Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi.
Will we remember him – or even his name? Will it matter to us? Does it matter to us? Why should we care about a Nigerian who is convicted of trafficking drugs? Why should we care about him who is now dead – sentenced to die and hung by our esteemed courts of well-trained, experienced judges?
Indeed, why care at all when he is not the only or first person to die by the noose for drugs trafficking?
Because we are complicit in his death.
Who are ‘we’?
The government , the elected MPs, the media, the courts, the local lawyers who kept quiet, the opposition parties who kept quiet, the public who kept quiet.
The society which turned a blind eye.
The points of the case has been well articulated by some bloggers, especially Alex Au or Yawning Bread as he is popularly known (here and here). Thus, I will not go into that. I would, however, like to focus on the way our whole society turned a blind eye – and how easy it was for us to do so.
And yes, we are guilty of complicity in the death of this young man.
So many ministers, so many MPs – both of the ruling party and the opposition. Yet, as far as I know, not a single one of them raised this issue/case in parliament. Not that they did not have a chance to. Indeed, they were all in parliament just days before the execution of Tochi took place.
There are many lawyers among the MPs, yet not a single one found it necessary to question the doubts raised by the case of this Nigerian boy.
Perhaps the thought is that once Tochi is executed, people will forget about it soon enough. Or perhaps, that Tochi is from a country which is insignificant to Singapore economically and politically.
Or even perhaps our MPs feel that our courts are so absolutely perfect that there is no need to question but only trust. Indeed, the government has trumpeted the standing of the Singapore judicial system by citing certain international reports and ratings.
When the government itself has publicly and proudly declared that we should strive to be a ‘compassionate society’, but none of the MPs in government finds it necessary to raise the case of Tochi, I find the words ‘compassionate society’ hollow, empty and yes, even hypocritical.
No one is more complicit in the death of this young boy than the Singapore mass media. This is my opinion.
The mass media reaches the masses, that’s why it’s called the ‘mass media’. Thus, it is through the mass media that issues can be raised effectively and generate discussions, debates, even heated ones. This is how alternative views are opened up, orthodox ones questioned, new ideas flow and society progresses.
Yet, in a case such as Tochi’s, the mass media was woefully silent, quiet, nonchalant. Seems to me that the taking of a life deserves nothing more than a blip on their radar screen, if indeed there was even a blip.
Valid, probing questions were raised by Alex Au and particularly the Singapore Democratic Party. Yet, the media must have deemed these questions insignificant. They would rather pick up the Wee Shu Min issue rather than question the law or the application of the law in this case. They would rather devote pages upon pages to useless, inane, senseless, completely irrelevant topics than to ask substantial questions about this case.
When a judge says there is no proof that an accused knows he was carrying drugs, but yet sentence the same accused to death, a responsible media will pick it up and asks questions.
Yet, our media elected to adopt deafening silence.
How does a judge go to sleep knowing full well that he is complicit in the death of a young boy whom the judge himself pronounce publicly that there is doubt about his knowledge that what he was carrying was drugs?
This, perhaps, is the lingering question that is in the minds of many who read about the case.
Woefullt inept, completely cowed, pathetically irresponsible. I apologise for these harsh words but they are my true feelings.
These are the people who are in the business of seeking justice, fairness and sense. Indeed, they can be termed ‘the conscience of society’, a noble profession. But what we have just seen is nothing conscionable, nothing noble.
On the contrary, what we’ve seen from our local lawyers, particularly the Law Society, is shameful avoidance. Convenient shrug of the shoulders, as it were.
Surely, if even a layman can see the inconsistency and the unfairness (to say the least) of the sentence, an expert who is trained in the law for years can see it too?
What made our lawyers turn a blind eye to Tochi?
The opposition parties
So very often we have heard opposition parties declare themselves wanting to be the ‘check and balance’ to the government. So, where were they in this case of potential miscarriage of justice?
Where was the ‘check’ on the courts of government and the ‘balance’ brought to a senseless sentence?
I am particularly disappointed with the opposition parties. Perhaps they feel such a case is irrelevant to Singaporeans (and thus, will not win them any votes – especially when it involves the taboo subject of drug trafficking), or they preferred to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that it will go away soon enough.
Check and balance means check and balance in matters which matter. And if how a young boy is put to death does not matter to the opposition, then perhaps the opposition should quit talking about being a ‘check and balance’ to the government. For in not exercising what they preach, they are not less complicit than those whom they oppose.
*Appreciation goes to the Singapore Democratic Party for being the only opposition party which consistently and regularly posted updates about Tochi’s case on their website.
The public who kept quiet
I would like to qualify my criticism of the public by saying that they are only partly responsible – because of the mass media which, as explained, kept the news from them.
But even so, those of us who knew about the case did not do enough. Some of us attended the vigil for Tochi and were there in the early morning of Jan 26 when they tied a noose around his neck and dropped him through the trapdoor, sending him to his death.
We could have done more – much more.
This is a very very solemn time for me personally. Sad, for sure. But more than sad, it is disturbing, disconcerting and even frightening.
It is frightening to know how callously our state metes out the death sentence. How cavalier the attitude afterwards. “We must protect society”, says the prime minister after the death.
But who protects the innocent abused by the state?
Not the elected MPs, not the opposition parties, not the courts, not the lawyers, not the public and certainly not the mass media.
That much has been determined by this case.
Complicity only requires a turning of a blind eye. A shrug of the shoulders. A nonchalant attitude.
And make no mistake, we are guilty.
Thus, in sentencing Tochi to his death, we have sentenced ourselves to a lower level among civilized societies.
Without compassion, that is what we are – uncivilized – no matter the glamourous and glitzy trappings we see all around us.
Welcome to “First World Singapore”.
Disneyland with the death penalty – senselessly meted out.
Where a nation turned a blind eye.
Even to the sanctity of life.
Read an account of Tochi’s journey from Africa to Singapore here.
The series of events leading to Tochi’s execution here.