The Village As Crime Theatre
By Ikechukwu Amaechi
A few years ago, many young men from Mbaise, the most populous and homogeneous community in Imo State, particularly those that suddenly came by wealth, developed the rather bizarre habit of not sleeping in the village when they visit home from the city. They would spend the daytime in the village and in the evening relocate to Owerri or the nearest city to sleep in a hotel, only to return to the village in the morning. Spending the night in a posh hotel, such as Concorde Hotel, became the rave of the moment.
With time, it almost became a status symbol. Those who revelled in the habit, proudly, if not boastfully, tell you the hotels where they slept the previous night and how much they paid for the accommodation. Ironically, most of those who indulged in this wasteful habit built mansions in the village, which most times were unoccupied. To them, it was a proof of their affluence and change in status that somebody abandoned his country home for the comfort of a hotel in town.
But they were a negligible few. Many people travel to the village for the peace of mind and comfort the serene environment offers them. An opportunity to travel to the village, away from the madness and congestion of cities like Lagos, is always cherished by those who appreciate nature. There is this sense of innocence that is usually associated with the village that always lure those who grew up in those settings back.
Sadly, it is sign of the times we live in that what used to be an obscene habit by the "money-miss-roads" bent on vulgarly telling everybody that they had joined the exclusive club of millionaires has become a way of life for the people. Today, in Mbaise, many young men dare not sleep in the village for fear of armed robbers and assassins. The village has become a metaphor for violent crimes, having been raped by evil men and essentially robbed of its innocence.
These days, many parents would literarily chase away their sons who had come back to spend time with them in the village. Your friends, on hearing that you intend to travel home, call to advise you against the idea. It seems everybody dreads going to the village these days. I had a long discussion the other day with a friend who lives in London and for over one hour, he told me stories of how most people who travelled home last December were robbed. "Only those who can afford to pay for the services of mobile policemen who will guard them for the period of time they would stay at home venture to travel to the village these days," he mourned.
Another friend who lives in the United States told me that he has never slept in their country home in the past five years because anytime he travelled, the father, an old man, would always remind him it was time to leave the village immediately it was 6 p.m.
Bad as the situation is, an uglier dimension has been introduced to the already frightening saga. People are now being murdered right in front of their beloved ones, an abomination that was hitherto unimaginable, at least in this part of Igboland.
The traditional ruler of Obodo-Ahiara community in Ahiazu Mbaise local government, Eze Davidson Okoroanyanwu, was murdered recently in cold-blood, not in Portharcourt where he lived and did business, but in his own village. He was buried last week. As I write, nobody has any clue who the killers are and their motives. Another young man, a businessman who sells building materials, was gruesomely murdered in April, while he was eating dinner, in the presence of his wife and parents, in his village Obohia, a neighbouring community to Obodo-Ahiara.
Ironically, Mbaise used to be one of the most peaceful communities in Nigeria where young men who became successful in their chosen fields of human endeavour, by dint of hard work, eagerly return to in order to showcase their achievements to the admiration of all. Young men would drive to the village squares or markets in the evenings to eat special delicacies such as nkwobi and isi-ewu and make merry with others. But not anymore!
But you will be wrong to think that this scary development is localised. All over Nigeria, the villages that used to be safe places are becoming even more crime infested than the cities. People are routinely being murdered where they ought to rightfully call homes and sanctuaries.
And you ask, what is life worth in Nigeria? I have had cause to ask this question severally in the past. How come people easily and wantonly murder fellow human beings and vanish into the thin air without any trace, while the government looks helpless?
If there was any major failing of the immediate past government, it was its inability to guarantee the most basic of human rights â€“ right to life and property â€“ to Nigerians, which, in any case, is the primary function of any government.
Sadly, these wanton killings and the inability of the state to guarantee the safety of its citizens seem set to outlive the Obasanjo government.
The killing, last Thursday, of Mr. Tunde Awanebi, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police and Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the Ondo State governor, Dr Olusegun Agagu, and Bode Alonge, a member of the PDP, 24 hours earlier in Akure, sends out the chilling signal that the era of senseless killings is still here with us.
If anything, it is likely to get worse. As it happened after the 2003 elections, all those hoodlums armed by politicians to maim and kill their political opponents will soon realise to their chagrin that they have been used and dumped now that the elections are over. With thousands of dangerous weapons out there on the street, in the hands of thugs, one can only imagine what will happen in states like Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Osun, etc., that were literarily turned into battle grounds.
As they are wont to do, both the Ondo State government and the state police command have reacted to the killings. The state police commissioner, Innocent Ilozuoke, pledged that the police would do everything possible to unravel the killings and bring the culprits to book, while the state government announced a N10 million reward for anybody that can give useful information on the perpetrators of both crimes. But we have heard all these before and I doubt if anything will come out of the so-called investigations which the police commissioner claims have started.
The on-going recrimination between the Agagu government and members of the opposition Labour Party is an unhelpful distraction. Whether Awanebi and Alonge were killed for political reasons or not is beside the issue, which should be, who committed this crime. There is nothing in our statute books that says one should be killed for holding contrary political views or for the fear that he may divulge the secrets of a government from which he is allegedly estranged.
If there is anything the administration of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua must do, in earnest, to reassure Nigerians and rekindle their faith in government, it is to guarantee their right to life and property.
It is not enough to promise as he did in his inaugural address on May 29 that his "government is determined to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies, especially the police" and that "the state" under his watch "must fulfil its constitutional responsibility of protecting life and property." After all, his predecessor also made the same promise eight years ago in his own inaugural address and today, we all know better. To assuage the anxiety of Nigerians, Yar'Adua must move quickly to ensure that this ugly trend is reversed immediately.
Nigerians love life. That explains why, in spite of all the difficulties they face as citizens of this beleaguered country, the idea of committing suicide remains a very strange phenomenon. The hope of a better tomorrow is the oil that lubricates the wheels of their otherwise dreary lives.
But a man can only hope for a better tomorrow if he is alive. And every Nigerian, just like any other human being has the inalienable right to life. The state has the constitutional responsibility to ensure that no human life is terminated extra-judicially. Ours cannot be different. If the government cannot provide us with the basic amenities of life which other people now take for granted, at least, it will not amount to asking for too much if we insist that it uses our enormous resources, which we have put at its disposal, to guarantee the security of our lives and property.
If the villages that used to be haven of peace where people could retreat when they desire some break from the insecurities in the cities have also become "theatres of war," where people are gruesomely murdered and their property purloined, we must all be alarmed.
And it behoves Yar'Adua and his government to act swiftly.