Gowon’s stand – The Nation

  • Plateau killers should be tried in Jos, not Abuja

If the primary aim of the government is to secure the people so they can enjoy the bounty and welfare of the land, then the outcry for true federalism in the country must first address the hobgoblin of security.

This issue came to prominence when former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd) asserted that the suspects in the Plateau State killings should be investigated and prosecuted in Jos rather than in Abuja.

Underlying that call is the endorsement of the federal principle. He said since the offences were perpetrated in the state, it made no sense that they should get justice elsewhere. He said it by echoing the widespread suspicions of similar cases elsewhere in the country. He took grim view of the “past practice where suspects arrested were eventually taken to Abuja and eventually released.”

But the military is insisting on conveying the suspects to Abuja. Major-General Anthony Atolagbe, the commander of the Special Military Task Force code-named ‘Operation Safe Haven’ said Abuja was a better place to obtain justice for the presumed killers.

“We are moving them straight to Abuja because we don’t have the capacity to keep them,” said Major-General Atolagbe. “If we keep them here we will encounter the problem of people saying they want to see their relatives and bail them.” His point was that the local law in Plateau State was “too weak.” He said the Federal Government has more effective laws to try and convict the guilty.

The soldier may have a point, but it is not a sufficient reason. Hence the Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, has said that a new legislation will soon the signed to invigorate the laws. “The relevant bills to try perpetrators of the recent attacks on the Plateau will soon be signed into law,” said the governor to Gen. Gowon when the former head of state visited him in Jos. “We have reviewed adequate laws to prosecute the offenders in Jos.”

We cannot underrate the value in a democracy to try offenders, especially murderers, and deliver justice in the locale where the crime took place. It gives a sense of personal closure, a sort of catharsis of justice. They see the offenders lined up in court, questioned, either confess or deny the charges, the arguments fired off and the judge takes the matter to a scale and metes out verdicts.

That is the idea of justice. If all politics is local, this kind of justice, especially one in which over a hundred persons were snuffed out in wide swaths of communities, is also local.

This practice of taking suspects to Abuja is not acceptable to many because of the suspicion that some forces in the high command and in the political class coddle miscreants. This is bad for our country. Ordinarily, many would not have bothered whether the matter was taken to Abuja, but because of the refrain of Abuja being a shield rather than nemesis of the offenders, Nigerians like Gowon would not trust our leaders to deliver justice to the law breakers.

That is why a federal system works better than the unitarian propensities in the administration of justice. We have seen the case of Kwara where a gang of robbers who raided some banks and left a trail of slaughter are being herded to Abuja while the locals pine for justice at home. The same story happened in the melee in Ile-Ife between indigenes and settlers.

If Governor Lalong is signing a new law, it means other states ought to follow that path, so that the centre has no excuse to deliver justice in the wrong place.

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