As I ruminate about the word ‘hoodlum,’ certain questions that agitate my mind are: Who are these hoodlums? Are they humans or spirits? Are they Nigerians? What could be their mission? Are they sane? Could they be arsonists or terrorists as suggested or insinuated in some states like Osun and Edo? In my quest for the appreciation of the description, I checked my dictionary and found out that it means either of two things: a violent criminal or a young ruffian. The latter description I believe is a lesser evil that could be tamed as, most times, it relates to youthful exuberance. It, however, presupposes a condition of criminality over time. This implies that it can never be a sudden development. The hoodlum must have been involved in crime for some time. On this, we may ask, what has happened to the law that criminalized the conduct? Is it being enforced or not? Who are those responsible for the enforcement?
To have hoodlums in the midst of a society, particularly where they appear to be in the majority, indicts the criminal justice administration and the society itself. The question that follows is, are the various looters truly hoodlums? ME THINK NOT! I say this because their modus operandi does not seem to attest to that fact. In my view, they are the poor, and as rightly captured by one Abiodun Fijabi in his piece, “The poor are coming!” “The poor are not the #EndSARS protesters, those young and upward mobile Nigerians from cultured homes you applauded for their disciplined, peaceful and well-organised actions. The poor possess no such discipline, no finesse. They have neither the capacity to fundraise nor the skill to clarify and articulate their positions on issues. They hardly went to school. If they did, they bailed out before the teachers could pronounce their names. They are victims of a ‘dysfunctional society.’ This is borne out by the struggle for ‘palliatives’, which they failed at all times to set on fire but rather carted away. Other looted items must certainly be for sale in order to sustain themselves.”
Let me state, without condoning the looting or other attendant vices, that a poor man is an angry man. An angry man is usually out of his mind during the time of anger. Hence, he possesses not the necessary consciousness or intention to appreciate the magnitude of his act. Even, in the face of the law, where provocation avails, he cannot be held accountable for his deed as he lacks the required intention to commit it. This, however, is not my destination. I am more concerned with other factors that have given birth to these violent behaviors, particularly if we assume their christening by the media as hoodlums.
I guess that these violent criminals are children of some parents. Again, amplifying the message of Fijabi, “While we are aghast by the recent dastardly acts of the poor, it might be necessary for us to rethink our disdain for and the neglect of the poor. To be sure, the poor are Nigerians and God’s own children, like the rest of us. They carry divine destinies. They have been known to turn the corner when we had given them the opportunities to do so. Ironically, some of us came out of their rank but soon abandoned our former constituency as a way of reinforcing our newfound status”.
If that assumption is correct, then, we start wondering what happened to their parenthood. Without engaging in unnecessary incursion into circumstances that rendered them to be criminal, let us accept quickly that there is parental failure. Beyond the nuclear family that is basically saddled with the upbringing of these younger ones, it is common knowledge that, in Africa, it is also a communal responsibility to raise a child. The contemporary style of living, however, does not admit of such communal moulding of children. We seem to live a mind-your-business life. The fruit of this misadventure is what the society is now reaping.
The economic situation of the country has not helped matters. Parents, out of desperate survival necessity, have had to abandon parental responsibility. Such children with no human or emotional feelings now abound in society. Beyond this, the atmosphere for the flourishing of these hoodlums is enabled by the state and society at large. Some of the so-called hoodlums are directly and indirectly on the state’s payroll and that of politicians. Some sense of entitlement, by way of extortion, is implicitly attached to them by the state. In some instances, state structures are even created for them. Over time, politicians have recognized their skills in rigging elections through snatching of ballot boxes, manipulation of results or terrorizing voters. In some instances, upon ascendance to office, they are given official recognition alongside others while, in other situations, they are abandoned, to the detriment of the larger society. Where the hoodlums find no official patronage, they become a menace to the larger society.
