The killing culture of silence

A few years back, the news of Dr Chimezie Osigweh, a retired secondary school vice principal, who kept the mummified body of his mother in a wardrobe in his house for 10 years, shocked the whole nation to its bone marrow. The 78-year old woman, Mrs Lucy Osigweh, was said to have been discovered missing 10 years earlier while her eldest son, Chimezie, who she was living with, regaled the people with all sorts of cock and bull stories about her whereabouts. At a point he said he sent the woman to his siblings abroad when she took ill. At another time, he said he put her in a hospital where she was receiving medical attention.

But the issue is why didn’t anybody show enough interest in knowing exactly the situation concerning the woman’s whereabouts? If the woman was indeed hospitalised, why didn’t any of the neighbours show interest in seeing her in the hospital for a whole decade? How could Chimezie have taken his mother to a hospital or arrange for her to travel abroad without any of the neighbours getting to know about it? What about Chimezie’s siblings, why did they not ask about their mother’s whereabouts for a decade? Could they have been so uncaring about the woman who brought them to life that they chose to keep mum when they neither saw her nor heard from her for over 10 years?

The discovery of $9.772million and 74,000 pounds (about N3billion) hidden by Andrew Yakubu, former Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, in a fire-proof safe in a house in Sabon Tasha area of Kaduna, was as shocking as the discovery of Chimezie’s mother’s mummified body. How could that money have been in that house for such a long time without anyone knowing about it? The money didn’t just get to the house, it must have been hidden there while Yakubu held sway at the NNPC. Definitely some people knew about it but chose to keep quiet. Yakubu could not have built the fireproof safe all by himself; neither could he have moved the money from wherever to the house all by himself. Some people must have worked with him to get this done. Some of the neighbours must have noticed ungodly movements at ungodly hours in the house. This should have aroused their interest and they should have relayed their concerns to law enforcement agencies. But they all decided to keep mum. By so doing, they robbed the country of the opportunity of utilising that money for a long time. Imagine the impact of that huge sum on the economy. Imagine the difference that amount of money would have made even on the economy of Kaduna State.

There is a strange culture that is invading our country. Everybody minds his or her own business and fails to care whether the fellow next door lives or dies. In Nigeria, neighbours are fast becoming strangers to one another. Ordinarily, every community in Nigeria is communal, our forebears asked questions about one another, they cared for the other person. But it seems that has become ‘old school’. The fad now is that everyone looks out for his own interest and does not care a hoot about what happens to the other person. It is so bad that children have become strangers to their parents. Hence, the worrisome trend of children committing suicide. How could a boy or girl living with the parents begin to develop suicidal thoughts and tendencies without the parents knowing, if they are not strangers who find themselves together under the same roof?

It is the culture of silence that has led to the sprouting of “motherless babies’ homes” where teenage girls are turned into baby-making machines without anybody batting an eyelid. It is the culture of silence that has turned otherwise safe neighbourhoods into a haven for ritual killers who sell human parts to those who want to get rich through crooked means. It was the culture of silence which turned the north-eastern part of the country into terrorists’ colony for many years. The insurgents, who reduced that part of the country into the Hobbesian state, were not unknown to the residents of that part of the country. The community people knew the terrorists but chose to protect their tormentors through their silence. It is the culture of silence that has increased the tempo of kidnapping in the southern part of the country, the kidnappers are no ghosts, they always hole up in a community but if the community keeps mum, it is the sealed lips kept by the community people that boost the kidnappers’ business. It is our culture of silence that has emboldened oil thieves and pipeline vandals to keep destroying our patrimony. It is our culture of silence that has encouraged politicians and civil servants to steal us blind. It is our culture of keeping silent in the face of evil that has made us captives of evil.

If we want a change for the better in our country, we have to kick the habit of keeping silent when things go wrong. We have to speak against every condemnable act.