I knew it would come to this. I knew that the murderers of Mrs Bridget Agbahime, the 74-year-old Igbo Christian trader killed by irate Muslim youths at Kofar Wambai market in Kano would not be brought to book. I knew that the typical political Nigerian-speak, “We will ensure that the culprits of this dastardly act are brought to book,” is only a euphemism for intrigues, betrayals and cover-ups. I knew that the political, religious and traditional powers that be would ensure that the case is silenced and that nothing comes out of it. I knew all of these when I wrote my article, “The Media and Extrajudicial Killings” published in Thisday of September 12, 2016.
In that piece I argued that the Nigerian news media ought to stay on course and, with patience and persistence, pursue issues regarding human rights violations to their logical conclusion in order to hold political leaders accountable. I spoke in favour of what I termed ‘protest writing’ and ‘protest broadcast’ in media practice in order to highlight the seriousness of such issues and bring to the consciousness of media practitioners the huge moral obligation that they have to “to take sides with the powerless against the depredations of power.”
When the news filtered into the public domain late last year that the five young Muslim culprits who were arrested and arraigned for the gruesome murder of Mrs Agbahime, have been set free – “discharged and acquitted” – on frivolous grounds by a Kano Magistrates Court, I wasn’t any bit surprised. As I said, I knew it would come to this. That has been the outrageous pattern of gross human rights violation in Nigeria. Like a national ritual, whenever something tragic happens, our security and intelligence agencies run around and get busy for a few days. Political leaders come out to assure us that the culprits would be brought to book and that every possible effort will be made to forestall a repeat of such tragic incidents. End of discussion! We return to business as usual and wait until another tragedy happens. And the national ritual starts all over again.
Has anyone heard anything about the killers of Mrs Eunice Elisha, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) pastor who was murdered in Kubwa, Abuja, during the early hours of June 9, 2016 when she went out to preach? Has anyone heard anything about the eight students of Abud Gusau Polytechnic in Talata Marafa, Zamfara State, who were set ablaze on August 22, 2016 by some fanatical Muslim youths on allegations of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed?
Fifteen years have passed since a famous Nigerian Minister of Justice was murdered in cold blood in his Ibadan residence. Has the slain Minister of Justice found justice? As I noted in my Thisday article, “We can count many other illustrious and unknown Nigerians who have suffered a similar fate. For many people, Nigeria is simply a jungle, a modern version of the Hobbesian state where human life is brutish, nasty and short, but also valueless. If not, how could criminals get away with blood-stained hands, in such manner that makes laughable the acclaimed professionalism and investigative rigour of our security and intelligence agencies?”
Frankly speaking, there is something downright sickening about a nation that has no regard for human life. As a people and as a nation, we have become so accustomed to scenes of bloodshed to such an alarming degree that the wanton destruction of human lives no longer generates any sense of moral revulsion in us. Every day in this country, the consciousness of human life being sacred and inviolable is gradually being depleted as we witness gruesome violence and deaths in alarming proportions. Our country is fast becoming an endless theatre of sanguinary, daily watered by the blood of innocent citizens.
The sad part of it is that in the eyes of many Nigerians, tragedies claiming multiple human lives have become “one of those things.” We talk about them soberly, mourn for a few days and get on with life as usual. But for as long as our leaders continue to politicise human lives and human deaths and vacillate where they should take a tough stand against criminal acts, they are setting the stage for an eventual showdown, a clash of “titanic forces” that is destined to consume us all.
In his classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, the great English novelist Charles Dickens, narrates how brewing public resentment and outrage against the excesses of French kings, nobles, aristocrats and high clergy fast tracked the dawn of social revolution – the deluge of blood – which consumed many lives. In Dickens’ novel, we see how a society of spectacle and glamour, without regard for the miseries and injustices suffered by the poor masses can rapidly degenerate into an insatiable hunger for glamorous show of horror and violent caprice. As always, no government that asserts its power in the form of public exhibition can guarantee control of its audience’s reaction.
This much was implied in the editorial of Thisday of November 11, 2016, which reported the outrageous acquittal of Mrs Agbahime’s suspected murderers: “As relations of the suspects who gathered at the court premises rolled out the drums, celebrating their wards’ release, an angry Christian community raged with anger, condemning the turn of events as provocative and subversive of years of efforts to restrain adherents of their faith from retaliating serial fatal attacks.”
I am sick and tired of hearing news of preventable deaths in this country. I am tired of the conspiracy of the Nigerian political elite against the poor fellows who have nobody in the pyramid of power to fight their cause. I am absolutely sure that if the son or daughter of a Governor or a Minister or a Senator was killed in the manner in which poor Nigerians are being executed daily, something drastic would have happened by now.
We cannot continue on this path as a nation, where the lives of poor people do not matter but the lives of the rich matter. We cannot continue on this path where there are two Nigerias and two types of Nigerians: the Nigeria of the rich and powerful who get justice, and the Nigeria of the poor and powerless who suffer untold injustices. We must put an end to this Orwellian “animal farm” called Nigeria where some lives are more important than others. Unless we do this, we are on a long walk to anarchy. Thisday newspaper was therefore right when its editorial of November 11, 2016 promptly called on the Nigerian authorities to re-open investigations into the murder case and bring the murderers to book.
The ‘Prayer for Nigeria in Distress’ composed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in 1995 concluded by imploring the “God of justice, love and peace” to “spare this nation Nigeria from chaos, anarchy and doom.” That is my prayer for Nigeria!