Daily Trust (Abuja)

13 February 2013

Nigeria: Those About to Die

opinion

If anyone kills a person it is as if he had killed all of mankind. Quran 5: 32

The assassination of Sheikh Jaafar Adam in Kano in 2007 was not a one-off event, after all. The professionalism and audacity of his killers should have sent signals that Kano harbours a cell of killers who are not intimidated by targets. Since the killing of Sheikh Jafaar, the record of spectacular killings and attempted murders in Kano has reminded people of the fabled claim of the people of Kano that everything you bring will find its superior in Kano. Kano itself is not a stranger to periodic combustion around religion, but the last one year has shaken the ancient city and its towns to their foundations. From all appearances, the violence which had swamped Borno and Yobe and surrounding areas has taken residence in Kano, and is showing a character all of its own.

The recent murder of medical personnel, eight of them women involved in inoculating children against polio, came just a few weeks after the shocking attempt on the life of the Emir of Kano. Between these two events, routine killings of security personnel, politicians and citizens engaged in earning a living were taking place almost daily. After the attempt on the life of the Emir, Kano State Government slammed tough restrictions of the use of motorcycles, ostensibly on the advice of security personnel. The killers simply moved from two to three wheels as their mode of transportation. In virtually all the murders, killers ride up to their victims, shoot them at close range, and ride away. People scamper at sounds of guns, and security personnel arrive later and engage in cordon and search, which involves arresting any or all people around the vicinity. And the people wait for the next killing.

Since the substantive extension of the battlefront to Kano about one year ago, an event marked by some of the most gruesome killings and spectacular attacks on security agents and facilities, hundreds of people have been murdered in churches, mosques, shops, streets, homes and all nooks and crannies of the city. There are recurring allegations of extra-judicial killings by security agents, torture, unlawful detentions and extortions and high-handedness which alienates the population from the security agents. Life has become intolerable for the vast majority of the people in Kano. They are not safe at home, at work or on the streets. A city crawling with armed police and soldiers, and in which anyone riding a tricycle or a car is suspect, is a terrible place to live in. Killers also walk for miles in search of their targets with such casualness and ease, and shoot or slaughter them outside mosques or their homes, while neighbours run and hide.

The economy of the city and the state has suffered major setbacks. Massive capital flight is taking place, and government measures such as the crippling restrictions on the use of motorcycle taxis is compounding the levels of frustration and economic marginalization of all sections of the community. Of course government is putting on a brave face, and assuring citizens that some of the restrictions are both necessary and temporary, but it has no handle on the security situation, such that citizens will believe it. The use of tricycles in place of motorcycles to murder citizens will now bring to question the utility of banning the motorcycle as commercial transport. Will the government now ban tricycles?

In the next few days, the Emir of Kano will return. He will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands who genuinely love him, and see him as a symbol of their dignity. His return will remind them and the nation that just a few weeks ago, one of the most revered Nigerians was almost killed in broad daylight in a city which held him as an icon of respectability. How much dignity is there left in the people of Kano when their Emir is left for dead on the street by assassins who just walk away; or when their daughters and wives are shot to death while bringing succour to their children against polio? How much dignity is left when citizens have to walk for miles to work, markets, schools or businesses because motorcycles are not allowed to ferry them?

How does it feel when family heads run into rooms with wives and children to hide at sounds of guns? How does it feel when soldiers and policemen barge in to take away young men in spite of protestations of innocence of the suspects, parents and neighbours? What does it feel like when fathers and mothers have no access to detained children, and lawyers are powerless to invoke the law for access, bails or trials? What does it feel like when every motorcyclist has to push his motorcycle at countless checkpoints; when 'transgressors' are punished with frog jumps or rolling in gutters? How does it feel when mass arrests are made, and heavy financial demands are made for 'bail' after suspects are screened? How does an entire community feel when it is viewed with intense suspicion by a stressed and jittery security force bearing uncountable scars and losses in lives and limbs of comrades?

The Emir of Kano will return to a people more shaken and frightened than when he left them. He will find them asking even more complex questions. Are the people killing women and policemen, politicians and Christians really Boko Haram? The people who attacked the Emir: what did they want to achieve by his death? Could there be more to these audacious killers than meets the eye? Have other interests penetrated the communities with their own agenda, and have now made the people multiple victims? For how long should the people run away, and where is safe? Who is safe in Kano, in Maiduguri, in Potiskum and Damaturu and in tens of towns and villages? Has the Nigerian state lost this battle; and if so what can the people do?

Since a citizen can die in his home, or on the street, or at work, or running away from death, it is time to stop running away. Muslims know that death is inevitable; and any Muslim who dies in the process of defending his faith, his dignity or his rights would have died as a martyr. They also know the terrible consequence of taking innocent lives, whether they are those of Muslims or non-Muslims. The duty to protect one's faith, dignity and possession is a very heavy one. It is time to stand up to the killers who are making life impossible for the people. Communities need to improve their organization from neighbourhoods to towns. It is not possible that people who kill others and melt back into the community are not known. Fear prevents people from taking them up, but of what value is the fear when you can still be the next victim? People should know by now that leaving this problem to the Nigerian state will not solve it. It is important that citizens find the courage to organize themselves and resist this spreading threat. You can die protecting yourself from the threat, or you can die running away from it. It is time to make a choice.

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