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Oyetola’s loot return amnesty
“THOSE who participated in looting should return the loot. Those machines that were stolen have serial numbers, which can be easily traced. So, I implored them to return them within 72-hour to the traditional rulers or the local government chairmen around them. If they do that on their own, they are pardoned, but if they fail to do so, we shall get them. It is an opportunity now to return them within 72 hours. We have enough evidence to track the looters.”
Governor Gboyega Oyetola, at the Osun Garment Factory on October 25, 2020, issuing a 72-hour amnesty to looters of public and private property to return their loot or face prosecution.
“This afternoon, I inspected looted items that have been recovered so far. I urge persons still in possession of stolen items to return them within the Amnesty period which expires in 24 hrs. Those who refuse to return looted items won’t be spared; they’ll be tracked and prosecuted.”
Governor Gboyega Oyetola, at a press conference on October 27, 2020, after inspecting the loot returned so far, warning looters about the repercussion of not returning their loot within the 72-hour amnesty period.
When Governor Gboyega Oyetola granted a 72-hour amnesty to looters of public and private goods in Osun state, following the chaos that enveloped the peaceful #EndSARS protest, some observers, especially on social media, laughed off the policy as a joke. “He won’t get anything”, a social media commentator wrote.
The commentators were wrong, because they failed to appreciate the genius of Oyetola’s loot return amnesty. They failed to understand the victim-first orientation of the policy, rather than mere focus on prosecution, which may not bring back looted property. Don’t we know too well that prosecuting looters in this country is more of a mirage than real law enforcement? How many big time looters of our common patrimony have really been jailed for their offense?
It is also important to gloss the Governor’s statement in the first quote more closely. “We have enough evidence to track the looters” and “…we shall get them” must be understood against the backdrop of various videos on various media outlet, especially TV and social media as well as the phones of citizens, who watched the looting in their neighbourhood.
The looters must know that the government has tracked down these videos and that they might eventually be caught. Besides, some of the looters were actually caught and arrested during or shortly after they looted. The fear of being caught and punished became a motivation for many looters to comply with the governor’s amnesty policy.
Some of the looters must have been surprised at the governor’s offer of amnesty, realising that he could still be angry at those who attacked him while addressing the #EndSARS protesters at Osogbo on Saturday, October 17, 2020. After all, there is hardly a distinction between the looters and those who attacked him during the preceding week.
As the second opening quote shows, many goods had been returned 48 hours after amnesty was granted. I marvelled at the goods returned and the rate of return, when I visited the site of the returned goods on that day. They included expensive furniture, refrigerators, deep freezers, motorcycles, industrial machines, fertilizers, mattresses, television sets, generators, fertilizers, and so on.
Interestingly, however, food items were hardly returned. They included chicken, pigs, cows, and various grains. Some items were stolen from government facilities, while others were stolen from private farms and shops. Particularly hit was Tuns Farms International, where pigs, chicken, and even equipment were looted. Worse still, a farm worker was killed in the process.
To avoid showing their faces, some looters simply dropped off their loot by the roadside very early in the morning, instead of taking them to the nearby Oba’s palace or Local Government Chairman as the directive stated. Whatever was returned was picked up, no matter where they were dropped off. This was possible because the government enlisted the assistance of the army, police, Amotekun, and other government staff.
Oyetola’s loot return policy is actually an echo of the federal government’s anti-corruption playbook. In response to poor or botched prosecution, President Muhammadu Buhari put the emphasis of his fight against corruption on asset recovery rather than mere prosecution and jailing of looters of public funds.
There is, however, a clear distinction. Implicit in Oyetola’s loot return amnesty is the realization that many of the looters are victims of unemployment, poverty, and hunger. While none of these problems is justification for looting, it is also true that a hungry person is an angry person (I replaced “man” with “person” in this old adage, not just for gender sensitivity or political correctness but also because there were women among the looters).
A major crisis like the looting spree, which occurred during the last week of October, 2020, across many states, especially in the Southwest, offers leaders the opportunity to demonstrate good leadership. Such demonstration need not be total. Good leadership may be demonstrated in a specific instance or in a specific way, where others are groping for solution.
Oyetola’s loot return amnesty demonstrates compassion for the victims as well as an understanding of the plight of the looters. Leaders are often rewarded for understanding the context in which events happen and demonstrating compassion.
Such was the case with Prime Minister Jacinda Adern of New Zealand. Before she won accolades for successfully controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in her country, her popularity rating rose beyond the 50 percent mark for the first time for her compassionate handling of the shooting, which killed 50 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch. Wearing a red head scarf, she quickly comforted Muslim families affected by the massacre and got a gun law passed, which banned semi-automatic weapons within a month of the shooting.
Oyetola should build on the successful handling of looting in his state by getting an anti-looting legislation passed, which stipulates stiff punishment for future looters. At the same time, he should double up on his youth employment policy in order to get as many Osun youths as possible out of the street. It is as important to take care of the moment as it is to take care of the future. That’s the best way to ensure that Osun remains the showpiece of peace and social protection it always has been.
Oyetola’s loot return amnesty