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Pius Adesanmi: The Indictment of the Nigerian Army for the Zaria Massacre



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By Pius Adesanmi.

Not content with opening fire on members of the Shi’a Muslim group they said blocked the route of General Buratai their boss – yes, I saw that video and I still do not see anything that tear gas could not have solved in the circumstance – the Nigerian Army did a follow-up with an early-morning raid on the civilian enclave of the group. By the time they were done, at least 347 innocent civilians including women and children had been wasted in their sleep.

The gruesomeness of this 21st-century crime against humanity was perhaps only equalled by the inhuman gruesomeness of the public acclamation which greeted the act. It was as if Buratai and his goons had entranced the very civilians whose humanity they violated on a massive national scale. It was worse than mass hypnosis. National hysteria married national orgy in lionizing Buratai as hero.

The Army did not even have to lift a finger to justify or rationalize the sorrow, tears, and blood they visited on innocent civilians in their sleep in Zaria. Psychologically-damaged civilians did an excellent job of brutalizing and victimizing fellow civilians who had been murdered. How dare they stand in the way of an Army General? Nonsense! Some claimed that Buratai even tried. Others claimed that Buratai even exercised restraint. Ok, if you say that killing those who blocked his path was justified, what about the follow-up massacre? Nothing doing. Nigerians wanted a hero in Buratai and 347 innocent lives was not too much a foundation to lay for the hero-making edifice!

I felt so alone – especially on Facebook. I felt so alone with two other outcasts – Ike DanfoDriver Mbachu and Obinna Aligwekwe. These two Igbo gentlemen and I screamed and screamed and screamed. We felt like we were the only ones mourning the Hausa-Fulani dead in an ocean of voices lionizing Buratai. We called for Buratai’s head. We suffered vilification. For the three of us, it was the first time we suffered dismissal as “wailers” by career Buharists. I mentioned the ethnicity of these two great Nigerian patriots because when they subsequently raised their voices against the same Army for mopping up innocent Igbo civilian protesters in the east, some of the idiots who justified the massacre in Zaria labelled them tribalists for speaking up against the massacre of their own Igbo kinsmen!

Now a panel has indicted the Army for the Zaria massacre. Specifically, the panel indicted Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army’s Ist Division. He it was who authorized the operation which led to the massacre of the 347 civilians. This is a good start but I’m afraid it does not go far enough. General Buratai also bears responsibility. Luckily for him, he is an astute saver and has enough financial muscle to hire the best lawyers should this case grind slowly through years all the way to the Hague as I expect and hope it will.

President Buhari has been self-destructing especially on the integrity front lately by somehow deceiving himself that silence is the first instrument of statecraft. I expect him to greet this with silence as he has done so many other issues. I expect him not to act on Buratai. I expect him not to even talk to us. After all, the insufferably arrogant Femi Adesina has finally told us, the school pupils he often scolds, that we have no right to expect our elected President to talk to us regularly.

Beyond the Army and our self-destructing President, this episode is an occasion for sober reflection. This episode is an occasion for national self teaching. If you were one of the hordes who joined the Buratai lionization bandwagon, don’t worry. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. We suffered more than three decades of military brutalization ( I almost wrote buratailization) in this country. We have only had democracy since 1999. It will take more than two decades for you to gain the civic instinct to automatically recoil at the presence of military uniforms in civilian spaces.

You just need to keep working at it. Every time you wake up in the morning, tell yourself that military uniforms have no place in civilian spaces. Tell yourself that soldiers have no powers of arrest. Only the police have such powers. Tell yourself that soldiers are in violation of the rules whenever you see them frog jumping civilians in Ojuelegba or Oshodi. Work on yourself to stop clapping and hailing when they beat and mow down fellow civilians.

We need to collectively construct a national psyche which is hostile to the very idea of soldiers in our civic and civilian spaces of agency. They are not supposed to be there, let alone beat and shoot you there.

Also, it is good that the Zaria massacre has been investigated by a panel set up by Kaduna. It should be clear that the Federal government will set up no panel to investigate the civilian massacres during IPOB protests in the east. Consequently, do they have governors in the southeast? Are these governors efulefus? If they are not efulefus, who are they expecting will come and set up a panel to investigate the murder of their own civilians? Pius Adesanmi? Shior. You should at least come together to do it at the symbolic level.

The same applies to Gabriel Ortom and all the state Governors whose people have been murdered by herdsmen. If you set up panels to at least symbolically defy the President’s shameful silence on these critical fronts, the findings of such panels may be actionable in the future. An administration hostile to silence may pick them up and act. You owe it to that future to at least do your basic home work today.


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Pius Adesanmi is the director of Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies, Ottawa, Canada. In 2010, he was awarded the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. A widely-cited commentator on Nigerian and African affairs, he has lectured in African, European, and North American universities, and also regularly addresses non-academic audiences across Africa.

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