YANA yawon banza. Yana lake-lake da mugun nufi”.
(A typical accusation of “wandering” in a colonial Northern Nigerian court).
Last week, the media reported the case of 27-year old Sunday Vincent, who was sentenced to three weeks imprisonment for public nuisance, by a Kado Grade 1 Area Court in Abuja. The judge, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq gave Citizen Vincent the option of paying N3, 000 fine while warning him “to desist from committing any crimes”. The media report had described Sunday Vincent as a “convict, of no fixed address” and had been “convicted for wandering a round the streets and gave no satisfactory explanation on what he was doing”.
The prosecutor, Zeerah Douglass told court that Vincent had been arrested by a police patrol team attached to Adetokuno Ademola Street, Wuse Two, and was then taken to the Kado Police Station, Abuja. This was on January 1. Citizen Vincent’s offence was said to be punishable under Section 198 of the Penal Code.
This case would have escaped all of us, as dozens of other such cases. Citizen Sunday Vincent’s case is a typical expression of the class dynamics in our neo-colonial country, and this law with its roots in colonial society is a throwback to periods in history that should have been overcome.
The offence of “wandering” had long been abolished as long ago as the Second Republic, under President Shehu Shagari, and it is a surprise that it is still embedded in the Penal Code, which is applicable in Northern Nigeria. It is also incredible that Citizen Vincent was sentenced by an Area Court, given the level that it belongs in the overall effort at administering justice in our society. How can a citizen of the Twenty-First Century in a democratising country, be “convicted for wandering around the streets”? Incredibly enough, on January 1st, a day when people are usually in a mode of revelry! What was the mental state of that citizen? Was the question asked at all? And what about the sociological issues associated with survival in a society where the predatory, neo-colonial capitalist economy isn’t creating jobs, housing and other essentials of life?
Colonial laws: It is absurd that citizens of Twenty-First Century Nigeria will be convicted under laws that have their roots in the Vagrancy Act of 1824 England, whose intention was to remove those classified as “undesirables” from public view.
The 1824 Act in England “had assumed that homelessness was due to idleness and thus deliberate, and made it an offence to engage in behaviours associated with extreme poverty”, according to WIKIPEDIA. So when Citizen Sunday, was described as “of no fixed address” and therefore “convicted for wandering around the streets”, we can see the direct historical links with England, and the law under which he was convicted.
The truth is that the law in a class society basically reflects the dynamics of class relations. In Nigeria, we have managed to build one of the most unequal and unjust societies in the contemporary world. Our predatory form of neo-colonial capitalism insulates members of the ruling class from the law, or allows them many opportunities to manipulate or circumvent the law. There are leading men and women of business and politics, who have looted funds in public and private institutions. They employ the best lawyers to help in ensuring that they go scot-free or when they get convictions, they spend time in hospitals. It is therefore no surprise, that one of the easiest ways out for the rogues of the Nigerian ruling class, is to plead for opportunities, to go see their doctors abroad. When they are looting Nigeria, they are hale and hearty, but when time comes to get their comeuppance, they suddenly fall sick!
Stewardship and husbandry
Last week, the histrionics reached a greater height, with one of the Mandarins of Nigerian political society, arriving in court in a wheel chair! This is a gentleman, who has spent the past sixteen years being recycled from one position to the other. Bukola Saraki, for example, has done everything under the sun, to stave off the possibility of being called to account for his stewardship and husbandry of the finances of Kwara state since 2003.
He has the finances to employ the best lawyers and has been moving from different courts to ensure that he does not get a day in court. If he and other Mandarins can pull it through, what they want is to get the type of perpetual injunction worked out for Peter Odili!
For our ruling class, their words resemble those of a character from one of Victor Hugo’s writings, who said having become so rich he has earned the right to be above the law! That is not the situation for Citizen Sunday Vincent. In his arrest, conviction and imprisonment he underlines the injustices of Nigerian society today.