HE is not known to be frivolous. He does not hug the headlines. He is a lawyer, a senior one at that. But he is not a meddlesome interloper. He seldom speaks outside the law courts. When he does he weighs his words, chooses in a deliberate and calibrated manner the platform and he sizes up the audience for effect.
Taciturn Chief Afe Babalola, senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and founder of the Afe Babalola University stepped out last month to speak to the problems confronting Nigeria and to proffer solutions. Last week in this column we spoke to the issues he raised and counselled the political and governing elite on the need to pay heed to his proposals to avoid what appears to be an inevitable shipwreck.
There was something else that the elder statesman said which should strike a chord in our hearts, no matter which part of Nigeria you are from. He said he was agitated and compelled to speak up and to speak out because today’s Nigeria in no way resembles the country he has grown up to know. In other words, the country is turning into a strange place.
I am Igbo and I am fiercely proud of my heritage. I am as old as Nigeria, that’s if your count starts from the year of the country’s independence from Britain. I have had to travel to all parts of the country as a reporter, but have resided more in
the Igbo nation and the Yoruba nation including during the years of going to school. By the way, I am still in school.
For this reasons and more I can relate to, and with, the grief-laden lamentations of Chief Babalola about the strangeness of Nigeria. And in my case, my beloved Igbo homeland.
I have a love affair with Igbo land. It has a magnetic pull for me. Some people of my generation look offshore to relax and recharge, I look towards Mgbidi in Imo state and other sleepy communities in the Igbo nation to refresh and refocus. My heart is usually light and my head uncluttered whenever I am home. In the East.
However, home is increasingly becoming a strange place, a place I struggle to recognize, a place that triggers my anxieties as against providing me refuge and peace. Indeed, the thought of going home now causes a certain level of apprehension
It would amount to living in denial to pretend that insecurity in my Igbo nation is a recent phenomenon. It’s not. Ten years or so ago, Aba, one of the industrial hubs of the Igbo homeland, was almost a ghost town on account of kidnappings and sundry heinous crimes. Other parts of the East were not spared. It was so bad that parents started doing what was hitherto unthinkable: conducting traditional marriage ceremonies of their daughters (Igba nkwu) in ‘foreign lands’. Vicious kidnapper, Osiskankwu, was the highlight of that season of madness in Ala Igbo.
That madness passed but we are yet in another. The new wave of insecurity in the South East is intriguing and frightening. Every indication is that this insecurity is both internally generated and externally orchestrated. It is contrived and the people are paying a heavy price in limbs and lives and livelihood. A pall hovers ominously over the Igbo nation. And Igbo haters who are orchestrating the mayhem are having a ball.
Late last month, a report emerged that a retired male soldier and a serving female colleague who were about to marry each other had been kidnapped and slaughtered in Imo state. Soon after a gruesome video of a slaughtered couple began to trend online. The video had a voice-over of a supposed native Igbo speaker who spoke in a cold-blooded manner while ordering the severance of the heads and the private parts of the victims.
But the story of the soldier-couple murder had gaps. And the gaps were yawning. The report failed to state from where the couple started their ill-fated journey. It did not say their intended destination in Imo state or anywhere else in the South East. The story failed to even hazard a guess on the day or the period the lovers got missing. It did not specify the mode of transportation of the couple – were they in a public commercial transport or were they travelling in a private car? Was it possible that soldiers, retired or in service, would wilfully travel through the South East decked out in their military gears and uniforms in light of the cat and mouse relationship between the so-called unknown gun men [UGM] and state security agents?
The questions were legion and they were begging for answers. The expectation is that the security agents would provide illumination. They did not. They have not. The Nigerian Army actually issued a statement on the incident but it failed to provide light. It rather muddied up the subject. On the one hand, the Army named the killers and then on the other hand it said it would investigate the dastardly act. Brig-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu said: “The Nigerian Army, on April 30, received information on the gruesome , barbaric and most despicable manner in which members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and its armed affiliate, Eastern Security Network, ESN, murdered in cold blood, two soldiers, Master Warrant Officer, MWO, Audu Linus (retired) and Private (Pte) Gloria Matthew, who were on transit to Imo state for their traditional wedding”.
Not done Gen. Nwachukwu who had already unmasked IPOB/ESN as the killers said “Though the dissident groups have continued to live in denial, while masquerading as unknown gun men in their criminal violent campaign in the region, the NA will ensure the perpetrators of this dastardly act unleashed on its personnel do not go unpunished. While we deeply condole with the families, relations and close associates of the victims, the NA has commenced investigation to unmask and bring the criminals to book”. A statement like this constrains the Army in its investigation and gives it away as working from the answer.
The killing of this couple is evil the tardiness surrounding the circumstances notwithstanding. And commiserations to their loved ones are proper. The only
hope and prayer of the indigenes of Imo and adjoining states will be that the Nigerian Army would not unload on innocent people in the guise of fishing out the culprits and punishing them. Zaki Biam in Benue state and Odi in Bayelsa state still bear scars of the scotch earth tactic of the Army. ‘Operation Python Dance’ and ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ could soon be reloading. When intelligence gathering fails, as it often does, there’s a resort to brute force by the security agents of the state. The situation gets worse when there is no love lost between the people and those who are supposed to secure them. Who trusts his life and wellbeing to state agencies in which you are not represented?
In the meantime, a wedding invitation has surfaced online indicating that the couple were supposed to be in Makurdi in Benue state for the solemnization of their marriage on April 30, about the same period they were said to have been murdered in an unidentified place in Imo state. Well, something else will happen tomorrow and we will move on. Sad. Very sad.
AUTHOR: Ugo Onuoha
Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.
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