October 2015 marks three years since four undergraduate students of the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria were, on allegations of mobile phone and computer theft, brutally beaten and set ablaze in a low-income community plagued by unresolved crimes.
Circumstances leading to the killings remain unclear, but one clear thing is that there was no form of trial to establish guilt. The killings were carried out by community members on the testimony of one of their own. Mob “justice” is not entirely uncommon within the Nigerian polity. A system where justice can easily be delayed, denied or flipped over to frame the victim as the criminal breeds hopelessness and vendetta. After years of incubation, pent-up aggression finds reprieve in unrestrained and thoughtless actions.
Deeply worrisome still, is that three years after the incident, the Aluu 4 case is yet to make it beyond the initial hearings stages in court. The reason is not for lack of evidence or any legal shortcoming, but because the judiciary of the state where the crime was committed was shut down – until recently- in defense of the governor’s political interests. Due to a lack of faith in the state’s justice system, an angry mob set four – innocent-until-proven-guilty - young men on fire; that same judicial system is living up to the mob’s reasoning by its inability to secure speedy justice for the victims.
Despite acknowledged economic progress made in the past decade, Nigeria can still be largely classified as a society where the leadership class considers as inconsequential, the simple yearnings of the masses for self-actualization, justice, fairness and in the final analysis, a recognition of their humanity. The result is anger, a deep-seated rage that should be directed at an unjust system but which is often misdirected and aimed at easily available targets – fellow citizens. The anger of Nigerians manifests under various guises, sometimes religious, sometimes ethnic, sometimes sectional, but many times it finds raw expression in such barbaric acts as the Aluu 4 killings.
For deep and lasting change to occur in Nigeria, it is necessary for Nigerians to realize that most of us are victims of a degradation of our humanity at several stages of growth and by several individuals. Childhood for quite a few Nigerians was marked by variations of verbal abuse, in the form of discipline, by oftentimes well-meaning parents and relatives who did not understand the impact of their words on a child’s mindset. The educational history of many Nigerians cannot be related without incidents of verbal or physical abuse meted out by ill-motivated and frustrated teachers. Verbal, physical and sexual abuses are dished out by demanding bosses who know an employee will hang on to a job with his last breadth. Widespread disrespect and abuse of citizens is commonplace among Nigerian politicians, police, prison officers and other government authorities. Fellow citizens such as bus drivers, traders, customer service officers, civil and public servants, themselves products of systemic disrespect, disregard and violence, give out disrespect, disregard and violence in their everyday interactions. Nigerians are a people scared and a people scarred. A people whose environment has etched deep in their souls, anger, insecurity, inferiority complex, lack of self-respect and appreciation of human dignity.
Nigerians need morally sound and empathic leaders to guide them out of their present predicament. Leaders are needed in Nigeria across sectors including education, commerce, politics, religion, entertainment etc. But rather than keep waiting in perpetuity, the time has come for Nigerians to make progress by themselves and for themselves, to be the change they want to see in Nigeria. One committed person at a time, Nigerians can take a decision to bequeath a better clime to the next generation than they experienced. That violence and disrespect were bequeathed to one generation does not mean that it must bequeath violence and disrespect to the next generation. By a conscious understanding of the effects of the Nigerian system on the collective social-psychology of the nation, Nigerians can, at formal and informal levels, begin to educate and work themselves out of the cycle of anger and self-rejection in which the country has sunk. Indeed, the better route for Nigerians is the path of individual responsibility for personal and national transformation.
Innovation, creativity, personal growth and national development are hatched in serene minds that feel respected, secured and valued. Insecurity, anger, a feeling of disrespect towards self and others, and widespread strife do not beget progress, such as we are striving for as a nation. As citizens, one person at a time, Nigerians have to begin to take measures to reverse their thoughts and attitudes towards self and others.
May justice be speedily secured for the Aluu 4, but the greatest of it all is, may we as Nigerians be so deeply transformed that there may never again be another Aluu 4.
Dr. Chika Ezeanya Esiobu is a researcher, writer and public intellectual. She blogs at www.chikaforafrica.com and can be reached at [email protected]