By Olusegun Adeniyi
‘One life taken in cold blood is as gruesome as a million that may go down in a pogrom’—Dele Giwa (1947-1986)
Having read the 2010 book, ‘Sudan: Darfur and the Failure of an African State’ I am not surprised that the power struggle between the two most senior military leaders in Sudan has exploded into a shooting war in which Khartoum is now effectively another killing field. “Nothing in Sudan has just happened; the catalogue of disasters, diseases and death have all been man-made,” wrote Richard Cockett, a former editor of the London ‘Economist’ more than a decade ago. “Even the killings in Darfur were allowed to take place because it suited the interests of some politicians and nations. The oil hungry Chinese, meddling Western politicians, spineless African leaders, shamefully silent activists, land greedy Arab tribes, myopic Sudanese politicians, all share responsibility for the tragedy of Sudan.”
With the United Kingdom, Canada, and other Western countries finding it increasingly difficult to evacuate their nationals from a country where law and order has broken down, we must commend the federal government for the efforts to move Nigerian students to Egypt. There are also lessons to learn from the remote and immediate causes of the current tragedy in Sudan. Youth protests for greater accountability and a better living standard ultimately toppled Omar Al Bashir’s 30-year dictatorship in 2019, after which the military hijacked power. And those young Sudanese who risked their lives must now be asking themselves salient questions. But interrogating this familiar tragedy on the continent raises so many issues competing for attention that Sudan may have to wait for another day.
For us in Nigeria, especially, latest reports about the leaked American intelligence documents describing an effort by Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group to recruit rebels as part of an “evolving plot to topple the Chadian government” should concern our authorities. According to the report published in the ‘Washington Post’ on Monday, the documents detail a discussion in February this year between Wagner’s leader, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and his associates about the timeline and facility for training an initial group of rebels in Avakaba (a city in Central African Republic), close to the Chadian border, and the route that Wagner would use to transport them.
There are many critical issues here but let us isolate just two. A crisis in Chad is a crisis in Nigeria, given the proximity and associated security issues. Besides, in a divided country like ours with abundant mineral resources, what stops these mercenaries from extending their network to Nigeria once they succeed in installing a puppet regime in N’djamena? These are the kinds of scenarios that the Intelligence community in other countries would be looking at and I hope our people are watching the situation in Chad.
However, as important as the Chadian issue or even the crisis in Sudan may be, it will help to also pay attention to developments in Malindi, Kenya, where dozens of corpses of the ‘Good News International Church’ members are being exhumed. These unfortunate victims of religious brainwashing were reportedly persuaded by their pastor to starve themselves to death on their way to heaven. Meanwhile, the Pastor himself is alive, even when some of the emaciated survivors of his chicanery are refusing help. “When we tried to administer first aid to give her sips of water with glucose with a spoon, she sealed her mouth and was signifying that she doesn’t want any help,” it was reported of a woman. A man in his 40s said he was in his senses and should be left alone. “He even called us enemies of him going to heaven.”
With videos of some Nigerian ‘Men of God’ stepping on the heads of their congregants or asking them to eat grass, which they gladly abide by, we should pay attention to what is happening in Malindi. Some of these characters have asked their members of the opposite sex to go naked and do all kinds of crazy things. With a cocktail of ignorance, poverty and superstition, millions of Nigerians can easily fall prey to these conjurers. If we are therefore not careful, the tragedy of Malindi is not too far away. In any case, we have also seen that in the Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions of our people in the Northeast: It is also about going to heaven where, according to what they believe, several virgins are waiting for these bloody zealots!
We will have to leave religion and the tragic developments in Sudan, Chad, and Kenya for the moment. My concern today derives from a story in the PUNCH newspaper of Tuesday. According to the report, two people accused of being behind a thunder strike at Ikyve in the Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State were buried alive by irate youths. Let’s take the story from PUNCH: “A man identified as Henry Ihwakaa alongside his wife and a child were reportedly struck by thunder on Saturday in the community. Irked by the incident, youths from the area were said to have mobilised and apprehended the father of the alleged thunder victim, Ihwakaa and another elderly man purported to be his collaborator.
“The youths were said to have dug a shallow grave and buried them alive. A community leader in the area, Baba Agan, who claimed to have reported the case to the police at Tse Agbaragba, the headquarters of the local government, said before policemen could get to the village, the two elderly people had died. ‘There was a light rain that day (last Saturday) accompanied by thunder which hit a young man, his wife, and a two-week-old child and the three people died. As a result of that, youths in the village mobilised and went to the house of the father of the young man whose name is Henry and the father’s name is Ihwakaa. They attacked him and an elderly man, dug a grave and buried them alive,’ Agan said.
