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Until last Thursday afternoon, Mrs Bridget Abahime, an indigene of Orodo town, Mbaitoli LGA in Imo State was selling plastic materials at the popular Kofar Wambai market in Kano. An altercation with a neighbor with whom she reportedly had some disagreement led to the 74-year old woman being accused of speaking blasphemy. The mob moved in to complete the rest of the tragic story and today, Mrs Abahime is no more.
President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano and other critical stakeholders have all condemned the gruesome murder with the usual promise by the Police that the main suspects, who have already been apprehended, will be brought to justice. I am sorry to say, I have no faith in that pledge. While the authorities may express indignation over this specific murder, perhaps because of its wider implications, given our delicate fault-lines, it is important for us to also note that it is a familiar crime that will happen again.
The Kano tragedy particularly rankles because, as the 17th century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, pointed out, “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” But before we address the issue of “blasphemy”, we must first deal with the impulse that drives Nigerians to take the life of fellow citizens, most often without any rational justification.
In 2008, a commercial motorcycle (Okada) rider hit a woman on Aba/Port Harcourt Expressway in the Rivers State capital, claiming that he saw three cats crossing the road and that it was after hitting one of them that it turned to the woman. The poor victim of a careless ‘okada’ rider was immediately pounced upon and clubbed to death. The reporter who filed the story for a national newspaper obviously believed the cat-to-woman story too, so he gave no sympathy to the hapless woman who was brutally murdered–after all, she was a cat! You will find the story online.
There is also a video of an eleven year old boy named Samuel who was lynched because, according to the mob, he was TRYING to kidnap a school child like himself with N50. The image was shown on a private television station in Lagos. It didn’t matter to his accusers who were dragging him along concrete road that the boy was vehemently protesting his innocence as they hit him with dangerous objects before eventually setting him ablaze. That particular incident sparked an online campaign called “Don’t Walk Away”.
However, if that campaign meant anything, it made no impact on 21 July, 2013, when a 25-year-old undergraduate of Delta State University, Ifechukwude Nwainokpor, and his friend (identified simply as Kazeem) were attacked and beaten to death by a mob at the Ajara area of Badagry because “their faces looked strange in the neighborhood”. According to Mr. Samuel Nwainokpor, his son, Ifechukwude and his friend, Kazeem, were just passing through a street in the area when a misunderstanding ensued between them and some hoodlums who eventually handed them over to the Vigilante. If you are interested in how the two young men were murdered, just Google and you can read and watch the eight-minute gruesome video clip on your mobile handset.
Because of the outrage that followed that particular tragedy, the then spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Ngozi Braide, had this to say: “The incident is quite pathetic. Even if they were armed robbers, no one has the right to take the life of another. Why then do we have the police and the judiciary? The Nigerian police as well as the law condemn mob action and jungle justice. The commissioner of police has set up a high-powered investigation body to investigate the matter.”
Of course, we are yet to know the result of that “high-powered investigation body”. What we do know is that between then and now, there have been dozens of cases of extra-judicial killings of people “convicted” of robbery by the mob and you will find many of them on Youtube. Yet, as it happened in Kano, many of those Nigerians may not have committed the offence for which they were so exterminated by the mob. At least, that was the case with the ‘Aluu Four’, which is documented in Wikipedia as “necklace lynching”.
For those who may have forgotten, the ‘Aluu Four’ refers to the four undergraduates at the University of Port Harcourt–Chiadika Lordson; Ugonna Kelechi Obuzor, Mike Lloyd Toku and Tekena Elkana–who were roasted alive by a mob on 5th October, 2012 on the allegation that they were thieves. As it was later to be revealed, the students were actually attempting to collect a debt from a man who instigated the mob against them by alleging that the students were trying to steal laptops and mobile phones. The tragedy was captured live as those four promising undergraduates were brutalized, stripped naked and burnt. According to Wikipedia, “the crime further exposed the ‘jungle justice’ or ‘mob justice’ which was still prevalent in many of Nigeria’s poorer, more isolated communities, as well as exposed some loopholes in Nigeria’s law enforcement system.”
The manner in which it is so easy for just anybody to brand the other and secure immediate “conviction and punishment” in our country is so worrying. And if you want to be sure whether our country is better than a jungle, just do a simple online search on “Ejigbo pepper sellers” and see how a woman and her step-daughter were publicly violated in a most bestial manner before being tortured to death on grounds of an unproven allegation that they stole pepper at a market in Ejigbo, Lagos.
