ON May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II four times at St Peter’s Square, Vatican City. Doctors battled to save the life of the Pope. Eventually, they succeeded. Following the attack, Pope John Paul II asked people to “pray for my brother (Ağca) … whom I have sincerely forgiven.” Ağca was sentenced to life by an Italian court. The Pope later asked for the pardon of Ağca, visited him in prison and prayed for him. The Pope was commended for his Christ-like behaviour. But that did not sway the Italian government not to jail Ağca, neither did it make it to release him immediately.
Was the Italian government heartless? Since the direct victim of the attack had forgiven his assailant, was the Italian government crying more than the bereaved? Why did Italy not pardon Ağca after the Pope had forgiven him and asked for his pardon? The reason is simple. Even though Pope John Paul was the direct victim, the crime of murder or attempted murder is a crime against the state, not the individual. The Pope can forgive his attacker as an exemplary Christian, but the state is governed by laws, not emotions. Once a state starts treating issues based on emotions, it creates a bad precedent and makes a mockery of its own laws. Its citizens would assume that the laws of the state are meaningless and can be applied according to the whims and caprices of those in power. That is dangerous.
Countries that want to create order try to avoid this attitude of succumbing to emotions. That was why when Lady Justice, the symbol of justice, was created in the Roman Empire, a blindfold was part of her dressing. Because justice can be tempered with mercy, in June 2000, based on the Pope’s request, Ağca was pardoned and extradited to Turkey, where he was sentenced for crimes he committed in the 1970s in the country. However, the moment Lady Justice starts to look at people’s faces and circumstances that led to crimes, emotions would creep in and justice would be tampered with. That is dangerous to the state. Once people get the feeling that certain people get a different treatment because of who they are or who they know, they have a poor attitude to justice and the state.
Some years ago, I saw a movie named John Q, featuring American actor, Denzel Washington. Faced with the prospects of losing his son with a heart problem because he was told that his company downgraded his insurance policy not to cover a heart transplant anymore, he used an unloaded gun to hold patients in the hospital hostage with a demand that his son be promptly treated. His son got treated. But unlike the way a Nigerian director would end the film in the emotional way by making the judge free him because he was only trying to save the life of his son, he was jailed by the judge for “false imprisonment.” He and his son gave the crowd the victory sign after the judgement of the court as he was taken away to serve his jail term. The message was simple: He did a right thing the wrong way and had to face the penalty. He took the law into his hands to save his son. But there is punishment for such an act, to avoid making the public assume that they can also take the law into their hands and receive emotional pardon afterwards. Therefore, anybody who plans to commit any offence, even ignorantly, in such a society knows that there is punishment waiting for the person, irrespective of rank or status.
Compare that to Nigeria. In 1999, The News magazine broke the story that Mr Salisu Buhari, Speaker of the House of Representatives, forged his birth certificate, university certificate and NYSC certificate. He was too young to contest the House of Representatives. He forged a birth certificate that made him older, so as to be eligible to contest the post. And to make himself look more suitable for the post, he forged a certificate from the University of Toronto, Canada. He was subsequently elected the Speaker by his colleagues. When the story was published, he denied it. But when the crisis rose to a high level, he apologised and resigned. He was tried and sentenced to two years in prison with an option of fine, which he paid immediately. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the President of Nigeria, promptly pardoned him, thereby wiping off that crime and sentence from his record and making him eligible to contest any post or be appointed for any position. That ending is typical of Nigeria, where people believe that who you are and who you know determine if you can be penalised for a crime or offence or not. That is why the rate of impunity from the political and business classes is very high.
The announcement last week that Mrs Kemi Adeosun, former Minister of Finance, had resigned over the report of forgery of the certificate of exemption from the National Youth Service Corps came as an anti-climax, given the length of time from when the story was published by an online medium, Premium Times. Most times, our leaders do not know when to act decisively and when to delay issues. If Adeosun had resigned immediately, she would have created a better impact. If President Buhari had immediately suspended her or sacked her, he would have gained some mileage as an anti-corruption crusader. Adeosun did not help him win the 2015 election and will not help him win the 2019 election. So, there was no need keeping her all this while. On the contrary, her stay after that report rubbed some stain on the image of this administration.
In addition, her resignation should not be taken as the punishment for her action. Her letter said that she trusted some people without knowing that the certificate they procured for her was forged. That could be the true situation of things. But it does not stop the law from taking its course. Forgery is a crime. Adeosun should be tried, and given the appropriate punishment, if found guilty.
Prosecuting her is not a witch-hunt or act of wickedness. It is simply the law. The reason why the law should be upheld is to ensure that things are appropriately done in the country. If people are let off the hook because of sentiments of ignorance, age, ethnicity, religion, sex, financial status, social status, physical challenges, it encourages others to commit crimes and ridicule the law of the land. What a judge can do is to reduce the penalty of offenders because of their remorse, ignorance or other conditions. And it is only in special cases that the President should exercise his prerogative of mercy to pardon culprits, to avoid creating the impression that the law is only meant for the common folks. In countries that take their laws seriously, prominent figures even receive stiffer penalties, because it is assumed that they should know better and set a better example for others. The opposite is the case in our country. The results are evident in the fortunes of our nation.
In addition, there should be an investigation into the clearance given to Adeosun when she was screened by the Department of State Services upon her announcement as commissioner in Ogun State in 2011, and when she was appointed a minister in 2015. Did they not notice that her NYSC certificate was forged or did they hide that? Who did the screening? There is a need to unearth that and punish the offenders. Their levity has caused the nation some embarrassment. If they had disqualified Adeosun in 2011 for that reason, she could have saved herself this embarrassment.
The law is always the law. It does not bend because of people. Rather, people bend to suit the provisions of the law. But those who mistakenly or consciously break the law should face the punishment for the sake of the nation.
– Sept. 18, 2018 @ 9:09 GMT |