Friday, 20 March 2009

Iyan-Tama: Matters Arising

Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, the famous Hausa actor and producer jailed for three months by a magistrate court in Kano, was released from prison on Monday. He had been jailed for allegedly releasing a feature film without government approval and running a filmmaking company without registration. In an open letter to the Governor of Kano State, published in this column two days after Iyan-Tama was sent to prison, I pointed out that the two charges were false and a concoction of the Kano State Censorship Board which has been waging a war of attrition against Hausa filmmakers and authors, based on a dubious claim of cleansing them of all immoralities. In that piece, I called on His Excellency, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, to, as a matter of utmost urgency, investigate that act of gargantuan injustice and enter a no-case submission in the appeal Iyan-Tama filed at a Kano High Court, paving the way to the freeing of the actor.

A government functionary told me a day later that Malam (as the governor is widely known) had read my letter. But Iyan-Tama was left to languish in prison for almost three months until Wednesday last week when the government did exactly what I and many other folk beseeched it to do: file a no-case submission. Obviously, the governor has shown a soft heart here, but the wheel of justice in Kano, as it is everywhere else in Nigeria, is very slow. And that’s sad, considering what the actor suffered during this period. For during his incarceration, Iyan-Tama was made to suffer a lot of indignity, including a psychological warfare waged against him by the Kano State Censorship Board headed by Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. The Director-General of the board, Rabo, whose stock in trade is a blitzkrieg of propaganda against movie practitioners, embarked on media interviews in which he justified what he clearly knew to be a travesty of justice against Iyan-Tama; he knew quite well that the plot to deal with Iyan-Tama was conceived, hatched and executed by him and a few of his cohorts, and his wish was granted by the magistrate who had proved in more ways than one that he was a willing tool to be used against anyone connected to the movie industry.

Iyan-Tama’s family was attacked at midnight by a colony of thugs, who held his wife and children hostage, threatening to kill them. The family had to flee the house in the morning. About a month later, another house connected to Iyan-Tama’s family was attacked by a group of thugs (widely thought to be the same as the first group). During this attack, the thugs even raped a female house-help, thinking she was a member of the actor’s immediate family.

Be that as it may, Iyan-Tama is now half-free. He was let out of prison this week, following a prayer to the High Court by the Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice that the court should grant him bail and order for a retrial of the case. According to the Attorney-General, Barrister Aliyu Umar, the first trial was besmirched by irregularities. Due process was not followed in the trial that led to the conviction, he said. He used very uncomplimentary terms to describe the trial conducted by a senior magistrate, Alhaji Mukhtari Ahmed, such as “improper,” “incomplete,” “a mistake,” summing up by insisting that a “more competent magistrate” should be given the case to try again. Umar told the court presided over by Justice Tani Umar: “I am not in support of the conviction in this trial. It is obvious that the trial was not completed before judgement was delivered but there and then the presiding magistrate went ahead and delivered a judgement.”

Now, these words are proof that my argument that Iyan-Tama was punished by some conspirators because of his political views (he contested the state gubernatorial seat for the 2007 election), not because he had broken any law, have been vindicated. The learned commissioner would not have made this submission flippantly, without carefully examining the facts of the case that played itself out in the magistrate court. And as a government official charged with superintending the legal field in Kano State, he must have endeavoured to discharge his duties with utmost responsibility.

Governor Shekarau deserves commendation for the confession by his government that Iyan-Tama was unjustly imprisoned. But then, there are questions that the day’s hearing brought up. One, was Barrister Umar’s submission not a clear indictment of the magistrate who jailed Iyan-Tama? By questioning the competence of Ahmed, going to the extent of asking the high court to reassign the case to another magistrate, he has clearly shown that the judge was not qualified to sit over all such cases. In this situation, does Ahmed merit serving as a judge in the service of the Kano State Government, having committed an injustice that can be successfully argued even by a baby lawyer to be a travesty of justice? Is it not more honourable to the magistrate to resign immediately or be sacked by the government? And how many more such magistrates are working in the Kano State courtrooms, handing down selfish judgements?

And what of Rabo’s war? Is it justified anymore? Is it truly meant to sanitise the filmmaking business or kill it, using weapons of emasculation at the disposal of a punitive, merciless government agency? For me, Rabo has been discredited as much as Ahmed was, and should, therefore, embrace the same fate: resign or be sacked. In more civilised climes, Rabo and Ahmed would have simply thrown in the towel, having been proved to be fraudulent.

What of the proposed retrial? Is it normal to try an accused person twice for the same charge? I am not learned, therefore, I will not question her lordship’s discretion in this. But suppose after going through the whole hog of a retrial in another court, Iyan-Tama is adjudged guilty again, would he be sentenced again (maybe for ten years!) in prison? Would that be justice?

Will Iyan-Tama be compensated for his recent illegal imprisonment? Or did he suffer for nothing? Iyan-Tama’s lawyer, Suleiman Abdulkadir, SAN, had stated that if at all a retrial was to be ordered, the government should pay N100 million as compensation to his client. I hear that the Shekarau government had feared that Iyan-Tama would demand a compensation for his unjust arraignment, hence the decision to jail him. Now the word going round is that they have dangled the sword of Damocles of the retrial option over his neck for the same purpose. If these claims are true, I doubt if that’s the best way to institute Shari’ah law in our society.

