“The Thief Has Gone” – Law and Decorum A Nuisance?


In mankind’s long history, men with a kind of mind are used to sustain arbitrariness and dictatorial powers. Sometimes such power could morph to what appears like legitimate authority. But conscientious students of jurisprudence and history are ever conscious of this creepy aspect in the development of law and human society. This awareness induces the wise to think before speaking. It helps to apprehend appearances caressing adulation of evil in seasons of anomie.

As odd as feudalism may seem today, it had a tinge of consensus. The consensus of a few considered as law mauled over peoples through centuries dotted with absolutism. Consensus by few was seen as law whence absolute power of the King derives. Still, within this confines, ‘law’ was assumed to be higher than the diktat of the King, even though the latter sees himself as ‘law’.

But law was not essentially the King.This assumption interspersed ancient works of philosophers. Indeed. some philosophers had insight and confidence in various strands of law. In a sense, they looked towards “a glorious day of law” and freedom from arbitrariness and absolutism even when they were still under arbitrary law. Are people still dreaming of such a day?

Let us see how in simple ways rule of law today moves almost imperceptibly to old ways of the uncivilized world. Does such insight require legal education to understand its subtleties? Never!

Prior to acquiring gang and wired status, thieving was singular not plural in name and character. It was difficult to see (igwe agwo), ‘droves of snakes’. The phrase ‘gang of thieves’ igwe ndi oshi was not a common term in general expression. Without romanticizing, human moral barometers ‘efficiently’ worked. Not many were engulfed in trying to catch a thief. Those in charge for making peace and order were few and such roles were nominal in the sense that everybody including the king worked with their hands.

Thieving therefore was not occupational. It was is no work. There is no department dedicated to catching thieves. Dispossessing people or the community of things had no other name. Thieving owns no social dressing that leaves it grey. It has only a colour. A colour of wickedness, widely denounced. It goes with sanctions. Thieving brings tarring that endures through generations. This was so before a dirty mix defying description – mpiti-ma-mpi. How disheartening.

There was an incident of onye oshi ananu “The thief has gone”. It bespeaks abhorrence. A man in his 20s was seen at midday backing what looks like a baby. A man backing a baby in a patriarchal society is typically strange.

Baba Enuofu questions the ‘child’ backer to identify himself. He did but his name failed to register. He is not from this community. Without any census or biometric data server. everyone in the community is known even in the dark. Everyone is a community police man. Baba Enuofu doubles his steps to catch up to see clearly what is backed.

He asks:
“Where is the mother of the child you are backing?”
“No reply.”
“Why should you a man assume the role of a woman in this community?”
“Baba receives no answer.”
“The mix does not gel.”
“The pervading air becomes toxic.”
“He released volleys of questions.”
“No reply.”
“Something is certainly amiss.”

Enough of questions. Time for action. The young man is asked to stop. He refused. Baba beckons other locals. They rushed. They forcefully unwrap ‘the baby’ only to see a goat. The man is a thief. ” This oga be thief”. He is arrested and taken to the regent’s house.

“Police eze” Feds police station is far away. The thief should be detained in the regent’s house till morning before taken to District Office. At 2 am the thief stealthily opens the door. He slips off the house like a pussycat, The regent sleeping in his bedroom is hit by uncanny feeling even a whiff. He dashes out to where the thief is lying in the sitting room. The thief is missing. He is gone. “Onye oshi ananu” – the thief is gone bellows the regent.

The community gathered. A search party immediately hit all entries to the community. The search continues till 4.30 with no result. They re-organized. Then at 5.30 am when mission bell tolls for prayers, they set out again. As early risers are opening doors and likely to complicate the search, the search party acted quickly to avoid a mixed up. New sentries are mounted. Gliding for escape, the run away thief slips into the hands of those on sentry. The thief is caught! He will be taken to the ‘compiter’. There he will be tried. Finally, he is sentenced to six months imprisonment. No stories. No setting of committee on how to kill a snake ala Perot. This happened over 50 years ago.

But today it appears that despite higher education and African governance, simple things in law seem lost in law books. Some things are given a cooling, coloring, cooing and deodorized to a point that will amaze the devil. Simple word like stealing, thieving, trespass appear not to be seen as grievous any more. As local words find their way into the English dictionary, the meaning of what is known as wicked are deliberately and powerfully twisted. Many are shocked. Millennials are now confused on watered down of governance and justice system.

Take for example the word trespass. As children in primary school, many identified the word trespass written in small or bold lettering on notices warning people against entering land belonging to families. If one dares such and takes something without consent, one is sure of consequences.

Right and access to land and enclosures can be considered trite both in customary and English laws. Scouring reports of colonial officers provides plethora of judgements on the issue of right of access to personal and communal lands/forest. But one hundred years after, such trite is now the everyday discussion of the so called progressive elite, legal gurus and academics in our country. Has it not been contended that ‘To be or not to be’ is often a ruse, a smokescreen of inequity and iniquity? Thieving is no longer thieving especially when given political imprimatur.

In fact, colonial documentation in archives are replete with sentences, punishment, fines for trespass. One is touched to find a1908 and 1922 record to that effect. But today what is the situation? It seems there no word like trespass as you visit villages. You are faced with trespass from within and without by all kinds of miscreants and invaders. A spiral of lawlessness without any fear of consequence!

What ever is the case, the thief has gone, at least for now.

If it takes any group of people more than a hundred years to identify themselves and discern justice and equity on a thing as thieving – be sure such people will live in confusion among themselves over a long time!