This is Goa, Not Nigeria

What spilled on to the main road at O Coqueiro in Porvorim on Thursday morning was a blatant defiance of the law. Even in a state where street protests are routine, this was totally out of place.

A large group of foreigners of African descent, now referred to as Nigerians, blocked the highway, pulled out the body of their colleague who was found murdered in Parra, from the hearse van and began a protest. Their demand was justice. They neither won the sympathy of the people nor the police, who did what they always do, which is nothing.

What gave them the courage to take on the police and the state? What made them think they could interfere with the due process of the law and get away with it? Why did the local onlookers feel threatened enough to launch an attack on the Nigerian protestors and severely injure two of them? The state has been drifting for a long time and Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s charge that this was the result of policies pursued by previous home minister Ravi Naik was loaded with political innuendo and doesn’t answer the real issue.

Who are these Nigerians and what are they doing in Goa? The general belief is that many of them are connected with the cocaine trade and the murder of Obodo Uzoma Simeon was the fallout with a rival drug cartel from Anjuna-Chapora. According to reports Nigerian drug bosses control nearly 40 per cent of the cocaine flowing into the US and Europe and this they achieved by pushing their way through. International drug syndicates could have a presence in the state and the murder and subsequent reaction to it has ‘turf war’ written all over it. The presence of a large number of Nigerians or people of African descent in the state, even though they are not connected with either business or education, had aroused suspicion, the police and government failed to curb them.

The Nigerians are not the only ones in the drug business. It is believed that the North Goa coast is divided among Israelis, Russians, Nigerians, North Indians and locals. The state is not only a market for drugs, but also a transit point. The arrest of two Nigerians with drugs valued at Rs 1 crore by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is a clear indication of the stakes involved in the drug trade. The arrest of a British national by the NCB with narcotics worth over Rs 2 crore at Candolim-Sinquerim tells us that the Nigerians are not the only ones involved in this nefarious trade.

The brutality of the attack on Obodo in Parra the previous night may have taken the Nigerian gang by surprise. However, it was their reaction to it that angered locals. First, they refused to allow the police to do their job. Their insistence that the culprits be arrested first was unreasonable and untenable. The attack on the hearse van at Porvorim pushed patience to the limit. The police came across as mere spectators, when they were expected to resolve the matter through dialogue and resist all attempts to get provoked. This passive approach, which works well when locals protest, was seen by the mob as a sign of impotence. The result was a riot in which two Nigerians were thrashed while the rest fled.

Parrikar has announced a crackdown on foreigners staying illegally in the state. He went further and said that any discotheque or pub providing shelter or support to a foreigner residing illegally would face stern action. He also warned locals to stop patronising illegal residents, especially Nigerians. These are tough words, but then a disturbance of the type that happened at Parra and Porvorim needs to be put down with a heavy hand. The problem is that implementation could prove to be tedious. The presumption made here is that all those involved in either the drug trade or Thursday’s disturbance are illegal residents. What if they have legal travel documents?

We all want this problem to go away and we believe that if all Nigerians or people of African descent are deported Goa will become peaceful again. This is far from the truth. The nature of tourism in the state is inextricably linked to consumption of drugs. The nexus between drug cartels and the police was exposed with the suspension of five policemen and there is a strong suspicion that some unscrupulous politicians might also be linked with this nefarious trade. This is perhaps the first time that the upheavals in the underworld have spilled on to the main road for all to see and the government has no choice but to act.

While taking the battle to the doorstep of the Nigerian cartel and prosecuting those responsible for blocking the road and attacking the police, the government and the police must not forget that it also has to investigate and bring the killers of Obodo to trial. Parrikar was right in pointing out that if even one of two Nigerians who were beaten up by the mob dies, cases of murder would have to be instituted. The law must not show favour to or discriminate against anyone, local or foreigner, because violence of any kind has no place in a democratic setup. This is Goa, not Nigeria.