This is the end of February, the second month of the year and incredibly, we are nine-lynched men down in Calabar, the Cross River state capital. It is an amazing statistic, considering the laid back nature of Calabar and the fact that the city does not have a reputation for dispensing injustice without the benefit of a trial. But things have negatively changed and we are beginning to ask ourselves questions that we would never have considered, a couple of years back. While we cannot dispute the fact that murder and violent acts carried out by wrathful mobs, have been with us for a while, the intensity so far witnessed in the month of February is to say the least, frightful, even record breaking. What happened?
In the last one year and a half, criminals operating especially in Calabar, upscaled efforts in dislodging residents of cash and valuables, audaciously operating in broad daylight, kidnapping at the snap of the finger and cared less about killing many defenseless residents. Businesses, afraid of these new ‘sheriffs’ in town, hurriedly closed shop before 5pm to be on the safe side. Leisure and entertainment spots lost customers, compelled to stay at home and constantly peep through fortified windows. Calabar no more forcefully bears that inviting sobriquet, “Come And Live And Be At Rest” because countless criminal minded elements are working to change the sobriquet to “Come And Live And Be Always Restless”.
Why would nine men be lynched? Getting at the answers is by a simple effort. Undoubtedly, people are FED UP after realizing that the system in place guarantees not and is care less about their safety. It is a system that provided the alluvial plains for street urchins, commonly called “Skolombo” here, to horn petty thieving skills to great societal disadvantage. When those in the know shouted themselves hoarse that the Skolombo menace should be addressed, those who assigned themselves Skolombo-tackling roles, organized media blitzes and imitated the Queen of England in speech, as they struggled to confuse and convince us that the dry season can never follow a rainy one. While they got state and donor funds, much of it was pocketed while the kids were left on the streets to be toughened. A considerable amount of those who effortlessly unleash terror in this city regrettably are those kids that we talked about, yesterday.
See, some security agents seem to constantly work at undermining the efforts of their respective agencies; I will explain. One of those recently lynched was days before the unfortunate incident, caught and handed over to one of the security agencies, for allegedly taking part in a robbery. He was not charged to court, but was made to pay a considerable amount of money, released and unleashed on us again. He got together with a few cronies and they brazenly robbed a street in broad daylight. Luck however eluded them, they were caught and given a rich jungle justice dose. I do not think that we can attempt that senile excuse that times are tough and he and his cohorts just want to feed; at whose expense? What we should however condemn is a system that refuses to prosecute suspected criminals, even with evidence so overwhelming. Those within our security agencies who are quick to place price tags so that suspected criminals can walk away instead of prosecute them are better described as our enemies in uniform
Reasonably I know that most of the robberies are orchestrated by young men and women, religiously in need of money to cater to drug laden habits. You may find it difficult to comprehend this but in recent times, drugs like cocaine, heroin and co, sit on the wish list of these persons who unleash mayhem at will on the city. When they run out of supplies and cash, they embrace inglorious options that often spell doom. A friend of mine was recently robbed of cash and valuables by a gang of three. Shortly after the trio left, two of them came back to the house to collect my friend’s phone chargers unchallenged; imagine the audacity. Three days after, they were back but this time, one of them was accosted by the Police and taken down. Had the operation been successful, they probably would have robbed compound after compound on a daily basis.
Let us begin to ask, why do all street lights go off in Calabar at midnight? I have found no rational explanation for this disservice. If those who light up the city leave the lights on like administrations have done in the past, it is possible that a quantifiable percentage of criminal activity threatening this city will be non-existent. Help me appeal to them, street lights are designed to illuminate streets all night long, not some nights long.
In case you do not know, I grew up in Calabar frequenting night hubs like Tuxedo Nite Club, located then around the Hawkins/Calabar Road junction, as well as Luna Night Club on Forsbery or Nelson Mandela, as it is called today. The young, the bold, the restless as well as the old but young at heart all went to Tuxedo and Luna, located in what today is Calabar South. Marian Road, today’s ‘jollification’ point slept early and enjoyed only scant mention then. If you must groove, you went to today’s Calabar South and no drug bathed fella dare step up to you, demanding you hand him your valuables with slurred finality. It is a different ball game today and those who have become hardened to tell you that, “if we don’t kill them they will kill us”, appear to follow their survival instincts when they lynch those suspects, innocent by law but guilty in reality. Lots of them went to where I went then and seem visibly angry that this pain in the ass chaps have locked down this city.
I commiserate with those who have been robbed, raped and kidnapped. I commiserate too with the families of those taken down by seemingly worn out but flame effective tyres. Acting collectively as a group, the mobs burning suspected thieves enthusiastically appear to believe that, even with a breakdown in individual thinking, the sin they commit is smaller than what the person lynched had plans for. We are beginning to serve as judge and jury, deciding on who should be lynched and sharing those gory pictures on social media to ignobly prove that we are man and woman enough.
When I spoke with Hafiz Mohammed Inusa, the Cross River State Commissioner of Police this past Saturday on my radio programme, he appeared poised to ensure that we do not lynch the bad guys again. But talk is cheap and because his men often have a slow response rate to distress situations, when suspects are accosted, jungle justice may have been meted out before his men arrive and those who preside over these judgments are beginning to leave us with pictures that do not capture them in the act, unlike before. They are now cautiously lethal and will not stop until it becomes possible to sleep with both eyes closed.
Mike my friend hurriedly left us to attend church service one evening. As he parked his car and made his way out of it, three young men approached, courteously greeted him and pointed three guns at him, demanding he hands over his car keys. He co-operated, lost the car, his phones, cash and his doctoral dissertation in the boot of the car. Can you convince Mike that these chaps should not be lynched if caught? I am not Mike and I do not pray that I go through this experience, but if you ask me sincerely, I will tell you that those like Mike who have had painful encounters with gun totting largely under-30s will not readily stop another lynching. For as long as the ‘boys’ commit, those who can accost them will do them in, to send a warning that, market no be the same again.
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