By Emma Okah: [email protected], 08033211999
Umuokri is part of Aluu, an Ikwerre town in Rivers State. I am an Ikwerre man. I know Aluu fairly well. As the ACN candidate in the House of Representatives election for Ikwerre/Emohua Federal Constituency in April 2011, I interacted with the Aluu people a lot.
Aluu is currently a mini cosmopolitan town because of the direct inflow of socio-economic activities engineered by the large presence of students and non-natives of all sorts and divides. While the natives lived more in other parts of the town, the non-indigenes, as they are often referred to, hold sway in Umuokiri.
Aluu was peaceful. Apart from isolated cases of tearing of political posters and banners by youthful supporters of opposing parties that were threatened by my candidature, and of course, it was usual in campaign times, I did not have any occasion that proved Aluu people to be wicked to the point of broad day murder of innocent students. I do not know Aluu people as killers, but those individuals who did this in Aluu and dented the name of that peaceful community must face the law.
That ugly event of October 5, 2012, mangled logic, shocked credulity and stupefied me beyond any measure of imagination. I summoned courage to watch the video and it looked like a Nollywood scene. It was like a movie. As various accounts of the incident started filtering into the media, I waited to see any explanation that would be close to the real reason why human beings, Nigerian students, children of parents were treated that way.
So far, none; the only reason for this murder is no reason. I am a proud Ikwerre man, and my people are not cannibals or murderers. As an ethnic group, Ikwerre land stretches in part from Port Harcourt to the boundary town of Omerelu, going to Owerri in Imo State. Ikwerre people are hospitable and accommodate other stranger elements easily. Since that shocking event, I am yet to meet an Ikwerre man who has seen anything good in what happened on October 5 in that town. No sane person would justify the senseless killing of four very young scholars in the land that should protect them. I sympathise with Nigerians and the families of these young students on this avoidable tragedy.
As Christians, in times like these, we surrender to God because vengeance is His. However, this event, as ungodly as it is, affords us an opportunity to have a rethink as a country. While we mourn, condemn and cry out, we must begin to reflect over the terrible underlying factor. Many have pointed to the degeneration of the Nigerian society into a mindless people without a hoot to the sacredness of life and blood. This is true, this is terrible, but there is something much more terrible. Many have recalled the days when the news of the death of a kinsman would paralyse the entire community.
People would hardly move about, kinsmen would not go to the farm or market for days, etc. If a coffin was being carried along the road, people would run inside and many would weep even for someone they did not know, just because a life was going to the great beyond. Not anymore. ‘Mourners’ hardly mourn anymore. They dress to kill and ask for rice, beans, meat, suya, bear, palm wine, take away, souvenirs, etc. The worst is that when a family is mourning, anther family will conveniently be celebrating. Nobody truly cares anymore.
Even obituaries declare someone’s death as a celebration of life these days, and the death of a kinsman may even be viewed as a blessing to others who want to take his place most urgently, or to the inheritors. In those days, these selfish tendencies may have been there too, but they were well-masked. What is evil in Abuja or Lagos is evil even in Umuokri Aluu. Before now, since 1977, the Uniport community has lived together with the seven communities, including Aluu that hosts it. In fact, the Uniport is the first and only ‘community-integrated university’ in Nigeria. Its founders did not want it to be separated from the host communities, but to intertwine and develop together without fenced separation and exclusivity of each other.
The FG did not even help matters by failing to compensate the communities for the 4,000 hectares of land surveyed and allocated by law to the Uniport authorities so that the villagers would hands off completely. Instead, the FG maintained what many call criminal silence over the decades as the landowners weary away and begin to bounce back to reclaim their land. Now, according to the VC, the university management and even staff have to negotiate and buy any piece of their own land they needed for any project.
At the moment, the university has only had limited access to 48 per cent of its official land, while they cannot even step into a whole of 52 per cent, yet the owners, the FG, sits idle, the ministers of education sit boldly on seat and leave office, beating their chests as achievers. The worst may be that an alumnus (President Goodluck Jonathan) may rule for years and vacate office without lifting the Uniport land file. The villagers are willing to hand over the land, but compensation is a requirement of law before a citizen gives away his land, except in feudal system where a man has no right over his land. Now, there is need to reverse the trend.
The greater danger is that one day, and very soon, according to press reports quoting the VC, a land owner and a resident lecturer may begin a clash over land and it may explode and lead to massacre. Then, the world would return to mourning and chase immediate shadows. At the moment, community members farm up to the veranda of a lecturer. It is a time bomb. Yet, all this is not the terrible aspect of the Uniport 4 killings. If both the students and the villagers had lived in peace since 1977 (founded in 1975, but admissions began in 1977 and Jonathan is believed to belong to the first set), why did some persons suddenly kill students, even if they were accused of stealing? VCs and their senates and councils usually seat on a high horse and watch only within the fence of their residences, acting as if they had no form of responsibility to what happened within the designated host community zone.
They know that more than 70 per cent of the wards/charges live within these communities, but they hardly set an informal (could even be formal) link with the authorities in those communities, even if it is for the purpose of winning the confidence of the outside leaders to qualify to receive complaints when students behave out of order. If these were done, it would occur to a traditional ruler so easily to send for the VC or chief security officer of a university if his students were caught in bad act.
The result had always been clashes between students and host communities such as the killings in FUTO few years ago and the Aluu debacle now. Yet, this is still not the most terrible aspect of the Uniport 4 killings. For a group of people to mindlessly and carefully hit four able bodied young men to death without any qualm is worrisome. It is even worse if what we are hearing that the boys did not even rob, but forcefully recovered a debt, is anything to go by. Now, how would even the killers feel if this is true, that they tortured four innocent boys to death because of childish pastime of boys owing each other and using macho tactics to recover debts?
Now, who would care to hear how ceaselessly the Umuokiri community had been terrorized in the past to the point where men, women and children enjoyed the sight of the pounding to death of the Uniport 4? Ceaseless raping, robbing and lawlessness were reported to be the norm in Umuokiri. The inhabitants complained without any rescue.
People slept with none of their eyes closed. The environment had been so charged against robbers that even if a robed bishop was merely pointed at as a robber, he would roast before justice would come. This is an ugly trend. This is the bigger picture. To be continued