Fi­nal­ists for Hall of In­famy

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

Be­tween the gun­man who opened fire in­side a church dur­ing early morn­ing mass; the gang that raided a high school hos­tel, carted away six stu­dents and held them in the creeks for weeks un­til their par­ents coughed out a ran­som pay­ment; the ban­dits that blocked one of the coun­try’s most vi­tal high­ways, snatched mo­torists from their cars and bun­dled them into the bush un­til ran­som was paid; the herds­men and the com­mu­nal war­riors that sur­rounded vil­lages, set them ablaze and killed ev­ery­one in sight; and the sui­cide bomber who walked awk­wardly into a gath­er­ing of peo­ple he did not know and blew them up, who will you cast your vote for to be the Cap­tain in the Nige­rian Hall of In­famy?

I was per­son­ally touched by the sor­did event at Ozubulu be­cause I did my NYSC very close by. Shoot­ing peo­ple dead in the vicin­ity of a church is not to­tally new in Eastern Nige­ria. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were sev­eral news­pa­per re­ports of men be­ing shot as they ar­rived for or as they left church af­ter a ser­vice. In all the cases the re­ported mo­tive was a busi­ness dis­pute, and the ag­grieved party lay in am­bush and set­tled scores just out­side or in some cases just in­side the church premises.

Open­ing fire right in­side the church dur­ing mass was some­thing else. The only sim­i­lar episode I can re­mem­ber took place in Ghana around 1985. As re­ported at the time by the de­funct Africa Now magazine, an off-duty Ghana­ian Army of­fi­cer tried to take his girl­friend out on a Sun­day but she in­sisted on at­tend­ing the church ser­vice first. The of­fi­cer re­turned to the church at noon when she said the ser­vice will be over, but it was still on. He then walked in­side and told the pas­tor to hurry up and con­clude the ser­vice. When the pas­tor re­fused, he drew a ser­vice pis­tol and shot him, right in front of the con­gre­ga­tion.

From ac­counts pro­vided so far by the po­lice and the gover­nor of Anam­bra State, the mo­tive of the Ozubulu gun­man was a lit­tle bit more se­ri­ous than tak­ing a girl­friend out. It was said to be a dis­pute be­tween two drug king­pins of Ozubulu ori­gin but based in South Africa, where the trade in hard drugs is more lu­cra­tive than it is in Nige­ria. Drug barons fight not only be­cause of money, as Nige­ri­ans tend to as­sume, but for many other rea­sons in­clud­ing turf, mar­ket share, sus­pected be­trayal and ego.

Gover­nor Obiano was very an­gry that the drug barons’ quar­rel took place abroad but they came back home to set­tle scores. Well, it could be be­cause the gun­man and his spon­sors are much more likely to get away with the heinous crime in Nige­ria than in South Africa, whose po­lice force is more so­phis­ti­cated than ours. To ad­duce small ev­i­dence, we were clue­less as to who bombed Abuja’s Ea­gle Square on Oc­to­ber 1, 2010 [with Pres­i­dent Jonathan swear­ing it was not MEND] un­til South Africa stepped for­ward and defini­tively fin­gered Henry Okah. All Nige­ri­ans were shocked that any­one could open fire in­side a church dur­ing mass, but I doubt if a drug baron or his hit men will bat an eye­lid about it.

Be­fore Ozubulu, this coun­try was trau­ma­tised when gun­men raided Ig­bonla Model Col­lege in Epe, Lagos; snatched six kids, spir­ited them away to the Ondo Wa­ter­side creeks and ex­torted ran­som from their par­ents. We all thought, how heart­less could men be? But the ban­dits in Lagos prob­a­bly thought it was okay be­cause weeks ear­lier, an­other gang had seized kids and teach­ers from a school in Ogun State and hid them un­til they col­lected a fat ran­som. The fact that those ones were caught not long af­ter­wards when they emerged from the creeks did not de­ter the Lagos ban­dits, who prob­a­bly thought their Ogun coun­ter­parts were not smart. That is why it is nec­es­sary for In­spec­tor Gen­eral Ibrahim Idris to prove to both the Ozubulu gun­man and the school­boys’ kid­nap­pers that they reck­oned wrongly.

