on Monday morning, and you were one of such passengers, you would have lost the opportunity.  Our economy cannot grow this way.  And if our economy does not grow, poverty sets in, and insecurity too.

I flew into Owerri later in the afternoon.  I was on my way to the Poor Handmaids of the Child Jesus to preach their annual retreat.  I was received at the airport by the superior and driver.  As we headed into town on the Owerri-Aba road, another group of sisters waived at us in a way that showed they were in distress.  The driver made a U-turn so we could go and assist them.  They had been stopped by "local government" officials demanding a sticker.

The sisters brought out all the stickers they had paid for.  I looked at the pack, it would fill a file.  One was missing, said the "local government" officials.  It would cost 6, 000 naira.  The sisters had no such amount.  They were just going to drop a German visitor of theirs at the  Owerri  airport  so  she  could fly to Abuja  and get on her  flight  to  Frankfurt later in the evening.  Worried  that  she could miss  her  flight,  I  asked  the  sisters  to  take  her  to the airport in the bus in which I was being conveyed.

I looked at the "local government" officials.  They were dressed in vests with the inscription "police". They were holding guns in a way that suggests they were not trained to handle those guns.  Their physical appearance, their short heights in particular, suggested they could not have been recruited into the police.   Are these men of the Nigerian Police?  When did they begin to collect tolls for the local government?

Unable to pay 6, 000 naira, the sisters were taken to the "office", with two of the "local government" officials in the sisters' bus.  On getting to the office, which turned out to be a motor park, the price rose from 6, 000 to 19, 000 naira.  I advised the sisters to ask for a receipt since a priest joined them to assist in paying.  The "local government" officials told them they would have to transfer the money into "government" account first.  I advised the sisters to verify the account number before making the transfer.  It turned out to be a private account number.  If I am paying into government account, it ought to go into government account.  Since the sisters were not ready to pay into a private account, their bus was impounded, its tyres deflated.

What impression of Nigeria did the German visitor leave with?  Is this how a country is to treat its citizens and visitors?  Meanwhile, the "local government" officials in "police uniforms" were smoking weeds, drinking alcohol, and holding guns.  They claim the state government outsourced the toll collection to their company.

Then came a police van.  Its occupant came down, went into the office with what looked like a machete, and used it to give some lashes to some of the "officials".  They had stopped and impounded a vehicle that belonged to a policeman.

The following Monday, I was in Abuja with the intention of trying out the Abuja-Kaduna train service.  I wanted to learn if what the government had been saying about the train was true.  The last time I travelled by train within Nigeria was 1971.  First shocker: the train station is several kilometres from the airport.  In other countries, the train terminus and the bus terminus would be at the airport to make seamless travel possible.  Not in Nigeria. 

I missed the 10 o'clock train.  The next train was scheduled to leave at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  No restaurant, no shop, no decent toilet facilities at the train station.  While waiting for the train, I walked over one kilometer before I could find a place to buy snacks.

The train left at 2.45 p.m.  No explanation, no apology for its lateness.  The coach was over crowded.  The aisle was too narrow to contain two persons at a time.  The exit too was narrow.  Arriving at Rigasa Station, I discovered the station was not in town, just as the Abuja station is in Kubwa.  It was another substandard train station.  Its parking lot, like that of Kubwa, was untarred and marshy.  Everyone was driving anyhow. 

The following day, I read from the papers about the experience of those who took the same train on Sunday, August 5. Tickets were "sold out" in ten minutes, to touts.  If you wanted to travel, you had to buy it from the touts.  Such is the country we are, such is the country we run, a country with a wahala manufacturing company located north, south, east and west of her vast territory.   But Nigerians deserve an efficient and comfortable train service.

On my way to Owerri, I was reading Bishop Matthew Kukah's book, Witness to Justice, in which he recounted his experience as a key member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by President Obasanjo when he came into office in 1999.  The Commission was to look into cases of violation of fundamental human rights that occurred during the two bouts of pestilential military rule in Nigeria, from 1966-79, and from 1983-99.  There were testimonies of torture, of abuse of power, of impunity by Nigeria's past military rulers.   Three former military rulers who were invited to testify-Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar-refused to honour the invitation, despite pleas and entreaties.  There I was reading the book Witness to Justice while I was witnessing injustice.  What an irony!

The morning after I arrived Kaduna, I woke up to learn of the siege at the National Assembly.  In an act that reminded us of our painful past of military coups, armed and hooded men, said to be operatives of the Department of State Security, barricaded entrance to the National Assembly, preventing members of a faction from gaining entry. 

We cannot fight injustice with injustice.  We in Nigeria must learn to make just laws, and to act within those just laws.  The alternative would be a regress into tyranny, the tyranny and contradiction of a "benevolent dictatorship".

 


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