A claim to fame

by Joan C. Akubue

Fame. Perhaps the most coveted trophy after money and political clout. Indeed, some of us have a certain craving for recognition that is sad and insatiable.

The world, no doubt, has suffered much in the hands of certain villains. Who can forget the ‘Timothy McVeighs’ of the world, in a hurry? The families they have crushed constantly curse them. Wailing widows, haunted orphans and all manner of victims cringe at the memory of such outlaws and battle constantly with a longing for revenge, that lengthy sermons on forgiveness cannot quench.

There are various kinds of villains, mind you. I classify them in two broad categories. The first category comprises men of the under-world who have somewhat persuaded us to believe that their violent acts are justified by philanthropic or other honourable intentions. Thanks to ‘Hollywood’, we have come to pardon the ‘Al Capones’ of the world and the barrel-chested action-heroes who kill for love, lust and country. Something in us squirms when the ‘bad guy’ (criminally inclined protagonist) gets in a rut even though he’s no less a murderer than the other characters who decorate the plot.

On the other hand, few people applaud the cruel personas who orchestrated the Oklahoma bombing, the WTC terrorist crash and the Jos-Nigeria massacres, to mention a few. These villains belong to the second category.

Do we loath Timothy McVeigh because he lacks the suave personality of Timothy Dalton’s legendary icon: James Bond? Do we want Osama Bin Laden dead or alive, because he doesn’t have a sexy image?

Imagine that the maladies of these past few years are mere storyboard fiction. Glamorize and justify the villains just like Hollywood does. Give them dead wives and wounded children: a sentimental reason to embark on a vicious vendetta. Now, open your eyes and ask yourself if you still hate them half as much.

Violence and crime have come to stay in our society. Try as we may, the morally flawed will always remain in our midst, because offenders are like the numerical constants that append themselves mysteriously to arithmetical equations. The painfully poor, the emotionally disturbed and the religiously extreme will always be a part of our empirically balanced eco-system. However, the suitability of punishment allotted to those who desecrate our world is another controversy altogether. In as much as the justice system endeavors to apportion the appropriate gravity of sentence to certain crimes, equity and fairness remain elusive.

Often times we hear that cold-blooded killers got acquitted and discharged or that rapacious rapists fetched feather light prison sentences and got off on parole before they’ve served a third of it! Juries are prone to racial or gender-biases and even outright stupidity. The few who are capable of rational thinking, are enticed with gifts that swiftly erode the layers of their conscience.

Good may triumph over evil, but these days justice does not come cheap. A woman charged with adultery is fit for execution, whereas her male accomplice is allowed to go Scot-free. The murderers of Nigeria’s veteran journalist have remained unpunished since the last century and the rascals who snuffed life out of a distinguished seventy-one year old government official may never be found. Justice delayed is as bitter in the belly as justice denied.

What prods certain individuals into the murky waters of the under world? Why does poverty stir up a quest for greatness in some and a thirst for robbery in others? Why does lack and longing push some women into the alleys of prostitution and some others into religious fervency? Why do we find warmth in several poor families and outright anarchy in others? The answers lie in our varied experiences: in our highly complex responses to societal stimuli. It is fear that deters the average citizen from the pursuit of the ungodly. Once upon a time, people were afraid of losing the approval of their community and the societal at large. Unfortunately, a lot of us are starting to surmount fear and greed has become man’s predominant motivation.

But does crime really pay any dividends? Some say it does. And does anyone ever truly get away with acts of violence? Don’t ask the leading men on TV who seem to get away with almost anything. Ask your local ex-con or jailbird. Ask the offspring of men who once looted their national treasury and lived in the fat laps of luxury, but who died abruptly and piteously, leaving behind; names that have become a worldwide stigma. You may also ask the advance-fee-fraud exponent who once lived in a six-bedroom duplex but now lives in a one-room apartment and cannot even pay his rent. Ask the retired whore who is married now, but does not have a womb and is getting trouble from her husband’s people to lend you her ears. Solicit the opinions of those who have left a trail of repercussions whether seen or unseen. And if you haven’t run out of breath when you are through, you may consider all those who have ever been victims of bloodshed and war.

If they are honest enough, they’ll tell you this truth: violence is a charade and peace the ultimate state of being.

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