ANGER: A recent protest in Nigeria against violence
INSPIRING CHANGE within a population sometimes takes an act or a mishap, sometimes it takes a fall, sometimes it takes a stand, but in the modern world it almost always seems to take an image. From Rosa Parks to Tommie Smith & John Carlos to Mohamed Bouazizi - it requires not only something to happen, but for people to see at least some part of what happened in order for it to inspire rethinking and change. For Nigeria, this image came last week in the form of a YouTube video. Please be warned – this is possibly the most terrible video you can find online.
Multiple theories are doing the rounds but the most credible one goes as follows: five students from the University of Port Harcourt (in eastern Nigeria) went to retrieve a debt from a member of the local community.
On arriving at the debtor’s place some form of argument or altercation took place and the debtor accused the five students of being robbers. This cry was escalated by other locals and resulted in a mob surrounding the students. One of the group of five was a renowned thug who was hired by the student who owed the debt to help scare the debtor into paying. This thug, it is alleged, pulled a gun on the locals in order to scare them. He then fled, leaving the remaining four students at the mercy of a growing and angry mob which had already falsely accused and ‘convicted’ them of being robbers. Pulling the gun, it appears, helped further corroborate the false charges.
Do not read the next paragraph if you are easily upset.
The angry mob of locals stripped the four students naked and beat them ruthlessly. The skull of at least one of the students was split open. The video showed blood splattering out of multiple parts of the students. Disused tyres were placed around the necks of each of the students. All of them were barely conscious but were still visibly alive. Petrol was then poured over their bodies and they were set alight. As they scrambled to try and flee the fire more petrol was poured over them... as the crowd yelled: “Die! Die! Die!”
The names of the students– now known tragically as the ‘Aluu 4’ (Aluu is the name of the community where they were killed) were: Tekena Elkanah, Ugonna Ubuzor, Chidiaka Birnga and Lloyd Micheal. Their ages ranged from between 18 and 21.
Thirteen people have since been arrested in connection with the killings. If found guilty, these people should be made to face the full wrath of the law. The most severe punishment possible should be handed down, but not the death penalty. These barbarians might well be worthy of execution, but administering it will not help anyone. Excessive violence is part of what got Nigeria to this point.
Nigeria needs to re-sensitise itself with justice and credible policing and turn away from violence. Anyone with on the ground knowledge of the country will tell you that Nigeria has a significant violence problem. Torture - and I mean extreme torture - is a widespread and often standard procedure in Nigerian police stations. Teachers and elder students wage violence (often under the guise of discipline) in classrooms with impunity. I personally saw three dead men (with visible bullet wounds), alleged to be robbers, piled on top of each other outside a police station on Bode Thomas road in Lagos (then the Nigerian equivalent of, say, Regent Street). I was 13 years old when I saw this and nearly 19 years later, the image is still fresh in my mind. Violence has long been too normal in Nigerian society.
The justice, policing and political systems have struggled to retain any credibility in the eyes of Nigerians and rightfully so. But even that does not suffice as an excuse for the levels of lawlessness and brutality that are now being displayed to the world as ‘Justice Nigeria style’.
Nigeria is actually in the middle of a turn-around. Things are improving in most sectors and so is the image of Nigeria. Nonetheless, from Boko Haram to lynch mobs to unruly state security officials, Nigeria must address the issue of mass violence, starting at home and in the classroom. Children who are continuously subjected to violence as a means of correction are likely to subject other people to it.
If the brutal and tragic death of the ‘Aluu 4’ is to mean anything, it should inspire a root and branch rethinking of Nigeria’s concepts of violence and justice.