Beyond Tafa Balogun's Conviction


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Beyond Tafa Balogun's Conviction



Olu Onagoruwa



December 13, 2005


He was reported to have said, "I will rise again. I will bounce back". It is a fantastic spectacle. That Tafa Balogun, a former Inspector General of police, was sent to jail is a most unlikely of stories. The head of the police goes to jail. It is a tragedy of unmitigated dimension. Whatever his fault since 1999 when he came to power, Nigerians have to thank President Olusegun Obasanjo for focusing on the problem of deep-wounding corruption that has made us so notorious in the world.

Apparently, he is the first president to make this one a signal focus. Some past Presidents have increased the volume of corruption in the country either by their own pre-disposition or character or their lack of consciousness of the magnitude of the problem. We know that the civil service, the statutory corporations even private companies are all so unredeemably corrupt. Governors who are supposed to be new leaders in the dispensation are now known to be bitterly corrupt. They regard the money, which comes to their states as their own private money, which they can spend to their hearts' content.

Only some few months ago, the Americans predicted that Nigeria might dissolve in 15 years time. It is not a prediction that requires our reply because it has always been in the corridors of our thoughts that the country might break up. But the Federal Government had a prompt and thoughtless reply to the Americans. Do many Nigerians not already know that the country only rests on three basic institutions: the civil service, the Nigeria Police, and the Nigerian Army? And it is only if these institutions are well run that Nigeria can survive as a nation. Don't forget that the Soviet Union served the people for 70 years before its demise.

The Nigeria Police has been corrupt for a long time. But this was not revealable because of some inscrutable factors within it as within Nigeria. There is tribalism, ethnicism, feudalism, and religion. In fact all these had nothing to do with the organisation as a disciplined one. But those who controlled the it introduced these elements into the organisation to protect what they considered their legitimate interest. Tafa Balogun was just the unfortunate officer who was caught in the act with the bold character of his boss.

Balogun did not originate corruption, he was only an enthusiastic inheritor. He stole like no one had stolen before. Some years ago, an allegation was made against him that he collected money and plots of land from some state governors. All these he denied with a strong moral robustness. He had seen his bosses stealing and converting public property to their own use and nobody had interfered with them. They had been given accolades after their service. So he thought it was business as usual. He did not reckon with the type of boss he had. It has been a long time that junior officers were not paid their salaries regularly because their bosses had "better-need" for the money. The junior men began to raid the roads, stopped vehicles arbitrarily and collected N20 from them or shot them dead. The Apo killings is an extension of police lies and brutality. This then is the tragedy of the Nigerian situation. What do we do to stem this tide of corruption and lack of regard for the ethos of the civil service?

Sometime ago, an English judge was asked for his views about the cause of crime. His reply was prompt and dogmatic: "Greed, lust and cruelty. And cruelty is getting more common nowadays" This highly telegraphic answer mirrors the Nigerian situation in my view. Dr Howard Jones of Leicester University offers the view that personality and environment in which one finds himself is a determinant factor in criminal disposition. So does Edward Sutherland, a famous American criminologist in his differential association theory, thinks that it is the predominance of crime producing influences on the personality that matters.

It was Professor Duckheim who laid down the theory of normlessness to explain that where there is pervasive criminal activities, all the norms by which one determines good from evil is wiped out and it is with the absence of norms that the society is helpless. Applying the doctrine of normlessness, this means that the military and their arbitrariness in government have left the society normless. The military over-took the civilian government. They overthrew the old norms and social order. They could neither sustain the old norms nor replace them with consistent new norms and left the society disoriented. Nigeria is now faced with a political conundrum.

One is no longer sure whether right is right or wrong being very wrong. The machinery by which all these are determined has been dislocated. Consequently, we live in a state of normlessness. In the civil service, stealing and fraud are permissible because honesty is at a great discount. In NEPA, now called Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), there is really no need to furnish light to the people; you should swallow all the money voted for projects and abdicate your responsibility. Damn it; the people do not actually need light. Darkness is their inextricable inheritance. The money should be in our pocket where we can be called true Nigerians. To the Nigeria Police, our masters steal; we have no choice. We should pillage innocent men and women who ply the roads. This is because our bosses have stolen the money and we have no other means. If they call it crime we will also call them bigger robbers, and brigands.

Anyway we are taking money from the people because this is the surest way to law enforcement. Anyone who refuses shall be shot dead because a dead man does not give evidence. This is what happened to the people killed at Apo. Even in the Apo killings, very senior policemen were involved. It is now known that a senior police officer has ran away since the lies they told against the dead victims did not hold. In Lagos many police stations are now known as murder centres and instead of sending criminals to court, they are murdered on the excuse that courts take a long time, and in any case those killed are robbers. This is the atmosphere in which Tafa Balogun worked. The Police system had been lost and honesty is at a great discount. You either beat them or join them. He joined them and became a brigand. His boss called him and later sent him for prosecution. Unlike his predecessors he was not just warned; he was made to face prosecution.

On the question of sentencing, his imprisonment was too short compared to the offence he committed. He should have been given a long sentence so that he can be later forgiven by a prerogative of mercy. Members of the public are alarmed by his sentence. In criminology, the sentence must be commensurate with the offence. That is why he had the effrontery to be rejecting the prison uniform. You cannot eat your cake and have it. As for his bouncing back. One may ask him: bouncing back into what? Is it to the squalour he has left behind or what?


bulletOnagoruwa is former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation.



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