THE EXPERIENCE OF THE UNNAMED WIDOW
“It was like my worst nightmare! As the two ferocious men huddled over me my heart felt like it was going to explode. I couldn’t make out what they were saying because they were talking all at once but it sounded like a demand so I responded with a meek ‘o.k.’ My head was lowered so that I couldn’t see their faces but I crawled to where my bag was, took out the key to the safe and handed it to them without looking up. My head was still lowered like that of a child who had misbehaved, my heart beating like the drums of doomsday and my eyes were stinging with unshed tears. In the other room I could hear continuous thumping and knew instantly that my husband was having a worse experience than I. I prayed hard for him to be alive and them not to find our two children hiding in the guest bathroom. The rummage in the safe, the sound of running feet and the gun shots I heard from outside seemed to last an eternity. I had a horrible few seconds when I froze, then I began hyperventilating and shaking so badly with my teeth chattering. At last there was silence so I slowly lifted my eyes but not my head and realized they had gone. The ordeal lasted only for a few minutes but the effects will stay with me for the rest of my life because that was the night armed robbers visited my house and shot my mai-guard… It was also the night they beat my husband to death…!”
Does this story of an unnamed widow sound familiar? Well it should because every single day someone in Nigeria will have a similar experience. The effect of armed robbery on a victim leaves a lifelong mark of anxiety, insecurity and depression. Of all the problems we have in Nigeria, the lack of security has got to be the worst. Violent attacks, armed robbery and these senseless bombings have almost become the order of the day, and it seems to happen anytime and anywhere. A couple of months ago I had a debate with a friend who was of the opinion that the incidence of armed robbery in Nigeria was on the increase. I disagreed and believed that armed robbery had been overtaken with other more lucrative acts of violence such as kidnapping. “You are thinking this way”, she said “because nobody around you has been subjected to a robbery attack of recent”. While, at the time, I thought she was talking rubbish, now I know better; now I know that she was right. Because in the last four weeks, I have known three people that have been victims of armed robbers.
Violent crime, such as armed robbery, has been a growing problem since the oil boom raised the potential for people to get rich abruptly in the seventies, in collaboration with our special brand of institutionalised corruption. Additionally over the years, the putrefaction of moral fibre, the kleptomaniac standards set by our leaders and the knowledge that the Nigerian police are ill-equipped have all contributed to the level of crime we are living with. Also, the economic policies of our past governments have taken its toll on the populace who never saw its benefits. The past governments’ privatisation programme generated financial and investment opportunities for the rich but excluded the vast majority of the population. It also lead to the redundancy of workers in state monopolies which were being privatised, creating unemployment and contributing to the increase in social crime. While previously most people who commit violent crimes were illiterate, now the statistics show that a large number of robbers in operation are unemployed university graduates.
As for the police, though it is their duty to protect the public, they are, for the most part, ineffective. Even though the fault is not squarely on the force’s shoulders, seeing that they lack adequate man and fire power, motivation and the will to tackle the increasing crime rate in our poverty stricken society, they do have a duty to protect Nigerians. The force is in desperate need for in-house reform in order to break the bad-eggs amongst them that have participated in crimes such as collaborating with robbery gangs and setting up illegal roadblocks. The police needs to stop releasing without charge robbery suspects that pay them bribes. They need to develop new strategies for dealing with the increase in crime so that the concerns of the community for safety are addressed. They must do this, perhaps, by adopting some of the strategies used during the military era.
One of the benefits of Military rule in Nigeria was the strangulation of activities such as robbery. But in 1999, upon our ascension to democracy, the government abolished the military anti-crime task forces and handed over their role to the police. Although our newfound democracy and the abolition of the task forces were in the interest of the country, it has, to some extent, become one of our sources of insecurity. The disbandment of the security apparatuses used by the previous military government and their replacement with an ineffective police force has been exploited by criminal elements in the society.
In spite of the government’s promises to tackle crime, armed robbery is still rampant. The response of the government to crime has remained extemporized. The police are poorly paid; the government must increase their benefits and gratuity and bulk up the compensation paid to the families of those killed in the line of duty. Government should also enact more draconian anti-crime laws and reconsider the legalisation of the activities of organised vigilante groups. Public disenchantment with the criminal justice system and particularly the failure of the police to bring down the level of crime has led communities to establish such vigilante groups in order to challenge the monopoly of violence in the communities.
The Nigerian frustration with the government and police’s inability to protect the society and reduce crime has resulted in individuals resorting to self-help measures such as the erection of high-walled fences and the proliferation of private security. Almost every house in residential neighbourhoods in Nigeria is secured with burglar proofing, hidden behind towering concrete walls, barricaded with bullet proof doors and numerous other security devices, rendering people prisoners in their own homes.
The situation has forced every Nigerian to be wary and suspicious of strangers. The experience of a family friend who was trailed from her office to her house during daytime by an armed robber on an Okada bike, who latter went to her house at night with his gang of not so merry men, has made the likes of myself unreasonably paranoid of any car or motorbike driving behind us when we are on the road.
Unless the authorities clamp down on the spate of armed robbery, then we would have failed the likes of our unnamed widow whose fortune was that she had money to give the robbers on that tragic night. Unless the government addresses this armed robbery menace effectively then maybe the next time robbers decide to go to the house of the unnamed widow, they will first of all search the guest bathroom.…”The story then will be different and through swelled eyes the widow will recall how her second armed robbery ordeal lasted only for a few minutes more than the first one and how the effects of the second one will stay with her for all of eternity… because that was the night armed robbers shot both her children dead!”
Written By Hannatu Musawa
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