The palpable fear that has gripped the residents of Port-Harcourt is not unfounded. At the last count, no less than ten young ladies have met their sordid deaths in the hands of an unidentified killer. The pattern is as similar as it is curious: young women of a certain age range are found bereft of breath in random hotels within the city’s metropolis. Cause of death—strangulation. The unsettling story does not end there; it takes on an eerie dimension with the murdered ladies spotting a white piece of cloth tied around hand and neck. By now, one would have thought that law enforcement agencies would have some answers relating to these inexplicable murders, but that’s merely wishful thinking.
The scary development in one of Nigeria’s oil cities is reminiscent of what happened towards the end of the 19th Century in the East End of London when Jack the Ripper wreaked terror on multiple women for all of 10 months. Like the Port Harcourt slayer, he had a signature kill off—deep throat slashes— and other bodily cuts that ensured his victims stood no chance of surviving.
The Ripper lore has it that he was responsible for at least eleven murders. To this day, Jack’s identity remains a mystery In spite of the humongous number of personnel and material resources deployed to crack the case. Thousands were interviewed, hundreds investigated and tens detained, yet, the case remains cold. And there lies my worry about the prospects of finding our own ‘Jack the Ripper’.
If law enforcement agents in one of the most advanced countries in the world came up with nothing despite their commitment and dedication to catching the notorious killer, what are the odds that a far less inspired police force in a developing country will spring a surprise?
If the words of the deputy commissioner of police in charge of administration are anything to go by, it’s safe to conclude that nothing out of the ordinary is being done to apprehend the culprit. The high ranking officer had attributed the cause of the serial killing to prostitution, suggesting that the female victims of the gruesome crime were commercial sex workers.
Utterances such as the one made by the police boss are the reason the female folk in Nigeria have become endangered species. Everywhere one turns, women are not safe. Worse still, they are blamed for this situation. It’s either they have dressed inappropriately, presented themselves in an unbecoming manner, gone where they are not supposed to go or said something that leaves society with no choice than to “teach them a lesson”.
Some have even suggested that if the girls that were killed were confirmed to be women of easy virtue, then they deserved to die. As shocking as this might seem, it is the mindset of a not-so negligible number of people. And it begs the question, is death the punitive measure for prostitution? Are commercial sex workers not human beings like the rest of us whose lives should be protected at all costs?
In any case, if there’s an alarming increase in the number of prostitutes in our cities, it’s almost certainly a reflection of the poor state of the country’s economy. Before Jack the Ripper launched his vicious attacks on the women of the East End of London, there was an economic downturn, one that was induced by overpopulation, terrible work conditions and pervasive poverty that drove a lot of women into the business of selling their bodies. This, in turn, made many of them easy preys for sociopaths like Jack.
And so even if all the murdered ladies in Port Harcourt are discovered to be sex workers, rather than go on a sanctimonious campaign about their choice of profession, a thinking government would dig deeper to unravel the root cause of the malaise.
On the part of the citizens, some of the protests and awareness walks that have been staged have been nothing short of an embarrassment. Rather than stick to demanding that the roaming killer be apprehended urgently, the women (who should know better) were more focused on “advising” young ladies to eschew prostitution. A depressing proof that even in death, women can hardly win.
We are a ‘praying’ nation, therefore, at this point, it appears that the probability that the Port Harcourt serial killer will soon be behind bars is more dependent on the divine that it is on the investigative genius of our homicide detectives. If we cannot take deliberate calculated steps to nab this human who has caused an entire nation sleepless nights, then we will kabash and bind our way through in the hopes that something happens and we do not end up with a modern ‘Jack the Ripper’,
Ridiculous, I know, but it’s the reality. Sadly.