A food retail market in Lagos SOURCE: Google
From its onset, it had promised to be the greatest, most talked-about trial of the year; and it has drawn the attention of the entire world. The reason is not far-fetched. An estimated 150 million Nigerians were plaintiffs in this matter and all were ready to be prosecuting witnesses at the trial. Both the plaintiffs and the defence had assembled an intimidating team of legal luminaries to handle their cases.
The prosecution witnesses came from every stratum of the society; of different callings and in all shapes and sizes. Artisans, housewives, students, businessmen of all cadres, manufacturers, civil servants, human rights activists, representatives of Non Governmental Organisations, pensioners, religious leaders, politicians – you name it, they were all there.
The case of the prosecution was intense, monumental, multifarious and pervasive. Led in evidence in chief by their counsel, witness after witness mounted the box to make gripping, soul-wracking, dramatic, and, sometimes, mind-boggling pronouncements. They came with their personal experiences, event-recounts, tragedies, life threatening circumstances which, they claimed, 2016 had caused and brought upon them. Their presentations-in-content were as varied as the witnesses themselves – vivid, dramatic, convoluted, multifaceted, tragic, awe-inspiring, starkly inhuman, ominous . . .
“My lord, we have never had any comfortable spell in our country Nigeria since many of us were born. But 2016 was the king of oppression for us. Whereas it came with a promise to change things for the better, telling us to have patience but for any one small item of improvement we saw, we were flogged with ten major items of hardship and oppression. What is the essence of the fairly stable price of petrol for example, when the average citizen in our millions cannot afford the skyrocketing prices of staple food items, and the kerosene and gas to cook the scanty food we can ill-afford?”
As exhibit for tender for the Court’s Records, one group of witnesses presented a document containing a catalogue of rising prices of commodities. The petition read:
“The change we had in 2016: The prices of staple foods and essential items have gone beyond the reach of most of us. Many increased by as much as 300 per cent – that is triple!
‘‘Palm oil, 25 litre keg rose from N6,190 in January to N18,650 in November; maize, 100 kg rose from N6,000 in January to N17,515 in December; gari, 60kg which was N5,940 in January rose to N13,240 in December; rice, 50 kg was N9,400 in January, but jumped to N18,275 in November; beans from N200 to N550 per Mudu measure; cooking gas, 12.5kg flew from N2,500 to N5,300; kerosene from N100 to N500 per litre; petrol from N87 to N145 per litre; diesel from N140 to N270 per litre; Peak milk went up from N140 to N200 per tin; Indomie noodles, per sachet rose from N35 to N100; sugar from N600 to N1300 per mudu. Even Kulikuli which was N10 for 10 pieces became N100 for the same 10 pieces; aluminium roofing sheets from N13,000 to N30,000 per bundle; flour rose from N6,000 to N12,000 per bag; cement from N1,000 to N2,300 per bag; rubber/dunlop slippers rose from N70 to N300 for one pair; a dollar rose from N197 to N499; CFA franc went up from N370 to N770; motorcycle tyre from N1,500 to N5,000; a biro from N20 to N50; A4 paper jerked up from N650 to N1500 per pack. Yet our salaries remain the same and our incomes from all our businesses are sliding down for lack of business.
What kind of changes is this? How are we supposed to survive?”
Farmers, especially from the middle and southern parts of the country recounted how Fulani herdsmen rode their cattle on their farms and destroyed all the crops for most part of the year. And that, they said, was only the beginning – for when they protested, the herdsmen armed with AK 47 assault rifles killed many of their kinsmen and raped their women and daughters. Others in tears revealed shocking details of how Fulani herdsmen and Islamic fundamentalists slaughtered their kinsmen the way they slaughter rams.
One of them in his evidence put it very succinctly:
“My lord, from Kano to Abuja; from Southern Kaduna to Benue and Enugu, it is an open cheque for the violation of the most fundamental of the Human Rights for us – which is the right to life. With the nation’s security agencies folding their arms and turning a blind eye. But other groups and persons including those peacefully agitating for Biafra and others in mere rallies are murdered in cold blood by the same security agencies. In all these, we did not get any respite from any quarters in 2016. But, very strangely, my lord, amidst all these atrocities against innocent human beings – including mass murders – which continued un-checked, this same 2016 promptly set up in June, a Special Military task Force made up of 1000 troops to wage war against the cattle rustlers in Zamfara State. This gave the impression that our welfare as citizens was of less importance than that of rustled cattle.”
Some of the witnesses were brought in on wheel chairs; some on hospital beds; some have had their arms or legs chopped off, according to them, by bombs. Many women brought their terribly malnourished children as exhibits. Others brought the photographs and death certificates of their loved ones.
Many, while giving evidence, broke down in uncontrollable body-wracking tears, rolling on the floor of the court – and had to be held up. It was a terrible spectacle, seeing grown up men and women weeping so profusely. At certain instances, many in the courtroom and in the audience on television screens and on satellite all over the world were also moved to tears at the graphic revelations coming out of the witnesses.
The judge, professionally not expected to display any emotions publicly during proceedings on any case, deep within him was also moved by the weight and nature of the evidence and exhibits being displayed before him. Indeed, it was exclusively reported by some media that many times, the judge himself broke down in tears in the privacy of his chambers at the close of sitting on certain days. The judge denied the reports.