It needs perhaps to be made clear to Buhari and members of Nigeria’s army and Police; that the most fundamental purpose of government is the protection of life and property. Indeed, the evolution of the state itself was premised on the surrender of the overwhelming freedoms and rights man held in a state of nature—where each man was the law unto himself and only the fittest survived as was elaborately analysed in Thomas Hobbes Leviathan. With the surrender of those natural rights to the state/an organised overarching authority, the state took over the hitherto individual responsibility to protect lives and property which inevitably became its most important responsibility having been the raison d’être for which it came into existence in the first place.
While there are many rights and benefits that a state can offer its citizens, none of those rights can be enjoyed except the right to life is first secured from whence it becomes possible to enjoy other rights. The trade-off between man in his desire to maintain his unfettered natural rights in a state of nature and the surrender of those rights to a state authority was thus primarily anchored on the unassailable logic and necessity for the state to provide security and protect lives and property as a fundamental function of the state. But when the same state and its security agents now turn its guns and kill the same defenceless citizens it is trained and paid to protect and for which it owes its very existence then something must be very wrong and the legitimacy of the state comes into question. That is exactly what happened in Aba on the 9th of February (bloody Tuesday) when the Nigerian army shot and massacred in cold blood scores of unarmed IPOB pro-Biafra members while they were holding prayers in a school premises in Aba.
Such cowardly killing of unarmed civilians and citizens, whom the state primarily exists to protect, more so in an administration that championed the idea of change, is an act of monumental savagery and an abhorrent assault on human dignity and the social contract from which the state earned its existence. Not even mad dogs deserve to be killed like that. Most importantly, it is a crime against humanity as recognised by the Nigerian constitution, the United Nations charter, the African charter on human and people’s rights and all statutes of law—for even in war, there are rules of engagement that expressly forbid the killing of civilians, combatants or soldiers who have surrendered and prisoners of war in general. It beggars belief that Nigeria is not at war, yet the army is killing defenceless civilians; an act that would be considered a crime even by the brutish standards of war. The Aba massacre and the general mishandling of the Biafra issue is just another demonstration that no lessons have been learnt from Nigeria’s bloodied history and the ongoing Boko Haram terrorist insurgency.
Lest we forget, the pogrom in the 60’s led to the needless civil war that lasted almost 3 years. The incessant killing of peaceful Niger-Delta agitators and execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni 9 in trumped up charges led to the rise of the movement for the emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) that engaged the security services in deadly conflict until Yar’Adua’s administration negotiated for a peaceful resolution through an amnesty programme. In the same vein, the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram members and in particular the extra-judicial execution of their leader Mohammed Yusuf in 2009 led to the evolution of Boko Haram into a terrorist insurgency that is now classified the deadliest in the world; far ahead of Al Qaeda and ISIS. If therefore, any lessons can be learnt from history, it is that every violent encounter in Nigeria most often comes with a violent consequence that far supersedes that which originated it. Thus the recent massacre of Shiites in Zaria and the brutal massacre of unarmed IPOB members while they were holding prayers in Aba have the potential to ignite new insurgencies that the already fragile Nigerian state and weakened security forces cannot cope with.
In spite of the obvious risks and the lessons of history, Buhari’s antagonistic approach to dealing with long standing issues of nationhood that are better resolved through dialogue which democracy thankfully affords—indicates he is more intent on creating new theatres of conflict. Yet, an insurgency in the East and elsewhere adding to the already gruelling Boko Haram imbroglio and widening embers of discord across the nation is one that is certainly guaranteed the Nigerian army cannot win given the nature of insurgency itself and the dynamics of the present times. Besides too much blood has been shed already for Nigeria’s sake and it’s time to negotiate a permanent peace so that the nation can develop, reach its potentials and particularly for an administration that promised change show that issues can be resolved peacefully in our clime. As I am writing the British PM David Cameron has fixed June 23rd for a referendum on its membership of the European Union. This came after exhaustive negotiations with the EU. In 2014 Scotland held a referendum on self rule from the United Kingdom.
The world over; civilised peoples deal with issues of grievances, dissent and self determination in a peaceful and democratic manner— through negotiations and if need be through referendums as recognised by international law, this is after all the 21st century. It is only in Africa with leaders like Buhari that every issue leads to bloodletting, willy-nilly reinforcing the stereotype of Africa as a primitive continent of endless conflicts. The Nigerian army and Police already have a sordid history of human rights violations, which informed the ban on weapons sales by the United States and European Union countries. Paradoxically, Buhari had campaigned on change and the expectation was that his administration would end all forms of human rights violations by the security services. But rather than ending it, his administration has made it worse with more than 1000 innocent civilians killed and wounded by the army and police in just 9 months of his administration. In so doing, he has shown himself not to be a peacemaker but an antagonist one that is determined to widen the zones of conflict and ethno-religious divisions in Nigeria.
But this is a road that will lead nowhere but to destruction and other unintended consequences. More than anything else Nigeria needs peace, not another insurgency—and it’s not too late for Buhari to vindicate his much vaunted change ideal; by reigning in the security services, punish the erring ones and become a peacemaker rather than a warmonger for the good of the country.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu