Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Opinion: How we sentimentally undermine our justice system

Until broke
The criminal justice system in developed democracies exists to suggest that everyone is equal before the law. It is an ideal we aspire to, but the reality is, whilst everyone can have their day in court, not everyone has competent or exemplary legal representation.
There is an often paraphrased saying attributed to Prof. Alan Dershowitz, "Everyone is innocent until proven broke."
I think he said this about one of this high-profile trials of a Kennedy scion, O. J. Simpson or Michael Jackson, either way, the respondents got off, or got off lightly.
By intimidation
In Nigeria, the reality is, justice is procured by intimidation. There is no limit on the number of senior lawyers that can represent you in court. The Nigerian equivalent of the UK's Queen's Counsel (QC) is the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
A typical high-profile case can have over 5 SANs representing the respondent and thereby in advertently intimidating the opposing counsel and the bench whilst getting the most atrocious verdicts in the process. It is a travesty in need of urgent review.
Yet a case well-argued can have a defendant literally getting away with murder. A situation that can exercise the public and lead to the mass expression of displeasure at what is put forth as justice. The system has built-in mechanisms to correct this, if the will remains to pursue such.
Avoiding sentiment
However, justice in the criminal justice system has to derive from law and statute, not from sentiment. If society cannot abide or tolerate a judgement for its harshness or its leniency, it is incumbent on the state to review, reassess and probably appeal. That is how the system works.
Once judgement is passed and the sentence served, that due to society has been paid even if the crime that elicited judgement is atrocious, despicable or heinous. Justice cannot be the domain of public opinion or sentiment in civilised societies or we cede order and peace to the mob.
I am concerned for the situation where some members of the public have initiated petitions to additionally thwart the return to productive engagement in society because they are unhappy with the crime and the supposed criminal who has served their sentence.
Undermining the role of justice
For someone not to be able to return to their profession, though influential but not directly engaged with vulnerable members of society because some people have gathered to oppose it is unfair.
It defeats the whole purpose of punishment for crimes as part of a criminal justice system that sanctions as a deterrent and the purpose of prison as a place of correction and rehabilitation for return to society.
We must be careful not to become members of a sanctimonious and sententious mob of petitioners whose busybody distractions militate against order to exercise sentiment oversight of a fully-functional criminal justice system that has fulfilled the needs of the law.

Thought Picnic: Paper bound in leather and glue

The memory from before
“It’s only a book, paper bound in leather and glue.”
These were the words of a song I heard on a children’s programme too many decades ago for me to remember who sang it or what the name of the programme was.
However, the tune and the music were striking enough for the lyrics to stick in memory that any time I remember the song, I feel like I am watching that programme again.
The book is just what it is; paper bound in leather and glue. Yet, what is written in the book might be useful or it might be useless. The evolution of the book through history is long, from cave drawings through Egyptian papyrus, parchment, animal skins, paper, printing and now petabytes of electronic data.
Words unread are nothing
The book stands as a record unaltered, words written for posterity which might be reprinted, edited or laid waste if no desired for the knowledge contained therein endures.
The words however do not come to life of their own volition, nor does the book animate like some living thing, the words have to be read and comprehended, then in the mind of those that process the words, the book gains potency in the actions or reactions of people.
The value we place on a book should be based on the derived content brought to use by the reader, properly understood in its context, setting, relevance and intention.
Where we miss these elements, the book becomes a guide for malevolence, something misread, misunderstood or misinterpreted, something read out of context, applied to the wrong setting, finding no particular relevance or pandering to the wrong motives and the seeds of destruction are sown to reap a harvest of carnage.
Wholly unholy acts
Yet, even in these modern times, we have people of the Book, religions tied to holy tomes that appear to have all the answers to life and living, read and use to destroy life, liberty and livelihood as a demonstration of power and influence.
The barely educated wielding tyranny like a deaf child being handed a loaded machine gun and at the same time shouted at to put the gun down. The danger not being in the book itself, but in how what was apparently learnt from the book is demonstrated.
That we give the books names and titles, does not change it from it physical and material constituents, and whilst the words therein might bring great meaning to some, the body should not by that suddenly become sacred, except where the words need to be preserved, and alternatives abound.
Book your context right
For instance, if I downloaded a holy book unto my laptop and then destroyed the laptop, would I suffer as much sanction as if I burnt the book? We need to be reasonable and exercise a lot of reasonableness about the things we so easily elect to have offend us.
As a repository, the book does have value, it archives and stores knowledge, but it is not the end of the world, it is paper bound in leather and glue.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Nigeria: The Collapse of Order

