THE brutal murder of a young Kainantu secondary schoolteacher by a Public Motor Vehicle bus crew between Kainantu and Lae on the twelfth of this month caused road blocks between the Barola Hill and Kainantu sections of the Okuk Highway.
Angry relatives and tribesmen of the deceased demanded an explanation for the murder and the road block affected many people and organisations doing business along the highway.
A few betel nut traders who were bringing betel nut to Goroka and other highlands provinces are making windfalls. A betel nut that would normally sell for 50 toea is now fetching K2.50.
Old habits die hard, the highlands people are aggressive betel nut chewers. And they go for the expensive nuts.
It is anyone’s guess how the prices of other goods will be affected in the next few days if the road block continues.
Rumours have it that different incidents linked to the murder and roadblocks have developed in Lae and elsewhere. The University of Goroka has sent a strong security warning to its staff and students on the issue. Other organisations in Goroka and elsewhere may have done the same.
The incident directly affected a number of a hardworking staff from the Language and Literature Division at the University of Goroka who were travelling with 24 students to Madang to attend and present papers at an International Linguistic Conference hosted at Divine Word University. They were turned back at Henganofi station, before Barola.
Informing the University of Goroka on the disruption to the trip, Anne Marie Wanamp, who spearheaded the fund raising and worked hard to expose students to this conference, said, “I salute the students for their tireless commitment and dedication towards their fundraising.
“We turned back from Henganofi on Monday afternoon due to the tense situation on the highway. Attempts to fly the six student presenters was impossible, too, due to the insufficient funds raised”.
The murder which resulted in the roadblock brings to the fore the many challenges facing our country. We were told that the bus crew took an innocent person’s life during a tussle involving some roadside thugs who ran away with his day’s collection.
These thugs are commonly referred to as ‘K5 boskrus’ (five kina crews) and they have grown in number at the major PMV stops along the Okuk Highway, operating under the nose of urban authorities and police without intervention.
The action of the bus crew is reflective of a community that has no respect for the rule of law and human life. I couldn’t understand how a young person who had many years to contribute to nation building was stabbed to death in full view of the bus driver and passengers.
The police have been overpowered at the roadblock. People at the roadblock know that it would be wrong for police to fire at them; it would only escalate the tension.
The police are still thinking about ways to deal with such issues and, while they determine a response, many individuals and organisations are adversely affected.
While I condemn the murder, the relatives of the deceased and the Barola community have an obligation to ensure the business on the highlands is left undisrupted and pursue a better way of presenting their grievances.
I am hearing that a number of local national members of parliament are intervening. If this is true, the actions of the MPs may be deemed proper in the Melanesian context of politics.
However, such efforts undermine the work of the police and other law enforcement agencies. These agencies had to be exposed to a wide range of issues to build experience and competencies in dealing with them. Frequent intervention by MPs will set a bad precedent.
The university students and staff members who raised money in pursuit of contributing to the government’s goals to create a healthy, smart and wise population were affected. Kainantu High School and other schools along the road are affected. If such trends continue, the next 39 years will be a disaster for PNG.