The Message From London And Accra

Posted: November 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

By Olusegun Adeniyi

Two profoundly significant episodes which speak to how other societies deal with issues bordering on abuse of public trust happened last week in the United Kingdom and Ghana. In the former, a Royal Marine was put on trial and convicted for extra-judicial killing in Afghanistan. In the latter, a minister was sacked for committing a crime of intention. Before we go further, let us take the stories one after the other.

On September 15, 2011, three British soldiers (simply referred to as “Marine A”, “Marine B” and “Marine C”) were on patrol in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan when they found an insurgent critically injured with an AK-47 gun by his side. Going by the 1929 “Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War”, such a wounded enemy combatant ought to be treated humanely. But having ascertained that none of his colleagues wanted to administer first aid “on the idiot” as he called the man, “Marine A” decided to “finish the job”. Unfortunately for him, “Marine B” was inadvertently filming the tragic episode on his helmet-mounted camera. In the footage which became what is generally regarded as “the smoking gun” (give-away-evidence) in criminal investigation, “Marine A” was captured shooting the Afghan with a 9mm pistol.

In the course of the court martial, prosecutor David Perry described what “Marine A” did as “not a killing in the heat and exercise of any armed conflict… it amounted to an execution”. In his verdict, Brig Dunham, deputy commandant general of the Royal Marines, said: “It is a matter of profound regret that, in this isolated incident, one marine failed to apply his training and discharge his responsibilities. What we have heard over the past two weeks is not consistent with the ethos, values and standards of the Royal Marines. It was a truly shocking and appalling aberration. It should not have happened and it should never happen again.”

Now, let us get some things straight. One, the Afghan insurgent would probably have killed those British soldiers if he was not so helpless. Two, there was no doubt that he was an enemy combatant who got injured in battle. Three, if the Marines had left him to his fate he probably would still have died eventually. Given all these, why then did the British authorities have to put their men to trial? The answer is simple: in holding “Marine A” to account, the message being sent is not only to deter others but also to demonstrate to the world that there are sacred values that the British people hold very dear and that what happened was against the norm. Put simply, the conviction was not because the British authorities love the fallen Afghan but rather that a British soldier was not expected to take the law into his own hands. Now, let us take the second story from Accra.

“I will not quit politics until I make one million dollars…If you have money then you can control people,” said Ghanaian former deputy communications minister, Ms Victoria Hammah, on a tape that has gone viral. Now, given that there is no record that she has actually stolen any money, one would have expected that some bureaucrats in her ministry would address the media to threaten those who breached the privacy of Ms Hammah by recording her and releasing the tape. None of such happened. Also, the Ghanaian President didn’t wait for the parliament to conduct any “public hearing” nor did he set up a committee to probe the matter. He simply did the needful by firing the minister.

I am sure many Nigerians would ask: Why should a minister be sacked for “anticipatory corruption” that may never take place? And many would also wonder why a Marine would be convicted for killing an “idiot”! However, if we pay attention, what the Ghanaian and the UK authorities are teaching us is that there are certain norms expected of people who hold positions of public trust. If the Marine is allowed to get away with murder simply because of what his victim represented, then the message is that such criminality is condoned in the UK. In similar vein, if the Ghanaian minister had been left to continue in office, the implication would be that in Ghana, the essence of politics is not to serve but to make money.

Given the yet-unresolved scandal involving our Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, it is understandable that the Ghana incident would attract the interest of Nigerian commentators. But I am of the opinion that the UK trial actually offers us a better understanding of what ails us. From the alleged extra-judicial killings of nine people recently in Apo Quarters of Abuja which we have all conveniently forgotten to the case of the 20 floating corpses in a river in Anambra State (that is also lost in our memory) and several of such unresolved killings across the country, the message is simple: when we close our eyes to grievous infractions, we debase our society and incentivize a culture of gross impunity. The ultimate lesson is also obvious: when a society places little or no premium on the lives of its citizens, it is asking too much to expect that those put in charge of their affairs would feel compelled to accept responsibility for abuse of “mere” financial resources.

The greater tragedy of our country, however, is that a system that is literally overrun by sundry abuses which undermine best practices is simply incapable of isolating any single act of misconduct for serious remedial action.

•This piece by Adeniyi originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. He can be reached via olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

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