The arrest of Evans, the press-styled ‘kidnapping kingpin’, provoked a backlash typical of a case of criminal grandeur in this clime.
As soon as Evans began to sing about the size of his kidnap industry and his principle of collecting handsome ransoms in hard currency and the pictures of his Lagos and Accra mansions emerged to validate his confessions, a fan club surfaced and started gushing over his ‘genius’ and his fabulous success. Within a few days, the Free Evans campaign had taken shape, grown in membership and became as vociferous as the Jewish mob that demanded a Passover pardon for Barabbas.
Evans captured people and held them against their will. He put a price on them. He commodified them. He commercialized and capitalized human captivity, making it an ongoing concern in Nigerian society.
For many years, Evans exploited people’s affection for their loved ones. He would create the agony of a member of the family missing. Then, he would proceed to exploit the climate of anxiety, desperation and panic in the household of his victim to enrich himself. He would threaten to kill if his price was not paid in full. Sometimes, he would take both the ransom and the life of the hostage.
Yet, you didn’t see the Nigerian public united in collective relief that the free reign of the cold- blooded predator had been punctuated and that he would soon answer for his crimes and receive his comeuppance.
We couldn’t form a consensus on his morality. We couldn’t agree on the depravity of his iron-seared conscience. We couldn’t deplore, as one man, the wickedness of his outsized multi-million dollar ‘business’.
We couldn’t disown Evans because he fitted our imago. His chutzpah taunted the inner version of our timid, risk-averse selves. He cut the figure of the insanely rich criminal we dream we would have become if we weren’t restrained by cowardice.
The Free Evans campaign is not an oddity. It’s our collective baby. It exemplifies the reaction of our collective unconscious to abominable success.
We crave the experience of a magic alchemy that delivers prosperity without value-adding diligence. Evans personified the reality of that possibility. That’s why we are infatuated with him. That’s why we are rooting for him.
We are inclined to yearn to be identified with the rich villain. We fetishize their story. We idolize them, imagining that we are qualifying ourselves for initiation into the in-crowd.
Wealthy criminals don’t have to have any relationship with us. Their affairs may not have benefited us in any way. They are often complete strangers.
But we feel obligated to lend ourselves to championing their cause when their careers hit the buffers. Our instinct is to defend them, rationalize their choice and generate specious reasons why they must be exculpated.
We are overly protective of criminals of imposing stature. We yield ourselves to averting their ‘humiliation’ before the law. We urge indulgence, respect and deference. We explain that those sane adults are victims of fate.
People who leverage our weak security architecture to maximize their criminal potential awe us. The wow factor of their felony charms us. It inspires us to jealousy.
Nigeria is rich in Evans characters. They abound in government. They kidnap states, ministries and parastatals and exact ransom us.
Yet, we don’t abhor them. We envy them. We begrudge them their pay dirt. We wish we could trade places with them.
Seemingly decent people have come out to condemn and compliment Evans in the same breath. They submit that his acts were wicked. But they advise that we appreciate and learn from his ingenuity, ambition and taste. He brought innovation to kidnapping… and grew into a Dangote.
But the truth is that Evans harbored no virtue in his person. His undoing was not caused by a character flaw. His disgrace developed from a character vacuum. He had no character.
Evans did not have impressive brainpower that was corrupted by greed. Greed was the very makeup of his brainpower. He did not misuse his fertile mind: he had none. He forfeited the entirety of his being in a Faustian barter with Mammon.
The attempt to salvage some goodness from Evans and project him, as a model worthy of emulation, on the basis of that nice quality, is reprehensible. Evans has no socially redeeming value. He sold all of himself to evil. He is only worthy to serve as an example of a man bankrupt in virtue.
People are glamorizing his ‘trade’ because he managed to get kidnapping down to a fine art. The rave reviews say more about the character of the shameless cheerleaders than the putative sophistication of Evans, their hero. Their freemasonry gave them away as kindred spirits.
The Free Evans parade is giving full theatrical expression to the warped philosophy that money is all that matters. That all successes are valid. That all’s fair in love and war.
We can’t find a common ground on Evans because we pornify wealth. In culture. In songs. In religion.
We judge people’s significance by the abundance of their possessions. We enthrone the filthy rich. We don’t permit ourselves to be distracted by the question of what shortcut led them to untraceable riches.
The stupefying argument about the legitimacy of the works of Evans would never happened if he was an indigent kidnapper. We don’t debate the innocence of lowly criminals. We serve them jungle justice. We hasten to garland them with car tires, baptize them with petrol and immolate them.
Evans was a Big Man. He was no loser. He never stinted on his niche. He supersized his department, pursued it as a vocation and amassed enormous wealth thereby.
The Free Evans vanguard says his fake lifestyle should have lasted forever. The growth of his lucre should never have ceased. He should have been allowed to grow from strength to strength.
The support for Evans is a sign that there might be hope for Abubakar Shekau.
Boko Haram, the terrorist group, Shekau leads, has murdered tens of thousands of people. They have made wastelands of many villages, rendered a million people refugees and imposed death by starvation on thousands of children.
Three years ago, Boko Haram abducted over 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok. They abused the girls as sex slaves. And they caused about a dozen of the parents of the girls to die of heartache.
The outpouring of love towards Evans suggests that if Shekau was arrested tomorrow, the mad caliph would find a group of praise singers ready. All he need do is prove that he was a wealthy psychopath. If he revealed a staggering net worth and pointed at a trophy property in Abuja or Dubai, he would be shown lots of love.
You can reach Emmanuel at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EmmaUgwuTheMan.