The Ozubulu Massacre
By Obi Nwakanma
There have been many contradictory accounts, including one by an eye-witness who claimed that the attackers were masked men in military fatigues, wearing masks, and speaking in a “foreign tongue.” The problem with that newspaper report was that it could not back, or verify, or ascertain that claim, or establish what kind of “strange tongue” the shooters spoke. Was it Hausa? Was it Fulfulde? Was it Yoruba, or Ishan, or Urhobo, or Igala, or cross-border languages like Mandinka, Bassa, Ewe, or even any of the varieties of the dialects of the Igbo language, which might sometimes, sound “strange” even to Igbo ears, for there are indeed such wide variety of tongues in all of Oru-na-Igbo. Last week’s killings in Ozubulu, not only violated a cardinal cultural taboo – the Igbo do not invade sacred sanctuaries whether it is dedicated to the Christian god or the divinities of Odinala. It is forbidden to invade or bring violence into a shrine dedicated to the great God, Chukwu, which indeed is what the Church is.
The second significant issue raised by the Ozubulu killing is the dire state of public safety and emergency services in Nigeria. Policing is primitive. Casualty management is basically non-existent. First, the images of the dumping of bodies in a pile in an open carriage truck reflects not only our disrespect for the basic dignity of victims of violence, but it also demonstrates the fundamental lack of civilized values among the leadership of our public system charged with creating, sustaining, and dispersing basic standards of human and civilized conduct in our society. We treat our fellow humans like animals. We deny them their dignity in death. We have no sense of unease or shame in the ways we handle accident victims in death, or those evacuated from the scene of catastrophe. We are savages in that regard, and the pictures do not lie against us.
The Anambra State public health service is clearly manned by unprofessional people, and the Anambra state government, which cannot apparently provide basic ambulance and other emergency services vehicles to properly evacuate the victims of the Ozubulu shooting are not worthy of the responsibility endowed on them by the electorate to represent and govern them properly. These are “bush people” wallowing in primitive conditions. The pictures of the treatment of those Ozubulu dead, who were piled high like rotten meat, is an indictment on the government of Anambra State generally, and the Ekwusigo Local Government specifically, and much more than any sanctimonious statements of support, and any staged “solidarity visits” in hospitals, and all that promise to pay for funerals by the Anambra State government, what the treatment of the dead reflects is the actual state of public consciousness, and the actual measure of worth of our humanity in the scale of these governments and our failed public institutions.
Typically, no dead body should be evacuated from either the scene of an accident or a mass shooting like happened in the church in Ozubulu, without the full authority, under a properly controlled process, in a functioning local government system, of the Coroner’s office. Basic handling of the scene of atrocity requires that first responders arrive with first aid kits, well-equipped emergency evacuation vehicles, and a lab unit to cordon off and preserve the grounds for forensic work. It is typically harmonious, properly coordinated partnership or collaborative work between the various institutions charged with public safety under the law – the police, the health workers, and Public prosecutors and investigation teams, typically from a well-established Criminal Investigations Department – the CID as it was once called. Nigeria has not established these ground rules, and so typically, crime detection and police investigations are often surreal and remarkably inefficient and inconclusive process in Nigeria.
We have long adopted the “attack-and-follow” method of crime management. You round up a handful of “suspects,” usually old ruffians often known to the police for petty crimes, rough them up a bit, display them publicly on the TV, and issue a statement saying, investigations are on-going. And nothing else is ever heard of these cases thereafter. There are also no regular follow-up reports either in the local press or the national press. The matter dies as a result. The still primitive police filing system still in use in Nigeria police work is a sieve of data. Stuff disappears or falls through the cracks. There are no trained police analysts. There is no police records office, or properly equipped and professionally staffed police archives, forensic labs, or Libraries in Police Stations.
For a long time, recruitment into the police service has typically been from the very poorly educated, and sometimes, in fact, from even poorly socialized folk who have often seen the police, not as a crime detection and prevention organization created to secure and manage the internal or domestic security of the nation, but a permissive, coercive and brutal institution that very frequently aids the commission of crime in the land because it guarantees them pay-offs. The effect is a poorly motivated, poorly educated, and poorly oriented police force doing shitty police work. Constables lack the tools to conduct routine police work. Investigative officers are not only ill-equipped, but they also lack the kind of personnel, the depth of training and sophistication necessary for dealing with the realities of 21st century crimes, in a world in which the technologies of crime are no longer basic or routine.
Over the years the average Nigerian grew cynical and alienated from the Police system, and have come as a result to expect very little, in terms of professionalism from Nigeria’s police, whose inefficiencies are compounded by the fact that it is a single, centrally controlled, pyramidal institution with very little civil governance, or oversight. The results are snafus like the massacres in Ozubulu. The handling of this Ozubulu incident remains highly problematic and vexatious. For instance, within minutes of the report of the killing, the police Commissioner announced that the killings are connected to a drug gang war brought home to Ozubulu.
If that were so, when did the police know this fact? What did they do to anticipate and prevent the commission of this crime, knowing apparently from their conclusions that something was about to go down? Is this scenario in fact true? The Anambra state governor, Mr. Willy Obiano also did not need to make political theatre of the event. He should have kept this tentative police information to himself until all the facts are accounted for. So far, police account of this incident does not feel credible. By making the statement publicly, the governor also compromises the police investigations and its network of informants.
If indeed this was a drug gang, mafia-style killing, then it is quite certain that in its current formation, the Nigerian police system is far too ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of crimes. Ozubulu is thus a warning; a mere flashpoint of events that are in the boil given the increasing global network of Nigerian affiliated criminal networks with sophisticated means; and it underscores the decay of Nigeria’s public safety infrastructure, and especially the unpreparedness of its police system, to handle the increasingly sophisticated threats to Nigeria’s domestic security. Nigerians need to pressure their governments at all levels – local, state, and federal, to begin to reform and upgrade public safety protocols, to align with the realities of the 21st century.