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Some good neighbours saw murder and didn’t bother

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PHOTO: Mercurynews

The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.
In any people that submit willingly to the ‘daily humiliation of fear,’ the man dies. – Wole Soyinka

The Assistant Chief has never seen anything like it in his 25 years of investigating homicide. The murder was not the surprise; but that good neighbours and respectable citizens, 38 of them, saw it all and didn’t call the police. Catherine Genovese, 28, was stalked and stabbed three times at Kew Gardens’ neighbourhood, Connecticut, in the United States. According to the police account, the killing lasted 35 minutes right on the street layered on both sides by tall buildings. Neighbours watched Genovese screamed as her assailant’s knife punctured her organs repeatedly.

Genovese was a bar manager and popular in the neighbourhood. She was returning home from work that morning. The time was 3:20 a.m. Just at the bend into her apartment, she noticed a man hiding at the far end of the lot. Nervously, she ran back into the street in the direction of a phone booth. But the man was faster. He wrestled her to the floor under a streetlight. Her scream woke the entire neighbourhood. Louder cries from the first stab caused lights to flicker on from apartments as eyes paired down the street. A window opened from the sixth floor and a man yelled: “let the girl alone!” The assailant looked up, scared, and backed off his victim. Lights went out. The killer returned and stabbed Genovese the second time. She screamed again. More windows cracked open, lights came on and neighbours watched her in agony. The killer left; got into a car and drove off. A public bus even drove past dying Genovese. It was 3:35 a.m. Alone, she staggered to her feet, heading towards her apartment when the killer’s car returned. The third jab from the knife was fatal.

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Police got the first call at 3:50 a.m. Two minutes later they were at the crime scene. They met two neighbours – a 70-year-old man and another elderly woman, who made the call after both had had a meeting and even made a call to another friend in another county seeking advice on whether to get involved or not. The police believed that Genovese could have been saved if the neighbours called earlier. At 4:25 a.m. when the ambulance wheeled the body of Genovese away, all the neighbours came out.

You be the judge: are the neighbours accessories to the crime? The police think they are. Are they morally better than the killer? Would you have acted differently if you lived in that neighbourhood? How often do we see similar incidents on a daily basis and didn’t bother? With the benefit of hindsight, a lot has changed for better in terms of good neighbourliness and responsible citizenship in America since that 1964 Genovese murder incidence – as recounted by Martin Gansberg of New York Times. But the incident appears quite similar to those of 2020 Nigeria. Today, everybody knows someone that has been killed either on the street in daylight or by someone’s negligence. But as a good neighbour, what would you have done?

For strange reasons, one of the trends these days is for ‘good neighbours’ to capture disturbing scenes on the phone and be the first to share on social media. At accident scenes and other emergencies, where victims are writhing in pains, it is no longer unusual to have ‘first responders’ pointing camera phones at victims to capture their last moments! We have heard of one too many accident victims and even the dead being robbed by their so-called sympathisers. Our collective humanity has been impaired and in disarray.

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Some of our policemen are not better too. It took the U.S. county police two minutes to reach Genovese and six days to arrest her deranged killer. Here, it could have taken forever, if the police show up at all. The most recent First Bank robbery incident in Ibadan where the residents had to resort to self-help, apprehended and set four suspected members of the gang ablaze, is a testament to Police tardiness. Those living in war-ravaged North-East region, Benue, Kastina, Jos, and Southern Kaduna can attest to killings, while the security forces and authorities are behaving like accomplices to wanton murder. They are either not coming because they have no fuel for patrol vans, or no men on ground. They may even come late, blaring sirens as if to scarecrow the criminals. The worst are saboteurs that merely give their informants away to the aggressors. The point is that our law enforcement agencies, on the strength of what we have seen of them lately, are hardly reliable in times of distress. It is actually difficult to be a good neighbour in this clime.

But that is an institutional problem that is symptomatic of more fundamental malaise in our polity – the lack of effective leadership and attendant poor accountability. Our leaders across the board are not effective and the followers don’t hold them accountable for mediocre performance. From the ineffective police system, to deplorable roads that just killed some commuters in avoidable accidents, to erratic power supply that impoverished artisans, among others, are all offspring of the same parent – poor and unaccountable leadership. Like it is often said of the British weather; everyone knows the problem but does nothing about it. We all saw the ‘murder’ happening and didn’t yell against it.

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Across the modern world, for emphasis, the essence of government is to organise the apparatus of the state to deliver well-being and quality life to the citizenry. With good governance, our today should be better than yesterday. Governance is therefore a pact between the people and their representatives, for the latter to deliver a good life or get shipped out for incompetence. It is expected of good citizenry to hold their representatives at all levels accountable in the delivery of the end goal. It is safe to say that fixing this country has to be from the grassroots, not necessarily from the top. For a fact, the majority of those in the National Assembly and in the Presidency today started from the ward level some 10 and 20 years ago.

Therefore, let us hold our ward representatives, councillors, chairmen and state lawmakers accountable and the rest, from the governor upward, will get the message. For every negligence and ‘attempted murder’, someone should carry the can. Good citizenry should never be too shy to call their representatives out on all platforms, name and shame them where necessary. The first step is to reject their stipends in admission that legislatures, especially, have no business with distributing grinding machines, motorcycles, tricycles, pilgrimage forms, among others often under the guise of empowerment and constituency projects. They are actually not acts of magnanimity but votes in the budget meant for the development of the constituency.

For good measure, the constituencies should demand sustainable projects like quality schools, libraries, functional hospitals, recreation centres and the like. They should as well take all their complaints about bad roads, poor electricity supply, insecurity, multiple taxation and charges, and all manner of extortions, and demand that their representatives fix them with an ultimatum. How he or she does it, is none of the constituency’s business. That is what they promised to do when vying for the office. When they come forward at elections, they are literally telling us that they have the magic wand to solve all our problems. So, they either get them done, or get out of public offices.

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If we all follow the pragmatic model, consistently and without violence, the representatives – councillor, council chairman, state or federal lawmaker – will be representatives indeed. Even the state lawmaker, for instance, will lounge less on the floor of the House. When they get the governor’s invitation to routine breakfast meetings, they will be more sensible, dine and wine less and clear headed in pleading the cause of the constituency. That way, we all would have averted a murder.

As the Yoruba would say, there is nothing God cannot do; but there is much more that He would not. One of those exceptions is to do for us what He already gave us the powers to do. With the wisdom of democratic practice, not minding its flaws, the people have the hire and fire power. Even Western democracy would not be what it is today if the pioneers had subscribed to the dictates of Romans 13, in the holy writ. The point is that our subscription to democracy has brought our leaders to power. Democratic principles demand that the electorate get a better deal in return, which is to be achieved by electorates that are eternally vigilant. If we do not and continue to condone mediocrity of power mongers, then we are not better than the 38 neighbours that saw murder and did nothing. Today, it is the helpless Genovese. It could be our turn tomorrow. A stitch in time can still save nine. Ire o!

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