A nation that kills her citizens and justifies it

Last week, two curious events happened in Nigeria and the United States of America respectively. President Donald Trump visited Pittsburgh concerning the Jewish Synagogue shooting. Protesters blocked his way with placards that said that he was not welcome. Trump’s motorcade had to turn around and take another route. As the President of the US, Trump is the most powerful leader in the world, because he controls the strongest army and presides over the country with the strongest influence on global affairs. Even though no American has the right to stop Trump from moving around freely in his own country, yet he did not order his security aides to shoot at the protesters. He let the protesters have their way; he let the protesters “embarrass” him.

In Nigeria, some members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, popularly known as the Shiites, were shot in Abuja by the Nigerian military. The Shiites were having their annual procession – which they also used to protest the continued detention of the leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, despite court ruling that he be released unconditionally. The military’s account of the incident was that they were moving some weapons and ammunition – in broad daylight – and were attacked by the Shiites with dangerous weapons, and the Shiites also wanted to overpower the soldiers and seize the weapons; so the military repelled them, leading to the death of “three Shiites”. The military published pictures of the weapons used by the Shiites and they included catapults as well as syringes and other medical items (used for first aid treatment by the medical team of the Shiites). Videos of the altercation between the military and the Shiites showed some young men throwing stones and sticks at soldiers who were firing live bullets at them, with some of them felled by the bullets. Unofficial figures of fatalities were put at 49.

Curiously, many Nigerians justified the killings, stressing that civilians who dared to throw pebbles at the military had declared war and should be ready to face whatever they got from the military. Some reminded the Shiites and those condemning the shooting that everyone should know that soldiers are not trained to use rubber bullets or water canon or teargas to repel protesters; so, nobody should challenge the military.

Interestingly, in May this year, many of those who justified the use of live bullets on the Shiites by the military condemned the use of live bullets by the Israeli security forces on Palestinians who were throwing stones in protest over the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. However, when the Shiites were shot, the goalpost was shifted. Shia Muslims are minorities in Nigeria and are not seen by the Sunni Muslims as true Muslims and vice versa.  The Sunnis see the Shiites as queer, aggressive, violent and non-conformist. Curiously, of all the top terrorist organisations of the world – al-Qaida, ISIS, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram – none sprang forth from the Shiites. When Maitatsine (Mohammed Marwa) caused deaths and panic in Northern Nigeria in 1980, he and his followers were not from the Shiites. All the religious riots that claimed the lives of people in the North (including the ones caused by the Danish cartoons, Miss World beauty pageant, sharia implementation, etc) were not linked to the Shiites. In 2015, Mr Muhammad Namadi Musa, director-general of the Kaduna State Interfaith Bureau, told the enquiry into the killing of the Shiites that he collected 347 bodies of Shiites from the army base in Zaria and the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. The Shiites are shot at anytime they protest. In an interview with The PUNCH last week, spokesman for the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Mallam Ibrahim Musa, said about 2,000 of their members had been killed in recent years. Despite this and the continued detention of their leader, the Shiites have not resorted to armed struggle. On what grounds then should the Shiites be demonised as so violent and vile to deserve whatever is meted out to them by the security forces?

The reason for the justification of the killing of the Shiites is simply because they are minorities. Secondly, any person or group that is protesting against the government of Buhari is seen by his supporters as an enemy that deserves to be crushed by the military. It is the same way corruption issues are viewed. Corruption is only a serious issue when it is alleged against a non-member of the ruling All Progressives Congress.

It is the same fate that befell members of the Indigenous People of Biafra. When they were shot at for demonstrating over the detention of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, many Nigerians justified it. When they gathered in churches to commemorate the Civil War, the security agents shot them. When they gathered at the National High School, Aba to pray for the release of Kanu, they were shot at and killed. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Buhari refused to watch the video of the shooting of those praying inside a school, but justified their killing on the grounds that they wanted to divide the country.

There is no denying that the Shiites can be unruly, stubborn and dare-devilry. But that is what is expected in a diverse nation. According to Chinua Achebe, “in all great compounds, there must be people of all minds – some good, some bad, some fearless, some cowardly… That is why we say that whatever tune you play in the compound of a great man, there is always someone to dance to it.” A country that values life must devise ways to handle people with different idiosyncrasies. In Europe and North America, anarchists, students, workers and rights groups stage peaceful and violent protests regularly over different issues. Nobody shoots at them.

But the sad thing about Nigeria is that it has the bully mentality. The bully seeks only weak and vulnerable people to prey on. When groups like Niger Delta militants, Boko Haram and the like use guns and bombs, the Federal Government appeals to them to embrace peace and get amnesty. But when groups like the Shiites, IPOB, Bring-Back-Our-Girls group, OurMumuDonDo group, teachers, students, workers, etc, use peaceful protests, prayers, sticks and stones to show their displeasure with the system, the soldiers and the police – many of whom panic when they are posted to Borno State because of Boko Haram – swing into action like Achilles to use excessive force on them. Sadly, many people who have blood flowing through their veins would justify it, believing that everything – including human lives – should be reduced to politics.

This is why Amnesty International and other bodies write damning reports about our military and the police. If we don’t value human life; if we shoot and kill our compatriots like game; if we reduce our country to a Hobbesian society, how can we complain when Nigeria is described with all sorts of epithets by Nigerians and other nationals?

Ironically, cows seem to have more rights than humans in Nigeria, for they move freely in large numbers on the streets of Abuja and other Nigerian cities without law enforcement agents shooting at them or arresting them, even when they destroy vehicles or crops. The only consolation from President Buhari to those whose crops and property are destroyed by cows is that they should learn to tolerate and accommodate their “neighbours”! Two weeks ago, the Minister of Transportation, Mr Chibuike Amaechi, said the trains that ply the Abuja-Kaduna route reduced their speed limit to 90kmph to avoid killing cows. If we have this kind of consideration and respect for cows, one wonders why we seem to place no value on the lives of our compatriots.



Credit – Azuka Onwuka ( The Punch)