Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On the ALUU 4

Guest Post written by Sbee Igwe

I have heard accounts that the videos of the killing of the Aluu 4 are quite gruesome but I find that I’m unable to bring myself to actually watch them. I have not even bothered to delve beyond the initial news reports to find more detailed accounts of the circumstances surrounding the lynching of the four young University of Port Harcourt undergraduates by members of the Aluu village community.

I just think it would be a pointless and too painful exercise for me. The tragic event is simply a symptom of the problematic reality of Nigeria. When a host community brazenly slaughters innocent undergrads with glee it is an indictment on the whole country, Nigeria.

For me it resonates in a very special and personal way since I’m an alumnus of that institution, and more so because as a student I once had the misfortune of an almost similar experience there.

As much as I hate to, I will recall the night in 1986 when I was walking back through Choba village to my room from a Party at around 3.00am. I was in company of my buddy Georgee from Abia, who had just transferred to the school from a US College along with his Yankee ideas and mannerisms.

It had been a great party and as we walked we were chatting and laughing lost in the bliss of youthful innocence and careless adventure. Georgee had seen across the road a woman stoking a cooking fire behind a small hut and unmindful of the unholy hour walked over to ask if he could get a light for his cigarette. She screamed a curse in the local dialect and quickly got up, ran into her hut and shut her door. Suddenly we noticed windows and more doors were being shut in the nearby houses.

This seemed to us somehow rude and a bit funny, surely these people must know we are just young happy-go-lucky students going home from a nice party and trying to light up a last fag. And as far as Georgee was concerned it simply was not fair, so he shouted back towards the hut to let them know as we continued to walk down the road laughing.

I soon began to notice silhouettes gathering all around us in the bushes, following us and closing in on us, and the next thing we were surrounded by a group of about eight desperate looking men some armed with what looked like long sticks and others with short shiny ones that could have been matchetes. I didn’t look to check as I didn’t want to focus on their weapons.

As they came up close to us, I remember many people barking and shouting at the same time and Georgee unwilling to be intimidated would not give up what he supposed were his rights to freedom of movement in his ideal country, so shouted back in their faces. All I kept saying was ‘We’re students! It’s alright George, we’re students! It’s alright George!’ repeatedly, hoping to calm all sides down. Then more people began running out from their houses or the bushes to join up and the crowd grew into a mob.

We now began to understand that the situation had completely changed, these guys, the initial group of eight, were vigilantes who had concluded that we were the armed robbers and/or cultists who had been terrorizing their village for some time. We realized were no longer free, we were in the dock.

By the time we had each received, without protest, a couple of very heavy slaps on our ears it was clear that instant judgement was approaching without our defence being heard. The vigilante guys would not let us talk, so I began searching for some sympathy from the faces of the people in the wider group of spectators and fortunately I spotted a very familiar face and pleaded to him with my eyes. George being new in the school knew nobody and had no hope of any of the villagers knowing him. The man acknowledged me and to his credit, God bless him, spoke up and said that he knew me as member of the school Cricket Team, and by inference a sporting gentleman.

Thus we were given an opportunity to speak up in our defence, and within one quick minute we had very clearly and convincingly explained who we were, how come we were there and where we were going. And it was just in time, because shortly after the vigilante group had decided to escort us to our room in Choba village, an even larger and angrier group of vigilantes and village men arrived and insisted that we must be lynched to send a strong message to the notorious students.

Fortunately for us the initial group refused and a fierce argument, almost to the point of a fight broke out between both groups. This however had the effect of taking the steam out of their frenzy and in the end we were escorted safely and soberly to our rented room in the village.

This experience already told me all I needed to know about whatever went down with the Aluu 4 last weekend.

During our days many of us in thought it inexplicable that the Choba host community could be so habitually hostile to members of the University community despite the fact that the location of the University in their community had so dramatically improved their livelihood. Today it appears nothing has changed.

Aluu, the next village to Choba is a dense rainforest jungle, 25 years ago when I was last there it could not even aspire to be a backwater community, there was nothing, zilch, going on there in terms of civilization. But by virtue of the burgeoning University economy I understand that some strands of civilization and modernity have come to the place and with it prosperity and advancement for the villagers.

Anybody would assume that this is a good thing for the Aluu villagers and that they would be very happy to coexist with the University community, even when the students act so culturally different to them. But no, the killers of the Aluu 4 do not share this view.

Here we can find the root of the Nigerian problem underlining all the major fault lines from the Boko Haram issue, the stupid policy of Petroleum importation and subsidies, and the lack of functional rail networks in the country, to the false population figures and the deliberately inept leadership in almost every aspect of Nigerian society, to fake pharmaceuticals, corruption etc etc.
It is namely that Nigerians DO NOT love Nigeria. Everything you’ve heard is simply a lie.

I haven’t been on the streets of Nigeria for a few years, but I was there when an intriguing international poll result was reportedly claiming that Nigerians were the happiest people on Earth and I didn’t believe it. Everybody else claims to, but back then I saw a completely different picture.

You would say ‘Good afternoon’ to a man at a bus stop and he would reply, then add a sigh. Or, you would show courtesy to allow another driver into a traffic lane and others would curse you and even thump on your window. Love is a rare sentiment in metropolitan Nigeria, you would hardly find it where Nigerians of different ethnic or linguistic origins meet except when concocted by a combination of TV cameras and an expectation of revenue.

We know that humans cannot be happy when there is no love, so whoever says they are happy in Nigeria is simply being deceptive. This is the crux of the matter: Nigerians are living a lie. We know the truth but because we hate each other we gladly prefer to continue with the lie and it is hurting everybody and that is what we prefer to love, to hurt each other.

A society where only the vulnerable are ever punished is a society that is riddled with hatred, there is no genuine love in it. Our only remedy is truth, we need to begin to speak the truth to ourselves in Nigeria, no matter how cold and bitter that truth may be.
That is the only hope we can have to ever achieve all these elusive virtues we love to pontificate about.

About the author
Sbee Igwe graduated from University of Port Harcourt in the year 1988.
#Lesson: We need to stop living a lie, we need to embrace TRUTH (which love compels us to)# 
The Police Chief admitted that the police team sent to the location was prevented by the mob (he implied that they couldn't use tear gas or such things as they use during peaceful protest to resist the mob). Our (the masses and the force) senses (sensitivity, emotions, appreciation of right and wrong) have become inundated with deaths here and there we have grown cold and callous of one another. That is the truth and only by facing this truth squarely (and adjust accordingly) can we begin to heal.