About 400 bereaved families in Onitsha and its environs found themselves in double jeopardy recently, when the mortuary storing the remains of their loved ones was gutted by fire. Their pain knew no bounds when they saw hundreds of charred remains of dead bodies. They wept, not just for the loss of a dear one, but also for the thought of never having an opportunity to give the dead a decent burial.
To get a sense of the scale of this disaster, consider the fact that some corpses were burnt beyond recognition, while others were burnt to ashes. One particular family was scheduled to bury their loved one on that day; but, it was one day too late, because they were unable to distinguish their departed loved one from the mass of burnt dead bodies. I cannot begin to imagine the emotional trauma they underwent on that terrible day. How would they now honour the departed? How do they forgive themselves for, maybe, taking too long before setting a burial date? There are a plethora of questions to be asked, but answers seem hard to come by.
Some major questions need answering: why was the mortuary the only building to burn in that area? Also, what accounts for the speed of the fire in the mortuary? Is it a valid submission by the proprietor of the mortuary that the embalmment chemical was so inflammable as to fully cremate some of the bodies? Are there safety measures in place in case of any fire outbreak? Are all the embalming chemicals inflamable? Are there alternatives?
Sadly, a similar incident also occurred in Enugwu Ukwu, Anambra State in 2019, in which 50 corpses were incinerated. Governor Willy Obiano termed the disaster a double tragedy and even constituted a panel to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the fire. Unfortunately, to date, nothing has been heard from that panel. Sadly, the rumour that made the rounds, at that time, was that the fire was started by an arsonist to becloud the trafficking of body parts, was neither confirmed nor refuted.
In my musings, I have wondered why there were about 400 corpses in that mortuary. Even if Onitsha is a densely populated economic hub; but this general hospital mortuary is not the only one in the city? A little insight into this uncanny mystery came by way of a comment from the proprietor of the mortuary, stating that some of the corpses were abandoned. Now, how does a family abandon the remains of their loved one, especially, in cases where there are no legal encumbrances?
It is a truism that the greatest gift you can give a dead man is to commit him to mother earth. Evidently, this truth does not apply to Southern Nigeria where periodically hospitals give notice for the mass burial of seemingly abandoned corpses. The predominantly Muslim North scarcely encounters such challenge. Do we then say it is a Christian thing? As a Christian, I know of no scriptural foundation for this behavior. However, the tenets of Islam dictate same-day burial, unless where prevailing circumstances make it impossible.
Evidently, our culture is our undoing, via the economy of burial. Over the years, the cost of burial has gradually become prohibitive in some cultures here in the East of Nigeria. In many clans, men must be buried with a cow; in which case some even mock bereaved families for the size of their cows. For some, burial is competitive. For instance, a lot of people might want to replicate the atmosphere at the burial of Obi Cubana’s mother. Yet, others build a house before they can bury; one may wonder why the same money was not used to build the house while the departed was alive to enjoy.
This culture of long preservation of the departed has resulted in mortuary congestion on many occasions, leading to mass burials in Lagos and other states, as recent as 2020. In fact, to increase capacity in Anambra, someone suggested an underground mortuary as a remedy. However, the best solution is a paradigm shift in the way we think about burial rites. We must remember that we make our cultures, not vice versa. For instance, the use of cows should be made optional instead of compulsory in traditions where this practice is deeply entrenched.
As a people, we do not even mourn anymore; burial ceremonies are now avenues for displaying wealth, rather than a moment to pause and reflect. Because of the pressure of keeping up with society, families go into an inordinate borrowing just to execute the burial of a loved one. In today’s Nigeria, it could cost as much as half a million naira to execute an average burial in the East, especially if the dead is a male, and if you add the cow component.
The problem has a solution, only if the government knows where to look. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic showed us all that we can bury the dead with much less. But, there are other solutions. State governments could follow after the example of some churches in making policies that prohibit undue length of time for the preservation of the dead. For instance, the Diocese of Niger Delta Anglican Communion, more than fifteen years ago, initiated a 28-day burial policy; stipulating that non-compliance would lead to forfeiture of a member’s benefits. Some others have gone as far as limiting the period to two weeks; indicating that from a policy standpoint, this problem can be solved.
