Wednesday, December 3, 2008

That We May Not Forget…

News - Public Opinion

(Dedicated to Esquire - who doesn’t know who Uzoma Okere is)

By this time a month ago, a young lady was physically assaulted on the streets of Lagos and had part of her clothing taken off by several Naval ratings who made up the convoy of a certain Rear Admiral. We all know the story, right? The panel set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the assault on Uzoma Okere by Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade’s escort has submitted its findings to the Chief of Naval staff. Job well done.

Why then do I get the feeling that the usual trumpet calls, elephant parade and acrobatic performances by clowns that herald the arrival of a circus are trailing somewhere at a distance not too far behind that report? The fun fair it seems may actually be coming into town…

Now, first of all, I never usually do this. I never champion any cause especially in Nigeria because I know that based on the idiosyncrasies of the “Nigerian factor”, most causes are bound to fail.

Many causes in Nigeria turn out useless. The sequence is usually very predictable. Something “wrong” happens, someone cries out, a national uproar then ignites our primitive instincts for mob action, the Federal Government once in a while succumbs to our wishes, a panel is set up and weeks later a recommendation is submitted, it gets lost or the panel never finishes sitting.

The end result is the same: Nothing ever gets done.

Sometime later, the very same “wrong” occurs again and we pick up the monkey circus a few steps behind where we left it off last time.

The same thing I fear may be the case in the Uzoma Okere saga. Since the storm broke, I had decided not to get involved in this even till weeks later when I found out that the said lady was the daughter of the Sergeant-At-Arms of the National Assembly. (Don’t gawp at me. I live under a rock.) I heard of the gist first via Inyamu’s blog, proving once again that blogville has its uses.

That singular fact of her parentage seemed to answer a few questions that had run through my mind in the earlier weeks.

For one, I had always wondered what gave her the “liver” not to put her car on top of her head, hitch up her skirt and clear out of the road when the sirens were passing. (I do not seek to trivialize the issue at stake here, please. Most of us would have hoisted our cars if it was us).

I have watched the notorious video countless times (it makes me sick to the stomach each time) and correct me if I am wrong but I seemed to sense a bit of resistance in her demeanour when those Naval animals were manhandling her. I asked myself then: could it be that Uzoma was a lady who hates outrightly all forms of victimization or could it be that Daddy’s name was being put to the test there? I decided not to judge Uzoma. I wasn’t at the scene and so I can never tell truthfully what she said or did. What I do know is that NOTHING warrants the stripping of another human being in public.

Countless Nigerians have been harassed daily by the military but very few of them make the news. I have once seen an innocent bystander beaten to a pulp just for the simple crime of looking at a soldier in a “funny” way. I have seen a guy who was making calls at a phone stand stripped in public for no apparent reason. The para-military group involved later issued a statement that they had suspected him of being a “cult member” and wanted to find out if he had the markings on his body. The two victims in question had no fathers in the National Assembly or nearby bystanders with handycams to film the event.

I fear that despite the power of Daddy’s name or the media outcry, Uzoma’s case may just as well be swept under the rug of “distraction with other important national issues”. The nation is too concerned with the killer “My Pickin” mixture, the crisis in Jos and the reading of the national budget to care anymore. The attempts to thwart the course of justice through changes in the venue for sittings and the failure of certain witnesses and counsel to appear might just have been the opening acts in what may turn out to be a circus after all.

Rear Admiral Arogundade, the Flag Officer Commanding, Naval Logistics Command, Oghara and his six Naval ratings (whose names seem to have been conveniently withheld since) were supposedly requested to appear before a panel chaired by Rear Admiral Umosen who also happens to be an FOC. Was I the only one who saw something odd in this?

Over the past few weeks, my views of Uzoma and Harry Arogundade have changed drastically. It is now a case of one versus the other. The People’s Court is in full session and our cries of “Crucify him!” might even drown out the reading of the verdict itself or its implementation.

