Our country has gradually, before our eyes, descended into the pit of senseless and endless killings. Lives are lost daily to kidnappers. Extrajudicial killings by security men have become routine. Bandits have a field day in all parts of the country. Sometimes we miserably console ourselves with statistics from America, how 400 people are shot every day, how many lives are lost to gun violence in America. But the truth is that there is a difference: we are at war, an undeclared war between the state and the people, especially in the south east and between Boko Haram and the state in the north east.
We are in a state of emergency, yet undeclared officially. Some rights have been arbitrarily suspended. The right to protests as enshrined in the Constitution has been kept in abeyance. There is mutual suspicion. Religion and ethnicity have become yardsticks of appreciating or condemning people. There are allegations of ethnic profiling. The rise and prominence of Fulani herdsmen and cultural groups have created a new lexicon and method of interrogating the challenges that face the country. In all of this, Aso Rock is fiddling while the country burns. How did we get into this sorry pass?
Last weekend, Mr. Ahmed Ali Gulak a northerner from Adamawa State and former Special Adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was killed in Owerri by armed men. Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma asserts that Gulak did not pre-inform him about the visit and so he could not arrange for security protection for him. The Police moved unusually and unbelievably very fast. Within twenty-four hours some men were killed in an encounter with security forces. These men were said to be the killers of Gulak. On Tuesday, news that Professor Godswill Obioma, Registrar of NECO was strangled in Minna shortly after he returned from Abuja filtered into the air. His wife reportedly told journalists that her husband ‘had just returned from to Minna from a trip to Abuja when the armed men, lurking in his compound, descended on him and strangled him’. Shortly after, another report came out which quoted late professor Obioma’s son as saying that his father died of a heart attack. It was added that he died in a hospital in Abuja.
Somebody obviously is giving a distortion of the fact. An indigene of Abia State from the Southeast, Obioma had been working quietly and consistently in the education sector for many years. In appreciation of his services, he was appointed Registrar of NECO in 2020. There are reports that a campaign was carried out by evil forces to discredit him so that he will be sacked. There were allegations of corruption against him. The truth about those may never be known. We do not need a prophet to tell us, however, if the wife is to be believed, that this was a case of vendetta killing. The nation is on a dangerous precipice.
Revenge killing is considered honourable in some cultures. It feeds and satisfies the human, even cultural ego. Also referred to as ‘honour killings’ in some climes, the family of the deceased will not rest until blood is shed. In Islam, there is the ‘legal code of qisas in which the victim or family has the right to an eye-for-an-eye retaliation’, which is ‘used as a punishment in the case of murder or intentional physical injury’. The Quran 5:3 states that ‘whoever kills a person-unless it is for murder or corruption on earth-it is as if he killed the whole of mankind’. In the modern state, revenge is carried out by the state on behalf of the victim. It follows due process after the truth has been established. Any act of vendetta is criminal by legal standards. Christian theology teaches forgiveness. It preaches against revenge. ‘Avenge not yourselves’, the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:19. This is a negation of the Mosaic rule of ‘an eye for an eye as encoded in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible! In Greek drama, revenge killing though honourable, must end. And so, the deus ex machina, the coming of an unexpected power saving a seemingly hopeless situation, was developed. A god descended in a technical device to put an end to senseless slaughter. In the case of our Republic, in what context can we have that ‘god? The quote ‘an eye for an eye will leave the world blind’, is attributed to M.K. Gandhi, a man who preached peace. In other words, if we all seek and carry out revenge, the entire world would be incapacitated or destroyed.
This essentially is the kernel of my contribution to the macabre killings taking place all over the country. If those who have the power refuse to or cannot stop the killings, they would also be ultimately consumed. It follows from the logic of a free-for-all existence and a break down of law and order. A society in which revenge thrives can never progress. Revenge is futile, destructive, and endless. It must be stopped. The most dangerous thread of vendetta comes if ethnic groups slaughter one another in the name of reprisals. Sometimes, a false story could trigger off reprisals because the narrative of vendetta is already in the air. Of this we must beware. We may know how violence starts. How it will end is beyond prognostication.
Already, conspiracy theories are in the air. The name of the Imo State governor has been dragged into the list of suspects. The former governor is also fingered by another wing of the conspiracy. The truth is that we are in a quandary as to how to get to the bottom of the matter. Ridiculous stories are passed around as fact. It takes a discerning mind to distil the truth. Whoever killed Gulak has not served the nation well. The men of violence in Owerri are not serving their people right. Why do they burn down assets of the state? Why have they attacked police stations that are put in place to maintain law and order?
Gulak and Obioma, whether as victims of assassinations or rumoured assassinations are symptomatic of the disease that has eaten deep into our national ethos. In other words, the story about vendetta killing was possible only because of the murder of Gulak, and how a reprisal killing could take place. I sympathise with the bereaved families. Life has lost its meaning in Nigeria. The value of human life has shrunk terribly. We no longer really cringe when we read about massacres. What was once alien has become familiar! Savagery rules the day. Some scoundrels love to have it so. It is not unlikely that some fifth columnists or saboteurs are at work. These are men and women who want to provoke war. Let the nation be warned: war is not a tea party. War is dirty, ugly, and destructive. The man who starts the war may not be around to fight the war or witness how it ends. Such is the tragedy of war. Let the word go to holders of the reins of power, the pseudo-democrats and lefthanded fiends in Aso Rock: end the killings and acts of vendetta now before it is too late! Remember Rwanda?
Professor Eghagha can be reached on [email protected]