The press and criminals
It is in the nature of journalism to give a successful criminal more than three minutes of fame. Indeed, journalism tends to (inadvertently?) celebrate such people. Remember Lawrence Anenih, the armed robber who gave the police the run around until that crack detective, Parry Osayande, outwitted him and put him in the net? He was eventually sent by the law he tried to make a mess of to meet his maker and perhaps tell him why he preferred the criminal path of armed robbery to a decent livelihood. Those who are destined for hell will meet him there. Don’t quote me.
Now, it is the turn of Chukwudubem Onwuamadike better known as Evans. The press calls him the kidnap kingpin in Lagos. From the way he is singing about these successful operations, it is a title he richly deserves. I am willing to bet he will bear that title, enviable in the criminal world, until someone else bigger captures the imagination of the police and the public and finds himself staring at the muzzle of the guns of the law.
The sky fell on Evans two weeks ago as this of writing, ending his kidnap reign of terror. Let us hope his pikin has not since stepped into his expensive shoes. He seems to be a pretty voluble man. He tells the police everything about his operations and his wealth here and abroad. The press, as it is wont, laps it all up and regales the public with the daily serving from Evans. Salacious. His name is virtually on the lips of all Nigerians now. For the wrong reasons.
The press treats him as the greatest current running story in our country. Admittedly, if you take away the minor altercations among the politicians, we are left with Evans. His method of operation and his billionaire lifestyle have captured our imagination. He tells us how rich he is. The press, courtesy of the police authorities, takes us into the living rooms as well as the master bedrooms of his kingly mansions in Nigeria and Ghana. Their luxurious furniture would surely make those who can only afford cut-and-nail furniture see red, as in envy. So, is Evans the important man of the moment in our country? It befuddles the mind.
I have been in this business for most of my life. But I am still not too sure if the press, in giving criminals coverage that verges on their celebration, is doing the right thing. The point here, and it is important to note it, is that there is a thin line between reportage and glamorisation. Quite often, the press quite easily steps over the line, convinced in its self-righteousness that the right to know stumps every other consideration. By this logic, worn like a hair shirt by generations of journalists, the public has the right to know what Evans made from his victims, how he treated them and what he did with the money. Perhaps, knowing this, tells the public something important about the making of criminals, the minds of criminals and their life style? Nah. Salacious stories never lack takers.
In a perfect world, it would be a societal creed to celebrate and, if need be, glamorise, honest, successful men and women who made their fortunes within the ambits of the law. They would be, in such a perfect world, the examples we would all love to follow. What do we learn from the violent lives of criminals who make the law look more stupid than the ass? Yes, we probably envy Evans’ wealth and lifestyle. But can we dare dream of following his foot steps to fortune and infamy? Remember something called fear? It would keep most of us indoors. Vantage Evans, Al Capone, Anenih and Shekau.
I find myself wrestling with the sheer immorality of celebrating or glamorising criminals by the press. I keep wondering if it would not be enough for a criminal in police net to receive no more than three minutes of infamy in the public space and be ignored and consigned to ignominy to stew in his own juice. But I am experienced enough in this business to know that how the press treats successful criminals is the way the public wants them to be treated. I offer you two reasons.
Firstly, the successful criminal is regarded as a courageous man who beats the law hands down. He dares the law and outwits the law. There is no generation of men and women born of women who would not become instant suckers for the daring criminal. Evans evaded police arrest for some four years. He beat the police at every turn and, as we can now see from his singsong, made them look inept. He lived in a respectable neighbourhood and passed himself off as a respectable and honest and wealthy business gentleman among real gentlemen. Nobody’s antenna went up among his well-heeled neighbours. His capacity to blend among the respectable and thus be protected by them says something about his smartness, if not his native intelligence. He beat the law, he beat his neighbours and rode on the crest wave of our ambivalence towards a respectable society free of criminals.
Secondly, the successful criminal is like the octopus. He has tentacles. He is not a lone ranger. He has supposedly law-abiding collaborators who feed him with the right information he needs to carry out his operations. Evans points out that he had collaborators in the banks who gave him information about the bullion vans he robbed that netted him cool millions. And he certainly had men and women who fed him with information about families with kidnap values.
Nor should you discount the possibility of his beating the law because some elements in law enforcement fed from his hands and refused, wisely, to bite the hands that fed them. You would recall that Anenih had a senior police officer, DSP George Iyamu, to thank for his successes.
We do not know yet if Evans has named names. You can bet on it: the man would not go down alone. If he names names, his story takes on a new life and a new dimension. And he remains on the front pages of our newspapers in the weeks and months ahead.
I see tears in his eyes in his photographs published in the newspapers. Is he crying because he lost in the criminal game and his fortune to boot? Is he crying because he is sorry for his violent means of livelihood and his victims who met his demands to regain their freedom and stay alive? Or is he crying because he feels sorry for the gullible Nigerian public that worships money, asks no questions about the source or sources of anyone’s sudden wealth and treats all money bags like heroes and kings?