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El-Zakzaky: Hurting memories of a massacre (II)

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  •Shi’ites: Heightening tension through processions


In this piece, MOJEED ALABI concludes his report on the violent crushing of hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise called ‘Shi’ites’

Lawal Ahmad, 25, just finished participating in the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Scheme and lives at Tundun Wada, Gyallesu Area of Zaria. He is a Muslim, but not a member of IMN. But he detests what he described as the excesses of the youth members of the Islamic group.

According to him, the presence of El-Zakyzaky in the neighbourhood is a mixed bag for the residents, saying apart from increased sales for shop owners, the constant harassment by members of the Movement constituted security threat.

He explained; “There were checkpoints mounted almost every kilometre in the neighbourhood and people are subjected to checks of all kinds. Commercial motorcyclists don’t always like to bring passengers to the area, and whenever they do, they drop us off long distance to our homes.

Ahmad, however, condemns the violent attack on the group, saying no soul created by God deserved such ‘inhuman’ treatment the members of the group had experienced.

In a similar development, Mrs. Funmilayo Olowookere, a Yoruba from southwestern part of Nigeria, is a Christian and member of The Apostolic Faith Church, Zaria. She is a cleaner with the ABU Teaching Hospital and was familiar with the activities of the IMN.

According to Olowookere, it is understandable that once or twice in a year, the IMN members embark on procession in the town, and on Fridays, they move from Gyallesu to Hussainiyya, during which some parts of the roads are blocked. She, however, said apart from the usual skirmishes with commuters, the group over the years had been known for its activities and the people plan their activities to avoid traffic they may cause on such days.

Mrs. Ziri Amala, the Women Ministries Director of the Northern Nigerian Union Conference of Seventh Day Adventist Church, who hails from Borno State, married to a man from Abia State, and lives in Zaria, does not see El-Zakyzaky and his organisation as threat to peace in Zaria,

Mrs. Amala said; “The interesting thing is that as long as you do not disturb them, they would always make a way for you to pass, but they have no respect for rules and regulations.

“However, I must say that we were not happy about the massacre. No human being with the faith of Christ in him will like bloodshed. But our prayer is that there should be no retaliation because the whole place now, I mean their prayer ground at the Polo Ground, has been completely destroyed and fenced off. But we are at peace now and we don’t pray for crisis anywhere in Nigeria again.”

Meanwhile, Suleiman Idris, a photographer, is one of those affected by the attack on the IMN as his business has been badly affected.

According to him, the situation had forced him to relocate from Gyallesu Area to an undisclosed location, saying he wasn’t sure he could ever make the kind of money he used to make through the organisation.

“I cannot disclose where I stay now because the soldiers are still everywhere looking for people to pounce on. But I feel the attack had more to it than just what we knew. The military must have been sent by some powerful people who might be feeling offended by the truths being preached by Sheik (El-Zakyzaky),” Suleiman told New Telegraph.

Kaduna State’s intervention

Following the massacre, the Government of Kaduna State immediately waded in, and through its Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency (KASUPDA), it completed the demolition and cleared the rubbles and debris at the various sites of the IMN.

Also, on January 11, 2016, deriving his power from Section 2 (1) of the Commission of Inquiry Law, Cap 34, Laws of Kaduna State, 1991, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai issued an order, creating the Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate both the immediate and remote causes of the massacre and recommend lasting solutions.

IMN declines participation at investigative panels

Relying on the condition that its leader, Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky, be set free before it could participate in the activities of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, the IMN leadership refused to take part, insisting that no one shaves the head of another man in his absence.

Investigations by New Telegraph revealed that the lead Counsel to the IMN, Mr. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who had sought permission to meet with the detained leader for adequate briefing before his representation before the Commission, was denied access to his client for many weeks, and so later opted out.

For similar reason, the group advanced  for pulling out from its participation at a probe panel set up by the National Human Rights Commission. The NHRC had set up the panel based on a petition by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, who had accused the IMN of attempting to assassinate him.

Inquiry Commission submits report

On April 26, 2016, the Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to Governor Nasir el-Rufai, giving its obsevations and recommendations.

The Commission’s report had read in part; “Considering the nature and organizational structure of the IMN, where the leader has the total control over the members, Sheikh Ibraheem EI-Zakzaky should be personally held responsible for all the acts of commission and omission of the entire membership of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in its clashes with the Nigerian Army for refusing to call his members to order when required to do so.

“The Commission is of the view that the use of excessive force by the Nigerian Army, which led to the heavy casualties recorded in the Cordon and Search Operation, is an act of commission for which the NA is directly responsible. The Commission, therefore, recommends that steps should immediately be taken to identify the members of the NA who participated in the killings of December 12th – 14th 2015 incident with a view to prosecuting them.”

It is important to note that the Commission faulted the Nigerian Army for what it described as its failure to observe its own Rule of Engagement, insisting that only the President is constitutionally empowered to determine the operational use of the Armed Forces, “but may, under general or specific directives, delegate his responsibility for day-to-day operational use.”

The report noted; “It shall be the duty of the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff, as the case may be, to comply with any directive given to them by the President under sub-section 1 of the Section. And in this Section, “Operational use of the Armed Forces” includes the operational use of the Armed Forces in Nigeria for the purpose of maintaining and securing public safety and public order.

“There is no evidence before the Commission that the order for the Cordon and Search Operation deploying members of the Armed Forces for the alleged purpose of maintaining and securing public safety and peace, was derived from any delegation of authority by the President and/or the Chief of Army Staff, as provided by these provisions. In addition, Section 218(1) and (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) vests power to determine the operational use of the Armed Forces of the Federation, in the President and the discretion to, by directions in writing, delegate such power to any member of the armed forces relating to the operational use of the armed forces. There was no evidence that there was the requisite delegation by the President to the Officer who issued the oral order for the deployment of the Officers and Men of the Nigerian Army (N.A) for the Cordon and Search operation.”

Court orders El-Zakyzaky’s release 

After almost one year of court sitting over the case filed by Ibraheem El-Zakyzaky through his Counsel, Mr. Femi Falana, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, December 2, 2016, ordered that the plaintiff be freed within 45 days.

Justice Kolawole had rejected the submission of the counsel to the State Security Service, Tijjani Gazali, that Mr. El-Zakzaky was kept in protective custody of the SSS, ruling that the decision to hold El-Zakyzaky and his wife, Zeenat, for their safety was not based on law.

“I have not been shown any incident report or any complaint lodged by residents around the neighbourhood that the applicant has become a nuisance to his neigbourhood,” said the judge, adding that the decision of the government to hold the applicant for so long amounted to great danger.

He cited the death of former leader of the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who reportedly died in police custody as an example, saying; “If the applicant dies in custody, which I do not pray for, it could result in many needless deaths.”

Justice Kolawole said the government should, within 45 days, release the applicant and his family to the police, who shall, within 24 hours, take them, guarded by escort, to a safe place. He added that the SSS should pay a fine of N25 million each to El-Zakzaky and his wife, making N50 million fine.

Kaduna State Government declares IMN a terrorist group

Rather than working to ensure that the concerned government institutions respect the order of the court, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, few days after the court order, released the White Paper on the report of the Commission of Inquiry and finally labelled IMN a terrorist group, banning its activities in the state.

The government also announced the takeover of all properties belonging to IMN and declared war against anyone who claims to be members of the group.

