Femi Osofisan’s play, “Once Upon Four Robbers” dramatizes the violence unleashed on the society by armed robbers as a response against the pervasive and corrupt behaviour of the elite in Nigeria. In the play, the leader of a gang of robbers has just been felled by the bullets of the military. This was at a time in the history of Nigeria when armed robbers were tied to the stake and shot at the bar beach in grisly reality much to the excitement of a delirious crowd. After the death of their leader, the remaining members of the gang, Alhaja, Angola, Major, and Hassan reflect on the future of their despicable trade which they see as the only option in a country that subliminally ignores the potential of its youths.
Further exchanges from the hoodlums show that they embraced the act of armed robbery as a survival mechanism, and as the only way to achieve their dream of a good life. Regrettably, the elite and government officials continually wallow in an orgy of material ostentation to the total disregard of societal development. Although many critics dissecting the play have blamed the society for creating an enabling environment for armed robbery to flourish, the act of robbery, whether armed or not is repugnant and condemnable. Again, although many scholars have critically dissected the play, none has done so from the perspective of ethnicity which continually holds Nigerians in its strangulating, vicious grip.
Recently, it was reported in the media that five Nigerians were apprehended in far away UAE after they allegedly robbed a Bureau De Change of currencies worth about Dh2.3m. Since then, many Nigerians have been divided along the indoctrinating lines of ethnicity, some betraying a seething hatred for a particular ethnicity and others defending one ethnicity or another. Indeed, one is forced to tears to see some Nigerians descend below the demarcations of commonsense as they view the UAE robbery incident from the putrid prism of ethnicity. A look at some of these ethnic cross-fires reveals that many Nigerians are not enlightened. The claim to various academic degrees, exposure and sophistication are all a mirage that erects a façade on personalities. I have, many times in different platforms, tried to educate people on the dangers of adorning ethnic garment with which they use to advertise composite ignorance over matters of national concern. Unfortunately, many people are established in ethnic psychology, they breathe ethnicity, they eat ethnicity and they can hardly live their lives without stratifying their environment along the divisive lines of ethnicity. In the civil service, it’s there, in the cooperate world, it’s there, in the armed forces and security agencies, ethnicity looms large in our collective psyche. The problem is with all of us who see and interpret social reality from the medium of an ethnic morass.
The names of the five young men alleged to have robbed a Bureau De Change in far away UAE shows that they are from the Igbo ethnicity in Nigeria. By their acts, they have disgraced Nigeria, disgraced their families and disgraced themselves. That they are robbers has nothing to do with their ethnicity, rather it has more to do with their country of origin where there is abysmal lack of orientation for youths, the absence of any program by the government to gainfully engage youths and dissuade them from seeking solace in crime. Every ethnic group has its share of never-do-wells, its share of criminals, kidnappers, election riggers, drug peddlers, money ritualists, mass murderers, suicide bombers and different types of criminality. Different ethnic groups in Nigeria have brought glory to the country, also, different ethnic groups have brought shame and dishonour to the country too. Therefore it will be foolhardy, in fact, unconscionable to single out one ethnic group for blame following the UAE robbery incident. If they had brought honour to Nigeria, we would have all taken the praise as proud Nigerians but since they have brought shame to Nigeria, we must all share in the shame as Nigerians.
In my reminiscence, I try to figure out if crimes have degrees when they are weighed against the tragic human implications they elicit. Is there a difference between the man who, armed with a pen, robs the country by siphoning billions of naira meant for social development and the man who, armed with gun robs individuals of their belongings? In each case, deprivation and denial against humanity is the issue. However, while the man who robs with pen impoverishes the entire country which leads to the death of many people, the man who robs with gun impoverishes, perhaps a few and inflicts pain therein.
While we condemn acts of robbery whether armed with a pen or with a gun, the recent incident in UAE involving young Nigerians offers us another opportunity to look at ourselves in our individual capacities and reflect on how we have contributed in one way or another to the malaise in the society. We are not equally gifted to endure hardship and difficult times. While it is possible for some people to endure all manner of life’s numerous hailstones, some people are not so gifted. This is why a lecturer in UI, who has been on the Ph.D. program for 22 years, recently committed suicide. Is he to be blamed? No. His case proves that we live in a society that destroys its own. How many Ph.D. candidates are in the same situation, at the mercy of mean, inconsiderate supervisors whose only aim is to frustrate and condemn? In every corridor of the Nigerian experience, we see these kinds of circumstances where we collectively or individually enthrone a tragic culture without realizing it. How many of us are sitting on people’s promotions, people’s contract papers, people’s appointments, and people’s different advancement because they are of a different ethnicity? In what ways have we held Nigeria down through ethnic bias?
The recent alleged robbery in UAE should be a concern for every Nigerian, irrespective of ethnicity. The boys involved in the ignominious act carry Nigerian passports, not Igbo passports and if any sanction is going to be meted out, it will be to Nigerians and not to the Igbo ethnicity. In as much as the government has blame in the matter, individuals also have their own blame in the matter too. How often do we look around our neighbourhood and offer a helping hand to a helpless person who truly needs help? By so doing, we could save someone from crossing the line of suicide, armed robbery, prostitution, drugs, and mass murder. The larger responsibility rests with the government who should live beyond election rhetoric and take up the gauntlet to educate the youths, set up a social mobilization and awareness scheme to educate the youths and engage them in various programs that will correct their defected and twisted mentality about life. We must live beyond the collapsing platforms of ethnicity because, at the end, we are all intricately interwoven through diverse relationships, business, marriage, education, and politics.
Dr. Adiele writes from Lagos via [email protected]