She is a witch. He is gay. They are thieves. And now, she has committed blasphemy! The moment somebody levels that sort of accusation against you in our country today, you will be lucky to survive the brutalities that will follow. And talking about gay, on 16th February this year, a father of three and personal assistant to a politician was beaten to death in Ondo State after being caught “assisting” his boss in the bedroom. If you are the type that grew up watching “Drakula” and looking at gory pictures, just go online and conduct a search on “gay man killed in Ondo” and you will have murder at its most bestial served you in full course.
There are just too many “Judges” in our society and they will “convict” and pass judgement on any “crime”. In September 2013, a man and woman were stripped and paraded naked in a village in Benue State. The woman was accused of adultery by sleeping with the man (with whom she was being molested) after the death of her husband. According to the mob, this was an offence against an oracle called ‘Alekwu’ in the town which punishes married women who “cheat” on their husbands, despite the fact that, in this particular instance, the man was already dead!
I can go and on because the list of extra-judicial killings in Nigeria is as long as that of the “offences” for which they are committed. In most instances, it takes the chant of one crazy fellow for these bloodthirsty hounds to appear from nowhere. And they are ever ready to kill just about anybody, perhaps because they always get away with it.
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 some 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”. That was after reading the moving account by Mrs Grace Smith, first daughter of the deceased who said her mother’s ordeal started at the palace of the Olomuo of Omuo Ekiti, Oba Noah Omonigbehin, where she (the late Mrs Adewumi) was accused of using witchcraft power to harm her step-son, by name Ola.
“On getting to Olomuo’s palace, the family was asked to come the following day at 6a.m. and on that day, the palace was full to the brim. My mother was then asked to undress to the pants, after which a series of questions were asked. She was then given a concoction (Obo leaf) said to make witches confess and die. My dear mother was told that she would die within seven days if she was involved in Ola’s matter. Nine days passed and nothing happened and I left for my base in Lagos. Three weeks after, on June 26, some youths in the town went to our house and brought out my mother and forced her to drink a poisonous item. They then took her outside into the rain where she was beaten and subjected to serious torture. When she was almost dying they took her back into her room and laid her on the bed. She died on June 30,” said Mrs Smith, daughter of the deceased.
Up till today, there is no indication that anybody has been brought to justice on account of that crime. But in a statement last weekend on the Kano tragedy, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon E. Arase, who confirmed the arrest of two key suspects said he had “directed the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in-charge of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID) to deploy the Homicide Section of the Department to immediately take over the investigation of the (Mrs Abahime’s murder) case and ensure a meticulous investigation and speedy prosecution of the arrested suspects”.
Although we have heard such declarations before, it is important that the culprits be brought to justice, especially against the background that five days before the Kano tragedy, one Methodus Emmanuel, a 24-year-old trader based in Padongari, Niger State was also killed by a mob over allegations of blasphemy. But it is comforting that we have political leaders who are sensitive enough to intervene on the Kano tragedy to avert a bigger problem.
It is in that context that one should commend Governors Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna) and Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar (Bauchi) as well as the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who on Tuesday met with the Ohaneze-Ndigbo leadership in Owerri. “We will not accept a situation where people, either Christians or Muslims, (would) hide under the umbrella of religion to commit crime. If someone had insulted God, the person should be left for God to take care of,” said el-Rufai.
That precisely is a message that needs to be preached in a society where several people are now playing God. I know many can only remember the 1995 sad case of Gideon Akaluka but in August 2008, a 50-year old Muslim man was also beaten to death in Kano for ‘blasphemy’ and just exactly one year ago, an Upper Sharia Court within the same city sentenced nine persons to death after they had nearly been killed by a mob on grounds that they committed blasphemy.
The trial in June last year was done in secret, and details of its proceedings were never made public, except for a terse statement by an official of the court by name Nasiru who confirmed that nine men had been tried under Section 110 and Section 382B of the Kano Shari’a Criminal Procedure Law (2000) and “are hereby sentenced to death” for blasphemy. Even the name of the judge who conducted the trial and passed the verdict remains a mystery till today. Against the background that the State Government hailed that verdict, nobody knows what has happened to those unfortunate men who incidentally happen to be Muslims.