The White Paper acknowledges that the Nigerian Army abided by its Rules of Engagement and further observed that the Judicial Commission of Inquiry failed to take into account the years during which the activities of the IMN in Gyallesu had threatened peace and security; “thus for all intent and purpose, the IMN is an insurgent group and ought to be treated as such.”

When contacted, the Special Adviser to Governor el-Rufai on Media, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye, says the gazette declaring the IMN an unlawful society clearly cites the legal provisions on which the action is based. Adekeye insisted that no known law of the land was breached in the governor’s action.

Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s stand

Shortly after the military attack on IMN in 2014, many dignitaries across the country, including the incumbent Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai; the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari; Immediate past Caretaker Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmed Makarfi, among others, had paid condolence visit to El-Zakzaky in solidarity with the group.

Considering the governor’s current stance against the group, many, who spoke to New Telegraph on condition of anonymity, accused Mallam el-Rufai, of hypocrisy, saying when the governor needed votes, ahead of his gubernatorial ambition in 2015, he curried the group’s favour, forgetting the ‘danger’ it posed to the society.

When asked what could have happened to the governor’s relationship with the group within just one year in office, Adekeye deliberately refused to answer the question.

Perceived foreign influences on the crisis

Many people, including the Chairman of a Kaduna-based non-governmental organisation, Centrum Initiative for Development and Fundamental Rights Advocacy (CEDRA), Dr. John Danfulani, has identified the diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Iran as a possible factor fueling the IMN massacre in Nigeria.

The Sunni-Shi’ite crisis, which began at the moment of Prophet Muhammad’s death, was as a result of the divided opinions on who should lead Islam following the death of Muhammad. The Shi’ites, who today are in the minority among the Muslim population globally, held the belief that without sons surviving the founder of the religion, and without leaving a clear will, his closest male relative and his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, was to be the leader.

On the other hand, the Sunnis, who are in the majority and constituting more than 80 per cent of global Muslim population, believed that the caliphate should go to whoever would be best equipped politically to lead the religion. They eventually opted for Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr.

Though Abu Bakr was named the first caliphate, Ali also assumed the throne for 25 years after, but he was assassinated. His death, coupled with the massacre of his son, Hassan and his family, contributed significantly to the war of attrition between the Shi’ites and Sunnis, the two dominant Muslim factions, till date.

Therefore, like many others, Danfulani holds the belief that the standoff between the Sunni populated Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite populated Iran is already impacting the country, saying the crushing of the IMN members by the military might not be unconnected with an expression of Nigeria’s loyalty to Saudi Arabia.

At a media briefing held at the University of Lagos in 2016, Danfulani told New Telegraph, that IMN might be suffering the consequences of the crisis between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

This view may have been affirmed by the reported phone call to Nigeria’s President Mohammadu Buhari by the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani who was quoted by the IRNA, just two days after the incident, telling Buhari to ensure that “minor disputes must not be allowed to turn into deep differences.”

Rouhani was quoted thus; “Under such conditions that terrorism is a serious threat against many Muslim countries’ security, the Muslims need to unite and not permit trivial differences of opinion to lead to acute disputes, since safeguarding the Muslims’ lives is our major and public responsibility.

“The Islamic world is more than ever before in need of peace and peaceful resolution of its existing problems. We expect the Nigerian government to relieve the entire bereaved families and injured victims of that disaster and to issue strict orders to prevent the occurrence of any further unrests.”

On his part, President Buhari reportedly appreciated the effort of his Iranian counterpart, emphasizing that he realises his responsibility in safeguarding the lives of Nigerian Muslims.

“We will also do our best to restore security in our country and will act against those who have disturbed it,” Buhari reportedly told his counterpart.

However, investigations by New Telegraph revealed that the Federal Government had seen the phone call as interference in its local affairs. This belief may be reinforced by the government’s decision not to obey its own court order as regards the release El-Zakyzaky, against court order.

Muslim groups intervene

Though, text messages sent to the Secretary General of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, over the matter were not replied as at the time of filing this report, investigations by New Telegraph revealed the efforts of the leadership of the Islamic body to resolve the crisis amicably. However, New Telegraph learnt that the organisation had soft-pedalled when it saw signs of no regret from the Presidency.

Meanwhile, the President of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), an Islamic based non-governmental organisation, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, told New Telegraph that though it had rushed to condemn the actions of the government shortly after the crisis, he would prefer that a middle ground is reached between the warring factions.

According to Akintola, excesses in the name of religion such as blockade of roads and carrying of arms, among others, should not be tolerated by government, but at the same time, two wrongs can never make a right.

“So MURIC will appreciate that those concerned come to a round table to resolve all the contradictions and that laws of the land should be obeyed by parties involved,” Akintola said.

Activists, right groups react

Apart from condemning the massacre, the Human Rights Monitoring Agenda (HURMA) has also faulted the Federal Government’s disobedience of its own court order.

According to the Executive Director of the group, Comrade Isiak Buna, the disregard for court is a call for anarchy.

Buna said: “Whenever there is dispute, either between two individuals or between government and individual, it is only the court of law that has the final say, as a reliable forum to settle dispute in a Democratic environment where the rule of law prevails.

Buna said; “The present position of the Federal Government as regards the continued detention of Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky is not in line with democratic tenets. It is a complete violation of court order and can qualify as nothing, but contempt of court.

“So, as a human rights organisation that advocates the rule of law, the HURMA, without any reservation, enjoins the Federal Government to obey court order in order to protect the democratic integrity of the nation. A deliberate violation of such constitutional provision is, indeed, an act of corruption and does not befit a government praised by all in championing the fight against corruption.”

Similarly, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, described the killings of the IMN members by men of the Nigerian Army as a pogrom, saying there could be no basis for such dastardly act.

According to Ogunye, every known law on human rights forbids impunity, and that fundamental rights to life, liberty and freedom of associations are all rights guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution.

Jiti, however, cautions against lawlessness on the part of any individual organisation, but also warned security operatives against reckless use of arms, saying their primary responsibilities was first to protect the people, “and not to crush the same people.”

“It is still strange how just before our very eyes the Nigerian Army will descend on fellow Nigerians it is meant to protect. I want to believe, and very strongly too, that if the Chief of Army Staff had avoided the route occupied by IMN, it would not have demeaned the institution. In fact, the same Army could now approach the court to seek an order restraining such procession in future, and if that was now done, and the order, if granted, is now flouted, then the consequences could be meted.

“And these consequences cannot also be in a savagery way as we have witnessed, but in a more civil and orderly way. This is democracy, for God’s sake. I don’t think we need to be reminded of Decree 4 of 1984 which granted absolute power of arrest to the military.”

It must also be noted that similar position was held by the National Human Rights Commission, an agency of the Federal Government, which after it concluded its findings on the matter, advised the warring factions and particularly the Federal Government on ways to achieve everlasting peace.

According to an official of the agency, who craved anonymity, the NHRC had written the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, advising it to respect the order of the Federal High Court, which ordered El-Zakyzaky’s release or appeal the ruling.

“But till date, the Minister has neither communicated us on his intention to obey the order nor appealed the ruling. We have not also seen in practice the implementation of other contents of our recommendations, and this to a large extent, is an embarrassment to the country.”

Amnesty International’s position

In a similar development, the Amnesty International, in its report of investigations carried out on the matter, identified excesses on the part of IMN, but condemned the excessive force used by the military to quell the presumed provocation.

