“Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk…”
– Walt Whitman (1819-1892) in his poem, “This Compost”
When on Monday, September 20, 2010, we confirmed the gruesome murder of Dr. Stanley Uche, the proprietor of the very popular Victory Christian Hospital, Aba, Abia State, by heartless kidnappers, I was too shocked and lacked appropriate words to express the pain I felt. I remained sad and heartbroken, and by the next day when the shattering tragedy appeared in the media, the benumbing reality that the precious life of Dr. Uche had indeed been brutally extinguished began to dawn on me, deepening my grief and pain.
Uche was a very pleasant, humble and amiable physician, a well sought-after gynaecologist, who ran an exceptionally patient-friendly hospital in Aba that was always thronged by people in search of quality medical attention offered with deep compassion and meticulousness. What beats me is why anyone with human blood running in his veins would want to harm such a very nice and harmless young man.
On hearing the searing news of the cruel murder of Dr. Uche, one of his patients, a pregnant woman, collapsed and died. Another woman followed shortly after. It was that bad.
We were at a forum in the East the previous Friday, September 17, when news came in that Dr. Uche and his wife had been intercepted on their way from Aba and abducted by dare-devil kidnappers who callously crammed both of them inside the booth of the car and took them to an unknown destination. Several hours later, his wife was released to go and find the ransom they were demanding. The traumatized lady ran around and raised money, dropped it at an agreed point, and was told to go home that her husband would soon return to the warm embrace of his lovely family.
But on Sunday afternoon, to the utter shock of the Uche family waiting at home in pleasant anticipation, and every one of us aware of the grisly drama playing out that weekend and praying and hoping for good news, some policemen at the Osisioma Police Station, Aba, came to the family to deliver the searing news that they had found Uche’s corpse at Aru-Ngwa (the place he was kidnapped) the previous day and had already deposited it at a mortuary.
Uche was cruelly murdered by the same people that had taken a ransom from his family and assured his wife that he would soon come home. How ruthless and savage could some people be! And why it took the police nearly twenty-four hours to inform the family of their “discovery” of his corpse, even when they were fully aware of the case, knew him very well, found phone numbers on him, and were even the same people that had driven his stranded children home after their parents had been kidnapped ought to provoke deeper, far-reaching questions if ours was a saner, well-run society. But then, this is Nigeria, and our callous and ever groping rulers are too busy out there on the political battle field trying to rig themselves into or back to power to care.
What kind of country have we then found ourselves in? Why have we sat back and allowed Nigeria to evolve into such a dangerous country where savage instincts enjoy free rein, and life has become too cheap and utterly worthless, where government no longer exercises monopoly over the instruments of force, authority and violence, as should be the case in every enclave ruled by sane humans?
Dr. Stanley Uche was a very consummate, passionate, kind-hearted, mild-mannered and ever-smiling physician, a gynaecologist of note, who had been massively used of God to bring succour to many patients. What kind of country can watch indifferently as such a person is callously wasted? Why waste the life a harmless doctor who had devoted his life to save lives?
Any hope that this recent incident can motivate the Nigeria Police to wake up and do their job for once? Are they going ask deep questions about the clearly suspicious role of their men in this benumbing tragedy or really dig the ground diligently to see if there is any truth in the growing feeling that this may be a case of sponsored assassination disguised as kidnapping to confuse investigators? Are there quarters, especially among his colleagues, where his very successful and patient-friendly vocation was inspiring bitter envy and raw hate as is being feared? Who was not happy that Uche sometimes treated for free poor patients who could not afford to pay their bills, and this had helped to further skyrocket the fame he already enjoyed as a consummate physician?
My heart goes out to his wife and four tender children who have become yet another victim of the clearly ungoverned entity called Nigeria. Even after killing the man, the same kidnappers were still calling his heart-broken wife and demanding more money, and threatening further trouble if their request was not met; was this meant to further destablize the family and scare them out of Aba, in order to frustrate any attempt to pick the pieces of what the slain doctor had laboured for and start again? How unsafe can a people be!
Uche’s case is another painful development in Nigeria’s kidnapping industry whose phenomenal growth in recent years has become the nation’s nightmare. It started innocently enough as some potent tool by youthful agitators to draw serious attention to their demands for better treatment in the Niger Delta where many years of oil exploration had only unleashed environmental and even economic disaster.
At that time, several commentators including this writer (who was a columnist in a national newspaper then), had warned that unless an appropriate response was sincerely and urgently formulated and executed, the crises may endure, and in the process be contaminated and compounded by criminal elements who might discover in kidnapping a fast route to sudden wealth and social elevation, just like the ruling elite were doing with the oil money. But, characteristically, our warnings were ignored, and soon, the monster dreaded by all eventually emerged and has now become the nation’s worst nightmare.
The bad news is that kidnapping has since ceased to be an exclusive Niger Delta affair. It has assumed a more frightening dimension and become a huge industry with overwhelming national spread, fired largely by the obscene manner corrupt politicians flaunt their ill-gotten wealth.
A layabout everyone knew in the village the other day can in today’s Nigeria suddenly acquire incredible wealth just because his relative had become a thug or driver to the tenth girlfriend of a lawmaker, governor or even council chairman. Just like that! And before anyone knew it, he had started throwing money about, building choice houses, being chauffer-driven around town in exquisite cars with sirens and intimidating security men, and even snatching the pretty wives of some less-fortunate men.
Yet, this was the same never-do-well everyone knew the other day who has now become a “worthy son” of the land, pursued by traditional rulers to receive titles, and revered by all for his ability to generously “drop” when it mattered most. Some young men are also acquiring sudden wealth and influence today just because they are sneaked into one Government Lodge or the other every other day to make Her Excellency happy each time His Excellency is in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Abuja amusing himself on t
he laps of university girls or in New York, India or Amsterdam frolicking with disease-infested prostitutes at public expense.
We must be willing to admit that the proliferation of these unwholesome short-cuts to wealth is a major motivation for hideous crimes like kidnapping and violent robbery in Nigeria today. This is a country where about 80 per cent of the populace live below poverty level, yet less than 10 per cent of the population possess and flaunt wealth of questionable sources. And so, those who cannot find spaces in politics or government to partake in the free and unfair looting flourishing there have taken to kidnapping and violent robbery, in order to also flaunt their own obscene wealth in a nation of perverted values. What a tragedy. While we overhaul the security system to make it more effective and proactive, a more creative and far-reaching solution would be for corrupt public officers and their collaborators to realize that they have stolen enough for the owners to notice, and have set off a chain of tragic reactions whose end no one can predict.
Today, it is Dr. Stanley Uche whose life had been devoted to bringing succour to traumatized patients that has been wasted, but whose turn will it be tomorrow? A “First Lady,” senator, or even “His Excellency,” perhaps!