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It was not more than mere routine, for which a nation exists anyway, when Nigeria expressed concern at unexplained extra-judicial murder of its citizens in South Africa, with the figure put at over 100. Even without citing history, there was no doubt that one of the major reasons for the alarm was Nigeria’s long-standing but, by now, boring self-glorification of assisting South African nationalists in the struggle against apartheid.
Nigeria was just one of the countries that assisted the South African nationalists and that should not warrant eternal, some would say, slavish, gratitude. By the way, why did it take the lives of over 100 of our citizens for Nigeria to react? African solidarity? Civilised nations don’t take that long or much before reacting. In fact, the South African state would not murder three Americans or Britons in a year without strong reactions from the home governments of the deceased. And how are we sure that the Nigerians were not murdered because of the notorious reputation of the Nigerian state on such matters? All along, Nigeria had been virtually indifferent to the maltreatment of its citizens abroad, not only in South Africa, even though the high number of Nigerians killed in South Africa is peculiar and alarming. Otherwise, Nigerians are also occasionally murdered by police in the United States and Britain, without any noted protest from Abuja.
It is also essential that a complainant (country) does not have a record of subjecting its own citizens to state murder. Can Nigeria hold its head high on that score? It is impossible to endorse the protest against South Africa without highlighting Nigeria’s reputation in extra-judicial killings. We cannot teach a nation good conduct on how to treat our citizens when we do not practise the same good treatment on Nigerians. This is all the more so as the record and pattern of extra-judicial killings in Nigeria have become alarming, repetitive and predictable.
Major robberies by criminals, which embarrass security personnel or law enforcement agents, have usually been followed by a resurgent performance by those earlier disgraced, who later engaged the suspects in shootouts in which the culprits were shot dead. Arms, ammunition and charms would be placed on the deceased as proof of their suicidal effort. Against this regular pattern, Nigerians would prefer a situation in which robbery suspects are arrested alive and prosecuted in law courts.
On a regular basis, drivers of commercial buses are confronted by police at illegal checkpoints and compelled to pay bribe openly at the risk of being fatally shot where there is any delay or reluctance to meet such demands. This regular criminal confrontation is also covered up, eventually, with the established pattern in which the police culprits are reported by their superior officers to have been arrested, questioned and subjected to guardroom trial. To arrest or reduce this blatant violation of human rights and implied extra-judicial killings, helpless Nigerians are gradually taking the law into their hands by lynching law enforcement agents involved in such acts on the spot. On the other hand, where the police personnel involved was lucky to be purportedly arrested and subjected to guardroom trial, that, mostly, was always the end. Hence, the frustration of the public.
Occasionally, the tragedy of innocent Nigerians involved with police are more blatant. A good example was the case of Apo Six in Abuja, from 12 years ago. The six victims, including a lady, were on an evening social ride and were stopped by a police patrol. Without any trial as stipulated by the law, all six were shot by the police and labelled armed robbery suspects. It took the unyielding persistence of relations of the murdered victims to ensure a trial at all. Even then, since 2005, Nigerians have been waiting for the verdict of the alleged extra-judicial killings. It is worth mentioning the convenient disappearance, till today and within Nigeria, of the key culprit among the police suspects.
In the recent past, in the name of campaigns for elections, state violence was unleashed on innocent people for no reason other than being supporters or candidates of rival parties, murdered and the crime attributed to so-called cultists, purportedly unknown and unidentified, even if and when known. Are these cultists above the law? Yet, public office holders were monitored bragging about killing those who refused rigging elections for them.
In some cases, detainees in what ordinarily should be government’s most secure centres emerged dead, eventually. The latest of such detainees went into the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alive and was collected dead by his relatives not long after. Amnesty International is leading the campaign for a thorough investigation into the man’s mysterious death.
This particular case involving a detainee in the EFCC custody is coming after Amnesty International confirmed earlier extra-judicial killings of Biafra secession agitators in Onitsha, Anambra State. The figure of those massacred by Nigerian security personnel without trial (assuming they could be tried for any specific offence) was put by both survivors and Amnesty International at hundreds.
From Onitsha to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where Nigerians joined others around the world to express their views on the election of United States President, Donald Trump, only to be shot by the Nigeria Police. A trial for alleged treason and treasonable felony is in progress. Were there fatal victims? Not clear yet.
It was an entirely different and bloody situation in the matter of the procession of Shiite (Muslim) adherents along Zaria-Kaduna highway. There was never an exact figure of those killed by extra-judicial means on that day. The only official reason was that the protesters obstructed the convoy of the Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army. That in itself might be suicidal. But if a group of citizens embarked on suicide, that was an offence under the law. But when the state or state functionaries facilitated the commission of mass suicide, was that not also a crime? With an estimate of up to almost 400 protesters murdered on that occasion by Nigerian soldiers through extra-judicial means, Nigeria lost any moral ground to protest against extra-judicial killings in another country, even if in favour of Nigerian citizens.
Whether on the Plateau or down Kaduna south, state personnel (soldiers or policemen) are always accused of taking sides along religious lines on the intermittent fratricide. These security personnel involved always carry out extra-judicial killings in the process, with fatality figures ever rising. In those two areas, that crime against humanity is always committed in the name of the Nigerian state without anybody ever held responsible.
Even the murderous Boko Haram, at various stages, attracted sympathy at home and abroad for being subjected to extra-judicial killings by the Nigerian state. First was Amnesty International, which well-documented evidence of extra-judicial killings of Boko Haram elements.
It is tempting to wonder whether Boko Haram insurgents deserve any sympathy for the consequences of their criminal activities. No matter what, a state (nation) recognised by other countries must display attested good conduct in treating its citizens rather than delving low to the standard of a terrorist organisation.
That probably was why the United States also joined in faulting Nigeria for extra-judicial killings in dealing with Boko Haram. Hence, to make its point, the American government refused to sell arms to Nigeria.
Does Nigeria, therefore, have any moral ground to accuse South Africa of employing extra-judicial means against Nigerians? Our duty first is to tidy our reputation for identical misconduct.
If Nigeria could offer excuses for subjecting its citizens to extra-judicial murder in Onitsha and Zaria, South Africa could also rationalise the evil method used against Nigerians in that country. Worse still, South Africa kills foreigners but Nigeria kills its own citizens. If that is not worse, it surely is not better.