The report by the group states in part; “It is not clear why the army launched such a “military operation” in response to a law and order situation which could and should have been dealt with by the police, and why the military resorted to using live fire against mostly unarmed protesters without any attempt to use non-lethal crowd-control means. The Kaduna State Police Commissioner told Amnesty International he had no information about the incident, which he said had been a “purely military matter.”

“All available information, including consistent accounts from witnesses and survivors from the confrontations at the two locations investigated by Amnesty International, indicates that the military used unlawful and excessive force against IMN supporters, unlawfully killing hundreds of unarmed men and women who posed no threat to their lives or to the lives of others.”

El-Zakyzaky’s brother speaks

The immediate younger brother to El-Zakyzaky, who lives in Jushi Area of the ancient Zaria City, Mallam Badamosi Yako, was moved to tears when narrating his experience during his last visit to his brother in detention, saying the sect’s leader has lost an eye and that the other one requires urgent surgery.

He said after much pressure, the security operatives now allow only blood relations of El-Zakyzaky to see him, and that he goes to Abuja to see him once in a while, adding that the experience of his brother in detention isn’t appealing to encourage constant visit.

He said: “What is the need in visiting someone whose condition has degenerated, yet you cannot help. He was shot in the eye and the only one that he tries to use is even in need of surgery. Yet, the security won’t allow him to see doctors.

“The case of his wife is worse; she still has a bullet stuck to her spinal cord which has not been removed to avoid paralysis. All other bullets are removed, but she is in pains. It is a serious problem, but we believe God will never forsake his own people. We call on Nigerians and international communities to prevail on President Muhammadu Buhari to free my brother. What else do they want? Our sister was burnt alive, our mother’s grave was desecrated and many other atrocities were committed just because of right of way.”

Palace declines comment

On a visit to the Palace of the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, the Chief Protocol and Information Officer, Alhaji Abubakar Ladan, said it was a matter strictly between the Military and the IMN members and so would not be interested in making any comment.

Any likely retaliation from IMN?

Abdullahi Danladi is a Professor of Polymer Composite and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Physical Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University. He is a personal driver to El-Zakyzaky and one of the leaders of thought of the Islamic organisation in Nigeria.

Danladi also has his two children – Mohammed Abdullahi Danladi (eldest son) and a Masters student in Project Management at ABU, and his second son, Ibrahim Abdullahi Danladi of the International Relations Department in ABU, languishing in detention in the last two years.

But regardless of the situation, he does not believe, and said emphatically that IMN does not believe in violence “and we will never retaliate violently.”

He said: “No one fights the course of Allah for Him, because He knows all. But I can assure you that someday, somewhere; the perpetrators of this heinous crime will pay for it. But that our members will carry weapons is far from our ways of life.”

Danladi says the new twist of events whereby the IMN is being attributed to violence is strange, saying the same El-Zakyzaky was once bestowed with the Kaduna State Man of Peace Award by former Governor Ahmed Makarfi.

He, however, agreed that some youth members of the group have been found to carry items such as knives, catapults and machetes, saying their actions could not be dissociated from the constant attacks the organisation receives from the security agents.

Security threats against New Telegraph’s reporter

Following the proscription order placed on IMN by the Kaduna State Government, it is not only the perceived IMN members that are trailed in Kaduna, but also anyone with any link with the group. Our correspondent (this writer), who visited the state in pursuit of the story was also not spared.

On Wednesday, July 19, 2017 our reporter visited all the three scenes of the violence, including the Hussainiya, Gyallesu and film village, but on returning to his hideout, one of his fixers called around 12 midnight to announce a raid on the people, asking for the reporter who visited during the day.

To further confirm the information, by 9a.m. the following day, Thursday July 20, 2017 the military was on hand at the Hussainiya ground to supervise bricklayers who were busy constructing fence around the whole land space.

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Insight

Delta Steel: Prostate from mismanagement

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CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

 

Despite efforts to revive it and restart production of steel for local and export purposes, the multibillion naira Delta Steel Company (DSC) has remained comatose, writes YEKEEN AKINWALE, who visited the firm situated at Owvian, Aladja town, Delta State, in this concluding part

 

“When that place was flourishing, they said it was federal character; northerners were there, southerners were there, but when it was run aground, people accused us of folding our arms and being naive. We say no, before people accuse us again.” The case is still ongoing.

 

The communities want the court to issue an order restraining Premium Steel from continuing to take over the assets of Delta Steel without a valid sale and/or transfer of the company. Short-changed by AMCON and Premium Steel and mines management Former workers who worked at the plant between 2005 and 2012 when Global Infrastructure Company unsuccessfully managed it are demanding the payment of their entitlements.

 

 

The new investors will know no peace, they have vowed, until their debts are defrayed. At the time the new investors took over from AMCON in April 2015, the company had a backlog of seven-year unpaid salaries, which the workers say was calculated to be N3.2 billion – but AMCON says the amount is far less: N2.1 billion.

 

Other liabilities, according to findings, are indebtedness to contractors put at N2.5 billion, indebtedness to foreign suppliers placed at $4.4 billion and liabilities to statutory bodies and corporate creditors such as Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which alone make up N12 billion.

 

AMCON, it was gathered, has settled some of these liabilities; particularly debts owed the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), which recently restored electricity to the plant after seven years of darkness. The workers argue that the difference of N1.1 billion was due to the omission of some names and figures in the report submitted by the consultant hired to compute their entitlements.

 

They accuse AMCON of short-changing them despite their years of sacrifice at the company. Peace Oputu, chairman of Iron  and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSSAN), reveals that efforts to make AMCON adjust the figure to N3.2 billion were fruitless.

 

 

 

“We (the workers) gathered ourselves and met with AMCON. We talked but the meeting was fruitless because they didn’t agree to our terms,” says Oputu, disappointed in how workers have been treated by the Federal Government after the collapse of the steel company.

 

“They calculated certain amount, N2.1 billion as what is owed DSC workers, but we have EDP that takes care of all expenditures and all the money that comes in for the company. “When we met with the committee set up by Delta State government, we made it very clear to them that our money is much more than that.

 

“Then we calculated the money with the EDP, and came out with N3.2 billion. This was what we took to AMCON in Lagos. AMCON said their own was just to acquire; they had paid the debts owed by the company and as a result, they didn’t have any other thing to give us. “They were just going to part with N600 million, representing 22.5 per cent of the N3.2 billion. So, the meeting was deadlocked because we were not happy.”

While waiting for their entitlements, ICIR gathered that about 500 retired staff of the steel company died in the 13 years that followed, that is 2005 till date.

 

This explains why, when AMCON came to disburse the N600 million in March 2017, those still alive ignored the directive of Oputu-led ISSSAN and Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) not to collect the money. Though it was obvious that they had been underpaid, the workers, who were dying of hunger and sundry illnesses, could not resist the temptation of the AMCON payment.

 

“Hunger is there, you cannot tell anybody not to collect the money. We the union came out and instructed them that nobody should go out to receive it but the next day people went out. You can imagine the level of poverty among our people,” laments Oputu. But ISSSAN and SEWUN are insisting on the payment of 100 per cent allegedly agreed by the unions and AMCON, through its receiver/manager. They allege that AMCON acted without consulting them in the calculation and payment of “25 per cent of their total entitlements”.

 

Adewale Okeshola, general secretary of ISSSAN, laments that AMCON reneged on the agreements reached at the meeting with its receiver/manager. “We later gathered that AMCON through the receiver/manager was holding meetings with some disgruntled elements within the workforce in DSC who paraded themselves as seeking the interest of the workers who have suffered delay in the payment of their salaries for over five years now,” he says.

