Ending Babu Seya saga is a relief; freed convicts have better chance

17Dec 2017
Michael Eneza
Guardian On Sunday
Ending Babu Seya saga is a relief; freed convicts have better chance

ADULT Tanzanians had something to occupy their minds recently when President John Magufuli pardoned a good number of prison inmates, one of which relates to putting aside the life sentence on musicians Nguza Viking, alias Babu Seya, and his son, ‘Papii Kocha’

John Magufuli this month pardoned Nguza Viking, alias Babu Seya, and his son, ‘Papii Kocha’ pictured. Photo: File

Two other sons had in previous years been freed after a Court of Appeal review of the judgement by (now retired) Judge Thomas Mihayo who convicted all the four to a life sentence. However, interest has all along focused on Babu Seya, and to that extent, along with his key musician son. Now the longing is fulfilled, but it has left as much debris in this second coming, as at first.

No ink need be spilled on the merits of the case or indeed of the pardon, as these are not the key issues after so much water has passed under the bridge. The conviction dates back to2003 when most youths of today were but toddlers or under-ten school goers, knowing next to nothing as to what has been going on in the courts, etc.

So the portion of society overly concerned with the fate of Nguza Viking and his son is a broad adult population, most of whom have grown tired of listening to opposing sides on what 'really' happened in that case. It is to this sentiment that President Emmerson Mnangagwa's advice fits: let bygones be bygones.

Apart from the music legend and his son, there are hundreds of other prison tenants who are now  seeing freedom, and societal sentiments concerning this group is often one of apprehension.

Heads of State make such decisions on auspicious national occasions and especially on Independence Day - which also doubles as Republic Day -so that there is less congestion in prisons, giving another chance to first offenders, and what is basically the same thing, take note of efforts to reform and become a good citizen that an inmate would have shown to the warders.

It is this attitude which earns recommendation to the Parole Board for listing among inmates who merit being considered for a presidential pardon, when such an occasion arises.

Unfortunately experience shows that it doesn't always work in that direction, that most freed prisoners would become models of conduct so that exposed youths in street corners and dark alleys don't follow such peers on the road to prison.

More often than not, freed inmates become tacticians of crime in their places of commiseration and interaction, such that many of them are sooner than later bound to find the same prison cells they were locked up before, and with little chance of parole.

That is why releasing inmates is at times a frustrating experience, when it visibly adds to the rate of crime, as motivated criminals seek to find money to spend, and rapidly. Society pays with heightened insecurity for its own caring sentiments.

There is no formula by which this can be avoided this time around, unless perhaps the screening for inmates to be released was properly handled, not by sending out feelers to families or even friends to pay something for their person to be released.

If the screening was more properly handled, there are higher chances of success in this act of parole, to get more successful insertions into society from among inmates. It is something to give an account for on another day, even perhaps, on another independence anniversary.

At the same time there are varying pressures for and against successful adaptation as upright citizens by the newly freed inmates, if one goes by past experience.

The whole purpose of parole is premised on the fact that there are higher chances for a freed individual to fit into society and do well, avoiding the sort of peer pressure and environment that brought him or her into crime in the first place. 

That is likely to be valid as a principle, if on the whole everyone who finds himself or herself in the hands of the law has something to regret about how it all came to pass, and wishes that there was another chance in life, to avoid that path.

It remains valid however that if conditions are negative the process of social re-insertion may prove difficult for an individual, and that is when being recycled into crime becomes a plausible proposition.

It is also in that context that a previous life of crime becomes an asset to the person's re-insertion into neighborhoods of violence and contempt for the law and it is this sort of failure to reinsert into society that parole always risks.

It all depends on the milieu of insertion as well as capacities of the specific individual, where the key issue is the background to previous involvement in crime, if it is curable and correctible, or if it is, say, fatal.

As a matter of fact, sociological or criminological research is still insufficient in the country, to say for sure how many former inmates pardoned under the parole system exercised as presidential prerogative on major anniversaries return to prison after a time.

Nor can it be said what portions of society habitually fail to reinsert paroled criminals or budding criminals, environments of a social or family sort which fail to take up such a person and give him (usually) the comfort that is needed, the faith or trust that the indulgent youth may have missed in the past. By some rough estimation the situation will be the same, thus recycling into crime.

The changes that have occurred in the past two years in the country would also have a bearing in the way in which prisoners being released might fare once they are out on parole, namely the ease with which they joined criminal groups earlier might have receded.

It is possible  that forming centre’s of crime and spreading terror in neighbourhoods without fearing police presence or investigation uncovering wrongdoers in that area is less pronounced than was the case before, in which case there are higher chances that most freed prisoners get a better opportunity for positive reinsertion. That capacity diminishes when there are many gangs on street sides and neighborhoods operating in contempt of the police, or with their connivance.

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