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Column: Justice for Ezra and the latent political potential of Taraba Youths

 As he approached the police checkpoint ahead of him, Oliver Ezra Barawan the driver of Lau Local Government Chairman would not have thought in his wildest imagination that the end of his sojourn on earth was near. He would never have known that in a matter of a few minutes, his young body would be pumped with live hot bullets fatally injuring him and subsequently resulting in his death hours later.

Unknowingly that was what fate had arranged for Oliver Ezra as he got to the checkpoint where Sergeant Haruna Idi of the Taraba state Police Command and his colleagues were on duty.

As police and eye witness account say, Oliver Ezra was flagged down by the officers and some hot exchange of words ensued. Ezra came down from his car and there was some finger pointing and physical altercation leading to the trigger happy Sergeant Idi fatally shooting and wounding Ezra who was taken to Federal Medical Centre Jalingo where he eventually gave up the ghost.

The manner of the shooting of Oliver Ezra is an all too familiar occurrence in Nigeria. Poorly trained and equipped police officers have on countless occasions despatched many Nigerians at checkpoints and in other locations. It is a recurring decimal which will continue to be with us until the justice and law enforcement officials summon the necessary will to enact the necessary reforms towards improving the entire gamut of civil and criminal justice administration procedures in the country.

This was what the EndSARS protests which started in Lagos and engulfed the entire country last year. The protests turned negative with attendant loss of lives and destruction of properties running to billions of naira, the essence of the protests which was to bring attention to the issue of police brutality frequently meted to Nigerians especially its anti-robbery arm.

The reverberations from EndSARS debacle are still with us, the latest being the setting up of a judicial panel of enquiry by the Lagos state government; the presentation of the panel's report and the white paper on the report. The killing of Ezra at the Jalingo checkpoint was a typical re-enactment of the type of conduct which the police have come to be associated with sadly.

While the circumstances of the unfortunate demise of Oliver Ezra is currently under investigation by the relevant authorities, we can only stress that Justice must not just be done on the case, it must be seen to be done. And in this regard the issue must not be swept under the carpet. There must be consequences to this sad event which should come in form of appropriate sanctions applied on those found to be involved one way or the other and compensation to the family of the late Oliver Ezra. Although whatever may eventually be awarded may not bring Ezra back to life, it will nevertheless help assuage the painful sense of loss felt by his family as he was still in his prime of youth with so much promise ahead of him.

One thing that featured prominently in all the happenings following the death of Oliver Ezra was the latent power of the youth of Taraba state. I observed that they took the circumstances of the death of Ezra with all the sense of shock it entailed. But rather than go on outrage of violence to express their anger, they instead chose to channel the anger towards organizing themselves in a peaceful but potent manner to demand Justice for Ezra.

For the first time we saw Taraba youths disregarding religious, ethnic and political differences to unite and advance a cause that affected them all. The manner of the death of Ezra was a painful reminder that it could happen to anyone of them regardless of their faith and ethnicity. The youth who came out to demonstrate for justice for Ezra where made up of Christians and Muslims. They came from a cross section of the ethnic groups of Taraba; Mumuye, Jenjo, Jukun, Chamba, Fulani, Kuteb, Kona, Wurkum etc. And they made a powerful point to us that they are willing and ready to unite in pursuit of their cause.

The Taraba youth in their moment of grief and mourning of one of them so callously cut down took note of the fact that nobody of note from the government and the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) or the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) came to identify with them. No prominent personality issued any statement of condolence or support for their actions in seeking justice for their colleague who was murdered in so brutal manner.

In this moment of grief the youth of Taraba have come to discover the grim reality that very few if at all of the political class in Taraba care about them. They are just the cannon fodder that politicians use to achieve their selfish ends. The same politicians who did not show any care and concern for them in their moment of need will only remember them during elections to deploy them in unwholesome ways. What is even more galling, the same politicians resort to the use of religion and ethnicity to divide the ranks of the youth and Tarabans generally in their quest for power.

Out of the depth of their despair and grief over the loss of Oliver Ezra, Taraba youths have provided us with a glimpse of what they can do if they get organized along a cause that serves their own interest and not that of the political fat cats. In other words instead of agonizing over what occurred to one of them, the decided to organize and seize the moment making a potent statement as to what they can do with their latent power.

I think we should take note. To those who are ensconced in power and the complacent belief that they can always have their way one way or the other this is a wake-up call. As in all states in Nigeria, the youth of Taraba constitute the majority component of the population of the state. Suffice to say by that they are the future of the state. For those of us of our generation who enjoyed the best of what Nigeria could provide during our youthful days, what legacy are we leaving behind for them? Is it the legacy of poor education and unemployment? Or using them as political thugs and bagmen for our selfish political purposes? And then watching askance as they are shot and killed wantonly as in the case of Oliver Ezra?

We need to wake up and smell the coffee brewing. If the actions of Taraba youths on the Oliver Ezra death are anything to go by, then it is a subtle signal that things are not likely to be the same in the state as far as the youths are concerned as the momentum of 2023 politics gathers pace.

I daresay that a critical mass of Taraba youth is going to make the circumstances of the death of Oliver Ezra a reference point of their political choice and agitation in 2023. They will seek to subject the political figures of the state from both parties to task over what they have done to improve the condition of the youth of the state. And they would not allow themselves to be swayed by sentiments of religion and ethnic divides.

Great developments in history most often start with innocuous events which provide the spark for greater happenings. This mostly happens when the contradictions in society are left to morph and assume irreconcilable dimensions. In Taraba as in much of Nigeria, the social fabric of society is currently under severe stress as a result of mounting social contradictions. In discerning societies leaders and statesmen take it upon themselves to undertake a process of resolving these issues through a variety of social intervention mechanisms in order to buy social peace and foster a sense of belonging for all segments of society.

This does not seem to be the case in Taraba with our elites erroneously thinking that all is well and that having secured for themselves the positions of power which insulates them from the desperate social conditions around, they can go to sleep.

With what our youths in Taraba have shown over the issue of Oliver Ezra, this could be a warning signal that we ignore at our peril.      


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