Last week, the story of a 70-year old man simply known as Mr Leo went viral on the internet. According to the story, Leo, having seen the endemic poverty in his community took the initiative to make ready everything needed for his burial: casket, grave, refreshments, and every other item necessary for his obsequies. He further asserted that he never wanted to place a burden on anyone. However, the commentary on Leo’s actions is diverse across social media and on the radio. For some, he was in his right to plan for his burial; for others, his action portends evil – since you cannot leave an open grave in most cultures. But is there a better way to achieve the desires of Leo? Yes.
Funeral bonds are a major avenue in most civilised societies to prepare for one’s departure. They are provided by pension funds and insurance companies primarily, with a diversity of packages, depending on budget size, religion, culture, and taste. Subscribers pay a regular premium depending on the package; and at their demise, the companies take over the execution of their burial ceremonies in conjunction with anyone they have so chosen. By so doing, burdens are lifted off the shoulders of the living; and most of the reasons for delaying burials simply disappear. Can this be replicated in Nigeria? I think so.
There are multitudes of solutions available; the ones yielding results should be expanded and enforced like the COVID-19 protocols. Until we change our ways, either through policy or a culture shift, our mortuaries will remain full; and cremation without funeral rite, the likes we have seen lately in Anambra, would be a recurring decimal.
By: Raphael Pepple
Of ‘Bandito Muchacho’
After the publication of an article: “Professional Banditry” (The Tide: Monday, December 6, 2021) there came a reaction from a reader, probably a high cleric, with some Italian or Spanish connection. His purpose was to remind me to add, for public information, another species of bandits missed out, namely, the “Muchacho” variant. Like a hit squad, this variant of bandits are actually vicious terrorists who use violent means to pursue and advance political interests and ideological mindset. Usually faceless, they operate like mercenaries, hired and sponsored by groups or powerful interest bent on having their way, no matter the havoc caused.
The caller who also sent a text message, said a number of things that one dare not publish, pointing towards the fact that “bandito Muchacho” use “repentant posture” as a means to gain more grounds. It was not a surprise when military source, same day, told Nigerians that repentant groups of insurgents are not sincere about their claims. Whatever “muchacho” means, from the tone of my caller, violence, aggression, the use of force to make demands, etc, are implied in that expression. Neither is one sure about the actual pronunciation: Muchacho or Muchacha!
The history of insurgency movements in Nigeria can be an interesting study. Beginning with the history of British occupation of Nigeria, it was interesting how the Oil Rivers Protectorate which stretched from Lagos to Calabar, expanded to include the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue. Under the Royal Niger Company territories, with administrative headquarters in Asaba and seaport at Akassa, there arose a trade war among European nations resulting in a Raid on Akassa in 1896.
Nobody talked about banditry then, even though activities of European traders, explorers and fortune hunters could be called acts of violence, aggression and force, with local people of various communities being at the receiving ends. Michael Crowder, in his West Africa Under Colonial Rule, told us that the Royal Niger Company, largely interested in trade and no aggressive military policy, resorted to “occasional bombardments of those hostile to its commercial policies”. Those hostile to its commercial policies included local communities which resisted the occupation of their lands by foreigners.
By 1895, trade and commercial interests and policies expanded to include ideological issues. Thus, with Joseph Chamberlain as British Colonial Secretary, the use of force took a hypocritical form. Chamberlain’s view was that “You cannot have omelettes without breaking eggs; you cannot destroy the practices of barbarism, of slavery, of superstition which for centuries have desolated the interior of Africa, without the use of force.” Therefore, the use of forceful aggression as an instrument of colonialism used the claim of “barbarism, slavery, superstition”, etc as excuses to attack and take possession of the interior of Nigeria.
One would ask: who began acts of barbarism and slavery in Africa? Wole Soyinka would remind us that our ancient invaders and enslavers were the Europeans and Arabs. Without going into how history was distorted to present Africa in bad light, it would suffice to say that the anonymous caller who introduced the issue of “Bandito Muchacho”, demanded that current trends of neocolonialism be studied. It cannot be denied that powerful interest groups pursue their goals using economic and political influences, whereby weak and unsuspecting groups remain at the receiving ends.
It is a known fact that between 1899 and 1919, there were organised opposition by various local communities in West Africa, against colonial invaders. It is known also that despite the official abolition of slave trade, the slave culture continued in some communities, necessitating organised efforts to stop the practice in the hinterlands. Thereafter the sight of a few” White men with gun-carrying local militia” in the hinterlands evoked suspicion and some hostility among the local communities. Missionaries did their best to help, but the fear arising from past slave raids caused suspicion and hostility among local people.
