NIS tragedy and our faltering democracy

Tola Abraham

Despair. That’s the stomach churning feeling you get when you hear terrible news. Despondency, anguish and misery are other appropriate words. When you hear of young men and women being trampled to death under the soles of their compatriots, it sucks the hope out of you like a vacuum connected to your innards. If your imagination is vivid and automatically stimulated, you immediately imagine the scene, the screams, and the horror. If you are obligatorily empathic, you put yourself under the shoes – the tennis shoes, the ’Nikes’ and the boots. You feel them on your back and in your eyes, in your crotch and on your knees. You realize you are dying but you wonder what will kill you – would it be the feet cracking your skull or the bodies falling on you and trapping the air in your lungs. You start to shout and that’s the last mistake you will ever make.

Without attempting to speak for most people, it is clear that the varying reactions by the different arms of the Nigerian government so far, to the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) tragedies fall short of the ideals of democracy and are therefore unsatisfactory.
In a working democracy, the role of the opposition goes beyond shouting criticisms; it includes displaying alternatives and proffering solutions. There are several states run by opposition parties in this country yet all states have equally dire levels of unemployment and underemployment. Since job creation is not only the business of the federal government, states that are equally failing to provide jobs clearly lack the moral standing to criticize the federal government.

More disheartening is the response of the National Assembly. The peculiar case of the Nigerian legislature can be illustrated with the example of a certain businessman having two employees. The first earns N8 million for every eighty thousand earned by the other but they somehow end up doing the same work. This example describes the ridiculous inefficiency displayed by the National Assembly when it responds to multiple manslaughters by investigation. Why would the National Assembly have committees carrying out investigations that should be carried out by policemen and for much less? Why have they taken the jobs of the police and left their main duties of legislating unfulfilled? Investigations are necessary because they could result in justice for the deceased; however appropriate legislations which could prevent likely reoccurrences are equally important.

We need new laws, urgently, quickly and with lightning speed. We need comprehensive laws regulating the practice of recruitment in Nigeria. In spite of the abysmal organization of the tragic NIS interviews, the situation was made far worse by the several thousands of graduates who in spite of not being invited to the interviews, made their way there. The law should also proscribe the practice currently prevalent of employers inviting sometimes as high as 50 times more interviewees for the position needed. A situation where 90% of persons attending an interviewing have no chance of getting the job, means 90% of those people will have spent time, money and hope on very poor odds. Can you imagine being unemployed for over two years and part of that 90% forty times, How desperate will you be? Job seekers in Nigeria deserve better.

The basic rule of natural justice is a man should not be a judge in his own matter. This simply means that in any situation where one party is both the accused and the judge, what results cannot be called justice. Therefore, when through direct actions of the executive, young Nigerians die, how can anyone applaud the attempts of the same executive at adjudicating the matter?
Inherent in a democracy are checks and balances; executive corruption or negligence cannot be tamed by that same executive in a working democracy. If the President wanted to resolve the issue speedily out of the respect for the deceased, the appropriate response will be admitting fault (civil responsibility) and then referring affected persons to the courts for identification and compensation. The courts are more equipped to determine what constitutes appropriate and sufficient compensation. The executive attempt is poorly thought out and has added more confusion to the system.

There are several principles guiding the award of damages/compensation in cases of wrongful death. Imagine that one of the deceased was an only child; can employment given to three family members of that family have the same effect as another family with seven unemployed children? Imagine again that one of the deceased was educated up to PhD level and another was an SSCE holder; is justice served if both families get the same compensation? There are many more questions the executive is not equipped to consider let alone answer. This is the job of the judiciary.

Democracy is beyond elections no matter how free and fair. It is a system with basic principles and specialized institutions. Demanding excellence and precision from our institutions is the only way to strengthen democracy. Our current political situation is in the truest sense the Kantian barbarism, worse, it is an elected barbarism. The ‘democracy’ of ants in a colony is ten times more admirable. This is the sad truth.

Ms Abraham, a lawyer, wrote from Abuja

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