CRIMINALITY AND THE NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE

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By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
Last Wednesday, Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi supervised the demolition of a stately edifice at Ifite-Oraifite in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, belonging to a suspected kidnap kingpin, Mr. Olisagbo Ifedike, 36, alias Ofe Akwu. The demolition came on the heels of Ifedike’s arrest by State Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS and the shocking discovery of sophisticated arms and ammunitions concealed in the base of his building. Legally speaking, the demolitions were not backed by any judicial pronouncement of guilt on the suspect. The only whiff of legal authorization for the demolitions is the governor’s unwritten proclamation directing that “any building used by kidnappers or belonging to a kidnapper would be demolished and the land confiscated by the state government”. 
Whether or not the demolitions were legal, the shocking discoveries sent cold shivers down the spine of several onlookers –   huge crowd –   comprising local community leaders, rural women, local youths, including the suspect’s relatives and family members. In unison, they spontaneously expressed revulsion and anger towards the suspect, but lavished praises on the governor for taking such stringent measures. Even associates and beneficiaries of Ifedike’s largesse renounced him in public. Acknowledgement of any association with him is enough to attract ostracism, traditional sanctions, including banishment. Till date, children, mothers, adults, clerics continue to reference his arrest and wealth seizures when admonishing erring youngsters to stay away from crime. Relative calm endures. 
Ifedike’s story is similar to the exploits of the late notorious armed robber and kidnapper, Obioma Nwankwo, popularly known as Osisikankwu, who terrorized residents of Aba, Abia State two years ago. His toils were very controversial, especially the linkage of political bigwigs to his criminal exploits, including serving and past governors of the state. Prior to his death, Abia State became a no-go area as banks were routinely raided, while the rich and the poor were kidnapped, and murdered effortlessly. 
He was killed on December 12, 2010 following an ambush laid for him by soldiers of the Special Task Force from the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu. There is currently no record, report or evidence showing that he resisted arrest the day he was killed, or was even armed. The bottom line is that he was caught, and then killed, perhaps, brutally, even when the option of handing him to a court of law for prosecution, and eventual conviction was very practicable, and the best thing to do.  His death was greeted with widespread jubilation and total condemnation of his atrocious acts. Even friends and allies openly expressed outrage, and denounced ever having anything to do with him.  As far as many were concerned, Osisikankwubrought shame to his family, and community. Relative calm endures.
Let’s quickly fast-forward to northern Nigeria. In a 308 comment-long discussion involving a broad spectrum of Nigerians – especially northern and southern youths – on Spaces for Change’s group discussion forum on Facebook, a heated debate ensued when one of the northern discussants used the word “unjust” to describe the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the slain Boko Haram leader. Without even attempting to understand the context in which the word was used, all hell broke loose as sentiments, emotions and hot exchanges flowed freely. Automatically, the discussions shifted from the original topic, “The Leadership Disconnect in Northern Nigeria” to the legality or otherwise of Mohammed Yusuf’s execution by Nigerian security operatives. For three whole days, the discussions and the rage persisted.  
The allegations of patronage by, and the collusion of politicians in Osisikanwu’s reign of terror bears several characteristics with that of the slain northern cleric, Mohammed Yusuf. Several news reports and independent documentations are replete with first-hand testimonies and evidence linking former Bornu State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff with the activities of the sect. Prior to his arrest, Mohammed Yusuf was alleged to have masterminded several gory shootings and killings, especially the July 2007 uprising in Maiduguri that claimed hundreds of lives, including several high- and low-ranking police officers. Till date, the widowed and orphaned victims of the alleged killings continue to endure untold pain and suffering brought on by the demise of family breadwinners and innumerable property losses. Yusuf’s controversial execution at the Police Headquarters in Maiduguri is widely believed to have been perpetrated by vengeful security operatives. 
In sharp contrast to the celebrations that accompanied the arrest and killing of Ifedike and Osisikankwu in Eastern Nigeria, an Islamic sect-led insurgency and campaign of terror broke out in the north following Yusuf’s demise. Securing justice for the slain Yusuf is among the sect’s top demands.  In demonstration of this angst resonating across the northern region, his family representatives rushed to the courts seeking compensation from the Borno and Federal Governments, including the Inspector General of Police (IG) for the extra-judicial killing of their son. The court granted their wishes. A100-milion Naira compensation was paid. But yet, no relative calm endures. 
