Tuesday, 7 June 2016

#MustRead: When Will This Blood Stop Flowing?

by: Azuka Onwuka



Very few countries can experience what Nigeria experienced last week and carry on as if nothing happened. The week started with the report that one Methodus Emmanuel was killed by a mob in Minna, Niger State for alleged blasphemy against Islam. According to the military, three other people were also killed in the riot, with one church and a house burnt and 25 shops looted.

The next day, the killing shifted to the South-East where about 30 people were said to have been killed during the remembrance of those who were killed in the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War. The Republic of Biafra was declared on May 30, 1967. Monday, May 30 was the 49th anniversary of that attempt to pull out of Nigeria, which took a 30-month-long war and the death of some two million people, mainly through the Federal Government policy of starvation, to end.

Many reports alleged that security forces shot people in churches where the memorial services were taking place and also opened fire on those who marched on the streets. The Nigerian Army spokesman said that the military shot at the protesters in self-defence. But the military did not state that the crowds had arms.

One, therefore, wonders which democratic country fires live bullets at unarmed demonstrators. That shooting was not the first time in recent times. In February, members of the Indigenous People of Biafra gathered within the premises of National Secondary School, Aba, to pray for the release of their detained leader, Mr Nnamdi Kanu. Soldiers and police stormed the venue and opened fire on them. When urged to watch the video by an Al Jazeera interviewer in early March, President Muhammadu Buhari declined.

Last year, some members of the group were also shot at and killed by security operators during their protests for the release of their detained leader. It was when street protests failed to yield fruit that they decided to resort to prayers. Yet, they were shot at while praying by security operators who were recruited and paid to protect Nigerians.

Likewise in December, some Shiite Muslims were killed by soldiers because they were alleged to have blocked the way of the Chief of Army Staff. The soldiers subsequently stormed the headquarters of the Shiites and shot more of them. A minimum of 347 corpses were said to have been collected for burial by an official after the shooting. Pictures of the blood-soaked leader of that sect, Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky, were shown in the media after the incident. Since then, no official statement has said where he was taken to and whether he is dead or alive or why is he still being detained without trial.

It is surprising that people cannot hold a memorial in a democratic Nigeria without being shot at. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima, Japan last week and laid a wreath in memory of those killed 71 years ago when the United States dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively during World War II. Every year, the Jews mark the Holocaust to remember the killing of six million of their people in the hands of Germany’s Adolf Hitler. On May 5 this year, when the alarm sounded, everybody in Israel – pedestrians, cars, trains – stood still for two minutes. Similarly, April 7 is Day of Remembrance of Victims of the Rwanda Genocide. These events hold without anybody shooting at anyone.

The people of Catalonia in Spain; Scotland, in the United Kingdom; and Quebec region in Canada hold rallies in support of their desire to secede from their parent countries. They are not shot at and killed. On September 11, 2015 over a million people trooped out in Barcelona to mark the National Day of Catalonia (to remember their 1714 defeat by Spain) and restate their call for their separate country. In spite of the desire of these parts to leave the parent countries, they have not succeeded, not because the parent countries use force on them but because they have not been able to win the required percentage of people to their side.

By Thursday, the killings moved up North with the killing of a woman, Mrs Bridget Agbahime, in Kano for alleged blasphemy against Islam. Counter reports said that she made no blasphemous statement; that her crime was that she told those who were doing the Wudhu (the Islamic washing of some body parts before prayers) in front of her shop to create some room for access into her shop.

The two religious killings bring to memory the beheading of Mr Gideon Akaluka in Kano in 1995. He was accused of blasphemy too. He was in police custody but the mob came to the police station, took him, beheaded him, affixed his head to a pole and paraded it round the town. Nothing happened to the perpetrators. Since 1945 when the Igbo were first attacked and killed in the North, there have been countless incidents of attack on Igbo and other Southerners in the North with no punishment meted out to the perpetrators. It was announced that two men had been arrested over the killing in Kano. The nation waits to see if anything different will happen in this case.

That same Thursday, blood also flowed in the Niger Delta with the killing of two soldiers and four civilians. It was blamed on the Niger Delta Avengers, a group that has been blowing up oil pipelines. But the group denied it, claiming that it engages only in blowing up of pipelines, not in murder. If that is true, it then means that there is another nameless group in the Niger Delta that committed that heinous crime of murdering soldiers and civilians.

Last week too, there were cries from Niger Delta people that soldiers were killing civilians in the area on the pretext of crushing the Niger Delta Avengers. Thousands are said to have fled their communities for fear of becoming victims.

In all these killings, the sad part is not just that there is disregard for lives from both the government and the citizens but that many educated people give all kinds of justifications for the killing of fellow Nigerians in cold blood. There is that insensitive it-serves-them-right attitude from many Nigerians when people of different ethnic group or religious belief or even political leaning are killed. It gives the impression that the Nigerian life is less valuable than that of a dog.

While all these killings occurred, most Nigerian leaders kept quiet, with some preferring to comment on the death of Muhammad Ali, the American boxer. It was only on Saturday evening, after much outrage by Nigerians, that President Buhari’s office issued a terse and tame statement on the Kano killing, with no reference to the Minna killing.

Even in Saudi Arabia, the headquarters of Islam, those accused of blasphemy are not killed by a street mob. They get arrested and tried according to the law of the country, to show that the society is not a lawless one.

Curiously, when an Appeal Court quashed the death sentence passed on a man by a Sharia Court in Kano last month, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje protested it. Leadership newspaper of May 27 ran the story with the headline: “Gov Ganduje Challenges Not Guilty Verdict on Blasphemy.” If the governor could publicly support the death sentence for blasphemy, should it be surprising that the masses should resort to instant killing of anyone accused of blasphemy, whether true or contrived?

Instead of the proverbial milk and honey, why is Nigeria overflowing with blood and funny incidents? How can the fire of nationalism burn in the hearts of Nigerians when they see how the lives of Nigerians are easily wasted by agents of government and how many of their compatriots show no concern? How can people feel proud of their country when a human being can easily be beheaded or clubbed to death because of religion and no consequences befall the perpetrators?

Life is precious; life is invaluable; life is irreplaceable. This wastage of life in Nigeria must stop. There are decent and globally accepted standards of dealing with protesters, deviants, non-conformists, and even anarchists. Nigeria should stop making a mockery of itself before the world.

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