Monday, August 26, 2019 7:16 am
By Hope Eghagha
Nuremberg, a city in Germany entered world consciousness at the end of the Second World War when the city played host to an international tribunal set up by the allied powers to try the henchmen for the atrocities which the German government committed under Nazi rule, led by that beast of humanity Scoundrel Adolf Hitler. The trials lasted from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946 and was said to have established some rules of engagement and principles in international law. Last week another trial took place in Nuremberg. Some Nigerians of Igbo stock put a Nigerian official, former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu on trial, found him guilty and beat him mercilessly in their court. They did not bother about the niceties of law; nor were they concerned with the right of fair hearing or appeal as the legal courts would do.
Whereas the 1945-46 trials were properly constituted on principles of law, the IPOB court in Nuremberg was mob justice; the overzealous young men have promised to ‘deal with other politicians’ and leaders who mess with their fate in the ‘‘zoo called Nigeria.’’ Indeed, there is another video in circulation on social media purportedly depicting Nigeria’s incumbent Foreign Affairs Minister being physically assaulted by a mob in a foreign country. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the video just as I have not authenticated the one reported as that of Senator Kashamu Buruji being hit on the head by a young man on a train in the United Kingdom. Those young men were simply guilty of assault and battery. Yet, attack on politicians is not new nor is it restricted to Nigerian politicians.
Some politicians have lost their lives to public anger, sometimes misplaced anger. In the 2016 prelude to Brexit vote a pro-remain Member of Parliament Jo Cox was shot, stabbed and killed by a 52-year old constituent Thomas Mair. In 2011 American Congresswoman Gaby Gifford survived an assassination attempt orchestrated by a scoundrel who was opposed to her views. In 2008 an Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi flung his shoes at then President George Bush during a press briefing in Iraq as a sign of frustration. In Europe politicians are routinely pelted with tomatoes or raw eggs when the people are disenchanted with some ideas or what they stand for. Egging, the act of throwing eggs at people or property is common in practice as a way of protest.
In 1970, British PM Edward Heath’s face was hit by a rotten egg while campaigning for another term thrown at him by a young man. Such politicians as David Cameron, Helmut Kohl, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Prescott and some others have been pelted at one time in their careers. A look-alike of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo suffered serious physical assault on the streets of Paris because everyone thought he was the former president. Around 1979, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s helicopter was pelted in Aba when during election campaigns he promised to ban the sale of second hand clothes if elected. Memories of Nigeria-Biafra war were still raw and fresh and the sage had a dose of the venom of accumulated anger. In April 2018 some Nigerians protested against President Muhammadu Buhari in London when he arrived for a continuation of his treatment. The principle: Nigerians are now ‘internationalising’ protests.
Trial in Nuremberg! There is something scary about state officials being put on trial by ordinary citizens outside the country. This is different from being confronted by potential voters during election campaigns. Most Nigerians tend to find all political office holders guilty of crime, proven or not, because in their view politicians and judges are in cahoots on the boat of corruption and looting public funds. In their court no office holder can be guiltless. In a land where justice and equity are practised citizens would wait for such politicians at the ballot box. But the ballot box is NOT in the hands of citizens in Nigeria. It is in the hands of the man to be voted for. This is tragic and could lead to frustration being expressed in unorthodox methods.
However, there is a bigger problem in our hands. Nigerians are reacting in helplessness to the declining social and economic conditions in the country. If docility has been imposed on citizens at home the same cannot be said for Nigerians in the diaspora. Back at home political office holders surround themselves with armed security men paid for by taxpayers. Once abroad they lose that veneer of protection. And so, they are exposed to the elements. The western world exploited the resources of the African world and invested same on their infrastructure. On the other hand, African leaders stash billions of dollars in the economies of the advanced world. So, it is double jeopardy for the bereaved continent. When Nigerians abroad see politicians strutting the streets of Europe and America, they remember the empty treasuries of the motherland. Nuremberg therefore became a fitting venue to try and sentence the international criminals from Nigeria. Supposedly.
There is a lesson for the victim and the perpetrator of violence. Nigerians are taking accountability seriously and are ready to self-express if official channels are foreclosed. As for perpetrators of violence, let it be said that they do NOT have the right to assault or beat up anybody for any reason. It is tantamount to being accuser, prosecutor and judge in their cause. If we encourage self-help, we would be clearing the path to the full reign of anarchy. Which is the direction we should not go. Nigerians anywhere, whether at home or abroad, reserve the right to protest against perceived injustice. We must not stop them. If the boys in Nuremberg had confined themselves to protests perhaps the entire world would support them. We must therefore see the downside to banning or criminalising protests in Nigeria.
Finally, let us begin to take governance seriously and allow our institutions to work. Any government which twists institutions to dance to its song does more damage to the county than a hundred kidnappers. Institutions are designed to protect all stakeholders, in and out of power. But if we destroy them for the sake of selfish goals, there will be more Nuremberg trials in the months and years ahead.