Nigeria’s killing fields
If our claim to being an irreducible part of civilised humanity is to be validated, we must meet an acceptable degree of adherence to the norms that guarantee that level of life that is superior to that of a people at their inchoate stage of development. For what entitles us to be a part of civilised humanity when the robust allowance we ought to make for the sanctity of human life is non-existent? If we all take it as a given that respect for human life is a fundamental principle of a civilised society, then we must come to the grim realisation that as a people we still have so much work to do to remain part of the civilised world. For clearly, the ascendancy of the disdain for the sanctity of human life in our society daily spawns crises with their attendant loss of lives. If these deaths were only caused by Boko Haram, there would have been the tragic consolation that the perpetrators are only irredeemable and blood-sucking lunatics on the fringes of humanity.
The first step towards retrieving the society from its self-affliction of the warped norms that nurture violence is that our political leaders must not recoil from the responsibility of admitting that they were the ones who first torpedoed the rules of mutual engagement that foster trust between the leaders and the citizens. In them is reposed the trust of using the nation’s resources to improve the lot of all the people. But on almost every occasion, this trust is often injudiciously requited. They cater to their selfish interest – buying mansions they do not need, buying private jets to escape the pothole-ridden roads they fail to repair and acquiring wives and mistresses in conformity with their sybaritic lives . This state of mutual distrust is expressed in an aggravated form through ethnic suspicion. The tragic consequence is that thousands are killed on account of unfathomable or the flimsiest provocation. It is this mutual suspicion that provides the ground for the perpetuation of the inter-ethnic feud as the case of the Agatu community where hundreds were allegedly killed by herdsmen. In the case of the people of Agatu and the herdsmen, we may make an allowance for the possibility that a lack of constant interactions has over the years exacerbated this mutual distrust. But how could there be mutual distrust among people who intermingle almost daily in the course of business or living in the same neighbourhood? This is the puzzle that the tragic clash between traders of different ethnic origins threw up in Lagos recently.
Now, rather than work towards the erasure of this mutual tension, our political leaders are preoccupied with how to plunge us further into the murky cesspool of inter- and intra-ethnic suspicion with its attendant bloodbath. Take for instance how our leaders engage in politics at any level. With the peaceful transition of political power at the national level last year, there was the heightened hope that the nation had at last inaugurated an enduring component of the democratic experience. Most Nigerians felt that at last the incubus of violence that often jinxed the critical moments of political transitions at the council, state and federal levels had been exorcised. Ostensibly, they thus tended to dismiss as a red herring any complaint that violence discredited the elections that held in some communities.
Still, we have recurrent political violence to contend with. For violence is a perennial marker of the lack of the development of our political experience – the nation’s democratic project still has a very long way to go before it becomes a veritable means of transforming lives. It is because violence has become an indispensable part of our political experience that it offers little or no surprise that ahead of the state and National Assembly rerun polls fixed for March 19,2016 in Rivers State, there has been so much crisis triggered by politicians. The grisly statistics: a man, his wife and son were shot dead; and a middle-aged man, was hacked down and burnt. These are apart from kidnappings of political opponents or their relations. This pall of violence has made some of the 300 lecturers of the University of Port Harcourt including the vice chancellor who have been listed as ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission to insist on not participating in the supervision of the rerun. Indeed, our politicians have failed to learn any lessons. No lessons have been learnt from the tragedies of the Rivers and Bayelsa state governorship elections that kept the nation on the brink.
Violence has seemingly besmeared our politics inexorably because those who perpetrate it to realise their political ambitions are never punished.They would have their way and when they get to office, they are the ones who would prate before the citizens about how much they love the country and in fact, it is their love for their people that have made them to abandon their thriving businesses and propelled them into public service. It is not, therefore, surprising that when these politicians get to the office, they would not serve the people’s interest. They have invested blood and money to get their positions. They would do anything to make their investments pay – of course, only themselves. Now that it is clear that the path to the rerun elections is paved with blood and tears, the police, other security agencies and the government should take more interest in how to make the exercise peaceful. We must not wait until more blood has been shed before we bewail our bleak lot.
Apart from protecting the lives of the citizens, such an intervention is urgently needed to avoid discrediting the electoral process. For how can we regard the electoral process as credible when the majority of the voters do not participate in it because of the fear of violence ? Those who use violence as a weapon of electoral victory easily write their own results that mark them out as winners when others avoid the election because of violence. It is not enough for politicians to lose the people’s mandate on the electoral battlefield and latch on to technical reasons offered by a court to be declared the winners of elections. There must be a level playing field for all stakeholders. In this regard, the government owes the citizens the duty of stopping these senseless killings by politicians and their surrogates. Neither the perpetrators of these murders nor the government should take the patience of the victims for granted. If the perpetrators would not voluntarily desist from these killings, the government must stop them by meting out appropriate sanctions to them and ensuring justice for the victims. Or else, through the government’s inaction which may be covert complicity, the nation may be on the path of proliferating killing fields.
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