When I was managing a school some years ago, we had an incident that made me realise how important it is for us to maintain good relationships with our neighbours. In this very incident, the school’s security man saw a boy that dumped his refuse near the school fence. He called the small boy to remove what he dropped but he was headstrong. Well, the security man went into the office, took his whip, and landed some slashes on the boy. Unknown to him, one woman was watching what was happening and so when this security flogged the boy, she raised an alarm and claimed that he wanted to kill the boy. And so, a gang of angry mobs gathered at the front of the school, demanding for the head of the security man.
When I came out to placate with these people, they did not want to listen to me. They were even responding to me in Hausa. I sent for two Hausa school teachers that lived around the area so they could help me talk to the mob. From the response they gave me, I realised that the mob said they will burn down the school if I don’t hand over the security man to them. At a stage, the youths among them started scaling the fence into the school. That was when chaos came. The pupils started shouting. Teachers ran into their classrooms, banged the doors and started calling me to run. Everywhere was hysterical. Even I was confused. I refused to run because I knew it wouldn’t solve the problem. Besides, where will I run to?
Those young men moved around the school’s assembly ground with great agitation. Some stood with me near the gate, pointing into my face and yelling in Hausa. I was standing there like a statue, staring at them helplessly. Well, an angel finally came in the guise of one of the youths.
Just as these boys-men were about to head towards the administrative office to either search for the security man or to start vandalism (they had checked the security house and did not see the ‘suspect’), a young man climbed the wall, stood on it and yelled, “kei!” He said something to those inside the school compound and waved them to come out. Then he looked at me and said, “Malama, sorry” before he jumped out again. These young men inside began to leave one after the other, through the way they came in, still making threats. It was at that moment that it occurred to me that I should have called the police. It was then I remembered I had a phone and would have used it to call for help. It was actually then I realised the danger I, my children, students and staff in that school faced. Ok, I sent for my phone as these people were debating heatedly outside the school and called the DPO of the area. But before he came with his team, the mob had long dissolved.
Now, you might wonder who this young man that saved the day was. His child isn’t even in the school. If I see him today I won’t even recognise him. But then, he came to our rescue because of how good the owner of the school was to the people in the community. From what I later gathered, the young man argued with the mob that the woman has always helped them through the school. He reached the conscience of the mob and disarmed them. He reminded them of what they should have considered before raising hell. And of course, he justified the security man’s action.
You see, my boss formed the habit of providing financial help and food stuffs to those that came to her. She has helped some women to secure small jobs. She allowed some of their children to pass through her school with partial or full scholarship. She takes it easy on her debtors (school fees drive wasn’t common in the school). She has always mingled with women in that area, irrespective of their status. She has never “shown them levels”. She was a good neighbour. Hence, the day people forgot how good she was to them and wanted to destroy what was hers, somebody came to the rescue.
This story came into my mind this morning after I spoke with my neighbour. I asked him how he managed to pass through the mob that were vandalising people’s properties on Wednesday, 21 October, during the violent protest that rocked Enugu. He told me that most of the boys that were protesting were people that must have done one or two menial jobs for him or they knew those that he has helped; hence they “cleared road for him”. It is not that he throws money about but he has always lent listening ears to people, especially those set of people that can easily be turned into human weapons. He has never belittle them. And so when he needed help, they came to the rescue.
This makes it imperative for us to re-evaluate our security system.
Yes, we have the law enforcement agents to protect our lives and properties; but then, they are never quick to respond to calls of distress. We might mount CCTV and other security devices but they might not prevent people from destroying our sweats. We might mount burglary proofs and security doors but our walls and windows could be the weak point. The best security we can ever have is our neighbours.
I once told someone that every business owner should endeavour to draw “area boys” to his side but the person told me it’s unethical. Well, the truth is that those area boys are the ones that will decide whose shop to vandalise and whose own to spare when lawlessness ensues. If you own a business and you “take care of the boys”, if an uprising starts, just as we have been experiencing for some days now, you might find it “easier” to appeal to them to leave your own shop and that you will “see” them later. Just the way you identify with the police in your area, also do the same with “the boys”.
All the same, wherever you find yourself, be in good terms with your neighbours; they are your chief security officers. Be humble and mingle. But make use of your discretion so you don’t get yourself muddled in the wrong affairs.