“Nigerians hate the poor” – This often goes unsaid every day. It may come off as a poor generalisation, something ruthless and better left unsaid. It is something we turn blind and deaf to, because ‘every man for himself.’ But it is a sad reality because the Nigerian system (the justice system to be specific), is designed in a manner that money puts you above the law. If you don’t have the money, you can’t get anything done, and neither can you get the justice you want, nor deserve.
Before you continue, take a moment and read this: Justice forgotten http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21660143-shocking-number-pre-trial-prisoners-justice-forgotten
I visited the Kirikiri women’s prison in Apapa, Lagos, a couple of months ago and while I was impressed with the state of the prisons, it was hard not to be disappointed with our justice system. Inmates in green uniforms were those awaiting trial while inmates in blue were already convicted. The green outnumbered the blue disproportionately.
One thing most inmates had in common was that they had bail ranging from 20k- 150k, they were poor, unable to afford decent lawyers, and most family members were unwilling to pay. Some had been abandoned and forgotten by their ‘madams,’ who were probably trying to teach the girls a lesson. Yes, young girls who had come to Lagos to work as a house girl or sales girl found themselves abandoned in prison by the madam they had been entrusted with. Some just happened to fall into ‘one chance’ and were unable to settle the police officers. Some weren’t even sure of their charges. I’m not saying these people shouldn’t be punished for their crimes (if found to be guilty), but I’m saying we should take a look at a justice system where a majority of the prison inmates are from the working class, unable to afford legal services and therefore, justice.
Our justice system is quite a drawn out process, which is often to the disadvantage of the poor and to the advantage of the rich. According to Thisday , this is because it gets to a point that the trial will be unable to go on and a conviction becomes highly unlikely due to the effects of the long process (missing witnesses and perverted evidence). In the same article, you will find that a man was sentenced to 45 years for stealing a phone worth N50,000 while a former governor who stole billions of Naira got a far lesser sanction. A pension thief who stole 23 billion Naira was given the option of paying a fine of N750,000 or serve 2 years in prison- TheScoopNG and vanguard, and yet we have people in prison unable to pay N20,000 bail charge, people, abandoned in prison over the pettiest crimes and we have petty thieves being subjected to ‘jungle justice’, who never get to make it to a real court as they have been beaten and burnt alive by locals.
It is also evident from the way everyday people are handled by police officers. Police officers approach you according to the car you drive and the way you’re dressed. The way they greet the driver is different from the way they hail the owner of the jeep, seated in the backseat. The way they treat a ‘big man’ accused of a crime is different from the way they manhandle an ‘ordinary’ man.
“The process of detaining suspected criminals is similarly fraught, with the Nigerian legal framework granting police wide powers of arrest: all that is required is “reasonable suspicion” that an individual has committed or is about to commit a crime. As a result, there is evidence that police officers have regularly severely beaten, sexually assaulted, and shot to death citizens who failed to pay the bribes demanded of them.” – TheGlobalObservatory
The earlier we admit that our justice system is in shambles and only to the detriment of the poor and that this is as a result of our selfish and backwards thinking, the sooner we can come together, battle corruption collectively and drive change.
Feel free to join in on the conversation and remember that ‘A justice delayed is a justice denied.’
Also read: Newswatch
*In response to Sarah Adigba’s Nigerians Hate The Poor