Friday, June 10, 2016

Onitsha Massacre And The Shame Of A Nation

By Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu

Buhari would probably go down in history as the worst violator of human rights and by consequence the most undemocratic president ever to walk the shores of this blighted land. It is ironic that one day after the regime celebrated democracy day and its one year anniversary on the 29th of May with much pomp, pageantry and fanfare, feeding the public with fanciful tales of its commitment to democracy, the rule of law and much propaganda on what it claims to have achieved in one year;   the next day being the 30th of May heralded an unprovoked bloodbath as the infamous Nigerian army treaded the familiar path of killing more than 50 IPOB and MASSOB adherents who were peacefully marking the 49th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra.


The most fundamental attributes of democracy are the freedoms of expression, association and dissent. Democracy in effect gives citizens the largest unrestricted space to air their views no matter how unpalatable—to assemble for what they believe in and above all to express dissent through peaceful means. In nations where democracy is practiced as it should, citizens express themselves freely and organise frequent public protests to register dissent. In none of these countries are citizens arrested or killed for expressing their opinion or for organising public protests. In rare occasions where possibly because of violence the security services deem it necessary to terminate such protests; civil means such as tear gas and water cannons are employed to disperse protesters.  It is thus paradoxical that one day after celebrating democracy day, the army is unleashed to kill peaceful  protesters who are exercising the most fundamental right that democracy affords them.
More so when as has been reported, IPOB and MASSOB had actually written the Anambra state commissioner of police, formally notifying him of their upcoming rally, for which the police should ordinarily have provided security while they carried out their peaceful rally as is done in true democracies. How can an administration celebrate the virtues of democracy and at the same time kill unarmed peaceful protesters? Is their own definition of democracy different? How come the same administration that has refused to act and infact maintained a studied silence while Fulani herdsmen slaughter people across the middle belt and South is ever so quick to kill peaceful IPOB/MASSOB protesters? By these contradictions Buhari has again demonstrated his deliberate refusal to align with democratic tenets.  After decades of struggling to have democratic governance and 17 years in a supposed democracy, these blatant suppression of rights and extra judicial executions  only serves to indicate that Nigeria has returned to full blown despotism.

If people cannot in a supposed democracy assemble and peacefully express their dissent, and if they must be killed for doing so; then for whom is this democracy? Is the democracy for corpses or is it only for those ensconced in government houses? If a democratically elected government can be as sadistic as to have so much disregard for the lives of the citizens he was elected to serve, then of what purpose is the government and the supposed democracy? Can a leader who has scant regard for the lives of his citizens ever provide good governance? I say this with all sincerity, because given the rising mood of gloom and disappointment, the time is coming when Nigerians might as well decide to do away with a supposed democracy and change government that has turned out to be worse than military rule.
The only sin of the protesters is their struggle for self determination and the actualisation of Biafra. But none of that is inconsistent with the practice of democracy. Article 1 of the United Nations Charter clearly states that “all peoples have the right to self determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Likewise article 20 of the African Charter on human and people’s rights states that “all peoples have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to a policy freely chosen.” The right to self determination is therefore a cardinal principle of international law incorporated into all regional  statutes of law including the UN and African Charters  to which Nigeria is signatory.
On the basis of the right to self determination, several countries have registered political parties dedicated to independence or self rule. The Scottish National party (SNP) in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales, Parti Quebecois in Canada and the Basque separatist party in Spain are just some examples of the democratic exercise of the right to self determination without any intimidation, persecution or suppression. Some of them have gone on to hold referendums. In 2015 the Catalans held a referendum on self rule in Spain, while Scotland held a historic referendum on self rule in 2014. If individuals and groups can have political parties dedicated to self rule and indeed hold referendums within their democratic systems, why can’t IPOB/MASSOB advocate self rule and hold peaceful rallies without molestation in our own democratic system? Was Buhari in another planet when the people of Scotland held a referendum for self rule in 2014? If war and killing of defenceless citizens is the way to keep a nation united why didn’t the British with their arsenal of nuclear weapons enough to destroy the whole world go to war with Scotland to prevent them from advocating and or holding a referendum on self rule?
Why has Buhari in spite of the change mantra with which he came to power chosen to keep Nigeria on the dark and primitive side of humanity?  Why must our nation be amongst those accursed places where citizens are randomly killed at any pretext by those who are supposed to protect them? Why must our nation continue to be amongst those where human rights and fundamental freedoms are brutally suppressed? Why must our nation be amongst those where poverty is endemic, where there is scant regard for human lives and where deprivation of all sorts is the order of the day? Why must our nation be one where we thrive only in wickedness, hate, bloodletting, injustice and inequality?  Why can’t we for once join the civilised world and make the black race proud by upholding all fundamental freedoms?  Why can’t our nation be one where the democratic system affords everyone all rights, including the right to self determination and where all differences are settled through democratic processes as obtains in civilised climes?
Why can’t nation building, inclusion and justice rather than violent suppression of dissent and free speech be our basis for constructing the nation?  Why must our story in Nigeria and Africa always be a story of poverty, deprivation, mass killings, suppression of fundamental rights and tyranny? Can’t we for once raise our heads and join the comity of civilised nations? When will massacres like that in Onitsha and the consequent shame of a nation end? God help us!
*Lawrence Nwobu could be reached with lawrencenwobu@gmail.com


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