 

“These groups, we gathered, entered into an unholy alliance with the management to short-change the workers in the payment of their terminal benefits. After a protracted wait, we were shocked that the workers had been paid 25 per cent of their entitlements as final payment.

 

“This is not only a far cry from the agreement reached between the two unions and the receiver/ manager appointed by AMCON, but also unacceptable. We want to say that SEWUN and ISSSAN were not carried along in this decision.

 

We have made several entreaties through correspondences to the concerned authorities to rescind this dehumanising decision and honour every agreement both parties reached for the interest of peace and harmony. Up till now, our efforts have fallen on deaf ears, thereby creating tension and restiveness by workers.” Efforts by the state government to intervene have yielded only little result, at least not in assuaging the worries of the aggrieved former workers.

 

A committee on Delta Steel Company Affairs set up by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and headed by Moses Odibo, wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari requesting N5 billion bailout for AMCON to offset the salaries and other indebtedness so that the company’s new owners could resume produc-tion in November 2016.

 

The amount requested was not released. Rather, the President, it was learnt, referred the letter to AMCON to defray the debt since that is its statutory responsibility.

 

A breakdown of the sought N 5billion is as follows: N3.2 billion for staff salaries, N1 billion as part payment of N7.5 billion indebtedness to PHCN/BEDC, N198.7 million owed Nigerian Gas, N500 million for general supplies and N58 million to offset scrap supplies.

 

Despite these calculations, particularly the debt to workers, AMCON paid only 25 per cent of N2.1 billion that it said was the workers’ entitlement.

 

The workers argue that from the time when the Federal Government took over the company from Global Infrastructure Company till date, no letter was given to any staff regarding disengagement, retirement or any related matter. “Invariably, the government is not coming closer to us and we don’t know what is happening with this company for now,” laments Oputu.

 

“My members are working there because what gets to your mouth gets to your stomach. My people are dying in the township there. We lost minimum of three people every day.

When the new investors came in, they made several publications that they were going to turn Delta Steel Company around, promising to spend billions of dollars. “But today, that is not what we are seeing. If they don’t live on the account of the school; they won’t survive.

 

The proceeds from the schools are what they use to run the plant and one of the schools, school II, is grounded.

 

“We were over 5,000 when the company was working well, but we were reduced to almost 2,000 when Global Steel came in. Several people have died, more than 700 since 2011.” Jude Nwauzor, manager, Corporate Affairs of AMCON, did not respond to questions on the allegation of short-changing the former workers.

 

While he promised to get back, he referred the journalist to Joseph Nwobike, AMCON Receiver/ Manager for the company. In an SMS, Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said he would not respond to gossips and unfounded allegations.

 

“Thank you for contacting me. I really do not respond to gossips and unfounded allegations. The records are there for all to see,” he says. But when he was further asked to make the record available by this journalist, he went mum.

 

AMCON, though, says it ensured that all verified former workers who were eligible and also participated in the agency’s verification exercise were fully paid directly. Following their inability to liquidate the debts they owed several banks, AMCON took over the assets and undertakings of Delta Steel Company Plc (DSC)/Global Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (GINL) and appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ajibola Aribisala, as the receiver/ manager of the company.

 

However, in 2015, AMCON replaced Aribisala with Nwobike, who subsequently engaged the services of an audit firm to carry out a verification of the former staff. “At the exercise, only those who were staff of DSC/GINL at the time of the take-over by AMCON were audited,” AMCON says in the report.

 

“At the conclusion of the exercise, Nwobike engaged the representatives of the staff – an engagement that led to an agreement to accept as full and final settlement of their outstanding salaries and gratuities, a percentage of the verified sums.” It was, however, gathered that although the percentage agreed to be paid was below the workers’ expectation, AMCON says the arrangement was the best in the circumstance, seeing that DSC/GINL was insolvent.

 

 

According to AMCON, over 1,600 staff were screened and paid in the exercise, which lasted between March 13 and 31, 2017. Hunger, sickness, deaths…the plights of ex-workers “My wife dey house now, to eat dey hard us; na so so quarrel. I don’t know where to start from and I get seven children.”

 

That is the lamentation of Francis Agbonkaro, who worked at the plant as a plumber for 25 years. With three university graduates and four undergraduates and a wife to cater to, life has not been easy for him since his retirement in 2005 from the company without the payment of his benefits.

 

The whole family, he reveals, lives on the petty trade run by his wife in the Steel Camp – the residential quarters constructed for staff of the company. “Na my wife just dey do small small thing wey we take dey survive. I get seven children. Three graduate, four no graduate, dem don already finish secondary school because no money to sponsor them. I no fit calculate how much dem owe me,” he says. But he is happy despite his poor condition of living because several of his colleagues who worked at the plant have died of hunger and treatable ailments.

 

“Population wey don die, dem no dey fit talk that one. I even fit say the population wey die dem plenty pass people wey dey alive. Some house dey here, the husband die, the wife die,” Agbonkaro continues in Pidgin, apparent signs of poverty all over him. Still, he can be said to be lucky. His colleagues, Salami Omokha and Osifo Mathew, are already cursing the day they joined the steel company – they have lost their sights due to years of exposure to high temperature without protective gears as con-casters at the plant. Omokha, who also retired from the company in 2005, was a melter of iron ore.

 

“Melting has to do with converting iron ore, which has been reduced to direct iron, and then you convert them to liquid steel, you convert them to any grade of steel you want,” he explains. Before iron ore can be converted, the melter must attain the temperature of about 1740 degree centigrade.

 

That, Omokha says, was usually done by him and others in that section “and not that you have the safety devices to look at those things”. “Those are the things we looked at and today now we are having the adverse effects; we cannot see.”

 

Trained in Germany and Italy for iron ore melting, he says 90 per cent of those that worked there “have this problem I’m having now; the problem of sight”. “I went to Germany and Italy in 1980 and 1981 where I was trained as an electro handler, melter, and caster. I trained many people on the job when I returned, and many of them today are happy to identify with us now that we gave them good training.”

 

Life after retirement has not been rosy, as according to him, “the situation after retirement is hopeless”. “We are surviving through charity, particularly from friends who are better placed. My children are not grown up yet; even the ones that have graduated have no jobs. Our wives are the ones jumping from places to places, converting whatever they have to money. We are also hoping for a better tomorrow whether the Federal Government will remember us.

 

“We are not getting our retirement benefits. I’m in my condition now, the plant is also in its own condition; we don’t know who to speak for who. Whether the plant is to speak for me, because the plant is also in the same condition in which I am now; the plant is sick. “I wish the Federal Government can have a little rethink and come back to that place to see exactly what they have there. They should not allow it go fallow the way it is now. People are there now but nothing meaningful is coming out of there. It is like the government is not taking the issue of Delta Steel Company seriously.”

 

When reminded that the plant had been handed over to a pri-  vate investor, he asks: “How can you give the company to a private investor without following up, without knowing its profile and without know what they are doing there? “The government is weak in this area.

 

There are so many of their projects that are abandoned. Come to where we are residing in Township, schools have been abandoned, taken over by weeds. It is a nonchalant attitude by the government.” On whether the Premium Steel and Mines Limited has the capacity to transform the moribund plant, Salami retorts: “Those are not steel makers; if they are still makers we will know. The same government that allowed them in is the same government that owes us.

