The Nigerian killing fields – Thisday

The authorities could do more to contain the growing familiar menu of violence

The year 2018 started on a sore note following a spate of violence that took the lives of several citizens in different theatres across the country. While we commiserate with the families of the victims, we call on the authorities to fish out the perpetrators and bring them to justice. This is important, especially in a crucial election season that we are about to enter.

The madness started in Rivers, just a few minutes after the new year was ushered in, when some gunmen in Omoku in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government areas of the state went on a shooting spree at the end of which no fewer than 14 persons, said to be returning home from their various places of worships, were mown down. At about the same time, scores of gunmen also invaded Arak village in Sango local government of Kaduna State, killing the traditional ruler, Dr Gambo Makama and his pregnant wife. In Ilorin, Kwara State, several persons were injured following an attack on both Christian and Muslim worshippers who were marking the New Year.

However, perhaps the most bestial of these violent acts were those that drew both the ire and tears of the Benue State Governor, Mr Samuel Ortom. On New Year day, some suspected herdsmen invaded five communities in Benue State, killing no fewer than 20 of the villagers who were returning from the New Year eve service. Despite some hollow promises from Abuja, the Benue killings have continued in what is fast becoming a premeditated genocide that can only breed reprisal attacks and an endless spiral of bloodletting.

While we condemn in the strongest terms the growing brutality targeted at innocent Nigerians, we are worried that these incessant attacks can only worsen the general feeling of insecurity. As we had cause to point out recently, perhaps aside the 30-month civil war, Nigeria has never been so threatened by security challenges as it is today. But this culture of impunity persists because the relevant security agencies have not succeeded in apprehending the entrepreneurs of violence so as to bring them to justice. The authorities must therefore see the tragedies as a challenge not only to our corporate existence but also to the future of a country that is fast becoming a killing field.

In a 2013 report titled “Leave Everything to God: Accountability for Inter-Communal Violence in Plateau and Kaduna States, Nigeria”, released by the United States’ Human Rights Watch, the federal government was accused of ignoring every “horrific sectarian violence” even when children and women were victims. The report put much of the blame for the culture of impunity in the country on “an already broken criminal justice system” while “the Nigerian authorities have taken no meaningful steps to address underlying grievances” or bring to justice those responsible for the bloodshed.

However, Human Rights Watch did not only identify the problems, it also proffered some solutions that have largely been ignored. The group urged the federal government to ensure that mass killings were swiftly and properly investigated; and shun discriminatory policies that helped fuel ethnic tensions and treat inter-communal violence as a criminal, rather than political, problem. “Nigerian authorities can and should take urgent steps to ensure that the perpetrators of communal violence, including mass murder, are investigated and prosecuted, and that victims are provided restitution or compensation for their enormous losses,” the report said.

Not only were the suggestions never heeded, the challenge of the moment is that the federal government is most often seen as either taking sides in some of these conflicts while the responses of the security agencies do not help to allay the fears of the affected people. But perhaps greater danger lies in the fact that even if people got killed, as we have witnessed in recent days, Nigerians move on – unperturbed. This is fast depicting us as a people who place little or no premiums on human lives.

The culture of impunity persists because the relevant security agencies have not succeeded in apprehending the entrepreneurs of violence so as to bring them to justice

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