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Killers, Victims and Identities
By Olusegun Adeniyi
So much has been said about the many virtues of late Sheikh Goni Aisami Gashua, a popular Islamic cleric in Gashua, Yobe State. His murder by a soldier he was trying to help along the road is most reprehensible. The main suspect, Lance Corporal John Gabriel and accomplice, Lance Corporal Adamu Gideon (both of 241 Recce Model Battalion, Nguru) have been arrested and, according to the police, confessed to the crime. “My father Sheikh Goni Aisami was driving between Kano and Gashua in the Northeastern Yobe region when the soldier he gave a ride killed him and stole his Honda Accord 2006 model,” said a son of the deceased.
I commiserate with the family of the late Sheikh and call on authorities to bring the culprits to justice. We must also ensure that we work to sanitise our armed/security services by ridding them of potential criminals. I am particularly pleased that the suspects were caught with the stolen vehicle of the deceased and there is no attempt at cover-up by the military. “Let me tell you that at the end of the investigation, the soldiers will be made to face the full wrath of both military and civil laws,” Captain Kennedy Anyanwu, Assistant Director, Army Public Relations Headquarters Sector 2 Operation Hadin Kai, told Leadership newspaper. “This incident is highly regrettable given the sector’s disposition and zero tolerance for violation of code of conduct and rules of engagement for troops.”
Unfortunately, the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria (SCSN) has introduced a dangerous dimension to the tragedy in a manner that is detrimental to our national security. In an advert published in Daily Trust on Monday titled, ‘Sheikh Aisami’s Murder: One Too Many’, the narrative is no longer about a criminally minded soldier who coveted the Sheikh’s vehicle and resorted to murder but rather that Christian zealots killed him on behalf of some of us. That is the impression created by the authors of the advert, who gave a religious slant to the cleric’s murder.
After narrating the circumstances of the Sheikh’s murder, which is not different from the official account by the police, the SCSN then wrote: “…the gruesome murder of Aisami is one of the too many killings of Muslims by Christians Militia and a clear depiction of the level of enmity inculcated by some extremist Christian clergy in churches against Muslims and Islam through hate speeches and brainwashing preaching. This tragic event reinforces our earlier calls for justice for the brutal killings and kidnappings of Muslims, including women and children, by Christians across the country over the decades. These premeditated and well-coordinated attacks on Muslims will never be forgotten nor forgiven…”
As sad as the advert may be, there is a paragraph towards the end which, I believe, might have been the trigger: “The council observed the monumental display of unprofessional, biased reporting, and the hypocritical nature of the media in reporting such unfortunate cases when the plight of Muslim is involved. It’s ironic to imagine if Sheikh Aisami was a Christian cleric and the killer soldiers were Muslims, how the media will flood the news headlines with sensational captions. These deliberate attitudes and the propaganda tactics of the Christian Association of Nigeria deceived some Western nations to believing the blatant lies against Nigerian Muslims. Unfortunately, these lies led to the United States Embassy recently granting visas to some Christian Clergies to address a ‘powerful’ forum with the ridiculous story that Muslims have been killing Christians in Nigeria.”
I understand the point made by the Shari’ah Council because the media is not blameless on this issue, particularly when it comes to framing. And this is something we need to deal with as professionals. In their research paper in the American Pepperdine University Journal of Communication Research on ‘The Role of Media Framing in Crime Reports’, the trio of Kelsey Foreman, Cecilia Arteaga and Aushawna Collins speak to the issue of stereotyping, which can be used to generalize in order to make sense of a complicated environment. “However, the problem arises when stereotypes are negative and are used to create false perceptions of an entire race or group of people that others perceive as true. When the media frames a story in a way that upholds harmful and discriminatory stereotypes, there is a greater chance that the viewer will apply those to entire groups of people.”
By emphasizing differences, a number of media practitioners in Nigeria have over the years helped to promote crowd mentality that has in turn created deadly stereotypes in our communities. We are already witnessing the ugly consequences. So, as unhelpful as the statement by the Shari’ah Council may seem, the accusation is not without foundation. One can also see an element of attack being the best defence in it. Indeed, to better situate the SCSC advert, one may also need to read the executive summary of events in Nigeria in the first half of this year as captured by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law which reported on the ‘egregious and industrial scale’ massacre of Christians between January and June 2022, including by members of the security forces. According to the report, “no fewer than 2,543 defenseless Christians have been killed in the past six months by the country’s Jihadists and their partners in crime within the country’s security forces.”
