#GrippingTales: Before we nail Aluu to the cross, we are all guilty

by Editi Effiong

But guilt is easier to share behind the anonymity of community. So I will face my shame, the I too, am guilty. Not the broad guilt of a public rhetoric, but actual guilt for mob violence I must bear responsibility for.

 Jungle justice is in our towns, in our markets, in our churches. Jungle justice is promoted in our homes, through Nollywood. I knew thieves in Uyo were burned with tyres, long before I knew the meaning of the words “ole ole,” which could get you mobbed on Lagos streets.

Maybe it’s something deeper than a numbing of nerves and the absence of law. Maybe it’s planted deep in our psyche, because many who vilified the Aluu community, including the students who rioted afterwards in protest, and indeed many of us, have jungle justice back in our towns and villages as part of our culture. Remember that thief who was caught in the village, and made to walk naked with the item he stole? Remember the kid who was beaten in the market for stealing food?

What about the little witch? Or that old witch?

I didn’t have an old witch, but I knew a man who did. Or who was told he did. My next experience with jungle justice was the most gruesome, despicable, barbaric thing I have ever seen. It was Eket, in 1999. When I saw it, I didn’t see the depth of evil before my eyes. I was told witches were being shown justice – I couldn’t help those victims, I was far too young, but I asked no questions either.

Before I became a free spirited humanist, I was raised in a deeply spiritual home. I was raised to believe in God, in Jesus and His holy church, and witches. Besides praying for improvements in the lives of church members, witches took a disproportionate amount of prayer time in my parents’ local church, and those of their friends. In those days, I knew the devil had dark powers, but he had nothing on the power of witches and wizards, because the devil was just one guy, but witches, they were everywhere, openly and under camouflage. They were the known ones, like that wrinkly old woman in church no one spoke to, because everyone knew she was a witch, or those unknown ones who may even be living with you. Then there were those ones who usually happened to be relatives, or house helps, or those people who’s faces just weren’t beautiful enough.

Whatever forms ‘witches’ came in, the fact was irrevocable: they were everywhere, and they were wreaking havoc in everyone’s homes. We all wanted them gone, but it didn’t seem we prayed enough, and they kept limiting progress in all homes. There seemed no way to stop the witches, until one day, a holy army came to town, charged with the mission to wipe every witch from the surface of the earth. This army, on a holy mission descended into town, from where, we didn’t know yet, armed with a list vetted by ‘trusted prophets’, a list of witches and wizards who’s days had come. They were fearless; they were invincible. They were called Ukan.

Ukan was a vigilante group, which seemingly influenced and supported by uber-spiritual leaders, came to power as a no-nonsense group of warriors, who’s primary brief was to rid towns and villages of their witches. Weeks before, we had heard snippets of their exploits – the routine was simple: a great prophet made a list of witches in town, and Ukan came in, took them out to an open field and beat them to death. From the discussions I overheard in town, it didn’t seem people could wait for it to be their town’s turn to welcome the crusaders. After all, didn’t the Bible say “suffer not the witch to live?”

I cannot remember what day of the week it was, but I think it was my dad’s voice that woke us up. He was in an animated conversation with someone on our porch, and it didn’t take long to realize from his conversation, that Ukan had arrived in our neck of the woods. The person my dad was speaking with had come to tell him, and they quickly drove out.

My dad’s accounts later, of what he had seen was laced with a lot of drama, as my dad often tells his stories, but the simple facts were that people, who had been confirmed witches and wizards by a prophet were simply rounded up, some chased down, and taken to an open field, where they were currently being beaten till they die. According to my dad, there was a huge crowd, cheering.

Later that day, we walked down the road, about half a mile to the scene of the lynching. There was a large crowd, scattered around a general area covered by thick grass, forming a circle roughly three hundred feet wide. In the middle of this circle were about 20 young men, sweaty and covered with sprays of blood and pieces of flesh. They had planks, sticks, whips, batons and cutlasses, and scattered on the ground were men, woman, boys and girls, the targets of an indescribable assault. They were all covered with blood. We could tell that some of them were still alive, because we could hear horrible howls and grunts whenever they were hit, but none of them was moving. We had reached the clearing at about 5pm, which meant those poor souls had endured over 12 hours of deadly violence. Many had died already.

Every now and then, the leader of the Ukan boys would walk around with a bottle of local gin, gargle on the gin for a moment, and blow a huge spray in the direction of the mutilated bodies on the ground. A ghoulish cry rent the air as he the stinging alcohol made contact with the fresh, open wounds. It was a scene to much to bear. We retreated.