 

“My health challenges are numerous; one, I cannot see far objects. Doctors told me that there are cataracts in my eyes and these are the manifestations of areas where we worked. Again, the pains are there all over. Many of the people that worked with us have long died. “Government should live up to its responsibility and pay us our money, our entitlements, so that we can also straighten our heads and maybe we can live longer. With better treatment, nobody will know that you are sick; meaning that there is a solution to your problem. We have problems and the solution is there; only that we cannot afford it.”

 

Of the trio, Osifo Mathew is the worst hit; he has been suffering from stroke and has lost his sight. With his eyes wide opened though laced with mucous to suggest there are problems with them, Mathew could not recognise his friends. Twenty-five years of exposure to high temperature as a con-caster at the steel company is responsible for his battle with glaucoma. With such debilitating health condition, he is also not paid his entitlements after retirement from the company. Looking straight at this reporter as if he could actually see him, he says, “I worked at con-cast. We started the steel company and I was retired in 2005.

 

But up till now, I have not collected my entitlements. I have problem with my eyes. In fact, when the eye problem started, I was first affected by stroke. “The eyes have been bad for the past four years.

 

They said they cannot operate it because it is glaucoma. “They recommended drugs and eye drop. I can see just faintly. The last eye drop I bought was N9,000 and used it for two weeks.” Osifo makes one final plea to the journalist: “I want government to pay my money so that I can treat myself. As you are talking to me now, I’m just looking at you like a film. I’m not seeing you; I can’t describe the shirt you are wearing.”

•Akinwale is a snr investigative reporter, ICIR, Abuja

 

CONCLUDED

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Delta Steel Company: Dashed hope of a nation

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Sick workers, comatose firm, helpless stakeholders

Two years after the Federal Government handed over the Delta Steel Company (DSC) to Premium Steel and Mines Company Limited – a consortium of private investors – to revive the company and start production of steel for local and export purposes, the multibillion-naira outfit is yet to take off. YEKEEN AKINWALE, who visited the company situated at Owvian, Aladja town, Delta State, finds out that the company is still grappling with crises which look intractable

 

“Warri no dey carry last, na wetin we dey always talk, but for this Delta Steel Company matter, we don carry last,” quips Justice Iyasere, who looks towards the massive structure of the steel company with disappointment clearly etched on his face.

Although Iyasere, a community leader and local government chairman aspirant in Udu Local Government, is not one to give in to pessimism, he admits that it will take more actions than precepts to get the company running again – especially in the face of unending crises ranging from war by ex-workers, to huge debts to suppliers and threats from other interest groups.

Years of politicking, mismanagement and lack of interest by the Federal Government, he says, led to the collapse of what was once the pride of Delta State. If it were alive and running, Nigeria’s reliance on imported steel and aluminium products ought to have significantly reduced.

Its sales to Premium Steel and Mines Limited under the Federal Government’s privatisation programme, besides being opaque, is already a subject of litigation – communities hosting the company in Udu have instituted a law suit against Federal Government and Premium Steel and Mines Limited, to contest the sale.

At the moment, Nigeria spends N887 billion (about $4.5 billion) annually to import 25 million tons of steel and aluminium products. This is not going to end soon except steel plants such as DSC start producing steel locally.

In 1980, when the plant was established and inaugurated under the leadership of Fred Aghogho Brume, pioneer general manager, it was designed to produce one million tons of liquid steel per year. It never attained this maximum production output. Its best performance was in 1983, when it produced 500,000 tons. Since then, the plant has been aground.

“In 1985, the highest steel production a day was 23 heats in the whole of Africa and that year, Delta Steel was producing 21,” says Sam Agberhiere, one of its pioneer staff.

“If government is actually serious about steel making, by now we should have been one of the leading countries in the business. But the reverse is the case.”

From conception, DSC was designed to place Nigeria in the comity of manufacturing countries, particularly giving it an edge in the automobile sector. The Foundry Section, which earlier manufactured brake discs, drums and other parts for Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), Kaduna, has long been shut down.

“PAN in Kaduna was making order in 2002, 2003 and 2004. From here we made brake drums, engine blocks and other accessories in good quality,” says a former staff of the company who did not want to be named because of a running battle with the new management over unpaid entitlements.

The Phase II of the plant, designed to manufacture flat sheets for production of car bodies such as bonnets, car doors, roofs and booths, never took off. The natives who donated the land to government for the company to build the Phase II have reclaimed it.

“In one word, I’d say what killed DSCL is politics. They played politics with the plant. That’s why we have found ourselves where we are today. Warri don carry last here,” Iyasere adds.

Robinson Akpodovhan, retired manager, Shipping and Logistics at the plant, would also not spare government of blame. He says government did not effectively monitor the company.

“You cannot rule out the hands of government from the failure of the company,” he says. “Ajaokuta is over 40 years now and still grappling with construction, and it is also owned by the government.”

Truly, a desolate edifice of the company sandwiched by bush says much about its years of misfortune. Before now, the company supplied billets to Jos Steel Rolling Mill, Katsina Rolling and Oshogbo Rolling Mill. All three rolling mills are also dead.

 

Haunted by ex-workers, heavy debts, unseen forces…the face of a deserted plant

With a gun-wielding soldier and other private security guards manning the gate, a visitor without prior appointment will not have his way in. “Gaining access to the plant is not an easy task; you have to come back in two weeks’ time,” a security guard tells this journalist.

An insider says the new management of the company is haunted by aggrieved former workers who have vowed never to allow operation in the plant except their entitlements are paid. So, the main gate is under tight security against any unforeseen invasion by former workers. But its former owners, Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, is also laying claim to the company and indeed pressing to take it over.

 

