By Rafiu Ajakaye
“In God we trust, all others we investigate”, my uncle – a retired military officer — quipped in the language of crime fighters as he narrated to me on Tuesday the incidents that led to the death of a relative around Isanlu Isin, the capital town of Isin local government of Kwara State.
The deceased, husband to a second cousin, had run into a scene of abduction in the area. He had seen a victim of the abduction lying face down on the road on the order of masked gunmen. The fellow himself was not the target of the abduction; he also had run into the scene and was ordered to lie face down while they carried out their operations unhindered. It had just happened when our brother in-law got there. As he sought to give the tension-stricken man the courage to get up, two of the abductors reappeared at the scene. They had forgot their mobile phones at the scene. The deceased manned up and unmasked one of the gunmen. He instantly recognised him as a man, indeed a son of the soil, living a few metres away from the country home of a top political actor in Isanlu Isin. They fired at our in-law and he died in spite of his initial efforts to outmanoeuvre them — but not before the valiant had killed one of them whom he had unmasked in his shock at his level of betrayal of community ties!
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There was a claim that the plot was to abduct and extort the politician who was burying his mother in Isanlu Isin. But his brother was taken instead alongside some other community folks — some of whom have since regained freedom. There had been varying narratives on the incident across WhatsApp platforms, especially those dominated by Kwara southerners.
That unfortunate incident again led to heated debates and finger-pointing on the crisis of security in the region. In all of the debates, scanty attention was given to ‘ in God we trust, all others we investigate ’. Attention was focused largely on the strangers who have dominated much of Kwara South, especially the Igbomina axis. The suspicion is that these crimes are perpetrated in the main by non-indigenes. But the account of the man that our in-law saved confirmed that the abductors were indeed persons from Isanlu Isin and some adjoining Igbomina communities. This is where the problem is: our penchant, or instinct, to always suspect strangers living among us. When a crime is committed, everyone except the victim is a suspect and due diligence must be done to get to the roots of the matter. That way, innocent persons are not punished and criminals are unable to hide under the cover of collective suspicion of the strangers living among us. Evil-doers among the strangers are also not able to get away with crimes as everyone is sincere enough to submit to proper probe of any incidents.
Suspicion breeds hostility and tension, which then snowball into a cycle of violence and deny us the benefits of diversity and good neighbourliness. Suspicion and blanket profiling of the ‘usual suspects’ allow real criminals to create alibi for themselves. The Isanlu-Isin scenario is a nationwide phenomenon, as had been reported in different media reports, and we should adjust our national conversation to sincerely accommodate the possibilities that the most dreaded crimes in our communities could well be perpetrated by our own kith and kin who are desperate for things of the world. This does not necessarily exonerate the strangers who commit crimes.
While our government’s most important responsibility is to protect lives and properties, citizens must realise that anti-crime measures succeed only where the people, the citizens, consciously decide to be part of the solution, and not just a blame party. We should be vigilant and hold ourselves to account in our own corners. Everyone should be part of the solution. Our communities need to adopt the broken window theory to support government’s efforts to combat crime by ‘policing’ ourselves in the most civil way possible.
A belief that we will be safe only when we chase away ‘strangers’ or adopt some hostile policies towards them may be a costly fallacy, given the trend of global migration and our fast-changing demographies. Human migration will remain constant and dynamic till the end of time. Just like our forefathers will be shocked to see the current ethno-religious composition of some communities, we are also unlikely to recognise much of where we live today in the next five decades as different factors push people in different directions. That is the harsh reality of our world, as rightly predicted by Shamit Saggar who said: “This century is likely to see more movement across the globe by more people than at any other time in human history. To put it in another way, more of us would be encountering more people different in many ways from ourselves than any of our ancestors….We already know that increasingly, the first great battle for the twenty-first century humankind will be to live sustainably with our planet. It is becoming clear that the second great struggle will be to live with each other graciously’. If nothing else speaks to this reality, the japa syndrome among Nigerians should.
• Ajakaye is Chief Press Secretary to Kwara State Governor