When I left the clearing after 15 minutes of untainted wickedness, I cannot say I felt very sorry for the men and women who were being murdered.  I could not bring myself to watch the violent beatings with machetes and planks, and indeed closed my eyes so I could not see, but I did not feel sorry for the victims. I couldn’t watch their suffering, but my heart suffered no pains as to why they were being murdered.  I had been told that these people were witches and wizards.

The dead by that public lynching, the ‘witches’, did not deserve the decency of burial, so many who tried to collect the bodies of their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters were made to go through shameful processes, in order to do so, besides the monies they had to pay to Ukan as a collection fee.

I knew a man in my church, who’s aged mother, that woman no one spoke to because ‘everyone knew’, was killed. Another man in church lost his father. His brother had also been listed and beaten up, but the teenager was lucky that one of the senior Ukan boys was friends with a cousin of his, who arranged for his release, having parted with N10,000 cash. I can’t remember any witches drawn from any of the high income oil workers’ homes.

Everybody was happy that the witches and wizards were gone. I remember my dad encouraging his friend from church, who had lost his father, to “cheer up that things will get better”. The other things he said, I cannot bring myself to put down, but realized later, were the most inhumane, inconsiderate kinds of words one could ever speak to another man. Even sadder still, they were honest words of encouragement – my dad truly believed witches and wizards had been killed that day. For the sake of perspective, my dad received his Masters Degree in 1983, and I remember clearly, he was driving our green Mercedes that day.

Over the next couple of weeks, more lists were compiled, this time from a wider selection of families (still none from the witch-free high income families), and people’s parents started to disappear, rumoured to have left town to avoid being lynched.

Everyone was happy that ‘holy justice’ was come to town. Everyone, but the people who lost their relatives in the first public lynching. Rumours started flying that the bereaved families were helping the police identify Ukan members. People reported to the church to caution their members who had lost relatives, to desist from obstructing the holy crusade. It wasn’t long before the police moved from clandestine operations to full on mass arrests. Within weeks, the almighty, invincible Ukan was destroyed, leaving behind rather ordinary young men in police cells.

Rumours also said people who could bail their sons were able to get them out of the police cells, but the ones who could not faced an uncertain wait, for no action had yet been decided for the arrested ex-crusaders. I still do not know what happened to them.

I heard the story of the Aluu4 late, but when I did, I made every effort to ensure I do not see the graphic images. Over the last 12 years, I had grown quite sensitive, and have refused my eyes to see any bloody violence, even in films. I was going to keep my ‘innocent’ detachment undefiled by refusing to see either the images or the video of that murderous mob. I was successful until Wednesday evening.

I was reading a YNaija article, and was scrolling to the bottom of the page, when I saw it. It took a moment to settle, but when I finally realized what I was looking at, it was too late and the image was stuck in my head. At that moment, I began to remember.  It was about 14 years ago, when I walked through the crowd at the Ukan killing field, but over the years, I had grown quite sophisticated and non-violent. My worldview had become quite mature and civilized, and I, very principled in my stance towards violence. And I had forgotten.

In the wake of the Aluu murders, my Twitter timeline was overflowing with condemnation of the senseless, heartless violence against the innocent young men. The recurring phrase on social networks was that Aluu was cursed, the worst community in the entire country. I was overcome with grief too. I could not understand why we could be so mean and heartless, or why we couldn’t let the authorities do their job, if indeed the boys had committed criminal offences (It turned out they hadn’t stolen anything). Most of all, I felt a great sadness and anger at the people who had the nerve to support the lynching, because the community had been a routine victim of armed robbery. How on earth could people be so barbaric?

My response to Aluu was true and righteous, until the moment I saw those pictures and my heart tore away at my memories. But why are we so violent? Why are we so drawn to public humiliation and murder? Where did this murderous trait come from, and how did it become entrenched in our schools, communities and religious doctrine. We cannot deny that our communities are a foundation for mob justice. Most communities have traditions which support mob justice, or walking criminals through public places stripped of their dignity and humanity. We cannot deny either, that our places of worship have actively supported mob action and murder, in the name of ‘cleansing’, killing witches and wizards.

Because our communities are the beds from which these seeds of violence germinated, we are all guilty. Every one of us, whose community walks people through the streets for theft, kills witches, and drives evil people out of the community, every one of us is guilty of the crime at Aluu. We all are.

But guilt is easier to share behind the anonymity of community. So I will face my shame, the I too, am guilty. Not the broad guilt of a public rhetoric, but actual guilt for mob violence I must bear responsibility for.

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Editi Effiong blogs at here and follow him on Twitter @editieffiong.

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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