While 915 of these Christians were killed in the first quarter of the year, according to Intersociety, 1,628 were murdered between April and June 2022. “The breakdown shows that the military and other security forces accounted for 300 deaths and 50 permanent disappearances while the country’s Jihadists accounted for 2,193 others. Among the dead were 140 abducted citizens, representing 10% of the total number of abducted Christians in the past six months estimated at 1,401. Added to total number of the slain Christians were 100 deaths representing the ‘dark figures of crime’ or those killed but not statistically captured or recorded.”
It is tragic that our national security challenge is now being framed around religious identity. Outside the Northeast where the military have been battling insurgents who claim to be fighting for God, the perpetrators of other heinous crimes we see all over the country should be called out for who they are without attaching religion. But having failed to forge a nation out of our diversity, and with a penchant for mismanaging enormous human and material resources, resorting to manufacturing, manipulating and magnifying artificial differences is also typical. Sadly, it can only compound our problems. When you bring identity-based division to the arena of criminal justice administration by creating a ‘We-Versus-Them’ scenario, it is the entire society that suffers.
As the late Russian author of the famous ‘The Gulag Achipelago’ and Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn once reminded us, the line separating good and evil passes not through the artificial differences created by identities but rather “through every human heart.” Whatever may therefore be the religious affiliation they claim or the ethnic group they belong, criminals should be isolated and dealt with according to the law. Besides, in a plural society such as ours, cheap resort to profiling in matters of law and order not only creates and perpetuates a poisonous social environment, but it also makes peaceful co-existence very difficult. It becomes even more dangerous when the profiling is associated with a crime as heinous as homicide.
In a milieu where bandits now ‘arrest’ thieves for the police, it is evident that we are in a serious crisis of national security. And to that extent, the killing of Sheikh Aisami by soldiers who ordinarily should hold criminals to account deserves a more rigorous investigation because it presupposes that we have enlisted hardened criminals into our armed forces. But by resorting to emotional hysteria, we run the risk of turning it into a battle between adherents of the two dominant religions. Narratives about the identity of criminals across religious divides are not only dangerous, they explain why mutual tolerance is withering in our country today.
More troubling is that joining such groupthink defines daily living in Nigeria. In a bid to pull down the “others” who have been created as a result of the mismanagement of our diversity, you stand the risk of being attacked by the mob, if you stay out of the fray. That reality is reflected in the political narratives to which we are daily inundated, especially on social media as we inch towards the crucial 2023 general election. But one thing is sure: Whether it is about religion or ethnicity, those who promote identity politics to justify criminality are not interested in our commonalities nor do they place premiums on universal experiences or distinct variations of individual citizens.
Meanwhile, to the extent that religion plays a crucial part in forming identity and values, the fact that the majority of Nigerians are either Christian or Muslim is ordinarily a good thing. If only a tenth of the number of fanatical adherents of these faiths who populate our public space stay true to their preachments, Nigeria could be a better country. The challenge is that this profession of faith is not reflected in our national character or for that matter the behaviour of individual citizens. I once recounted the story of armed robbery suspects who in September 2014 were paraded in Lagos. They claimed to be Christians and Muslims. Asked whether they ever used charms, one of them replied: “We don’t use charms but what we do before any operation is serious prayers to God. During such a prayer session, we usually ask God to protect us and ensure that the only people we rob are sinners.”
It is that sort of warped mindset that explains why, despite the fact that no public or private business is ever conducted in our country without supplication to God to “take control”, personal gains as opposed to public good still drive most outcomes. And, as I also once argued on this page, notwithstanding the mutual antagonism by adherents of the two foremost religions, when it comes to looting public treasuries, there is usually collaboration between and among public officials who profess both faiths.
Whatever may be the real or perceived provocation from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) or the perception of partiality in media framing, the religious identity of the killers of Sheikh Aisami should not be an issue. What is more important is to bring them to justice and ensure that such undesirable elements no longer find their way into our armed forces. In the interest of peaceful co-existence, we need to return Sheikh Aisami’s murder and the several other killings to the domain of the crisis of insecurity and the rule of law in Nigeria. Only in that context does it have broader meaning. If such a prominent citizen can be so casually murdered on a highway by someone he was trying to help, one can then imagine the fate of the ordinary Nigerian whose death in similar circumstances is not even likely to be reported.
