Aluu Killings: Are the Martyrs Innocent and Above Suspicion?

‘Barbaric, savagery, callous, dastard and horrific’ are mild words to describe the video clips on YouTube of what has come to be known as Port Harcourt 4, the killing of four students of the University of Port Harcourt, UNIPORT, on October 5, 2012. The killing was planned and executed in Umuokiri village, Aluu, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State.   The tragic quartet – Chiadika Lordson Biringa, Ugonna Kelechi Obuzor, Mike Llyod Toku and Takena Friday Elkanah were aged between 18 and 20.

That the brutal killing came four days after the Mubi massacre of 40 students and that dastard act was recorded and posted on You Tube are what many Nigerians have not come to terms with. Expectedly, reactions have thrilled the killing of these promising talents. The victim cousins, Ugonna Obuzors and Llyod Toku were said to be budding artistes popular in Port Harcourt music circuit and with a demo tape titled “Heart of the City” featuring a prophetic track ‘There is no love in the heart of the City”. The late student of Theatre Arts, Chiadika Lordson Biringa, was said to be a good dancer who would in the least dance to the beating of fufu. While there is largely a curious silence on the talents and character of Takena Elkanah, emotions pouring in from his relatives show that despite all he was still the darling of his family members as no fact indicates that they had disowned him.

Given other notorious facts about the quartet, it is natural that emotions pour in. Since the incident parents, friends and associates have been emotionally unanimous in condemning the barbaric act. This initial reaction is natural and reasonable too; and that was the first instinct of yours sincerely to the incident- nobody has right to take law into his hands no matter what. Life belongs to God and no one has right to take it except in a case where one constitutes an unrelenting nuisance to the society; then for the sake for common good, state is empowered by law to act in public interest. Taking one’s life outside the institution of law shows is a bridge of fundamental right and reminds us of the Stone Age which hitherto has been an imagination of historians and political thinkers. And the video clips? This has shown that barbarism and civility may not necessary be strange bed-fellows.

The next emotion came from the business concerns. Trust Igbos and other business moguls! Some have condemned the act on the ground that it will scare investors from coming to Nigeria as if Boko Haram is an English term. If anything were to scare foreign investors in Nigeria we would have long closed our gates against immigrants because all our habits are investing unfriendly. Luckily, we have attractive ingredients that allow Chinese boys and American guys to loiter our streets even at the price of breaking our immigration rules. The lawlessness and the endemic corruption are more than any scaring video clips of jungle justice system. The same people who pose as true patriots have conducted businesses in manners that have brought the country into its present disrepute.   Get me right! I am not saying that every person is not entitled to his opinion. Rather, it is another way of saying that those who live in glass houses do not throw.

Let us reason differently. A good journalist inquiry must answer ‘5Ws and H’. This means that true reportage must exhaust what, who, where, when, why and how of an event. The reactions that have thrilled the killing these our modern hero has concentrated on what, when, where, how, and who, ignoring largely ‘why’. The neglect of ‘why’ this killing is worth reflecting because this is where reason comes in. When we ignore the ‘why’ we run into difficult and concentrate on emotions that will eventually indict many of us. Let’s see the loopholes in our emotions.

Condemning the killing on grounds of fundamental human right is easy to dislodge but disregard to the human rights is a commonplace in Nigeria and the practice of jungle justice in the country is not new. It is fast becoming accepted justice because of prevailing monetary justice in Nigeria system. Killing roadside robbers and the like is more prevalent in that axis of the country. The city of Aba is notorious for this perverted justice system which has been enthroned in many Nigerian universities. The Port Harcourt 4 were not the first victims and I have no doubt that others have followed them. The visible angry UNIPORT students who protested the killing acted in emotion. The arson, mayhem which they unleashed on Aluu community has backing of the law. When they invaded the community to burn their houses, they forgot that they were guided by the same emotion to act the same way the brutes who murdered their fellow students. If they ever feel that their anger is justifiable, they should allow reason to ask ‘why were their colleagues killed at the first instance?’ Two wrongs cannot make a single right. What they did in effect was pronouncing the entire community guilty because the act was executed there. What if the community argues that the victims were burnt because they were found where crimes have been perpetrated for years?

Reason should lead us to ask ‘why were they killed?’ The allegations leveled against them vary because nobody has owed up the crime. They were said to be cultists attacking other students in the area; terror gang who specializes in robbing, raping and maiming students; and that there were thieves who specialized in stealing laptops, computers and mobile phones. The underlining allegation here is the fact they were alleged cultists. Once that allegation is confirmed, others go without mention. And if that is established, one can go on to increase the tally of their crime.

The tears of this piece drops for the bereaved families. Some of them insist that their sons were none of the personages the brutes gave them. Ugonna’s father said he exposed his child to computer from primary school and could not have gone to steal laptops. Mrs Biringa, mother of one of the victims said that her son and his friends were actually in Aluu to recover a debt that a native owed them.

These facts are well understood. But, the admission that they were actually in the community to recover a debt is strong. It is not easy to go with friends all the time in Nigerian university and retain innocence. What parents call friends may pass as cultists among peers. It is difficult for four friends to move together to recover a debt if there hadn’t been group-strength attached to it, actual or intention. Their juicy background is never an argument. Delinquency is high among children of the rich and grows in affluence and not in recession. Those who steal are not those who have not otherwise all the poor would have thieves and the rich embodiment of virtues. More so, the interest generated by the killing will not allow those who have facts of their alleged crime to come forward.

Once upon a time, my community was faced with a task of identifying the killer of a family pet-dog found dead along the village path with sharp cuts. The entire villagers were summoned to the village square to vouchsafe their innocent individually before a shrine. Every villager was furious on why somebody should perpetrate such a crime. One after the other the villagers came swearing with a drinking portion to vindicate their innocence. This process progressed smoothly till it got to the turn of one man who raised an objection. He told the community that he would be part of system meant to favour an animal to the utter disregard of man. He queried “we should not just be ill-bent in fishing out the culprit but should ask the dead dog if it is innocent.” The entire villagers went boisterous laughter.

In western literature we read about Caesar’s divorce of his heartthrob. When allegation of infidelity was leveled against Caesar’s wife, Caesar had set up a committee of inquiry to investigate the matter. The committee gave Caesar’s wife a clean bill of health. But when everybody expected Caesar to welcome the outcome as a vindication of his lover he said to the utter chagrin of all: ‘Caesar’s wife should not only be innocent but should be above suspicion’. With that statement, Caesar progressed to announce the divorce of his wife.

While we join voices to say ‘never again’ to this type of barbaric killing and plead that the victims be fished out and prosecute accordingly, we should not forget that it is rationally irresistible to think that the deceases students like Caesar’s wife should not only have been innocent but above suspicion. Individually, they might have been good guys, but, individual innocence can be lost in group guilt. This is what the 13 suspects so far arrested should help police to unravel.