I came in contact with Mike Ozekhome since 1990, when he was our lawyer in ThisWeek magazine, where I began my journalism career. As a very young radical legal practitioner, many people were eager to see him, not just because of his human rights interests, but for his debonair looks and easy-going attitude, even when he was seen as a very vocal up-coming legal luminary. By this time I am describing, there were only four prominent and very visible lawyers very famous to journalists; they are Gani Fawehinmi, Alao Aka-Bashorun, Femi Falana and Mike Ozekhome. One case that continues to keep him in my mind was ThisWeek versus Mahmud Atta, a N1 billion libel case that swept the popular magazine off the streets. He remains one lawyer that makes the legal profession very glamorous and enticing to young Nigerians even during the military era, when law was overwhelmed by decrees and extra-judicial activities that were no longer within the purview of lawyers. But these are not the purpose for which this material was inspired.
The kidnaping of Ozekhome and his emotional outburst after his celebrated release, call for an insight into the kidnap bubble in the economy today. Looking at the legal luminary while pouring out his sentimental statements on TV, leads one to imagine the level of drilling these guys had brought him to bear. Knowing his nature as a man given to much bravado, one would quickly imagine the strength and power of that art called kidnaping. There is no doubt that Ozekhome must have been seriously subdued or overwhelmed even with more superior lectures that would have made nonsense of any of his most exciting moments in a court as a lawyer. His holding brief for the kidnappers was an indication that the trade has become the fifth estate of the realm, so much so that he has no reason to disparage the act in any way.
Like many other kidnap victims, Ozekhome kept faith with the credo of his hosts by not telling us how much was involved. From Soludo to Okonjo-Iweala, or Kehinde Bamigbetan to Nkiru Sylvanus (all kidnap victims), non was ready to say how much was spent. This is one secret all of them have kept and that goes to show the strength of this trade and how powerful it really is. If people known to be free with their opinions on so many issues can be conservative with the details concerning their ordeal in the hands of kidnappers, Nigerian leaders must definitely begin to look critically into the cause of this ugly development and begin to address it seriously instead of applying a paint-up commentary on it, as if they have any answer to its exit from the surface of this country.
As a social crusader, Ozekhome is also the only surviving kidnap victim that took time to study how this trade can vanish from our national lexicon as well as its long-term consequences. I believe that as a lawyer who would even be ready to accept a kidnapper as a client, he has refused to condemn them in the face of the loud outrage that trailed his kidnap, based on his interaction with them over many days. To Ozekhome, these kidnappers are not guilty as charged but are rather making some useful statements for a more peaceful society if there is the right leadership that can address the lapses in the country that presented no options to many people than taking to crime.
When more vocal and human rights-inclined people like Ozekhome become victims of this trade, some broad ideas on what to do with kidnaping will emerge. Ozekhome is just giving us an insight, and I believe more serious reasons for their actions would have emerged if he was allowed to spend more days. I think that Ozekhome is a sting that Nigerians need in their difficulties to unravel the inside-story of this act, but that duty will never be complete as long as such stings like him will return to live in a community that lacks adequate security. This brings us to his position on the long-standing debate on the state police.
As a lawyer, Ozekhome knows what could make the state police issue practicable and that was why he started with calling on the National Assembly to take a second look at the debate, which began during the second republic but was shot down by the ruling NPN which alleged that it was the idea of the opposition to cause trouble within the communities. As a constitutional issue, Ozekhome can now stand on his experience to mount an advocacy that can convince the legislature on it. But at the same time, Nigerians are aware of the various gaps between us and Americans or Britons that have fancied this structure. Like he quickly noted,”the Nigerian nation could no longer pretend to be a united nation, because Nigerians owe their allegiance to their various ethnic tribes first”. Much as the issue of state police could be a solution to street tumults and communal hooliganism, it could also be an instrument for the actualisation of the interests of some ethnic groups or tribes, like enforcing arbitrary”deportations” or conversion of estates and group killings. Much as this call is one important way forward, there is also the belief that a faster pace towards the new technology would solve this problem with some multiplier benefits, than relying on a group of people whose characters may finally relapse to the level of our police system today. In fact, the record of the Nigerian police does not offer a chance for any agency that should be addressed with that tag,”police”. We should rather work hard to achieve sufficiency in electricity power delivery and rely so much of central security circuit controls using the CCTV cameras and other higher sciences. I will support the Police issue within the micro level if Ozekhome will bring non-Nigerians to do this. Of course, the Nigerian police can, some times, surprise you with some wonderful skills and duties, but this is usually rare and under severe instructions.
I really do not know how we got into this kind of mess. It appears that everybody wants the federal government to take responsibility of any lapse in the society. I ask myself why is it that people will be kidnaped in a remote community far away from Abuja and somebody will not blame the state where such crimes have roots? I still feel that the states and local governments are the structures that can conveniently address this issue because, 90 per cent of the kidnap incidents occurred in the rural communities, and a good number of the actors live there. I think that Ozekhome’s stance on this issue of security must have a state and local government slant. If he takes time in looking at the sums devoted to security votes by the state government and their local government counterparts, he will be rest assured that enough resources good enough to assuage the anger of these kidnappers, may have been spent for nothing.
There is no doubt that our friend has come home alive and has good news for us all and the kidnappers, but it was a story told with so much fury. It was a message from a human right activist: trying to make a case for the deprived. It was also a message from a politician, echoing his master’s voice. Welcome back, Chief Mike Ozekhome!
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