Published in LEADERSHIP today

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Between The Guns And Our Souls

Would you want to carry grenades in your pockets instead of groundnuts? This question was inspired by the recent proposal of an influential pressure group, the Christian Association of Nigeria, which said adult Nigerians should be allowed to carry guns. It revealed that it was considering sending a bill to the National Assembly asking lawmakers to enact a law that would permit every adult to carry arms as a way of checking "unwarranted attacks." CAN spoke against the backdrop of the "religious" crisis that rocked the otherwise calm city of Bauchi last month. Reviewing the crisis, which caused a heavy death toll, its Secretary-General, Mr. Samuel S. Salifu, thundered at a news conference: "We met this morning and we are considering sending a bill to the National Assembly to facilitate adults who are twenty-one years and above to make it legal to own arms and weapons." His expatiation of this stance, thus, "Everybody should buy his own gun," has upped the antennae of many concerned people, raising questions about his exact motive.

Anybody following the story on the Bauchi crisis would recall the anger and frustration that clouded people's perception of the ugly situation. Innocent persons on both sides of the Christian-Muslim divide were murdered in cold blood, while places of worship were desecrated. Tension grew high as insecurity pervaded the city and its environs. Many fled in search of safe havens. While the mayhem lasted, the people paid to provide security were for long nowhere to be seen. In trading blame, adherents of the two religions pointed accusing fingers at each other, even cooking up casualty figures. They ignored the fact that all "religious" crises had a double-edged knife of complicity.

CAN had a right to feel aggrieved, likewise the Muslims. What is baffling is the proposal by an otherwise intelligent man like Salifu for the further militarisation of the Nigerian society. The country is already awash with illegal weapons of all type, thereby making the crime rate to shoot through the roofs. CAN's proposal, therefore, flies in the face of good reasoning. Is the possession of guns by everyone the real solution to the violence in our country, a violence that was borne out of mundane reasons rather than any sense of religiosity? Which country solved its crime rate by giving a gun to anyone above 21?

In many American states, guns can be purchased off the counter, with minimum requirements. Now even school children own guns, even if illegally. Why? The founding fathers of America enshrined the right to own guns in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, dictating that "a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." But that's only because they had, at the back of their mind, the challenges of frontier life in America's first 100 years. Today in the U.S., "pro-gun culture" advocates are, however, talking like Mr. Salifu; even though they do not claim to be campaigning for the right to bear arms simply because they want to protect themselves from a racial, religious, or political group, they share a belief in the fact that owning guns gives them a sense of security. Erik Luna, Associate Professor at the University of Utah College of Law, says those activists generally see people as trustworthy and believe that citizens should not be prevented from having guns unless they have proven otherwise. "They share a belief that guns provide some level of protection against criminality and tyranny. This ranges from a feeling that it is good to have a gun around the house for self-protection, to an active distrust of government and a belief that widespread gun ownership is protection against tyranny."

Unfortunately, America, the world's "freest" nation, has become one of the most dangerous places on earth (forget Iraq, Afghanistan or the Niger delta) because gun ownership has become a sacrosanct culture for many Americans. Examples of the negative consequences of lax or zero gun control in the West are legion. The most celebrated in recent times used to be the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. In that tragedy, 12 students and a teacher were shot dead in a dramatic orgy of bloodletting, ending in the two young killers shooting themselves dead. Just this Wednesday, a man wiped out his family (including his mother and four relatives) and nine others in America. On the same day, a 17-year old gunman opened fire in south-western Germany, killing 16 people, including nine students, in his former high school. Back in 2006 a similar bloodbath occurred when a teenager killed 16 people and himself in another school in Germany. Compare this with Japan, where lawful ownership of firearms is rare and difficult, thereby making the violence level much lower.

We are not there yet, but we are already at the crossroads. CAN's reasoning is that religious (read: Christian) adherents would be able to defend themselves against "Muslim aggression" if they are armed. But what if you put it another way round, i.e. Muslims should own guns in order to defend themselves against "Christian aggression"? Would that not exacerbate the already fragile ties between the followers of the two major religions in the country? Besides, how can we know for sure that a gun legitimately obtained and owned by Mr. Salifu would be used purely for defensive purposes and not for aggression, robbery or assassination of a business associate? Nigerians being what they are, be sure to find many "legalised" arms being used for horrendous acts.

Understandably, CAN's suggestion was borne out of the frustration that engulfed us all in the wake of the recurrent killings in the North. The elites on both sides, wearing the toga of religiosity, are behind those ungodly acts. They have divided the nation along religious fault-lines. Today in Jos and Kaduna, for instance, people choose where to live based on their religious faith - just like in the Lebanon of old. But we were not like this before. None of the two religions supports violence against the other. A mixture of ignorance and politics created the volatile situation. Let everyone search their souls and see if their deeds and utterances are permitted by the holy books they profess to represent. A deep search would reveal that those calling themselves the soldiers of God were not appointed by Him, for God does not deal in the blood of the unknowing and the innocent. The solution is in our souls rather than in any gun we might acquire.


This piece was published in LEADERSHIP last Friday