As someone pointed out to me recently, Uzoma is a very lucky person. Had she been anyone else, male or female, she would have been calmly beaten and possibly shot dead with her body later displayed in full public view on Newsline as being that of a robbery suspect. Maybe the next time we pick up stones or bottles or tyres to lynch that accused witch, kidnapper or robbery suspect on the streets of Lagos, Kaduna or Aba, we just might consider the fact that the “suspect” might actually be as blameless as Uzoma.

Despite running the risk of wrongly predicting the outcome of the panel’s report, I suspect Arogundade might end up getting a ridiculous punishment which he will never serve out anyway while his pack of dogs may suffer the full brunt of “the law” for literally enforcing Oga’s "figurative orders" just to appease we the mob. Will Rear Admiral Arogundade be made to resign? I still very much doubt it. Uzoma’s harassment may have very well been blamed on the notorious Unknown Soldier if not for the hard evidence. It now left solely for that panel to prove me wrong.

When all this hue and cry dies down, we will just as easily forget those certain individuals whose efforts in championing Uzoma’s cause while truly deserving of commendation have gone unrecognized. No-one will applaud the efforts of the cameraman who (with apparently shaky bravery) recorded the crucial video that captured a decisive moment in time and carved an everlasting cinematic niche in journalistic Nigeria. Who remembers Closecalls, the chap who put it up on CNN’s iReport? We are too busy joining the Petition group and sending Friend Requests to Uzoma on Facebook to care despite the fact that we would have shunned her Profile page before November 3.

The endeavors by bloggers like Inyamu and Funmi whose posts on the matter further exposed the can of worms that is public harassment and the taking of extra-judicial powers into their hands by the military will go unsung. Nobody seems to recollect anymore the pains suffered by a few people who dared to intervene.

But there is one moment in this saga which I will never forget. In the video posted on iReport, a certain young lady in a white blouse who appears somewhere in the middle of the camera footage openly questions the actions of those Naval rat(ing)s through her gesticulations and then tries to put Uzoma’s clothing back on even despite her weak struggles. She will go unnamed and subsequently become history.

Seeing those two young women caught up in the midst of it all gave me a hope in the New Nigeria. One that is not just content with the onlooker status but actually lends a hand to oppose that which is wrong. When I saw that soldier beat the bystander, I turned my face and walked away so that I wouldn’t be accused of the crime of “lookery”. And paraphrasing the words of Wole Soyinka, “The man dies in him who keeps silent in the face of tyranny…”

May we all someday be like that brave young woman.



esquire said...

So, i should be happy because you dedicated a post to me abi? What kind of disgrace be this na? I know about the killer “My Pickin” mixture, the crisis in Jos and the reading of the national budget, so shame on you if you think i didn't!

Neways, to the issues raised.
9ja bloggers are people begging to be discovered. Some still sees what we are doing as a waste of time while some thinks us a group of advance Yahoo-Yahoo guys. (Don't ask me where i got my info from)

Like you said, Uzoma was only lucky because she is the daughter of an important person and because her story got to YouTube. Lets just thank YouTube. I was a victim of assault and there was nobody to tell my story. Though i was not stripped naked, i was imprisoned (in the worst of conditions) even when it was very glaring that i was innocent.

And about those that were busy adding her on Facebook, i am not surprised. That is 9ja peeps for you. Like the Obama presidency, it's just another fad they can engage in.

Naughty Eyes said...

@ ESQ: Hey! I said you didn't know Uzoma (was I wrong?) and not the other national issues oh! Yeah I believe we should thank YouTube for letting us know better what the papers and TV wouldn't show us.
I too have been called a Yahoo boy because I take my PC to the cafe to blog. I'm getting tired of enlightening the dumn asses on the difference.
As for the adding on FB part, I wrote it out of bitterness solely because I stand guilty as charged...

LG said...

its a shame'

Naughty Eyes said...

@ LG: I totally agree my dear. It is...