There is nothing more appropriate to underscore a nation with broken consciousness and moral fibre than its present army of occupation across the country. It is a sign of dithering hope, fractured nationality, broken dialogue, and a clear absence of national cohesion and unanimity of purpose. Under a democracy, the Police are vested with the responsibility of maintaining law and order, and not the military by whatever guise.
The present scenario playing out under the Buhari’s administration is an unusual situation in an unusual country, governed by unusual president struggling hard to defend an unusual certificate in a country of sins without sinners.
The present occupation of Nigeria by the Armed Forces with different code names; operation python dance, crocodile smile, Akpatuma, and all others, should naturally remind a serious government that there is a breakdown of national consciousness that needs urgent response by way of constructive engagement and dialogue to restore national cohesion and homogeneity of purpose. But given our present talk-for-bullets approach, blood has become cheap.
Last week was one loaded with so many dramas, each one dictated by actors that suit its configuration. In Abuja, it was a theatre of bloodletting when the Army unleashed its bullets on hapless members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) who were on a procession from all entry points to Abuja in what is called “arbeen”.
There was also similar procession in London, and other places where Shiites exist, to carry out what has become a yearly ritual. The amateur video clips we saw with torrents of gunshots could only be a scene from a battle field. At the end of the day, there were casualties on both sides.
While the army displayed vandalised vehicles as its own loss with one or two injured soldiers, the Shiites members took their human losses to the cemetery. About 45 Shiite members were reportedly killed in the aftermath. And as if to justify her careless excesses and bloodletting, the army tweeted a justification for such killings by using Donald Trump’s reported statement on migrants as food for action. Trump had talked about migrants throwing stones and not Americans. He had also denied the statement following public outrage. Back home in Nigeria, Shiites are not migrants.
They are full blooded Nigerians who hold certain beliefs and who were carrying out their annual ritual of procession to mark a particular event. If the security were to act in a civilised manner, they would have offered protection and guidance to the crowd of persons on that procession and ensure that public peace and orderliness is maintained. I have seen many demonstrations in the past carried out by NLC and other political groups. They were never shot at nor were there any violence reported.
I have also witnessed the Shiites procession in the heart of Abuja without molestation on either side, the members and security agencies. But the series of attacks on the Shiite members was quite a disturbing scenario. There is too much of bloodshed by this Buhari-led government. Life is cheap in the eyes of President Buhari’s security men, but they know how to extract justice for their own.
As much as I appreciate the enormity of the selfless services of our security personnel, they ought to know when and where to draw the line. For a single soul declared missing, Major General Idris Alkali (retd), the army sent a whole contingent in search of his body, using sniffer dogs to compliment the effort of the searchers. They eventually saw the decomposing body and recovered it for befitting burial. That to me should underscore why the army should respect other Nigerians too when it comes to killings. The action of the army against the Shiites can only worsen an already bad situation in the country.
This was the same level of high-handedness with which late Mohammed Yusuf was reportedly handled and brutally killed in Maiduguri and the aftermath is the Boko Haram insurgency that has remained with us till date.
I am of the considered view that the language of engagement should not be by bullets and force; it should be through deliberate policy of using dialogue to address a number of the concerns raised by members of Shiites movement. Using force and raining bullets in exchange for stones or pebbles is to me an unconscious process of toughening the resolve of these persons who already carry wounds in their hearts following the continued incarceration of their leader, Ibrahim El Zakzakky. What government agents should do is to amongst other things, use dialogue and effective communication to interface with the members of IMN.
This present approach will turn out to be counterproductive. The mindless killings that took place in 2015 at Zaria has already eroded the confidence the Shiite members have with the security agencies especially the army. Added to this is the fact that their leader despite court order, has continued to remain in jail. This mutual distrust has its own telling impact on the perception level of an average Shiite member when they sight a soldier or any security personnel for that matter. But to use Trump’s analogy as a basis to endorse these killings is to miss the point outright.
The Army’s reference to that piece of news item was a complete gaffe. There should be no rationalisation for taking lives with the slightest provocation or the perception that there could be a breakdown of law and order when carrying out a procession. Again, members of Shiites are not migrants in Nigeria.
They are part and parcel of the Nigerian society, so comparing them with Donald Trump’s stone-throwing migrants is an error of judgement. President Buhari cannot wash himself clean from the guilt of these bloodlettings. There is too much of killings and blood in the last three and a half years.
Too many mass burials. It is blood everywhere. Hardly does a day passes by without one form of killing or the other. This has also heightened the state of insecurity in the country. There is too much monologue going on. Aside from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who has gone grey from the pressure of speaking, all other governmental spokespersons are just speaking to themselves. They hardly communicate. When they try to make an impression, they end up with bogus lies and apparent contradictions.
A country aspiring to become like the Asian Tigers cannot get to the top if its moral fibre is telling signs of polarisation. Countries that desire to strike the right cord first and foremost, build the national consciousness and cohesion. Such countries have national vision and mission defined within the prism of collectivity.
In a country with defective security architecture or where nepotism has overtaken nationalism, symptoms of mutual mistrust and distrust will naturally define our sectional engagement and weaken the very foundation of our nationality and nationalism. We cannot turn our geographic space to a killing field or turn against ourselves.
As much as we appreciate the selfless intervention of our service men, to protect our territorial integrity, they have no business in using live ammunition to disperse crowd. The only reason why they are called soldiers is the fact that they have signed up their own death warrant on behalf of the people in difficult situations. This is why I always appreciate the untiring effort of the military at providing territorial protection and ensuring they combat insurgents even in terribly difficult situations. But to now turn against the hapless in the society is to erode that mutual confidence.
In the light of the ugly incidence of last week between the army and members of IMN, the army should simply apologise to Nigerians for such killings. It takes nothing away from their gallantry. We must help build confidence in a system that has become a playing ground for mutual suspicion. The military, police and the civil populace must build a symbiotic relationship that would engender the right synergy in delivering services for the good of the country.
They are not enemies occupying the same geopolitical space. Nigerians who are the taxpayers must see security personnel as partners in the collective project of building an egalitarian society. If Nigeria gets its functionality, it is to the overall good of everyone.
If it gets to dysfunctionality as we are presently experiencing, the nation as a whole suffers. It is for our collective good to arrest the present drift and set the tone for national healing. From Zamfara, Taraba, Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and the entire North- East, this blood is too much. We should stop irrigating our land with blood, we need water to purify our souls and cleanse our lands.
Blood on their hands was written by KASSIM AFEGBUA and first appeared on the Back Page Column of Newtelegraph on November 6, 2018