The disparate examples of Osisikankwu/Ifedike  and Mohammed Yusuf clearly depict a wide gap in the value systems, particularly the way crime is perceived in the northern and southern parts of the country. Again, it reveals the huge disparity in the levels of communal abhorrence, social revulsion, and retributive value placed on crime in the two jurisdictions. While the south-eastern communities are more predisposed towards cooperating with security agencies to fish out undesirable elements, same cannot be said of their northern counterparts. Perhaps, a flashback to the nineties, during the days of Bakassi boys best exemplifies the easterners’ aversion to criminality. No day passed without news of violent bank raids, assassinations, ritual killings and highway robbery incidents in Aba, Nnewi and Onitsha. Akin to the apparently ineffectual counter-terror interventions in Northern Nigeria, security agents were then, totally helpless and overwhelmed by the gangsters. But determined to restore sanity and order in the clime, the traumatized indigenous communities, with support of their various state governments – galvanized the Bakassi Boys (BB Boys) vigilante group, and transferred the security management of the state to them. Within the shortest possible time, the BB Boys “sanitized” the crime-infested cities, forcing the bad guys to flee from the region. The maximum support and cooperation the BB boys enjoyed from their host communities significantly aided the identification and extirpation of the bad boys. Punishment – instant “justice” – was inevitable, irrespective of the status, caste or lineage of lawbreakers, especially those caught in the act. The legality of the BB boys’ operations, is a topic for another day. However, relative calm endured.
The experiences from the South-East are not only worthy of emulation, but deserving of replication across the regions. Unlike in Anambra and Abia States where the respective state governors have led the onslaught against criminal gangs, northern leaders have constantly come under heat, for being tight-lipped and hesitant in condemning the activities of the Boko Haram sect. Even the occasional voices of reproof have been characteristically bland, and rendered in murmuring tones. This unfortunate trend remains significantly unchanged even while the terrorist activities are increasingly grinding the northern economy to a halt. Instead, we have seen even the well-read and economically-savvy frontrunners indulge in blame-games and buck-passing. Not spared in the squirting orgasm of buck-passing is the current derivation formula which grants a larger share of Nigeria’s oil wealth to the resource-rich, but environmentally-devastated south-south states. At the same time, the blame game has deliberately shut its eyes to decades of servitude, political misrule, brazen maladministration of the region’s natural and human resources by its own sons and daughters.
Again, unlike in the South where cultural norms and social values passed down from generation to generation are static and detached from contemporaneousness, religion and culture are somewhat fused together in the north, leaving cultural socialization to play a very nominal role in human interaction and behavioural development. What this means is that southerners, especially in the East, are very likely to vociferously and unanimously denounce criminal behavior regardless of their divergent religious inclinations. This unified abhorrence of criminality derives from ingrained customary modes of socialization, rarely seen elsewhere in the country. However, it would be quite inappropriate to lump all northern states in one bunch, in any assessment of the quantum of social revulsion against criminal behavior. The inappropriateness is anchored on the fact that all inhabitants of the north do not share the same faith. The middle belt, and other predominantly non-Muslim communities can be safely kept out of the bunch.
A resounding alarm raised in the article titled, “The Vanishing North” in the global news magazine, The Economist, in its June 16-22, 2012 edition, aptly highlights the urgency to start dismantling the current sympathies, casualization and veiled support which overt acts of criminality – whether perpetrated in the name of religion or kidnapping – enjoy.  For crime fighting, counter-terrorism and anti-insurgency operations to be meaningful and effective, they must start first of all, start with a collective censure of the repulsive acts, and a shared willingness to have the perpetrators identified and punished. 

As vividly demonstrated by the jubilations following the arrest and demise of Ifedike and Osisikankwu, that collective censure must be matched with an effort to cooperate with crime fighters to restore law and order. On the other hand, the crime fighters must also know that gaining the friendship of the local population among whom they prosecute a bloody, military operation against embedded guerillas, is a winning strategy, any day. That friendship too must be earned, and not gained by a show of might. Unfortunately, this side of the debate is new, and utterly strange to the key actors – both the victims and the villains – of the floundering state of insecurity in Nigeria. Whatever the case, the lessons to be learned across the regional divides cannot be emphasized.

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