“It was, however, learnt that when a police team arrived at the scene, the two victims had already died in the grave and their bodies were exhumed. When contacted on Monday, the state Police Public Relations Office, SP Sewuese Anene, confirmed the incident. Anene said two suspects have been arrested in connection with the incident while an investigation was ongoing. The PPRO who said only one person was buried alive, however, warned members of the public against jungle justice, urging aggrieved persons to always report any case of disagreement to the police for necessary action.”
Since I read the story on Tuesday, I have been very disturbed. That people would bury another person alive is beyond frightening. And so is the rationalization for the gruesome murder. But if there is anything we can take from the immortal words of the late Dele Giwa with which I opened this column, it is that no matter our pretensions to the contrary, the Nigerians crisis is not much different from that of Sudan.
I have written before that the list of extra-judicial killings in Nigeria is as long as that of the “offences” for which the victims are accused. Following the daylight murder in July 2012 in Ekiti State of a 70-year-old woman, Mrs. Rebecca Adewumi, who was tortured to death by rampaging youths because her rival claimed to have seen her (Mrs Adewumi) in a dream tormenting her son, I did an intervention titled ‘Apani Ma Wagun, Olokiki Oru’. In 2008, after a commercial motorcycle (Okada) rider hit a woman on Aba/Port Harcourt Expressway in the Rivers State capital, he claimed that he saw three cats crossing the road and that it was after hitting one that it turned into a woman. The hapless victim of a careless Okada rider was instantly pounced upon and clubbed to death.
Whichever way we look at all these issues, they are by no means isolated. They tell a compelling story about our country and the absence of the rule of law. A United States-based public affairs commentator, Dr Churchill Okonkwo, once summed it up this way: “From the political class that hire thugs to kill opponents; the bandits, kidnappers and ‘killer herdsmen’ that kill at will; the mob and onlookers that stone a suspected petty thief to death and ethnic warlords that burn and kill for every little communal dispute, our cultural orientation appears to permit killing without a good reason.”
It is difficult to fault Churchill. We place no premium on human life in Nigeria. And we can see the consequences in every area of our national life, including our politics, notorious for impunity and absence of accountability. That’s why some could gather after a natural occurrence like lightning to accuse another person(s) of being responsible and then proceed from there to conduct life burial. I hope the police will bring the perpetrators of this most heinous crime in Benue to justice.
Meanwhile, I am aware that in a season of transition such as we are in today in Nigeria, the main obsession is about power politics. I have no problem with that. But it will also serve us not to miss the essence of this tragedy. That a discernible jungle ethos now defines living and livelihoods in Nigeria should concern critical stakeholders. When you run a system in which the life of the ordinary citizen can be so casually taken on such flimsy grounds and in this most bestial manner, all else is forfeit.
Oby Ezekwesili at 60
Love her or hate her, Mrs Obiageli (Oby) Ezekwesili, who tomorrow marks her 60th birthday, has made a significant impact in our nation. A chartered accountant, public servant, and activist, Ezekwesili has at different times played critical roles on the Nigerian scene, the African continent and in the global arena. Although she started out in the private sector, she was always at the forefront of the conversation on how to bring transparency and accountability into government business. And she has lived by what she preaches.
Right from the time she was first appointed head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (popularly known as Due Process Unit) by former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the inception of the current democratic dispensation, Ezekwesili has remained a force for good. But what I particularly remember is the critical pioneering and leadership role she played in the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) as founding chairperson.
On her stewardship in government where she held different portfolios, including Solid Minerals and Education, there can be no better tribute than the one by President Olusegun Obasanjo that I have been privileged to read: In every public role she has played, according to the former president, Ezekwesili has demonstrated uncommon integrity, dedication to duty and strength of character.
It is therefore most fitting that Ezekwesili today enjoys the reward enunciated in the Biblical book Proverbs 22 verse 29: When you are diligent in what you do, you will stand before kings, not mere men. Ezekwesili has, at different times, been named in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) 100 Women, TIME 100 Most Influential People, New York Times 25 Women of Impact, Albert Einstein’s Foundation’s Genius:100 Visions of the Future etc.
As my own dear sister, Oby Ezekwesili turns 60, I wish her happy birthday, long life, and good health.
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