By Obi Nwakanma
New Year’s Day: the flurry of good wishes and triumphant high-fives the midnight preceding it must have been all part of the hopeful rituals for those who made it to the very first day of the year, 2018. Many welcomed that day with uproarious celebration. Many went to church that day – a great number of our people are fanatically religious – to celebrate, and thank their creator for making them see that new day of the New Year. So, imagine that day in Omoku, Rivers state, and the day which began with such great hope and elation for people who had not an inkling, that within the first half of that new day of the year, their lives would be cut short, and the door of existence shut abruptly to the faces. That was to become the fate of fourteen people, shot instantly to death by “bandits” who drove through Omoku spreading terror, and pumping bullets into unarmed, innocent people; some of them women; some children.
According to the report in the Vanguard, thirty-six people were shot, with fourteen fatalities. Who did the killings? What were their motives? This terrorist act is like all terrorists acts, calculated to drive fear into the population, and exact dominance through fear. But it is ultimately a cowardly act, by cowards who had to cover their faces, shooting unarmed people, including children. Sometimes acts of terror are driven by idealist causes – a higher purpose, wrong-headed no doubt – but it is often to press home fundamental demands in the interest of a high-minded idea. And in such instances, the target is often very powerful institutions. Innocent deaths are avoided as much as is humanly possible. Where such perpetrators cannot avoid it, they try to minimize the “collateral damage” as much as possible, because they often want to seem, even in their brutality and bestiality, human and thoughtful. But was not the case with the killings in Omoku.
It was nothing short of savagery and cowardice. It reminds us all of the killings last year in Ozobulu, Anambra state; a pointless, thoughtless bloodlust, driven by vendetta. But the victims were all innocent; easy targets; just regular folk. There is very little that the law enforcement authorities have told us yet to indicate that significant arrests have been made, or that the very roots of the reasons addressed, nor the identity of the perps who came to kill with such horrendous coldness that it should concern us all about the very nature of the mental health of the young generation of Nigerians. If young men and in some possible instances, young women, can kill so coldly and without remorse, then we have an urgent crisis of catastrophic dimensions in our hands. For it used to be that killings did not come so easily. Killing people you hardly know, including women and children in church or just returning from church is, heavy.
There are failures at too many points in the event of that day: the failure of law enforcement and public safety and security; the failure of public governance, particularly with the absence of a decent emergency evacuation services and quick response to casualty and casualty management; and there is also the utter failure of civic response, in rallying for emotional and community support for victims and neighbors at such horrendous public killings. These are questions that suggest the complete fragility of our current humanity in Nigeria, where we are now prone to dealing with public disaster of this magnitude, with the kind of indifference that also speaks about the situation of mass psychosis currently pervasive in Nigeria. The trauma of the daily exposure to daily violence has deadened the soul of Nigerians. Anywhere else in the world, the killing of twenty-four innocent people, by mass shootings, would be considered a national security disaster. But the question is, who cares any more in Nigeria? If it is not herdsmen killing people, it is Boko Haram, or some hooded mass killers or gang shooting people in their most vulnerable moments, to death.
The police has said, according to their spokesman, Nnamdi Omini with regards to the killings in Omoku, that although arrests have not been made, they have established some clues, and that justice will be served for the dead. No justice will serve the dead, they are dead. But their deaths must not go unpunished, and it is about time that the authorities at all the levels of government in Nigeria – the local, state, and federal authorities faced up to the terrible challenge of the growing menace of mindless violence, and begin to work out a new strategic initiative that will address this situation.
These governments must work from the very fundamental premise that all past initiatives and methods for containing insecurity and violence by non-state actors has failed, and they must therefore create new measures, new partnerships, and new protocols, including re-organizing the mechanism and the structure for national security delivery. First, on the question of emergency services: there were heart-rending reports that many of the gun-shot victims just bled out, and could have been saved by a more proactive Casualty Services, where there were ambulances to evacuate them to properly equipped hospitals, and providing immediate first intervention aid in the process.
As is increasingly the case among Nigerians, many people simply clustered around and watched these victims die, clutching their hands helplessly on their heads and crying for the “Blood of Jesus!” when they could have helped in administering first aid – voluntary emergency response intervention – a skill that the public schools should have long been teaching as part of civic education. In another incident reported by Vanguard, the husband of one of the victims narrated how a military patrol team saw him holding his dying wife, still very alive at that stage, and yelling for help, and the callous indifference with which these soldiers treated his plea to save his wife’s live by driving away. Authorities should investigate this. But better still, we ought to know that what happened in Omoku is a complete intelligence failure: all the services – the secret and sworn services included, charged with keeping Nigerians safe, failed to anticipate, and pre-empt an armed gang, one of the hydra-heads that have grown in Rivers state with the rise of politics in the last eighteen years, that has now morphed into terrorist groups in Rivers state.
These groups of armed gangs, many of them created by politicians originally as thugs to fight their political opponents, have now grown into small, organic militias, operating as laws unto themselves on land and in the creeks. It is about time that the national security services took on a more proactive approach to smoke them out, and retake the delta, and restore civil peace. The killings in Omoku represent the danger in creating Mephistopheles –that nemesis that haunts its creator.
But Omoku is just one example of a growing, and terrifying reality: more Nigerian youths get involved in the international drugs, arms, and human trafficking triangles, and they bring with them fallouts – recruitment of idle, sometimes drug-addled, and very clearly emotionally-empty youth, who are forged into a growing army of killers and gangbangers, and we have right by our view, the example of Mexico in the making.
The Omoku killings, and the Ozubulu killings before it, are auguries of the disintegrating social and moral fabric that once knit communities together. These are dangerous developments. It is time for the government of Nigeria to confront these violent spasms right now, before it grows beyond the capability of any government in Nigeria. Government must hunt down the killers that rampaged through Omoku – just as it must arrest the so called herdsmen killers in Benue, Kaduna, Rivers, Imo, Enugu, Anambra, Delta, Ondo– and such places where people are now routinely massacred by armed invaders. The alternative is for these Nigerians to organize and arm themselves and fight back where the government fails to protect them.