Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Anti-Bullet Charms And Armed Robbery In Nigeria

In December of 2003, a traditional "healer" was killed in Benue State of Nigeria while testing an anti-bullet charm he prepared for his client [BBC, December 17, 2003] The charm which was designed in the form of an amulet, to be worn around the neck, was prepared for one Mr. Umaa Ukor. To demonstrate its efficacy, the "healer" whose name was given as Ashi Terfa, placed the charm around his own neck and asked Umaa to shoot at him. Obliging Terfa's request, Umaa pointed the gun at his head and squeezed the trigger.

The healer, Ashi Terfa, was allegedly shot dead by a client in Benue state, during trials for his product.
Of course guns and bullets are no respecter of persons; on impact, the bullet shattered the man's head and instantly brought a melodramatic end to an incident that would have made the record books had things gone the "healer's" way. This story is very instructive; it reveals the type of mentality that has permeated and pervaded the psyche of some Nigerians. To think that anyone would subscribe to the fact that an amulet would prevent a bullet from penetrating the human body is unbelievable; it is even more intriguing that the so-called healer believed so much in his charm that he had to use himself as a guinea pig. Is it possible that he had successfully demonstrated the efficacy of the charm in the past and was merely going through a routine exercise? One doubts it. This sort of absurd mentality has played a large part in creating some of the social problems that Nigeria continues to grapple with.

Some people may be tempted to dismiss the incident in Benue state as an aberration rather than prevalent and therefore suggest that it should be ignored. They might argue that Umaa unknowingly became a murderer and since Teshi asked to be shot at, he got what he deserved. In this writer's opinion, this incident should not just be waved off casually, there is much more to it than meets the undiscerning eyes. The incident should now serve to refocus the spotlight on a larger problem that Nigeria has unsuccessfully tried to deal with. One is referring to the problem of armed robbery.

No day goes by in the country without reported and unreported cases of armed robbery in one part of the country or the other. The cases usually involve the cold-blooded murder of innocent men and women. In some instances, the hoodlums waylay passengers traveling aboard commercial vehicles, killing and dispossessing them of their belongings. In other instances, they brazenly enter the homes of unsuspecting Nigerians, killing them and looting their belongings.

These robbery incidents have generated a pervasive sense of insecurity among Nigerians. Citizens are afraid to venture outside of their often barb wired and fortified compounds as often as they would like to. In other words, people have become prisoners in their own homes while a good night's rest has all but been traded for eternal vigilance. Also, potential foreign investors, who continue to hear about these robbery incidents, have understandably kept away from the country to avoid becoming statistics. Of course, their absence in the country continue to work against economic recovery.

The reader is probably wondering what armed robbery has to do with the anti-bullet charm incident in Benue state. Well, everything. It is no secret that every time the Nigerian police apprehends suspected armed robbers, they also find assorted charms in their possession. This has happened so often that it is now more of the rule than exception; it shows that many of these hoodlums derive the temporary courage with which they wreak havoc on the masses from the charms they carry around. Clearly, they procure the charms from diabolical men such as Teshi of Benue state. The charms give them false sense of invincibility and make them feel that they would never be caught. It would not surprise this writer if they also feel that their bodies are impregnable to bullets for there is no other way to explain why they operate so brazenly, killing, maiming and looting.

Sometime in 1985/86, two notorious robbers, Anini and Monday Osunbor terrorized people in the old Bendel state, killing indiscriminately and taking away possessions. General Babangida ordered a massive manhunt for the robbers and the police went after them, combing every part of Bendel state where they were reportedly operating and living in. The whole nation was gripped with fear of the robbers and their daredevil exploits. Police manhunt failed to stop their activities; the more they were hunted, the more intensified their activities became. Some of the locals in the area even began to tell stories of their invincibility and for a while it felt like they were never going to be caught.

Finally, it took the courage of a police sergeant called Uyanroro (sp) to bring the nightmarish drama to an end. Acting on a tip-off from the locals, he went straight to the house where Anini was hiding and apprehended him with very little resistance. That was after Monday Osunbor was also captured. When Anini's hideout was searched, police recovered assorted charms, including the one he usually wore around his waist during "operations".

It was instructive that after Anini was captured and dispossessed of his charms, the man who terrorized a whole state and who was supposed to be fearless and daring, turned into a lily-livered coward, making confessions as no robber had ever done before. When the news of Anini's capture broke, many were expecting to see a daredevil who would remain defiant to the very end. The reverse was the case, they instead saw a coward who acted sorry, felt sorry and looked sorry. So much for "Anini the great".

One of the things that baffled Nigerians, when the men were caught, was that the duo of Anini and Monday Osunbor never left their area of operation around Benin City. In other words, even though they knew that the whole nation was looking for them and that the area was crawling with policemen searching for them, they stayed put and did not feel the need to run to somewhere else. The reason was because they believed in the efficacy of the charms they had. Anini was said to wear his own charm under his trousers before venturing outside for "operations". The charms made him feel invincible and impregnable to bullets.

Like Umaa of Benue state who was assured that Teshi's charm would stop bullets from penetrating his body, Anini and Osunbor must have been assured that with the charms, they could never be caught. With these types of assurances, they became unnaturally brave, callous and heartless but when their charms were taken away, their courage left them. The argument in this write up, therefore, is that there is a direct correlation between the activities of armed robbers in Nigeria and the so called healers that prepare anti-bullet charms for them. Those charms provide the false courage with which robbers operate and kill. The charm preparers must therefore be seen for what they really are. They are accessories or accomplices.

The Nigerian police must cash in on this seeming relationship and adjust their armed robbery fighting strategy; they should now become proactive rather than just reactive. The reactive approach, where the police starts chasing after armed robbers after the fact, has obviously failed. They must begin to take actions that would pre-empt potential robberies. The "healers" who prepare charms for men of the underworld must now be put under police surveillance radar. In every community, the locals are very familiar with the so-called healers and so the police should have no problems identifying them.

The healers should be brought into police confidence and made to provide information about clients coming to look for anti-bullet charms. With that type of information, the police could infiltrate the ranks of potential robbers, set up sting operations, as they would do in drug operations, eventually nabbing and jailing them before they kill. Furthermore, any armed robber caught with charms must be forced to reveal the name and location of the "healer" that prepared it. Identified charm makers must then be taken into custody as accomplices and made to reveal the names and whereabouts of all the people they may have prepared anti-bullet charms for.

These people would in turn be put under surveillance and suspicious activities preempted before innocent people get hurt. One must caution here that identifying someone as haven taken delivery of anti-bullet charms does not necessarily make the person an armed robber. This is because out of naivety, there are honest Nigerians that would procure such charms in the misguided attempt to ward off the bullets of armed robbers. However, a trained police interrogator should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is no telling how much information this could provide in the fight to nab potential robbers before they kill.

The choice should be clear for the police in Nigeria, fight armed robbery preemptively by infiltrating the ranks of those who provide the robbers with false sense of security. Force these accomplices to provide information about the people they prepare the anti-bullet charms for. Conduct sting operations periodically based on information from locals and jail potential robbers before they even have the opportunity to kill.

There are those who may argue that the above proposal is outlandish or impracticable, the question however is, what other choices does the police have? Obviously, the strategy they have now is not working and so it is time to think outside the box for more innovative ways to fight armed robbery. The above proposal may just be one small step for the police but it may turn out to be a giant leap in the fight against armed robbery.