Hashtag Free Evans? (Balancing the scales of Justice and Mercy)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I remember when the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institution Bill was introduced into our National Assembly. I had my reservations.

Amidst uproar from some quarters of the academia, I wondered the impact of this Bill on Constitutional Rights, such as Freedom of Association, and whether adults would be barred from consensual relations.

Studying the Bill however abated my fears; its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages (if any). Unwanted sexual advances by University lecturers in exchange for pass-marks to their students has almost become a virus in our educational system, so that even if the Bill did not automatically eradicate this scourge, it was one step in the right direction. In a society where the general legal framework does not provide adequately robust protection for victims of sexual harassment, anything - which would be some form of deterrent for unscrupulous persons - is better than nothing.

Like that 'uncle' in school who was rumoured to hit on his female students, and fail them upon their rejection of his advances. It was a ‘rumour’ my friends and I laughed about.

Until he hit on me.

Then, it stopped being funny.

I, who at the time was still a teenager (maybe barely twenty), could not process the horror of his ‘proposal’ to meet with him at some obscure location. (Uggh!)

I declined, and made a show of letting him know I had faculty members as family. I would not hesitate to raise the roof if I ‘failed’.

Suffice to note that we never spoke again. And I passed the course. Sadly, some of my peers were not so lucky.

Imagine my horror years later, when I was in an online forum, and it was suggested the very same Uncle Lecturer be visited and 'honoured' for his appointment to a certain position.

I tore my clothes!

(Ok… that’s a bit over the top)

I e-clawed at the eyes of the proposers, refusing to be a part of the charade to ‘honour’ a person who had taken advantage of students to whom he had owed a fiduciary duty. If anything, he should be dishonoured and stripped of recognition, till he made amends for students whom he had derailed.

Opinions were divided: Few agreed with me. Some asked that I “forgive and forget”, missing the point that there was no anger, just apathy to unreasonable sycophancy. Some implied satan may have been at work in him; they swore of his changed ways, and him seeing the light.

The piece of the cake was the justification proffered by others, regarding the possible ‘entrapment’ and ‘enticement’ of his poor soul by scheming adolescents.

(I am tired)

The justifications and bad excuses for ‘misdeeds’ above represents on a minuscule scale the arrant Nigerian way of dealing with misdeeds in our society. Our typical response to injustice, crime or wrong-doings.

Rather than call a spade a spade, and deal decisively with a wrong, we blame everything from the devil to a wall-gecko, and make excuses left wanting as to why justice should not be meted.

Which explains how ours is a society which turns a blind eye to a depraved uncle rape of his under-aged niece. The family simply explains how: "It is a family matter. “It is the devil. “Forgive and forget". And we go back to our daily coffee and akara.

Or the serial plagiarist when called out, and we quite naturally respond "Are you the first to write?" “Are you not happy someone copied your work?”

Or a corrupt government when caught with his hands dripping in the cookie-jar, and we defensively retort “He is suffering, because he is not in support of the ruling party”. “Their people have been stealing since. Is it not fair for our people to enjoy some of the loot?”

Demystify. Justify. Excuse.

It is in the context of the foregoing that I was not surprised when the hashtag #FreeEvans was birthed, demanding the release of the accused kidnapping-kingpin who was nabbed by the Police earlier in the month, and has been singing his way to the media.

Justifications for the demand for his release have ranged from the release of prisoners of Boko-Haram for some of the Chibok girls, to the acquittal of the Senate President from charges of false declaration of assets at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Equally, emotional pleas of “He is just a father, trying to survive and provide for his family”, “Sometimes, he even leads this family in morning prayers”. Surely, he must be a good man deep down” have surfaced.

This is not the first time I have found myself asking: how did we go so wrong?

In the case of the Boko-Haram suspects, while the majority of us would (conveniently) cite the United States’ policy of not negotiating with terrorists, unfortunately, our country cannot boast of the expertise or resources with which the US intelligence deals with terrorists. To this extent, if the only way available to securing the release of the innocent girls alive is the exchange of prisoners, this cannot be interpreted as a ‘wrong’ move, capable of necessitating that subsequent offenders be let off the hook.

Regarding the acquittal of the Senate President, irrespective of our ‘gut-feelings’ as to his guilt, if sufficient evidence was not adduced and a strong enough case not made by his accusers, proving him guilty beyond reasonable doubt, he is constitutionally guaranteed to walk away as merry as he may please.

In any event, if we disdain the release of terrorists or the acquittal of the Senate President, and view both as wrong moves by the respective arms of government responsible, neither ‘wrong’ is cured by failing to charge a person accused of crimes, in accordance with the provisions of extant laws. It is akin to robbing Peter to rob Paul.

And for all the emotional arguments being made for ‘forgiveness’ and ‘mercy’, yes... the law recognises that there is a place for mercy. That place is in the plea of allocutus, if convicted, just before sentencing.

Thus, an accused person is tried, and if found guilty, grounds may be pleaded by the defence to the judge for the accused’s sentence to be reduced. At this point one could cite the accused’s prayerful inclinations (and hang the devil to take one for the team), or the accused’s existing ailments, or other emotional grounds; bearing in mind however that the substance of the grounds proffered will be considered by the judge, in sentencing.

But the accused is tried first, as against simply being let off without a trial, on the basis of a misguided hashtag, backed by emotional and religious blackmail. Mercy cannot be contemplated, without Justice running its full course.

Remember that the victims of crimes also require mercy in themselves, in seeing that such person(s) suspected of committing the crimes is/are actually tried for same. The absence thereof of trial of an accused person upon hollow submissions of “just let it go… forgive and forget” is in itself both unjust and unmerciful to his accusers, and to the State i.e. the People.

Today, it may be Evans. Tomorrow, Tobota.

Whoever or whatever the case may be, let us desist from the penchant for covering ill-doings, demystifying crime and justifying law-breaking, Let us let justice run its full course.

Even if it were a curse, it is never too late for us to break free, and reform our minds. After all, “where there is a will… 



P.s.: You may wonder if I ever reported uncle lecturer’s unwanted/uninvited advances...

Next post is another date. 😉

Picture Source: www.buzznigeria.com

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  1. You nailed it. Letting gross misdeeds slide irks me, helps no one and will not deterre offenders or repeat offenders. I do not want to go into enablers.....

    1. Exactly! I'm not sure how we confuse "letting go" of offenders as being 'merciful'. How do we deter the commission of crime then??

  2. Excellent article; thanks Meg! Love the statement - "mercy cannot be contemplated, without justice running its full course"

  3. Plea of allocutus. I love that. He has to face justice. Thanks for this enlightening article Meg.

    1. Happy you found it enlightening! Have you followed us yet??

    2. Happy you found it enlightening! Have you followed us yet??

  4. Nicely narrated. We let sentiment and fanaticism get the best of us. Let's call a spade a spade.
    Nice one dear.

  5. Great piece! The psychology of an 'average Nigerian' these days need some major factory resetting....too bad, so sad!

    1. We all require the major 'factory reset'. It is possible.

  6. Well done on this one. The way and manner he is cooperating with the State, I hope he doesn't become a witness. If he can provide useful information that will lead to the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of other kidnappers, it may be in the interests of the State to have him plead guilty to a lesser crime.

    1. True... I like that he is really cooperating. They could use him to smoke out the others. As for being a witness and pleading to a lesser crime... that'd be mercy at play. But if he keeps cooperating, fair enough.

  7. Amazing piece. The only freedom Evans can ever get that would be juatified is to be locked up in jail and the keys thrown away.
    We need to start putting things right in Nigeria if we want things to get better for us.