Part of what transpired during the last curfew responsible for the looting of stores and, by extension, arson is that there was no motor garage or any other extortionist opportunity available to them. If you remember that these are fellows that live on daily earnings with no sense of savings. With the curfew and no toll gate, they resorted to looting and robbery. While government officials do their own as depicted above, society itself, implicitly through passiveness, endorses their activities by not speaking up. The resultant effect is that the hoodlums became emboldened to commit all manner of atrocities with impunity. It is when they now impact on individuals negatively, as witnessed recently, that the society now woke up from its slumber, remembering that some hoodlums exist somewhere. Did the society complain during their budding stage? No. The Yoruba proverb is ‘aile soro, ni ipile ori buruku” which means, inability to voice out is the beginning of ill fate.
Again, during the withering of societal values and virtues, did the society complain or raise its voice? No. It is now that the morals, values and virtues have been completely eroded that society is complaining. It is indubitable that, in society today, the political class is largely populated by several, ‘Hush rottweilers’ and ‘Iron berries.’ They are higher in grade than the notorious Hushpuppies and Woodberries that we all deprecate. Where then lies the morality to complain about the invasion by the hoodlums?
It will further interest you that some of the so-called hoodlums are the economic pillars of some of the unemployed graduates in society. It is, therefore, no news that some of them are not only role models for the unemployed graduates but mentors. Some jobless graduates have actually joined in their trade. I am even aware of the existence of so many graduates in the fold of the much-deprecated hoodlums today. After arduous work in school and more than a decade of joblessness, they see school dropouts in opulence. What does society expect them to do? Ignore the lucrative trade to their own peril? What has society done to those looting our collective patrimony? Observe the speed of prosecution of these arrested looters compared with that of the executive criminals in public offices. Can you see the disparity?
I wonder why we always go for soft targets. As society grieves over the incidents of the last few weeks, the nation needs to do self-appraisal and make efforts in redressing the deformity in the system to avert or tame future threats. Let me now say that the magnitude of the looting and destruction we witnessed should not be a surprise to us as we had sufficient notice served on the nation. Remember the warning of these poor that, by the time they lack anything to feed upon, they will resort to the rich. I remember my interpretation and admonition when the statement was made during the Occupy Nigeria protest. I had said, by this, they meant, should they go hungry to the point of desperation for survival, they will start snatching properties that belong to the rich. This, the nation misconstrues to be the wealthy, whereas they mean whoever that is more privileged than them.
Today, it is obvious from their operations that the threshold of attack is simply that of comfort. In other words, you are more comfortable than me and, as such, I must take part or the whole of your belongings, regardless of whether you earned it or otherwise. The crime of the victims, therefore, is that of silence in the face of abnormalities in society.
I sympathize with all those who genuinely earned their wealth and are victims of the attacks but your sin is indifference. Silence, it is said, means consent. I must also not fail in registering the fact that failure of our criminal justice system is a contributory factor. I marvelled and laughed when I heard that over 400 suspects were to be tried for various offences in Lagos State. My mind went straight to the supposed correctional centres that are over-congested already and I wondered how they would further squeeze them into the place. I have no doubt in my mind that most of the suspects will be without lawyers that can either apply for their bail or perfect it. If they can afford the services of a lawyer in the first instance, they won’t be out looting stores. Some of the suspects may be innocent and will end up on future release as hardened criminals, to the detriment of society. This is the way the nation’s problems are compounded.
What do I say about the dysfunctional educational system? Can it breed anything other than hoodlums? The country continues to amuse me daily, forgetting that “Omo ti a ko ko, ni o gbe ile ti a ba ko ta,” which literally means that a child whose character you fail to build will sell the houses you labored to build. Simple. All that is happening currently in the country are products of our actions and inactions.
There is no better way to end than quoting Fijabi again, ‘Neglect of the poor is a loan to the devil, and the devil pays back those loans in full’. Hence, Nigerians are reaping the fruits of their labour. The solution is re-evaluation of deeds and re-orientation. If the people don’t courageously rise up against the maladies, no salvation can come their way. What all this portends is that, rather than looking at these people from the angle of criminality, we should address their state of insanity propelled by hunger.