Back in the Abacha era, dur­ing one of the de­bil­i­tat­ing fuel shortages in the coun­try, I was present at a meet­ing at Arewa House, Kaduna where one elder urged that tra­di­tional rulers of all towns and vil­lages on high­ways should be told to tell their youths to stop cash­ing in on the sit­u­a­tion and ex­tort­ing trav­ellers through the fuel black mar­kets. The late Malam Li­man Ciroma how­ever shot down the idea. He said youths in such towns were al­ways en­vi­ous of mo­torists speed­ing through their towns and no one could per­suade them not to cash in on the fuel short­age and get some money while it lasted.

From cash­ing in on fuel shortages to dupe trav­ellers, it was but one short step to block­ing high­ways and kid­nap­ping mo­torists for ran­som. Un­em­ployed young men that lit­ter the com­mu­ni­ties along high­ways must be think­ing what wrong they did to Nige­ria to be left in penury while wealthy mo­torists zoom through their towns in posh cars, of­ten knock­ing down vil­lagers. High­way rob­bery has been around in Nige­ria for decades but tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions such as bank com­put­er­i­sa­tion, ATMs, POS and mo­bile bank­ing have made high­way rob­bery much less lu­cra­tive than it was be­fore. Dis­af­fected herds­men who lost their cat­tle to rustlers also abound in the high­way towns; to boot they have Kalash­nikovs which they ac­quired os­ten­si­bly to guard their cat­tle. Five years ago the South East was a vir­tual no-go area be­cause kid­nap for ran­som gangs ruled the ur­ban and ru­ral land­scape. Youths along the Abu­jaKaduna high­way soon bor­rowed a leaf from them.

Just be­fore kid­nap­pers be­came ma­jor con­tenders in the na­tional Hall of In­famy, herds­men al­ready sat atop the perch. Agatu in Benue State and Uk­pabi Nimbo com­mu­nity in Enugu State so­lid­i­fied herds­men’s rep­u­ta­tion across Nige­ria as cold blooded killers. Be­fore Agatu and Uk­pabi Nimbo, herds­men were blamed for deadly at­tacks on vil­lages in Plateau and South­ern Kaduna states. Those at­tacks of­ten recorded heavy ca­su­al­ties, were quite in­dis­crim­i­nate and they turned tens of thou­sands of peo­ple into refugees. Their mo­tives were how­ever more com­pli­cated than those of kid­nap­pers. The at­tack­ers saw them as reprisal at­tacks for rus­tled cat­tle or slain rel­a­tives. The herds­men also have to­tally dif­fer­ent rules of en­gage­ment from other Nige­rian com­mu­nal war­riors: they don’t for­give or for­get, they could come back for “re­venge” when ev­ery­one else had for­got­ten about the of­fence and they hold an en­tire com­mu­nity re­spon­si­ble for a wrong done to them. No won­der they climbed to the top of many peo­ple’s hall of in­famy. Their meth­ods were how­ever matched re­cently when Mam­billa tribal youths in Taraba State sys­tem­at­i­cally razed Fu­lani vil­lages on the plateau and killed the in­hab­i­tants due to a long run­ning strug­gle for land own­er­ship. Overnight they qual­i­fied as fi­nal­ists in the race to in­famy.

But be­fore all of them there was Boko Haram, prob­a­bly the most blood­thirsty in­sur­gent group in the world since the Kh­mer Rouge. These days Boko Haram has been re­duced to small scale am­bushes and sui­cide bomb­ings. A young girl, may be do­nated to the ‘cause’ by her par­ents as the Army al­leged, promised a oneway ticket to heaven by Boko Haram in­doc­tri­na­tors, will be strapped with sui­cide vests, sneaked near a mil­i­tary check­point or a crowded place such as a mosque, walk in and ex­plode. She didn’t know her vic­tims; she did not know what they did; and it is not at all clear if she be­lieved what she was told that the deed would earn her a first class ticket to heaven.

Be­tween the church shooters, the kid­nap­pers of stu­dents, the high­way kid­nap­pers, the deadly herds­men that wipe out vil­lages, the Mam­billa tribes­men that did the same thing and the Boko Haram sui­cide bombers, cast your vote for the Cap­tain of the Hall of In­famy.

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