Saturday, April 08, 2017

Class law in Nigeria

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."  - Anatole France

Samuel Danjuma, 22; Yakubu Adamu, 18; Yakubu Bulus, 25, and Godwin Jacob, 20, of no fixed address were sentenced to 3 months prison after they pleaded guilty to the “joint act” of being a “public nuisance.” The prosecutor  told the court that a team of policemen arrested the convicts on March 17, at about 12am in front of a shop in Nyanya Market with the intention to commit an offence. He was clearly a clairvoyant who knew they had criminal intentions in their mind. His key argument was that as they were outside at night and had no fixed abode, they were vagrants wandering around and therefore criminal. 

When a member of the elite walks on the street, the person is not loitering, is not a vagrant, is not a criminal. 

The vagrancy law was introduced to Nigeria by the former British colonial regime for the sole purpose of harassing and humiliating poor people who were said to have had no means of livelihood. The idea was to deal with the poor by creating a law that made them permanently guilty as a control measure. The anti-people's law was retained for the same purpose by the indigenous ruling class who took over power from the alien administrators in 1960. Thus, in a display of class bias whenever rich people were found on the street taking a walk it was said that they were exercising their fundamental right to freedom of movement. But whenever the poor exercise such fundamental right to freedom of movement they were usually arrested by the police who accused them of wandering or loitering. 

In Abuja, women are regularly arrested for wandering and prostitution, detained and fined after summary judgement by a mobile court run by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board. The principle is that the poor must not be allowed to soil the Abuja environment. Many of these women who are arrested daily are not sex workers but are simply walking alone on the streets, sometimes returning from their places of work. No woman who is driving a car alone ever gets arrested. Again, what we are seeing is conflating poverty with criminality and the evidence is simply that the person is not rich enough to be driving a car or looks poor..

 A convicted former governor of Adamawa State was released from prison on bail. He was released because the conditions in prison made him feel sick. The poor however cannot complain of conditions in prison, which is assumed to conform to their lifestyles. 

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