Save for a few employees working on an excavation across the main gate of the company, there is actually no movement of heavy duty trucks that could suggest any activity going on in the company. No deafening sounds of iron casting coming from the plant or the razzmatazz that characterises a steel company.
It wears an old look, all the welcome signposts along the dual carriageway erected by the new management notwithstanding. Keen visitors get the impression of a company not working right from the corridor of the same highway.
The road was constructed purposely to connect the steel plant to the Warri Port, in order to enhance easy evacuation of finished iron products. But the road is not only deserted; it is dilapidated.
A trailer park a few kilometres away from the main entrance of the company that once served as the assembly point for heavy-duty trucks taking finished products is long gone; it has been taken over by bushes; no ancillary business along the road is visible. Business life of the area apparently died with the steel plant.
“As an A-Level student of Federal Government Warri, we were taken to DSCL on excursion; the noise there was deafening – noise of steel production and presence of heavy-duty trucks waiting to evacuate iron products such as iron rods, billets and other products were sights to behold,” recounts Onwuka John, a resident of Owvian.
“In those days, oil workers were resigning. I saw them join the steel sector. Many resigned from Shell to join Delta Steel because everything about the company was too attractive for anyone not to eye its workforce; housing estate, schools, football team and even hospital were owned by the company.
“No company impacted the lives of the Deltans like the steel company, but all that is history now,” he adds.
“It was operating three shifts and you need to see staff buses conveying workers from Steel Town for their shifts to the company. But now, the plant is just like a ghost town.”
The units within – harbour, Direct Reduction (DR) plant and the pellet plant, Lime Plant, Rolling Mill, Electric Air Furnace, and the Continuous Caster – are littered with wreckage and waste, while other auxiliary units of the plant such as the foundry, electrical and mechanical maintenance workshops and water supply system, have all been overtaken by elephant grasses.
Creating an impression of work in progress, however, are a few workers here and there strapping their safety helmets and putting on some dusty factory boots. But there is arguably no steel processing going on in the company.
Waiting for the promised facelift by the new owners, Premium Steel and Mines Limited, the brownish rusty bodies of the equipment and the broken-down or abandoned machines all over the place are relics of a dead giant.
In March 2017, a group of investors from the United States of America and Morocco were reported to have visited the plant, proposing a N600 billion investment to help revamp it – an indication that the new owners too might be in need of financial muscle to run the plant, like their predecessor, Global Infrastructure, which failed to turn it around.
But Victor German, general manager, Government and Community Affairs at the company, denies any such proposal from any investor. He says the Indian investors have both financial and technical abilities to operate the company.
This claim is already being contested. Ebhaleme Pius, a former employee of the company who worked there when it was sold to Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, says the management of Premium Steel and Mines, under the leadership of Prasanta Mishra, lacks not only the technical knowhow and financial muscle to run it successfully but also has no record of steel making.
“Those are not steel makers,” says Pius. “That’s why they are yet to manufacture a pin for the past two years. They cannot manufacture anything there because they don’t have experience in steel making.”
When its new owners took over in 2015, they promised to revive the comatose steel plant with N370 billion. Back then, with an established elaborate plan for the company’s revival with N70 billion in new investments in the first phase and N300 billion in the further phases, it looked like the company was going to have a new lease of life.
German admits that Delta Steel Company, as it is still called by the locals despite change of ownership and nomenclature, is still haunted by many known fears from disenchanted former workers who have vowed never to allow new investors take over the company until the N3.2 billion due to them is paid.
The workers are insisting that all industrial issues be settled, especially backlog of salaries and allowances, before the company can operate. German also confirms that the plant has been bogged down by demands of the former workers. “We met some rigid situations,” he says.
The basic reason the company has not resumed operations, according to him, is the delay in bringing the former workers on board.
“These former workers are waiting, but these issues of liabilities are also there. We have about 100 of them working with us now,” he says.“What we have been doing is trying to meet the demands of the former workers; those who worked with Global Infrastructure. You don’t just come and start work. They are asking for the payment of debts owed the workers.”
According to German, who is also a gas engineer, the management of the company is almost done with the resuscitation of its rolling mill, after which other sectors such as Steel Melting Shop (SMS) would be revamped. But there are arguably no signs that the mill will start work anytime soon.
“We are resuscitating the rolling mill, we are going to buy billets or get them from outside the country,” he adds.
Pius says the steel plant management will not succeed by revamping the rolling mill first because “Delta Steel Company is an integrated plant”.
“You can’t revive the rolling mill that ought to come last in the line of production first. It must be the last stage after they might have revived units like SMS and others. They can’t operate that plant; it is not a rolling mill.”
He alleges that the Indian investors have different plans for the plant. “They want to convert the building to a rice depot or a hotel,” he says. “You know they are Vaswani Brothers and we know their history in this country. They converted Volkswagen to rice depot.”
The payment of some debts by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in April what was needed for the management of Premium Steel to gain access to the plant and commence its resuscitation.
“We started that April this year and we have gone far. We are almost through with the rolling mill. One hundred and sixty workers are going to be employed for the rolling mills when it is operational,” says despite all these commitments, the management of the company still has a lot of bridges to cross. A case before a Federal High Court, Warri Judicial Division, by Udu community, might be a major huddle to cross.
The host community says the details of the transaction between PSML and Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), which gave the company to the new investors, was not made open.
“We do not know the extent of purchase; we do not know what AMCON sold and what they didn’t,” says Sam Odibo (Otota), Prime Minister of Udu Kingdom.
The communities claim they are stakeholders, having been allotted 22 million ordinary shares in the company, representing 10 per cent of its total shares at its privatisation.
Part of their complaint, according to Odibe, is that the Federal Government has continued to shut them out in the privatisation process while dealing with the assets of Delta Steel.
“When BPE concessioned the company some years back, the community did not even know that they had some percentage to be paid because the Indian company, Global, ran the place solo,” he says.
“We say no; we want to know what they sold to you because AMCON sold what was used to borrow money from the bank. Did they reserve anything for the community or is it that they sold everything in spite of huge expanse of land the Federal Government took from us in the name of national interest. But we believe that the Federal Government would not be stupid to sell everything off.”
Before heading for court, the host communities said their efforts to get both the BPE and the AGF to account for the privatisation process were shrugged off. Now, they want the court to declare that they are entitled to 22,000,000 ordinary shares, representing 10 per cent of the total shares of Delta Steel Company, and that both the BPE and the AGF have no right, power or authority whatsoever to sell or transfer to Premium Steel either directly or through any of the agents of the Federal Government, more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel.
The court, they argue, should also declare any purported sale and/or transfer of more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel to Premium Steel by the Federal Government, null and void.
“AMCON is done on the matter; they are not talking to us, same way nobody talked to us in the previous deal that allowed those Indians to run the place aground,” says Odibe.

•Akinwale is a snr investigative reporter, ICIR, Abuja

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Suicide law: When the dead is guilty

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Stigma, criminalisation not deterring suicide

JOHN CHIKEZIE x-rays prevalent cases of suicide in the country and blames the law for the upsurge

 

Stories of people committing suicide have now become an end to a means among the young and the middleaged in the country, especially in a city like Lagos where the hustle and bustle have tremendous effects on the mental state of residents. In 2017, the numerous shocking and alarming media reports of people taking their own lives appeared to have created an awareness in the mind of every Nigerian but what most folks didn’t know is that attempting to kill oneself is illegal and an offence against the state.

The alarm was raised when the sad and disturbing case of a 33-year-old medical doctor, Allwell Orji, who jumped into the lagoon from the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge, was reported on March 19, 2017. The deceased, who was being driven by his driver in a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) with registration number LND 476 EE about 4:50p.m., was receiving a call when he suddenly asked his driver to park. According to the driver, the doctor asked him to pull over, came out of the vehicle and jumped into the lagoon.

His body was recovered two days later. But there was uproar on social media when a 51-year-old textile dealer at Balogun Market, Titilayo Momoh, was arraigned before an Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court on April 24, 2017 for attempting to jump into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge. Momoh, who pleaded not guilty, was arraigned on a charge of attempting to commit suicide.

The prosecutor, Kehinde Omisakin, said that the accused committed the offence on March 24 about 10a.m. contrary to Section 233 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015. Omisakin said the businesswoman was prevented by security operatives from taking her own life. It was further learnt that the accused had been having sleepless nights since she was allegedly swindled of N18.7 million by a Bureau-de-Change operator sometime in 2015. However, upon her arrest, Momoh pleaded with the Lagos State government to pardon her actions on the claim that the weight of her debt pushed her into the act.

Although Momoh was granted bail by Chief Magistrate A. T. Elias in the sum of N500,000 with two responsible sureties in like sum, government later withdrew the case from the court. The judge directed that the woman be taken to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

Momoh’s attempted suicide and her subsequent arraignment brought to light Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, which stipulates that any person who attempts to kill himself is liable to imprisonment for one year, as many people were not even aware that such a law exists.

Looking into the implication of the suicide law as against successful suicides, is a pathetic story of a 42-year-old wielder, Wasiu Alowonle, who killed himself by jumping off a Lagos courtroom window on December 6, 2017; simply out of frustration.

Alowonle was accused of stealing an iron rod worth N40,000 and arraigned before Mrs. O. I. Raji of an Ogba Chief Magistrates’ Court. The prosecuting officer, Yumi Egunjobi, said the deceased was earlier arraigned on October 16 on a one-count charge of stealing and had been in custody at Kirikiri Prisons.

