By: Austin Tam-George.
One of the most infamous voice votes in human history occurred in the court of the Pontius Pilate, over two thousand years ago.
Jesus, an innocent man, had been framed up by the Pharisees, and sentenced to death for sorcery, and for making false claims.
But there was another fellow in court that day, Barabbas, a convicted criminal. Indeed, all the synoptic gospels acknowledge Barabbas as a notorious arsonist, bandit and a murderer.
It was time for the feast of Passover and Pontius Pilate had arrived in court to grant the ceremonial clemency to prisoners.
But when Pilate asked the crowd which of the prisoners they wanted him to set free, Jesus or Barabbas? The response was wincingly unanimous: The crowd wanted Barabbas freed.
Barabbas was then set free to wild and raucous applause; while Jesus was shackled and taken away to be killed.
To this day, the paradox of the triumph of Barabbas remains an inscrutable subject for priests, public administrators, judicial officers and experts in crowd psychology.
For thousands of years since that incident, Barabbas has become a metaphor for criminality, anarchy, and a warning about the dangers of the jurisprudence of the street.
Here in Nigeria, we can see versions of the ideology of Barabbas at work in the form of the reign of criminal gangs, arsonists, kidnappers and violent extremists.
We see them almost everywhere. They steal children from schools, operate a sophisticated human trafficking syndicate, and demand ransom.
In the North, Boko Haram, the terrorist group, has created what looks like a differentiated habitat of brutal sovereignty. It beheads men, women and children in captivity, and imposes taxes on farmers.
In the Eastern region, a few months ago, Professor Charles Soludo, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, was inaugurated as the elected governor of Anambra State, after a bloody and treacherous political campaign.
In the run up to the election, Soludo himself had escaped an assassination attempt that claimed the lives of some of his closest aides.
In fact, the Labour Party candidate for governor in that election, Mr Obiora Agbasimalo, was kidnapped in broad daylight and remains missing, months after the polls.
But from all indications, Soludo’s resounding victory at the polls was also clearly the people’s victory.
His expansionary vision of economic diversification, good governance, and “buy local” industrial rhetoric has wide resonance in Anambra State, and across the country.
From his first hour in office, Governor Soludo appears to be moving quickly to break old habits, by taking government to the people in a practical and impactful way.
Governor Soludo’s open and consultative approach to governance, so far, is a refreshing departure from the exclusionary and arrogant model often adopted by the Nigerian political class.
But his efforts to end the self-defeating sit-at-home order imposed on the people every Monday of the week, is now being resisted by known and unknown criminal gangs.
The brazen insistence by criminal gangs to maintain such a ruinous lock down on Anambra and the entire Eastern region means that anarchy, arson and wanton murder, may once again win the voice vote over peace, development and the prosperity of the people.
In his Easter Message in April, Governor Soludo lamented the spate of criminality in Anambra by declaring that ” Whatever it is that makes the people choose Barabbas over and above Jesus must stop in our time”.
But to defeat the foul ideology of Barabbas, Governor Soludo cannot be left alone in helpless perplexity, as criminal gangs behead citizens for sport, and levy war against the people.
Governor Soludo needs the moral and logistical comradeship of Ndi Anambra, the Federal Government, and all Nigerians.
The cancer of organized banditry must not be allowed to metastasize into a fatal pathology in the East, Nigeria’s most inventive and trading hub.
As a first step, Governor Soludo may create a “Government of the Whole” in Anambra State, by working more closely with civic groups, leaders of faith, transport unions, artisans, farmers, traders, industrialists, traditional leaders, and the youth.
When the people feel that they constitute the center of gravity of the administration, the governor will find it easier to mobilize an unstoppable communal revulsion against organized crime in the State.
Secondly, the governors of the States of Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Abia, must foster a new governance model for the region that prioritizes accountability, shared prosperity, and creates opportunities for young people.
For too long, Government in Nigeria has been de-linked from the people it is meant to serve. Everywhere in the open, the people seem to encounter the government only as a predatory dispenser of grief.
This has created an implacable platoon of angry and disoriented citizens who see no hope of living a meaningful life in their own country.
In the East, this anger has taken a virulent and insurgent turn that has been hijacked and remastered by criminal demagogues.
In his novel, Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe warns about the perils of bringing ant-infested faggots home.
It is time to heed Achebe’s incessant warnings.
The only way to defeat the ghost of Barabbas is to return the Government to the people.
– Dr Austin Tam-George is a former Commissioner for Information, Rivers State.