I am not advocating disrespect for the tenets of any religion and I have no sympathy for those who make reckless and inciting statements about the faith of another person. But since the fundamental right of every citizen to life is guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution, it should worry the authorities that extrajudicial killings are becoming the norm in our country today. This is despite that even in cases of heinous offences which attract the death penalty, the State cannot execute anybody unless he or she has been convicted by a properly constituted court and availed the right of appeal to the highest court in the land.
That exactly was the message passed on Tuesday when the ECOWAS Court sitting in Abuja convicted the Federal Government and ordered it to pay damages of US$200,000 to each of the families of the eight men who were killed and US$150,000 to each of the 11 others that sustained injuries during a raid by soldiers on an uncompleted building in the Apo area of Abuja three years ago. Incidentally, when, following the tragedy, I wrote a column titled “SSS and the Apo Killings” for this page on 26th September 2013, it didn’t go down well with the authorities at the time.
I had written: “Even before stories began to filter within Abuja about the real identities of the victims of the Apo violence, it was obvious that the SSS statement just did not add up, especially given the patently false claim that nobody died. I watched (DSS Spokesperson, Mrs Marilyn) Ogar’s press conference and noticed how she was hesitant, tentative and edgy about the arms cache that were purportedly (her exact word) buried in the building where the gruesome execution was carried out. The fact that is coming to light, even from official quarters, is that the young men who were brutally gunned down were not Boko Haram members.”
I argued further: “if the state insists those killed were indeed Boko Haram members, it should do simple things to prove it: show us their weapons caches, provide reconnaissance tapes of the movements of the group before their execution, indicate how difficult it was to arrest them etc. But if otherwise, not only should the perpetrators of this most heinous crime be brought to book, there should be hefty compensation for the victims and their families. It cannot be the duty of the Nigerian state to mastermind the progressive erosion of the bonds of citizenship by allowing brazen deeds of madness by the very agencies set up to protect the people.”
In the judgement delivered on Tuesday, the sub-regional court held that the arguments and defence put up by the Federal Government were not supported by evidence and accordingly, found it liable for the extra-judicial killings of those men. The import of that judgement is that eight innocent Nigerian lives were wasted in a most cavalier manner. The lesson: If we are to develop as a nation, we must begin to put premium on human lives.
Unfortunately, while jungle justice for all manner of offences, and even for no offences at all, has been with us for a long time, the variant being prescribed in Kano by those who have made themselves the “Avengers of God” is the most dangerous in a politically charged environment like ours. Because it is one that can easily evoke passion and provoke ethno-religious uprising as well as reprisal killings that could snowball out of control. That is why it is important for the Police to ensure there is justice for the family of the late Mrs. Abahime so as to serve as a lesson to others with similar mindset that there are consequences for such heinous criminality in Nigeria.
For Keshi and Enejere
There is no way anybody can write the history of modern Nigerian football without taking into account the significant contributions of Mr. Stephen Okechukwu Keshi who died yesterday morning at age 54. A former skipper of the Super Eagles, the national team that he also managed at two different epochs, it was the “Big Boss”, as he was fondly called who led the way for Nigerian footballers who are today plying their trade abroad. And there can be no better tribute to him than the one paid yesterday by Simon Kolawole,http://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/06/08/tribute-stephen-keshi-the-man-who-changed-nigerian-football-forever/. May God grant the children he left behind the fortitude to bear the loss.
Although I knew the late Dr. Emeka Enejere from distance as a reporter in the early nineties when he was a national officer with the National Republican Convention (NRC) in the aborted Third Republic, I wasn’t close to him until about nine years ago when a mutual friend brought us together to work in a group. And I immediately took to him. A man of strong convictions who was never swayed by the crowd but rather by whatever he believed to be the right things to do, Dr Enajere would not edit his views to suit the occasion. He could smile and laugh to deaden the impact of his words but he was ever forthright. May God comfort his wife and the children he left behind.
On Monday in the United Kingdom, former President Goodluck Jonathan delivered a very powerful speech titled ‘I am a Citizen of Nigeria’ at the Bloomberg Studio in London. Interested readers can access it on olusegunadeniyi.com. Meanwhile, I have also decided to open the web portal to publishing speeches/lectures as well as workshop/seminar papers that advance the cause of democracy and deepen the frontiers of knowledge about important issues in our country. Persons with such relevant (current and topical) materials can forward them to me for assessment and possible publication once I conclude they would be of interest to my readers. Such materials can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or/and email@example.com.