Egunjobi said the deceased was arraigned on December 6 for his trial to commence but no one could explain what made him jump off the window. However, a security guard, who witnessed the incident and pleaded anonymity, told New Telegraph that the deceased was manipulated by a spiritual force to commit suicide as he was already looking pale and frustrated when he was brought in by prison warders for trial. He said: “Although people claimed he killed himself out of frustration from prison officials’ treatment.

But I cannot believe that the man was in his right senses because it sounds ridiculous to say that it was an attempt to escape through a three-storey. Escape from a tall building through the window; that is impossible! “I believe that he was compelled by a spiritual force to kill himself. His action was not ordinary especially for someone who has been locked up in Kirikiri for months. He was wearing a white T-shirt, written ‘Fly Emirate,’ and a pair of blue jeans when he was led into the witness box for trial. “But for one reason or the other, the magistrate stood down the matter. He left the box and sat with other defendants on the front row of the court, close to the window.

“I was told he was meant to pay N40,000 to the man he allegedly stole from. But barely a few minutes after the next case was announced, the deceased pushed the other defendant beside him and ran towards the window.

“Before the prison guards could grab him, he had already jumped off and landed on the floor with his head. He died on the spot because his head was badly smashed while his right hand was fractured.” Hence, the worrisome question stuttering on the lips of everyone was what would have been Alowole’s punishment had he survived the suicide attempt?

 

Would the prosecutor have amended the previous charge to accommodate his attempted suicide? Or would he be re-arraigned on a fresh count of suicide? Another related incident is the case of a 31-year-old man, Hammed Olojo, who was arrested by the police on August 27, 2017 while attempting to jump into the Lagos lagoon in a bid to commit suicide but was quickly restrained. Olojo was prevented from taking his own life and charged before an Ebute Metta Magistrates’ Court, Lagos.

The prosecuting officer, Kehinde Olatunde, said Olojo, who pleaded not guilty, was charged on a one-count charge of attempted suicide contrary to Section 235 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.

He was also granted bail by Magistrate O. O. A. Fowowe-Erusiafe in the sum of N50,000 with two sureties in like sum and the matter was thereafter adjourned till November 16, 2017 for mention.

 

Late last year, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, directed the prosecution of a member of staff of China Construction Company of Nigeria Limited (CCCN), Mr. Folarin Odukoya, for attempted suicide. Odukoya allegedly attempted to take his own life about 11p.m. on December 17 by jumping into the lagoon near the Ebute Ero Jetty but was rescued by divers and handed over to the Ebute Ero Divisional Police.

 

However, when interrogated, Odukoya claimed he decided to kill himself because his employer allegedly refused to issue him a document he believed would augment his career. Nigeria, despite being ranked as sixth happiest country in Africa and 103rd in the world on March 20, 2017, according to World Happiness Report 2017, has witnessed more suicides than happy endings.

The giant of Africa, well known for its agility in business and perseverance despite economic hardship, recorded a large number of shocking attempted and completed suicides in 2017 than any other year since its history. However, according to a report made available by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations, Nigerians were ranked sixth happiest people in Africa despite the country’s challenging economic recession.

According to the SDSN Director and Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, the happy countries refer to those with a healthy balance of prosperity in terms of social capital; like acquiring a high degree of trust in the society, low inequality measure and confidence in the government.

 

According to Sachs, the rankings of happiest countries are based on six essential factors such as per capital gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

 

Unfortunately, such happy records soon became a pale shadow when Nigeria, from being one of the happiest people, sunk into the rank of the most depressed country in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports on April 7, 2017. Barely a month after ranking as one of the happiest on earth, WHO arrived at a conclusion that Nigeria has 7,079,815 people suffering from depression, about 3.9 per cent of the population.

 

The figures were released in a report ahead of the World Health Day (WHD) entitled; “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates.” According to the report, “4,894,557 Nigerians, which is 2.7 per cent of the population, suffer anxiety disorders. Depression is the leading cause of disabilities worldwide, and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. “Depression can lead to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15 – 29 globally. Consequently, the condition can lead to more suicide cases in the country.

 

“Nigerians are the most depressed in Africa because, since the number of persons with common mental disorders globally is going up, particularly in lower-income countries, the population is rapidly growing and more people are living to the age when depression and anxiety most commonly occur”.

 

A suicide attempt is often described as an act where a person tries to commit suicide but survives. Hence, most suicide attempts, in some countries, are often based on a terminal or chronic illness. The alarming rate of suicides in the world has varied in several countries while its sanctions still remains a greatly debated concept.

 

The law against suicide has reigned since antiquity and is believed to have emanated from a religious doctrine which claims that God is the sole determinant for the death of humans (meaning that God has the legal right to determine who and when a person should die).

 

According to the tales, especially in ancient Athens, persons who deliberately killed themselves were denied the honours of a normal burial. At the time, the punishment for anyone who commits suicide without an approval from the state entails that the person would be buried alone without a headstone or marker, on the outskirt of the town or city. Sometimes, the family of the deceased would be stripped off their belongings and handed over to the state.

 

Suicide, also referred as selfmurder, within the religious and moral objections, was a mortal sin in the eyes of the church and also a crime under the common law in England in the mid-13th Century. However, before the enactment of the Suicide Act 1961, an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, it was a crime to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and jailed. Even the families of those who succeeded were equally not left unpunished but could also face prosecution.

 

The 1961 Suicide Act, however, decriminalised the act of suicide in England and Wales to enable people who failed while attempting to kill themselves escape prosecution.

 

Although the states abolished the penalties imposed by the common law (property forfeiture and humiliating burial), it was solely to spare the innocent families and not to legitimise the act. Recent studies on criminal codes of several countries around the world revealed that while most western countries decriminalised suicide acts, suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in most Islamic countries. In Africa, where the legality or criminality of suicide attempts are mostly deduced from moral standards and religious tenets, several countries like Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe still legalise both attempted and completed suicide.

 

But in stark contrast, others like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda enforce stringent punishments for offenders. Unlike in Japan where suicide is considered illegal but not punishable, offenders in Nigeria are not left unpunished but are arrested and charged to court for prosecution.

 

However, self-induced deaths have no judicial penalties, but suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in Nigeria. Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 stipulates a one year imprisonment sentence for offenders. While Section 235 of the Criminal law ChC17 vol.3 Laws of Lagos State, 2015, prescribes a hospitalisation order for an accused.

The same chapter of the Criminal Code also criminalises aiding suicide; Section 326 states that any person who procures, counsels, induces another in killing himself is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life. The implications of these laws interpret that anyone who attempts to harm his/her body, under any circumstance, shall be treated as a criminal and duly prosecuted.

 

Hence, anyone guilty of the offence shall face same treatment similar to an awaiting trial or convicted criminal like a murderer, an armed robber or kidnapper etc. Doctor speaks According to Dr. R. A. Adebayo, a former Acting Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, suicide occurs when an individual wilfully or deliberately attempts to end his life and eventually succeeds; while a failed attempt, whether by strangulation, hanging on a rope, taking a poisonous substance or jumping into a lagoon, is called deliberate self-harm (DSH).

 

Adebayo, who is also a clinical psychologist and consultant psychiatrist, said that suicidal acts should not be treated as criminal cases but as an abnormal mental disorder since 80 per cent of the indulged victims suffer from depression.