Collapse upon collapse
Like the head of the synagogue upbraided Jesus for healing the sick on the Sabbath, the contemporary head of the synagogue now threatens us with wrath, retribution and terror for asking the sensible questions. A collapse of reasonableness.
A month has passed since a building collapse claimed over a 100 lives of which more than 80 were South Africans, the many who had come on a sort of pilgrimage to Lagos to prolong their lives with the expectation of miracles bordering on magical acts for healing, peace or some particular touch of grace, mercy or favour for this man of God. A catastrophic building collapse.
The man has every right to go about his business, but it must not be at the expense of lives carelessly lost for the very likelihood that building codes were flouted and ignored. Yet, this is a collapse of institutional heft to ensure laws are adhered to.
The untenable collapses
The whole idea that some unidentified flying object hovering over the building shook it to its pulverised destruction according the head of the synagogue is as fantastic as it is risible, yet this atrocity has had no one held responsible for it. Suffice it to say, this is a collapse of reason.
Each apparent message that appears to come out from the establishment seems to put the focus on the head of the synagogue as the victim of machinations both spiritual and temporary, his own personal crisis that he intends to overcome. No doubt the collapse of accountability that is the everyday expectation of the powerful in Nigeria.
The hapless victims sacrificed to this atrocity have been labelled martyrs and surreptitiously this characterisation lends itself to exculpating the whole officialdom of the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN) from any responsibility for the deaths of these people. Besides the collapse of responsibility is the collapse of real compassion for the lost.
The inexcusable collapses
The government itself has been derelict in its responsibility too by pandering to the whims of men of God, fearful of their power and followership that the law consequently grants immunity for more impunity by these demigods. The collapse of the lien of civil authority to ensure public order is kept by holding everyone equal before the law.
The president and the governor should by rights have visited the site of the disaster, but were ill-advised to have a photo opportunity with the head of the synagogue until they had established the truth about the building collapse. The collapse of discernment and discretion on the part of people who should have known better.
Besides, the visit could have precipitated a diplomatic crisis with South Africa and soured relations with them, considering South Africa was more forthcoming about the numbers of their citizens lost than the head of the synagogue who while schmoozing with the press for favourable coverage wanted them to concentrate on mentioning survivors of the mishap. A collapse of diplomatic tact considering the number of foreigners that perished in the incident, it was utterly careless.
Avoid more collapses
Sadly, if nothing is done to bring the law to bear on this event with at the minimum indictments of manslaughter imposed on the leadership and the corporate person of the (Synagogue Church of All Nations) SCOAN, we would have lost the best opportunity to show that no one is above the law regardless of whether the person is a religious leader or not, and that someone can and should be held accountable for avoidable accidents as a result of people acting unlawfully and carelessly. A collapse of our criminal justice system resulting in the collapse of justice for the victims and of judicial process.
Nigeria needs to be delivered from the stranglehold of untouchable men of God answerable to no temporal authority and thereby are deluded into acting with untrammelled licence leave destruction in their wake and leaving God to clean up their mess. Here we risk the collapse of the primacy of the secular state that applies the law equitably, expeditiously and rightly.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Thought Picnic: Picking up the rice where the wedding has been

We are social animals
I was watching a nature programme probably on the BBC about an ape colony. The alpha male had just been beaten in a fight with an upstart and the social rules within such colonies required the vanquished leave that community.
What was so profound was how in the space of weeks the vanquished had acquired deathly pallor as he wasted away without care in loneliness and dejection.
Then I wondered about us human-beings as social animals who may decide we need our space, but we cannot be totally bereft of interaction and that to the extent of companionship, relationship and even love.
The fear of loneliness
The fear that threatens the sanity of lonely people who for all sorts of reasons live in cities and yet are hermits, secluded from the vitality of fun and banter than comes for well-developed friendships.
Many single people by choice or by situation exist sometimes without an inkling as to how to change things to develop a social life. The answer is not just getting out, there is more to getting that expression of engagement than just being out there as I noted in my last blog.
Even those of us who appear to be extroverted are probably only so when the setting is familiar, I have been at parties where until someone comes to chat to me, I probably would not do much more than try to be inconspicuous.
Change is not easy
My voice in probably stronger in my writing, it is also asynchronous, yet, in a business setting as at work, I might well have a more assertive persona, at least, and that must be why none of my managers ever recommended me for an assertiveness course.
Assertiveness however does not make up for handling the more social element of cultivating relationships of the heart. In essence, we all desire to a point, someone to be near us, to share with, to care for and to dare with, that someone I lost 5 years ago, yet, the need for someone still matters, not to forget the lost, but to appreciate again the gift of someone who can touch the heart.
If we had the choice, may we never become another Eleanor Rigby; the haunting words of a song that tells a very sad story of loneliness.
Eleanor Rigby
(John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Thought Picnic: By chance, for choice, to certainty

The chance unsure
Chance is very unpredictable being the harbinger of luck or disappointment, the effect which can presage significant life-changing situations, it is the precursor of uncertainty.
Yet, we leave a lot to chance with the hope that things would yield a result we have no certainty we would get. Even if we are not certain, it probably cannot be planned to ensure the outcome we desire.
The choice-less chance
In a lottery and many other areas of life, we get hopeful, raise our expectations and sometimes begin to daydream, building castles in the air, even daring to create kingdom and empires in our minds, drifting away from our reality and almost succumbing to delirium.
Sometimes we think that abundance offers options and take the chance that we might find suitable choices, yet having many choices does not mean we would find a suitable match.
Know your chance from your choice
This is evident in trying to start relationships and finding out that we might be in vast populations and yet be alone and lonely, not finding a partner we can choose from the chances we have to meet many who come into and leave our lives.
Sometimes, we might find that chance in life for happiness that sometimes eludes many, but we cannot live by chance and hope that choice would create certainty.
Use chance sparingly, take choice with wisdom and celebrate certainty as a blessing, they are gifts to life.