19 November 2012

Nigeria: Aluu and the Rest of Us


The murder of those four young undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt in the Aluu community of Rivers State has been much publicized and condemned by all who have heard of it or seen the video. And rightly so too. There have been calls for justice and arrests, which is also very good and worthy to be pursued with extreme diligence.

What I haven't heard, however, is any kind of attempt to understand the circumstances which led to such a tragedy. I'm not talking about the particular scenario the unfortunate young men found themselves in, though that may also be worthy of further examination.

What I'm talking about is how the mood of the country may have impacted on the situation. After all, Aluu is not the 1st time or place when Nigerians have killed their fellow countrymen because someone loudly accused them of being thieves. However, it will require someone who is more learned in Nigerian history than this writer to conduct such an examination. Thus I will consign my arguments here to contemporary trends which I believe play a part in these killings. I cannot speak as to how these trends began but I can, and will, point them out in the hope that we can, together, consciously create a change in thinking which ought to lead to a change in behaviour, if my teachers taught me true.

It is important to note that this article is certainly not a condemnation of the parties I shall mention. Indeed, I am thinking not of individuals but of systems and methods. Anomalies that have evolved into something resembling the norm.

I'll start from the most obvious point, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF). This organization, for want of a better word, is internationally famous for all the wrong reasons. It would take a whole article to cover the reported failings of the NPF; so suffice it to say that one of the reasons we Nigerians murder each other at the drop of a word (Ole!) is because we have not been given much reason to believe that reporting crimes and criminals to our friendly neighbourhood policeman will amount to anything but another bribe. It is widely believed that, for a small fee, the police will let you walk; I presume with a warning to repent and lead a blameless life henceforth. Now, if the people do not believe in the capability of the NPF, truly, they have to seek justice elsewhere. The police are always the bridge between the people and the courts of law. If the bridge is burnt then justice, if that is what you seek, must be found through other means.

Which brings me to my second point. Nigeria is only 52 years old, and it is known that old habits die hard. Before we had a government we had communities, and these communities had leaders, or elders, Mai Angwa, Ala'Adugbo, Eze, or whatever else they have been called. Traditionally, they not only watch over the community but also settle disputes and so forth. By rights they should be well known in their respective communities, and well versed in the affairs of such. Now, in a case of a purported crime, with the suspects being held under citizen's arrest, and justice being sought, shouldn't we be taking these suspects to our community leaders then? I mean, even if we can't trust the police, can we not trust in our community leaders to dig for and find the truth and then dispense justice in the right way? Or do we not have as much belief in them as we used to, and why might that be?

On the other hand, are we really after justice ourselves? Because the thing about justice is that it's blind, and wields a double-edged sword. Thus true justice might be something best avoided if you also have a skeleton hidden in your closet.

Finally, I am of the opinion that the media also have a part to play in these tragedies. I am not convinced that our journalists are being true to the term. I am finding it difficult to recall the last time I read or watched something on the local news which struck me as well-researched or even in-depth. Another thing that I find absolutely astounding is that the police will call a press conference, "parade" suspects, dump weapons, cash and/or vehicles in front of said suspects and the media just gobbles it up. No questions asked. Even through the grainy lens of the television screen some of the suspects appear to have been mistreated, to put it mildly, possibly even to the point of confession. But still no questions asked. Do the journalists do anything other than relay the words of the police to us, I wonder? Do they keep record of the serial numbers of the weapons displayed and investigate where they came from, then follow up on where they go afterward? Every time I see these "parades" on TV or in the papers, I can't help but wonder where all those bullets go after the show.

Until then, things remain as they have always been.

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