Citizen Okere: Are We Now Heading ‘there’?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” (Margaret Mead)

Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi-Amin are just three names in history, that, perhaps, in more vivid terms than any other, remind us of man’s tendency for violent orientation and behavior, provoked or not. And one thing mankind has learned from the legacies of such men through the ages is that irrespective of the period in civilization, there is just no measuring man’s capacity as far as his tendency for the bestial and barbaric is concerned. Two separate incidents in Nigeria during the past few weeks seem to lend more truth to this assertion. The first of these were the shameful scenes captured on national television from inside the Enyimba International Stadium in Aba, Abia State where a referee and his assistants were mob-beaten in the aftermath of the football match between Enyimba and Heartland FC in the stadium. The second, which is the more recent of the two, is the attack on Miss Uzoma Okere by naval ratings attached to Real Admiral Harry Arogundade of the Nigerian Navy.

Each of these incidents has been greeted with its fair share of public condemnation. However, the reporting and emotional outrage that has been attached to the case involving Miss Okere has been wider, maybe because the victim in this case is a woman(as some have insinuated) and the perpetrators are people in position of some form of national importance. But aside from any such consideration, there is something instructive, something with potentially deeper implication for the Nigerian society about the manner in which the barbarism of Arogundade and his men has come to the fore. For long there has existed a sort of unexpressed consensus about Nigerians being apathetic to issues that should be taken more seriously or of their being downright insensitive to or lacking awareness about what to do to pursue their rights or help others pursue theirs. The citizen Okere incident has proven otherwise. While it is true that the incident in Aba and the Okere incident have attracted the level of emotional outrage that has greeted them mainly because they were respectively filmed and broadcast to the public, it is important to point out that the Aba incident was filmed by someone who was just doing his job. On the other hand, the Okere incident was filmed by a passer-by who, like many other people, could have happily played the onlooker to the letter. It is also worth echoing that the sympathizer in question shot the video at an obvious risk to his or her own safety as Arogundade’s rabid dogs had also turned on other sympathizers who either pleaded for some sanity or attempted to film the horror show.

In the end, what the sympathizer staked his or her safety for has brought the brutality of a group of cowards whose manliness is most required in the creeks of the Niger Delta – forward for public condemnation and hopefully, also for the prosecution and demotion or expulsion from the Navy they deserve. More important, perhaps, the video has also ensured that this case does not get swept under our now very filthy carpet like other previous cases of such nature; as a result of the concrete evidence which the video provides it has become difficult for Arogundade and his men to distort the facts of the case as they had initially started doing by claiming that the young woman provoked the debased naval ratings by seizing the horsewhip of one of them and beating him with it.

The catch here is that, that those who were close to the scene of the impunity decided to take such measures as filming the absurdity for others to see perhaps portends some form of renaissance in our social/public awareness as Nigerians. Not that Nigerians have never cared about one another though, just that we have often seemed a tad too comfortable with playing unaffected when we shouldn’t. Hopefully, with the Okere incident many more people will realize that in a 21st century of embarrassing technological possibilities especially, there is so much more you can do to protect your rights or interest and those of others. If the person who caught Arogundade’s goons on film could do it, then, whether it is with a file-tampering civil servant, electoral officer or a cowardly man in uniform, one doesn’t necessarily have to be a Gani Fawehinmi or a Festus Keyamo to help push such people towards justice.

The reality is that although human rights groups and activists have been doing their bit in helping to assert the rights of the citizens in this country, these groups and individuals can only do so much. The citizenry must therefore, realize that they must be actively involved in matters that involve ensuring that their own rights are respected by individuals and groups alike. To be able to assert their rights, citizens must be aware of the measures that are immediately available to them with each case. The Okere incident, particularly with the way it got to the public domain, provides a more than useful hint in this regard.

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