A part of what my anonymous caller demanded to be investigated included the possibility of armed and security agencies being in the league of “bandito Muchacho”. Obviously the caller was quite serious and wanted to provide some vital clue for further investigation. It was particularly important that a former Army Chief of Staff General T. Y. Danjum, could say that the armed forces are not neutral in the issue of insecurity in Nigeria. For a Muslim group, the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), to indict security chiefs for insecurity in the country could not have been without some reasons or facts.
For armed bandits operating in Zumi Local Government Area of Zamfara State to impose a N10 million fine on Zamfara Communities would imply the presence of a parallel government within the Nigerian states. A BBC Hausa Service report was that there was a reconciliation meeting between the people of the communities and representatives of the bandits where loyalty was pledged to the bandits for peace to reign, on payment of the money. Whether the bandits are Boko Haram or any other group of insurgents, their goal or mission is ideological loyalty rather than money.
Like the Muslim group, the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) in 19 Northern States condemned the recent gruesome murder of innocent travelers by bandits in Sokoto State. Truly, how can people be productive when they are living in fear both in their homes and anywhere they go? According to CAN, security agencies have all it takes to defeat the bandits, but why has such feat not been achieved yet? The concept of Bandito Muchacho comes in where there is a suspicion of complicity between official security agencies and the sponsors of insecurity in a country. Afgharistan was cited as an example, where the military supported insurgents.
A coalition of Northern Ethnic Group Assembly (NEYGA) was quoted as lamenting that “Nigeria has been turned into a killing field by these bandits terrorising the country where innocent civilians looking for their daily bread are forced to live in perpetual fear”. That was in response to the setting ablaze of 23 travellers in Sokoto State. Many concerned Nigerians have asked and wondered why it has become so difficult to deal decisively with the menace of banditry and terrorism in Nigeria, despite the fact that some of the insurgent and their sponsors are known to some state authorities. There are unknown sponsors too. Faceless people!
My anonymous caller, reacting to the article on Professional Banditry, stated specifically that there is more to the “politics of banditry than meets the eye”. He went on to ask why there is some reluctance in “naming and shaming sponsors” whose identities are open secret. Thus he wanted readers to be told that “Bandito Muchacho” is an old hide-and- seek business. Whether a business or not, banditry is a serious menace in Nigeria which must be addressed now.
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
Ochanya’s Case: Any Hope For Justice?
For anyone that has followed the case of late Ochanya Christiana Ogbanje since 2018, Thursday, April 28, 2022, must have been a sad day for her.
Christiana, a 13-year-old girl was said to have died from complications from years of serial sexual abuse by her aunt’s husband, Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokoloh, and his son, Victor Ogbuja right under the nose of her aunty, Mrs. Ogbuja, who claims not to have known what was going on in her home.
Victor (younger Mr Ogbuja), was said to have started sleeping with Ochanya when she was eight years old. His sister, one day caught him in the act and reported to their father who scolded him and afterwards also started defiling her until she fell ill, was admitted at the Federal Medical Center, Makurdi, but died about two months later, on October, 17, 2018.
Many Nigerians, including many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations were enraged by the despicable act and the painful death of Ochanya’s and they have ceaselessly demanded and pursued justice in the case. Incidentally, the hope of seeing the primary suspect duly punished was dashed by the judgement of Justice Augustine Ityonyiman, of the Benue State High Court in Makurdi, which held that the prosecution failed to prove its four-count charge against Mr Ogbuja and therefore discharged and acquitted him.
According to the judge, the police investigators failed to subject the defendant to medical examination in order to match his specimen with the findings in the medical reports that were presented before the court and the two conflicting autopsy reports from the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi and the Nigerian Police Forensic Laboratory in Lagos, left him in quandary.” I cannot pick and choose which of the autopsy reports to rely on in reaching a just conclusion of this case,” Ityonyiman said.
“While the autopsy report from the Medical Centre in Makurdi said Miss Ogbanje died of “natural cause,” the one from the Police forensic Laboratory said the deceased “suffered diseases that were related to sexual abuse”, he continued.
Incidentally, on the same day, in the city, in another court, the wife of the accused person, Mrs. Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja, was convicted of negligence over Ochanya. The Federal High court in Markurdi jailed her five months without an option of fine for failing to protect the child from “being raped” by her husband and fugitive son, Victor.
