June 19, 2021

AfricaTopForum

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Death sentence?

3 min read

Editorial

A Federal Government Town Hall meeting, addressed by five ministers, just declared the government plans to slap the death penalty on sundry vandalisation, now tagged terrorist acts on public assets.

At that 19th Town Hall meeting were Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture), Babatunde Fashola (Works and Housing), Rotimi Amaechi (Transport), Hadi Sirika (Aviation) and Mohammed Bello (FCT).

The FCT minister rued the mindless plunder of public facilities, installed to ensure the safety and comfort of the populace, in the federal capital.  He cited the pilfering of 400 manhole covers, which aside from avoidable erosion and flooding, could easily lead to death of the unsuspecting, should city denizens get trapped in those engineering holes, which the stolen manhole covers should have sealed off.

Three infrastructure ministers — Works and Housing, Transport,  and Aviation — condemned the wilful destruction of public works, cobbled together with hard-sourced money, much of which are foreign loans.

Sabotaging the long comatose rail is especially annoying.  Amaechi’s ministerial stats, on rail track vandalisation, is simply perplexing: North Western rail zone (31), Northern District (10), North Eastern (43), Eastern (36), North Central (50).  In specific rail corridors: Abuja-Kaduna (13), Warri-Itakpe (2).

The only redeeming case is the new Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail: none.  Also note: Abuja-Kaduna and Warri-Itakpe were newly completed, after eons of construction time.  Indeed, Warri-Itakpe dates back to years of military rule.

That demented souls are involved in all of this destruction is shocking.  That they are spread all over the country is galling.  How can those who screech about poverty, turn round to destroy critical infrastructure to remove that plague?  It’s madness that doesn’t add up.

Sabotaging aviation safety and navigational gadgets is tantamount to baiting avoidable mass deaths, just as rupturing rail lines could derail a train and kill scores of innocent travellers.  These are potential homicidal acts that should attract severe sanctions.  Still, death may appear too draconian.

Not so, the terror of hoodlums attacking police facilities, and killing police and allied security personnel, patrolling highways and communities, to secure the majority.  These acts of brazen outlawry must not be tolerated by any government, for what they court is anarchy — and anarchy consumes all.  Therefore, Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s concern is well noted.

However, these hoodlum attacks appear straight-forward to deal with, without any omnibus branding.  A citizen that guns down a security agent knows the dire consequences, if caught alive.  If he is condemned to death, after trial, his blood is on his head and on no one else’s. Those are straightforward cases, under the extant laws of the land.

Still, perhaps the question is less the brazen lunacy but more the mass alienation in the land, that elicits frustrations and lunatic reactions.  Nigeria is in a hard and harsh transition period, which the pain-intolerant impulse in many folks simply blame on the sitting government.  It is much more fundamental, much more complicated, for genuine transitions often entail severe pains.

Nevertheless, the government should implement more inclusive policies.  Aside from that, it should embark on wider consultation and mass enlightenment to engage the mass of the people, whose minds are easily poisoned by selfish blocs of the elite, spoiling for sweepstakes.

Even then, alienation can’t justify crimes.  If you do the crime, you must do the time.  That’s how civilised polities work.  Poverty is no licence to crime, anymore than high office is impunity to steal.  Whoever falls foul of the law must be punished.  So, equal -opportunity justice is the answer.

But Works and Housing Minister, Fashola’s take, at the meeting, was both instructive and attractive, as he spoke of sanctioning road and bridge destroyers, disclosing that such ruins had trapped N3 billion (which could have been invested in works) on avoidable repair.

He called for twin sanctions: caught vandals will both pay the cost of repairs and face prosecution.  Still, to attain that goal, the government must ramp up capacity to catch these felons; and work hard on policies that make such crimes absolutely unattractive.  As he rightly noted, every economy is as good as its infrastructure.

That wanton destruction draws the government’s ire is understandable.  But the government too should not be goaded into draconian measures, against what, at the very worst, is a passing phase.