by Yomi Kazeem
Last week, national security got a new meaning as Seun ‘Egghead’ Odewale, a prominent person in Nigerian social media circles was briefly detained alongside a colleague for being ‘threats to national security’.
Did they try to smuggle in nuclear warheads? No. Were they in possession of weapons of mass destruction? Only if you consider a camera to be one.
In truth, the secuity agencies in the country are at liberty (to a certain extent) to deem persons as threats to national security as long as due process is followed and such persons, when deemed to be harmless, are released. This is after all for the good of the nation, no?
However, my grouse against the notion is simple; security agencies do not play fair. One can be tagged a threat to national security for different acts ranging from taking pictures of a windmill in Katsina to not having an Identification Card in Ikeja. The thriving practice of ‘double-standards’ allows our law enforcement agencies to largely run the reef in whichever way they deem fit. Herein lies the real concern.
While cases like Odewale’s, by virtue of his standing and status, are brought to our attention, there are a plethora of cases which go unnoticed under the radar and that, my friends, is the real tragedy. We have a police system and also a prison system that seemingly operates in a parallel universe. The unfortunate ones, of which there are a lot, are accosted and detained by policemen until their family members show up with money to bail them out. In cases where no-one shows up, they are shipped off to maximum security prisons and will spend years there doing nothing but ‘awaiting trial’.
Saddening is it not?
In very rare cases, someone takes notice and springs to action like blogger Linda Ikeji did in the case of Blessing Effiong – an orphan who tried to create a source of income for herself. Blessing spent FOUR long years in Kirikiri prisons. What was her offence? Blessing wanted to run a call centre business and so she bought a phone from a friend but unknown to her the phone had been stolen. On the same day she bought the phone, she received a call from the real owner. Blessing volunteered to give the phone back to him as long as he refunded her the N800 she spent on buying the phone. Showing good faith, she gave this person her address but Mr. Owner showed up with a bunch of rent-a-cops and you know the rest…
Saddening is it not?
For those who do not know, Odewale was released based on ‘self-recognition’. How many of us would be released based on such grounds? Certainly not Blessing. Certainly not the hundreds or maybe thousands who have spent the last years of what was otherwise a normal life in a prison cell with stinky floors as beds and criminals as companions.
How do we curb the prevailing madness?
Longterm solutions are police and prison reforms but knowing how things work in Nigeria, good luck with that. So the question then is this – who will help the helpless non-eggheads. If you think the government will, I’ll reply you with three of Reuben Abati’s most famous words: Don’t be stupid.