One can understand the pain and disappointment of many Nigerians seeing Mr Ogbuja let off the hook despite all the stories linking him to the crime. But my little knowledge of criminal law states that in criminal proceedings, a person, however clear the evidence seems to be, is innocent until proven guilty. This assertion is supported by Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Section 135 (2) of the Evidence Act 2011.
The position of the law is that the prosecution in most criminal cases has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. This is the standard of proof in a criminal case. This means that the defendant will not be convicted unless the court is convinced that all the elements of the offence are present and proven. Hassan v. State (2001) 6 NWLR (Pt.709)
The phrase ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is the conventional way of expressing the idea that the court must feel sure of the defendant’s guilt. Any doubt left in the minds of the court will be resolved in the favour of the defendant. Oguntola v. State (2007)
It is an established principle of criminal law that not only does the burden of proving a crime rest squarely on the prosecution, the standard of proof is also that of beyond reasonable doubt. The clear meaning of this is that every ingredient of the offence must be established to that standard of proof so as to leave no reasonable doubt regarding the guilt of the accused. Ojo v. F.R.N (2008) 11 NWLR (Pt.1099)
It therefore stands to reason that since the prosecution could not discharge its duty of convincing the court that the defendant committed the crime; since there were contradictory autopsy reports as to the real cause of Ochanya’s death, Justice Ityonyiman could not have erred by discharging and acquitting the accused person as being insinuated by some people. After all, “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffers.”
Fortunately, the Benue State Government has the option of appealing the judgement of the trial court. It is hoped that the government will heed the call of Ochanya’s family and other interested bodies and appeal the acquittal verdict and ensure that a capable prosecution team is put together to obtain justice for the poor girl.
Efforts should also be intensified by the police at apprehending Victor so that he can answer for his alleged crime. It is only when rapists are duly punished that others will be deterred from committing the crime and thereby reduce the high rate of the menace in the country.
The increasing cases of rape in Nigeria is a great concern to many. Scarcely a day passes without an incident of a woman, girl or infant being raped in one part of the country or another. Some of the victims are not only raped but brutalised and killed. Recall the story of how a 22-year-old 100 level Microbiology student of the University of Benin, Uwaila Omozuwa, was raped and murdered in a church in Benin a few years ago.
When the Senate in June 2015, ratified the Sexual Offences Bill (2015) which prescribes life imprisonment for rapists and those who have sexual interaction with children under 11 years, many thought that would assist in reducing rape cases in the country. Incidentally, that is not the case as many women in the country, both young and old, are daily subjected to sexual abuses. Some are reported, while many go unreported.
However, the recent judgement of Justice Abiola Soladoye of the Ikeja Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Court should encourage Ochanya’s family, individuals, human rights organisations, civil society groups and all working relentlessly towards the curtailment of the bestial act, attest that there is still hope for justice irrespective of how long it may take.
The judge sentenced 54-year-old, Michael Oliseh, a pastor, to life imprisonment in addition to his name being entered in the sex offenders Register of the Lagos State Government for raping his friend’s 12-year-old twin daughters in 2017. Reports have it that the victims were defiled by the defendant after their father entrusted them in his care and travelled to the village for burial.
The defendant was charged with two counts bordering on defilement, contrary to Section 137 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2015 and the verdict was reached after the prosecution convincingly proved the charges of defilement against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt, according to the court.
But the responsibility of ridding our society of rape is not that of the CSOs alone. Every other hand must be on the deck. As the former Executive Director of Centre for Women Studies and Intervention, CWSI, Rev Sr Rosemary Ukata, advocated during a sensitisation programme on rape recently, “to win the fight against rape in Nigeria and save our society, law enforcement agents and all those responsible for implementing laws against the menace should rise to their responsibilities. Gender desks at police stations should be made functional just as the issue of drug and other substance abuse are given more bite by the relevant bodies.”
The need for proper parental upbringing, more attention to the boychild and value reorientation of the entire citizenry as ways of dealing with the crime cannot be over emphasised.
