Monday, February 27, 2017

1967, A Metaphor For Military Slaughter

By Ochereome Nnanna
The international human rights outfit, Amnesty International (AI), has engaged the Nigerian military authorities in a war of wits, accusations and counter-accusations since our armed forces embraced a full-scale campaign to overcome the Boko Haram Islamist threat in Northern Nigeria.

The first sign of tension emerged shortly after former President Goodluck Jonathan, in January 2014, signed the bill outlawing homosexuality (especially gay marriage) in Nigeria. Most Western countries and local and international organisations (such as civil society groups which they fund) propagating their mostly alien and unacceptable values in the Third World suddenly became hostile to Nigeria, particularly the Jonathan regime.

They directly and indirectly added their voices to the growing anti-Jonathan opposition, especially those based in the North which were perceived as using the Boko Haram terrorists as a political tool to oust Jonathan and grab political power. AI, which had harshly criticised the anti-gay law, descended heavily on the Nigerian Army. AI was no longer interested in the horrendous activities of Boko Haram, which were sacking villages and communities, slaughtering people like animals and carting away women whom they dehumanised just as they liked.

These did not matter to AI. Instead, AI beamed its activities on the so-called human rights of Boko Haram fighters killed or captured during operations. Many Nigerians saw AI’s slur campaign against the Nigerian Armed Forces as ill-motivated, hostile and malicious, perhaps due to the anti-gay law. It seemed to meld with the strange reluctance of the President Barack Obama regime to recognise Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist outfit, which also manifested in its refusal to sell arms to Nigeria to prosecute the war on terror.

Obama’s America and its non-state sidekick, the AI, seemed unwilling to even help Nigeria in coping with our explosive humanitarian crisis concerning the internally-displaced persons. Rather, their own headache was the “human rights” of terrorists and the demonisation of our military. Following the change of government on May 29th 2015, and the assumption of power by retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari, the mindset and combat reflexes of our armed forces underwent a sudden psychedelic shift.

During the campaigns, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its supporters portrayed Buhari as a bloodthirsty tyrant and floated images of the people shot at the stakes in 1984 based on a decree Buhari made with retroactive effect making drug peddling a capital offence.

Buhari had emotionally accused those behind the adverts and the station it was aired of propagating “hate speech” against him. But nearly two years into his regime, those adverts have turned out to be prophetic. We have seen a growing “kill-and-bury” credential associated with our military, not just by AI, but also those that are being gunned after: the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (The Shiites).

Since May 29th 2015, blood has flowed like a river across the face of Nigeria. We are not just talking about the blood of innocent Nigerians still being dispatched by Boko Haram suicide bombers in Borno State, even after the repeated “defeats” of the Islamic terrorists. We are not even talking about the gallant and patriotic efforts of our military to eliminate them and give peace a chance in the North East.

Since Buhari (the Grand Patron of Fulani cattle breeders association) assumed power, armed herdsmen militias have been killing Nigerians and driving them away from their homes across the nation, especially the Middle Belt and Southern states. Our dare-devil military, police and security agencies have either ignored the daily reports of the carnages or they merely made tepid efforts that never stopped the violence.

In fact, it is those who speak out against the killings and ask people to be vigilant or defend themselves since the state is unwilling to do so, that are being threatened with arrest by the Department of State Services, DSS. The Amnesty International has, surprisingly, failed to look into this to help draw the attention of the world to crimes against humanity akin to the Janjaweed Darfur Sudan genocides.

One wonders if it is because our military are not directly involved in these massacres? AI, however, has kept its eyes focused on episodes where the military turned its guns against unarmed Nigerians. In December 2015, the Shiites in Zaria, Kaduna State, provoked the military by confronting a convoy of its Service Chief, Lt. General Tukur Buratai.

 The army descended on the headquarters of the sect and some reports claimed that over 1,000 of its members were killed, though a Kaduna State Government bulletin admitted that 347 bodies were found in a secret mass grave. Up till today, the leader of the group, Ibrahim El Zakzaky, remains in detention. It should be noted that President Buhari and majority of Nigerian Muslims in the North are of the Sunni sect, which regards the Shiites as a mortal rival. The severity of the hit on the Shiites could be an expression of the political rivalry.

Also coinciding with the period that Buhari ascended to power were the belligerent and inciting broadcasts of Radio Biafra, a pirate radio run by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB. IPOB is an unarmed separatist group which continues to pursue its mission through non-violent protests. Buhari and his supporters see groups like IPOB as outfits raised against this regime, and their campaigns for the breakup of Nigeria gives the regime and its armed services self-justification to treat them in the same way they see Boko Haram.

IPOB has held a series of non-violent protests, rallies and prayer meetings in parts of the South East and South-South, and each occasion has resulted in shootings, arrests and allegations of disappearances, which the military always denies. However, evidences of secret massacres are mounting. In April 2016, the DSS reportedly uncovered 55 bodies in shallow graves in Abia State. The Service sensationally disclosed that five of the bodies belonged to people of Fulani stock and blamed IPOB for their killing.

But they failed to equally disclose the ethnic background of the rest of the 50 and who killed them, thus justifying the aforementioned jaundiced mindset shift in the military and security services of our country. On 24th November 2016, AI published a report accusing the military of killing and secretly burying 150 pro-Biafra protesters in Aba at a prayer meeting for the release of its detained members and the realisation of their separatist Biafra.

Amnesty’s report was based on its analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and testimonies of 146 eye-witnesses. And only recently, AI updated its country report on Nigeria and indicted the military for the death of 1967 individuals and the detention of over 1,000 people from December 2015 to February 2017; a charge that the military, through its spokesman Brigadier-General Rabe Abubakar, firmly disavowed. Instructively, 60 of these people were allegedly killed on 29th and 30th of May 2016 at Onitsha during the Biafra Remembrance Day by “the army, police, DSS and the Navy”, according to the AI report.

What a historic coincidence!: an international organisation connecting the days of darkness and blood in Nigeria perpetrated by the military on 30th of May 1967, with death figures fifty years later! I have written severally on this column that we should never bring back to power any military officer who fought in the civil war. They would always drag us back to the evil past.

I warned that Buhari, historically, had an axe to grind and would drag us back 30 to 50 years. It is playing out in vivid colours. Unfortunately, our armed forces and state security outfits, which had undergone great democratic reforms in the previous 16 years, have become a reflection of their commander-in-chief. The world is taking note of these trails of blood of unarmed civilians.

Our military should go beyond mere rebuttals and prove they are indeed a national institution which is there for the wellbeing of all Nigerians irrespective of their sectional backgrounds and political opinions. Our military and security agencies belong to no one and to everyone. Anything short of this is a betrayal of their constitutional mandate and sabotage of our nationhood.
*Nnanna is a commentator on public issues 

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