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Speed is violence

By Obi Nwakanma

I returned from Berlin on Wednesday nightwhere I had participated in the International Festival of Literature courtesy of Ulrich Schreiber, and met another delight: the just released copy of Chinua Achebe’s latest book, There Was A Country lying in wait for me.

Needless to say, I dug straight in (Folks, wait for the review next week). But I’m taking something from that book today, the first stanza of the poem titled “Benin Road” presaging an ominous moment in this Achebe memoir: “speed is violence/power is violence/Weight violence.” It is an intriguing and powerful tercet, urgent in its moral and didactic force.

It seems to me fitting advise today to the young generation of Nigerian youth, but particularly the Igbo youth, who I fear is at the most dangerous crossroads in our modern history. Not long ago, among the Igbo especially, and I’m certain in most of the cultures that make up Nigeria, the measure of an individual’s worth was in the elegance they brought to life through work, through intellect; through the sheer perseverance that marked the disciplined mind from the sham. There was a clear difference between courage and mere bellicosity.

The Igbo ethos valued industry, honesty and thrift. The individual was lord of his fate, and worked in close concert with his “chi.” They had no need, nor fear of kings, nor were they constrained by the boundaries of class or hierarchy.

They were empowered by great optimism. If a man did not do all he could in this life, then the next was a great possibility. That powerful belief in the cyclic incarnacy of great possibilities meant that no one, except those who commit great abominations, had the great promise of life permanently foreclosed.

The individual could aspire to any heights for as long as they do not violate the sacred sanctions of the land, the laws of the earth goddess, Ala, who protected with as much love as she struck with as fiery recompense, in the great example she made of Kamalu N’ozuzu/Amadi-oha.

Of the great sacred laws of the earth, the highest abomination was the shedding of blood. Every Igbo knew this. A violation of this law often was seen in apocalyptic dimensions. There were other aspects of “Nso-Ala” of course, and in one of their most powerful songs early in the 1970s, the highlife group, the “Oriental Brothers” reminded us that of all the things the Igbo regarded as the greatest failures of moral character, thieving is the worst. It devalued the individual’s dignity.

It has karmic force: it led to the abrupt end of lineages. Those who moved too far into the night were thus regarded with great surprise and great disdain. They brought shame, not only to their families, but to their communities and the wider clan. It seems that something powerful has changed in that value system and it is both surprising and not too surprising. It is not surprising because we have had it long in the making.

A re-shaping of an ethical life framed by extremes – extreme and fundamentalist religion antithetical to the traditional ideas of balance and tolerance; a new level of materialism anchored on unrestrained individualism; a deep deadly cynicism with the loss of the collective soul and of the public culture; a terrible worship of imagery – the new idols – our modern toys that numb us to reason, humility, and self-restraint.

I do not want to sound like a preacher, but I’m saying all this as a preface, indeed to free myself, too tongue-tied by a recent event of which I’m still at great loss to understand. I’m talking about the mindless murder of Cynthia Osokogu, a young beautiful Igbo woman from Agbor and the only daughter of a retired General of the Nigerian Army by four young Igbo men – her natural peers. These young men are said to be undergraduates of Nigerian universities. They must be smart but they apparently have no soul. They did not see her great beauty or value her enterprise.

We know now that the late Cynthia too was in the university, but she was also entrepreneurial; seeking to make something honest of herself without depending on the limited handouts of her parents; she bought things and sold them on the side while also in pursuit of knowledge. That was how, we now know, she met these people – through her Facebook account. For many, the social media is a great way of establishing connections.

Yes, it is also eliminating the very basis of closer scrutiny in these contacts on which truer human relationship is formed; and yes, it has proven to be dangerous in this particular case, to trust strange people you hardly know but who we now meet on-line.

That however should not be the point in this case, because we can also easily say that Cynthia ought to have nothing to fear of young men who ought to see her, not merely as body parts or whose intent ought not be taking her money or kidnapping her for ransom. But this was exactly how it turned out.

These young men, undergraduates we are told of the university, good looking boys who could have channeled their minds and talents and enormous energy to greater endeavors, not only chose a life of crime, but of the extreme kind of abomination.

They not only kidnapped Cynthia, they raped her and strangled her in a Festac Town hotel room, and put a call thereafter also demanding ransom to her brother. The crime is mind-blowing. These men – Echezona Nwabufo, Ejike
Olisaeloka, Osita Orji, and Chukwunonso Maduako do not deserve to hang. That’d be too easy an escape.

They should be kept alive and in solitary confinement for life. I say alsothat the young men who kidnapped the Vice-Chancellor of the Enugu State University of Technology, Professor Cyprian Onyeji, also deserve the life sentence.

The arrest of Osinachi Iheanacho, Ejike Aba, Obinna Okoro, Ezebilo Ihiemere, Ifeanyi Edeh, Chidiebere Ani, Ernest Udeonu and Chibuzo Eze by police at a   Hotel in Uwani, Enugu, with the ironic name “Safety Hotel” ought to put a new focus on the Hotel and catering industry and how they may be abetting these criminals in our midst. Kudos of course to the police for doing real gumshoe work in these cases.

More needs to be done to put these characters out of business.


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