By: Calista Ezeaku
Ideological Void In Nigerian Politics
Any worthy endeavour in life is supposed to be under pinned by sound principles and beliefs that drive action. In politics, those beliefs and principles are ideologies. They are the principles which guide the political behaviour aka character of political actors and determine the direction of political activities, ranging from internal party positioning, discipline, campaign, electioneering and ultimately governance.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria did not enjoy the luxury of evolving political parties with ideological grounding. The complete lack of ideology has made Nigeria to flounder sixty years after independence. Some leftist scholars attribute the poor governance culture in the country to fallout of dearth of ideology. The First Republic political parties emerged just to fill the vacuum created by the absence of the colonial master. Neither the National Party for the Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC) nor the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) ever considered governance in their principles. The avowed ideology of the NPC was to protect the interest of the monolithic North and the creed they profess. This is explicitly stated as a motto of the party.
During the 30-month fratricidal war, our leaders dallied with the two ideologies that ruled the world but socialism and capitalism did not take root until Nigeria joined the Non-Aligned Movement. There was no autochthonous ideology like the Ujama Philosophy as posited by Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania or Consciencism of the Osagiefo Kwame Nkrumah’s variety in Ghana.
Nyerere’s philosophy found expression in the field of education too. Ujama was an integral part of the socialist project, focused largely on self-reliance, total liberation and empowerment of the person and society, and the active integration of education throughout one’s life and in every aspect of human existence. This paid off.
Nkrumah defined his belief system as “the ideology of a New Africa, independent and absolutely free from imperialism, organised on a continental scale, founded upon the conception of one and united Africa. Consciencism became a foundation of Africa’s revolution and triggered reactions in the diaspora.
Nigeria never had a philosophy. Only the Action Group, AG, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo adopted welfarism as an ideological paradigm and this influenced its political actions especially in the area of education.
Even after the protracted military interregnum, the second Republic that emerged toed the same pattern of ideological hollowness. There was nothing concrete to influence discipline, internal democracy and the dialectics of who gets what. The curious interplay of money, religion and regional politics played a huge role in who controls power and allocates scarce resources.
It can be asserted without equivocation that since 1960, Nigeria has not evolved political parties with clear-cut ideology to drive change and development. This sad reality is what has defined political behaviour and actions.
One area where political actors have demonstrated ideological deficit in politics, is the deployment of money and religion in swaying votes. The rate at which some politicians decamp from one party to another is strange. While the constitution allows freedom of association, Nigerian politicians do not believe in building political structures on the long-term. If their political party fails to win elections, they defect to another which is assumed to be stronger-with mass appeal in the area. They are more guided by their stomach instead of principles. Like interlopers, they jump even though there is no viable option or platform for the articulation of any progressive agenda. In party politics, turnover is very high in Nigeria.
Another visible area that shows ideological deficiency is during electioneering.
The campaign of the 1960’s and those of the 2020’s have not changed much. The familiar campaign promises are hinged on the promises of physical and social infrastructure such as education, health, job creation, agriculture and security among others. No politician has mounted any innovative campaign such as the provision of social security, space policy, technology and biotechnology. By implication, most people canvass for power just for money and allocatable resources. They do not contest any election to transform society.
It is against this background that when they assume power, their administrations are characterised by non-adherence to transparency principles. They play politics with serious developmental issues such as basic education, healthcare, security and the welfare of the electorate. Politics is turned into a zero-sum game where the winners takes all and leaves nothing for the loser.
Understandably, the deployment of the instruments of thuggery creates a climate of fear during campaigns.
Elections are characterised by vote buying, indiscipline, pre-bendalism and violence. These symbolisms transmogrify into lootcracy when they assume power. Money is the real essence of politics in Nigeria. They are champions of ethnic, supremacy and sentiments. They forget too soon that they were elected on the platform of a Party.
Apart from looting, they abandon on-going projects or complete them at over-inflated costs. They deny even political appointees their lawful entitlements and rather use the looted money to bribe anti-graft agencies. They patronise native doctors in the night, neither sleep, dream nor see clearly the direction where their states are headed.
Ultimately, the enterprise of governance is reduced to a joke or at best a pool side party. They give politics a bad name and with their anti-people policies sentence millions to untimely death. They use policies, to strangulate people and dance on the graves of the down trodden hoi polloi.
In Nigeria, the character of politicians is dictated by the ideological hollowness in the system. The purveyors of new-breedism have become dreamers of social utopia. Whether our political parties will initiate and nurture some fringe ideology is yet to be determined. Not today and certainly not tomorrow. It may occur only when there is some requisite political engineer.
By: John Idumange
Idumange is a public intellectual.
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