That precisely is the national security challenge that we must all come to terms with, regardless of the faith we profess.
How Much of Nigeria Do You Know?
While I operate on the margins of Twitter (the only social media platform I engage outside WhatsApp), I have made it a point of duty to read whatever @DrJoeAbah tweets. I always find contributions by the former Director General of Bureau of Public Service Reforms very witty, pithy and loaded with wisdom. So, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when he gave me copy of a book, ‘Nigerians in Theory…Our Quirks, Habits and Idiosyncrasies’ which he recently co-authored with Ms Yemi Adasanya.
Divided into 170 ‘chapters’ with such themes as Socialisation, Economy, Media, Lifestyle, Leadership/Politics, Family and relationship etc. the 375-page book contains many of Abah’s Twitter ‘propositions’ that, at different times, elicited discussions on the platform. They speak to living and livelihood in Nigeria in a way that would make readers laugh and cry at the same time. Some of the nuggets include, “You are more likely to watch a ‘miracle’ on television or hear about it than witness it”; “When people don’t hear or understand what you say, they are more likely to laugh sheepishly than ask for a repeat or an explanation”; “Anyone who taps a microphone twice is likely to make a long speech”; “The more wretched a Director in the Nigerian civil service looks, the wealthier they are likely to be”.
I am sure Nigerians and those who have resided in our country for some time would not find it difficult situating the foregoing but there are more: “Anyone who calls you ‘Chairman’ or ‘Excellency’ is about to beg for money”; “When your child starts saying, ‘Off the light’, your house-help is likely to be more present in their life than you are”; “The more money is sprayed in public, the more likely it is that the money is from an illegal source”; “After a speech/presentation, a Nigerian MC will always ask for a second round of applause”; “People who drink a bottle of Coke for more than an hour are likely to have added cough syrup”; “Nigerians are likely to use seatbelt because of the Federal Road Safety Corps than for their own safety”.
For those whose livelihood revolves around ‘cancelling’ other people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc., the book also speaks to them, but my courage fails me so let me spare myself the ordeal of their abuse. But at least, they can take these: “Nigerian ‘yoot’ are more likely to feel smarter about little money made from ‘runs’ than about big money made from work”; “People who steal tweets are more likely to embezzle public funds if given a chance”.
Meanwhile, Nigeria will be a far better country if only the National Assembly will hear this and do something about it during the next Constitutional amendment: “Africans are more likely to honour oaths (including oaths of office) taken with native Juju than with the Bible or Quran.” But then, why should our lawmakers commit class suicide? And then these for the home-front: “Men who are good at cooking are less likely to help their wives in the kitchen”; “Couples that kiss in public are more likely to quarrel in private”; “Drivers that straddle two lanes are more likely to straddle more than one partner.”
The combined professional strengths of Abah, a respected technocrat and public intellectual and Adesanya, a chartered accountant, shine through this brilliant and easy-to-read collection which provides useful resource materials, especially for foreigners seeking a better understanding of the constitutional make-up of the average Nigerian. With penetrating insights, Abah and Adesanya want Nigerians to read the book and “recognise themselves in it” with expectation that “it will aid non-Nigerians in understanding how the Nigerian mind works on some key issues.”
WORDS ON MABLE
“Essentially, there are two ways countries end up with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). One is voluntary when they ask IMF for help, or when things get to the grind where they simply have no other option. I don’t see Nigeria going to the IMF voluntarily. It’s a hot issue here in Nigeria. But the honest truth is that if we don’t address our fiscal challenges in a sensible and sustainable manner, we may end up unwillingly with the IMF. We are not there yet. But we could as much stop digging. There is a maxim that if you find yourself in a pit, you should stop digging and start climbing out. If we continue to fund regressive deficits, it is tantamount to continuing to dig. If we continue to pass on reasonable opportunities to increase revenues by introducing taxes, it is tantamount to continuing digging. Even though I said we should not cut expenditure in total, we need to get more efficient in our spending. If we don’t do that again, it is tantamount to continuing to dig.”— Director General, Budget Office of the Federation (BoF), Mr Ben Akabueze on Nigeria’s rising fiscal headwinds and the challenges ahead.
- You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on olusegunadeniyi.com