 

While advocating the decriminalisation of suicide attempts, the doctor said that suicidal patients were being admitted into the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital on a weekly basis but because the society decided to criminalise it, people barely heard of the reported cases. Adebayo maintained that suicide patients should not be tagged as criminals but as patients or victims who need to be accessed and medically examined.

 

According to him, what suicide patients need is an intensive medical care for their condition and not prosecution or a prison sentence. He said: “We should never criminalise suicide acts expect those who attack others through bombing.

 

Suicidal victims need treatment and not prisons because they are diseased. It would be inhuman to jail people with mental disorders since their condition is a pathological process. “It’s high time we de-stigmatised mental disorders. Hauling people with mental disorders into prisons would never solve their problems rather the Federal Government should provide more opportunities for treatment.

 

Prison sentence should only serve as punishment to suicide bombers whose intentions are to harm others in the process of taking their own lives. “There are medical factors which induce suicide such as: substance abuse (otherwise called drug addiction), epilepsy, terminal or chronic medical conditions like cancer, stroke and schizophrenia.

 

“Other non-medical causes of suicide include tough financial debt or condition; honour killings common in Japan and Middle East countries (a situation where someone, whose guilt and shame over an offence committed, kills himself in order to honour or cleanse the disgrace he brought to the image of his family); and suicide attacks in the Islamic states like Boko Haram.

 

“All these causes of suicide are induced by depression, aside suicide attack which is an element of religious indoctrination. But, on the contrary, suicide is a medical issue and not a criminal act as pointed by the law.

“A successful suicide victim cannot be prosecuted by the law since the person is dead already but the one who attempts cannot also be reported as a result of the fear of being stigmatised, tagged as a criminal and charged to court.

 

It is certain that more than 15 per cent of suicide attempts won’t be reported. “This, however, makes suicide attempts under reported or shrouded in secrecy. In this hospital, I have witnessed several cases of deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients especially those with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a major psychotic disorder where a patient claims to hear strange voices. This condition is also referred to as auditory hallucination.

 

“According to patients who suffer from this condition, these strange voices tell them to kill or harm themselves. Some of them adhere to that instruction while the lucky ones run into hiding or seek help. There are cases of patients who heard voices and thereafter jumped from a storey building or into a lagoon.

 

“There was a peculiar case of an epileptic patient who got tired of her condition and decided to end it by jumping into the lagoon. She jumped from the Third Mainland Bridge but fortunately she was rescued. Another lady also jumped into the same lagoon after hearing strange voices but she was rescued as well.

 

“Now, in the eyes of the law, these ladies have attempted suicide, but medically we call it a DSH. This is because when the cause of such behaviour is examined, we realise that depression or the strange voices prompted the act.”

Adebayo also explained that after the rescue, rehabilitation, and recovery from such illness, some of these patients eventually come to terms with the damage the illness has done in their lives and might still attempt suicide. He said: “Some of them may not want to continue or brace up with life simply because of shame or guilty.

 

Some might be ashamed of the things they experienced during the illness or the pain or harm they might have caused either to themselves or their families. So in order not to live with the trauma incurred by that illness, they wilfully choose to kill themselves. This realisation is called post schizophrenic depression.

 

“There are certain determinants to aid in identifying a suicidal person like previous at- tempts of harming self, family history of depression and child abuse (especially among teenagers)”. Lawyers speak A legal luminary, Prof Itse Sagay, SAN, said that the basic argument by most people is that if a person succeeds in the act of suicide, then he cannot be punished. But if he fails and is punished, then it sounds unreasonable. Hence, they imply that the person who fails is the one who gets punishment and not the one who succeeds in the act.

 

Sagay said: “I think that the purpose of that law is to serve as deterrent; to discourage a person from taking his/her own life. But the reason I agree with those who say it should be removed from our law books is that it doesn’t really act as deterrent. This is because a person who wants to kill himself is determined to succeed even though he may fail. So, he has no fear whatsoever. “It’s only after he fails that he realises that he could be punished.

But when he embarked on it, his mind was totally made up and firm that nothing else follows. “So, I think that the position of our law on suicide is unreasonable and there’s no justification for enforcing it. Instead, we should have a more robust provision for monitoring people, for tackling psychological problems, in order to discourage people from even desiring to commit suicide and not when the person fails.”

A human rights activist and Director of Access to justice, Joseph Otteh, who also shared same thoughts with the learned SAN, said that “the criminalisation of suicide in our laws is an incident of both our colonial experience as well as, ironically, our slow pace of reassessing the expediency or relevance of inherited colonial laws”. Otteh also called for a review of the suicide law.

He said: “The retention of the offence of suicide in federal statutes possibly hearkens to the fact that there has never been any systematic effort to review wholly, federal penal legislation since Independence from Britain. What has happens mostly are piece meal reviews, additions and few subtractions, leaving the body of colonial laws substantially intact?

“The Lagos position is a lot more thoughtful, sensible and realistic and offers a compassionate physiological and legal response to the problem. It regards attempting suicide as a possible mental health problem, and offers care in dealing with it.

“This is the way the problem should be addressed. It unwarps and unloads the historical political baggage associated with the criminalisation of suicide, and focuses on the needs of the person attempting it rather than perpetuating the flawed historical reasons associated with its use some centuries ago.

“In that era, criminalising suicide was seen to reflect the anger felt by the state at the use of suicide as a form of political defiance of its authority.

The countries where this began have abolished it as an offence, so why should we blindly continue to enforce it?” But Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, SAN, disagreed with anyone calling for the review of the suicide law while arguing that, “should people be permitted to willingly take their own lives?”

He said: “I don’t think there is any sufficient reason for someone to take his own life or be permitted to do so. We all have faith in God Almighty who gives life and has the ability to take it. “The point is, in principle, whether it involves taking one’s own life or that of another person, a believer must remember that he has not the power to give life and therefore has no responsibility in taking life. “It’s not for an individual to decide on terminating his or another person’s life. Even if it involves a terminal illness, they should be helped to get out of it and not encouraged to annihilate themselves.

“If there is a medical condition that warrants euthanasia or assisted induced deaths, which of course is not allowed, but generally, the health practitioners should know what to do in order to pacify or ease the pains affecting such a person.

“Aside those who commit suicide out of frustration, depression and medical challenges, there are those who also do same after committing a crime because they feel the best way to escape punishment is to take their own lives. Would you also say that such suicide is right? “I don’t support suicide neither do I think it is right to decriminalise attempted suicide.

I think that the law against attempted suicide should stand just like the law that makes manslaughter and murder a crime. I stand in support of the law against attempted suicide as a believer and not just as a lawyer”. Also speaking in favour of the law, Yusuf Ali, SAN, said he is in full support of the law against attempted suicide.

He said: “I support the law because it’s not right for a man to take what doesn’t belong to him. Life wasn’t created by man so why should he wilfully take it? “Attempting is what the law punishes since those who succeed are never alive to face prosecution. I do not support any form or type of suicide.” The reality of suicide seems to be catching up with other criminal counterparts like murder and manslaughter, but its stringent punishment to impede further actions remains a questionable approach.

If hospitals are built for the sick in order to aid health challenges and prisons serve as rehabilitation centres and reorientation facilities for lawbreakers and offenders; what happens when a mentally impaired person, instead of being taken to a psychiatric home, is arrested, prosecuted and jailed on the premise of an uncoordinated insanity? How do we punish someone who sees suicide as the fastest way or solution of putting an end to a life’s threatening challenge?

These are obviously questions begging for answers in view of the Federal Government’s reviewing of the law on suicide and its implications.

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