By Bisi Lawrence
Not many people knew anything about Aluu until two weeks ago. And then, on the 5th of this month, the sleepy suburb of Port Harcourt began to make headlines for the wrongest of reasons.
That gruesome incident of four undergraduates who were lynched in Aluu on that day must make anyone sad; it was really pathetic. But in a wider context, it would make one tremble — what if any of them were your brother, or nephew or son? How would you feel? And one of them could indeed have been your relation. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls … “
The barbaric act of lynching offers no trial of its indicted victim, but turns a blind eye and a deaf ear on any concept of justice to achieve its wicked end. In doing so, it defies the judicial process and disdains all legal proceedings along with their authority, thus establishing its own brief rule outside the law. In fact, one can only imagine its emergence as a signal of the total breakdown of law and order.
And yet, by all accounts, the wanton killing of those boys happened in a surrounding where there was a police presence, even if not so near but prominent enough to make the people aware of its existence. They knew there was a law enforcement establishment and what it stood for. There was a crowd around too, but apparently not brave enough, nor motivated enough, to halt the murderous mob who beat, and battered and eventually burned those innocent souls to death. No one seemed able, or willing to save them, even when they were paraded naked round the area.But who were the members of this mob? They were said to be vigilantes, that is, a semi-official volunteer corps established in a community to help in the enforcement of law and order.
Like lynching which came on the heels of armed robbery in Nigeria, this ancillary to peacekeeping is an aspect of the aftermath of the civil war. The war introduced the use of dangerous weapons into our lives on a massive scale, and made the idea of killing people a commonplace affair. The sight of people being killed was no longer very strange from the experience of the battles which were witnessed as openly as never before, and that emboldened the people to defend themselves with extreme abandon in the face of ruthless killers. Lynching was, in fact, adopted less as a reprisal for armed robbery than as a deterrent for violent crimes since the law enforcement provisions were deficient in safeguarding the people. That brought in the vigilante groups, many of which were sponsored, or at least recognized by the government. They are created to work with the police, and usually do. But, on that fateful day in Aluu, something went wrong.
The police were said to be alerted but they failed to prevent the course of the tragic event. They claimed to have been overwhelmed by the size of the mob—which was made up of their own alter ego? The murdered boys were also reported to have had dealings with the man who set them up by shouting that they were armed robbers, when they were really his creditors and were there only to demand the money owed to one of them. That gives the idea that they were probably on familiar terrain in that neighbourhood, and yet nobody seemed to have recognized them, though they were paraded around. Curiouser and curiouser,.
The whole incident sums up unfortunately to be no more than the wanton killing of these young men by a group that is so inflated by its own importance as to have forgotten about the sanctity of human life. It reeks with the rancid odour of the sense of immunity which has insidiously spread its evil insensitivity to the rule of law through the fabric of the society. The Aluu occurrence is a manifestation of the rotten core of what our values have become in many ways, in many places. Armed robbery, once almost totally subdued, has reared its ugly head once again in bristling form. It is now accompanied with rape which, of course, is never loath to stand on its own. Meanwhile, whole communities are cut down by bullets with religious zeal, and promising lives are snuffed out routinely from day to day. The bestiality, the callousness, is absorbed by a society that no longer seems capable of protecting itself by its own resources, and hardly denies it any longer.
This nation today needs justice no less than integrity. It would not have surprised many people if none of those who committed the heinous homicide in Aluu had not been arrested up till now. But, thank goodness, several of them have been arraigned in court. Many are still not certain that justice would be fully done even now. It is a natural reaction to the treatment of recent cases. But we have to hope that there will be a transformation even here, as in other realms of our nation building. We must embrace the sublime principle of justice which is “to make the punishment fit the crime”, no matter who has got his finger in the pie. The Aluu monstrous murders are however too sticky for anyone to allow his finger to be caught in any aspect of them. The quality of justice it demands must be seen to be higher than mere reprisal. It must make people shudder and serve as a watershed for the society’s response to any crime of this nature in future. What readily comes to mind is the full measure of what the law prescribes in such cases. It happened no less than some six decades ago, in the celebrated case of Alfa Apalara.
He was a Muslim cleric, a fierce preacher who condemned secret societies in his public utterances. He invited their members to an open debate, which of course went without any response. In stead, the Muslim preacher man was the object of myriads of threats. But Apalara was undaunted. He continued to heap imprecations on the “unbelievers” until they could no longer tolerate his assaults on their secret practices which he denigrated as “rubbish”, and the “works of darkness” in a world that had become ennobled with light. At last, the members of the most powerful among the cults could stand it no longer. In the midst of one of his public outings they swooped on him and took him away. It was later revealed that they carried him into the middle of the lagoon and drowned him.
The story of the crime and the trial was circulated swiftly as it unfolded. Popular musicians even composed songs about it. There were no less than eleven of them accused of the offence. Eventually, a verdict of guilty sent each and every one of them to the gallows. It has turned out to be an abiding lesson to hoodlums, thugs and mayhem merchants in the Lagos area, at least.
It is a season of elections all over the world. In nearby Ghana, Nana Rawlings, the wife of former President Rawlings, has opted to contest for the presidency in December. In far away America, Barak Obama is all set to “defend his title” against someone who is turning out to be a fearsome challenger, Mitt Romney. The bout is scheduled for next month. In Ondo State here with us, today is the day.
The world is growing old. In the past, a lot of premium was placed on ideology. There was democracy which did not need to be proclaimed beyond Abraham Lincoln’s description that has, in time, matured into the hackneyed definition, to wit, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Then came socialism which was aligned with Communism, and virtually compelled the proponents of democracy to sharpen their act by priming socialism with a pronounced intellectual content. So the world had been split by the promulgation and promotion of the two concepts since the middle of the last century. But the emphasis on ideology seems to be undergoing a reversal these days. In Ghana, they are talking of more jobs, and peace. In America, they are concerned with the economy and jobs. In Ondo, they are projecting the need of maternal care, good roads, education – development, generally. But no ideology any more? Where, by the way, are the manifestos? That was in what the ideologies were published. And what, by the way, is the precise meaning of ideology?
In his book, “Positive Expressionism”, my late brother, Olatunde Lawrence, founder of Gaskiya College, Lagos, expatiates, in describing his theme as an “ethno-political ideology for Nigeria, “an ideology may be described as a maxim, the honest practice of whose tenets fulfills the faith, expectations and aspirations of a People by eliminating the decadence of their society and leading the people to egalitarianism. A Perfect society does not require or need an ideology. It is Utopian. “
Well, maybe the world is becoming perfect. But this age has seen the erosion of ideals almost to extinction? With military involvements allover Asia, America knows no peace. With fresh divisions mounting over fresh ones, the quest of Ghana is for peace. With anxieties mounting for the past several months, we should pray to God: “let there be peace in Ondo State today.” It is high time we brought back the ideal of peace.