One week after, I am yet to recover from watching the gruesome videos published by Amnesty International in a damning report that implicated Buhari and the Nigerian army in the cold blooded murder of hundreds of peaceful pro-Biafra/IPOB protesters. I have been haunted and traumatised by a video that was both macabre and chilling. In scale and scope, the video evidence represents the greatest possible constitutional abdication by the Buhari administration. It is also evidence of the utmost inhumanity and decadence of the infamous Nigeria army. And this is happening in a supposed democracy. Without question, the cold blooded extra judicial execution of peaceful protesters is a moral obscenity that assaults the very concept of our common humanity. It is for all intents and purposes a crime against humanity that violates not only the most fundamental dictates of the Nigerian constitution but also the United Nations Charter and the African Charter on Human and people’s rights.
It is exactly for such heinous, unconscionable, reprobate and dastardly crimes that the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established. What kind of an army would relish the killing of its own unarmed citizens for exercising their constitutional right to dissent and peaceful protests? What kind of a democracy would utilise the army to suppress by lethal force the right to differences of opinion expressed through peaceful assembly and protests when that underpins the very essence of democracy? What kind of a nation, leadership and army would chose to address the grievances of its citizens by killing them? What kind of a cowardly and barbaric army, trained and paid by the citizens to protect their fundamental right to life would turn around and take so much pleasure in killing the same citizens? Why would the peaceful and democratic demand for the right to self-determination: a right recognised by the UN and African Charters and the same right with which we got independence from British Colonial masters without a fight be a reason to kill your own citizens?
In 1995, Quebec settled their demand for independence from Canada through a democratic referendum. In 2014 Scotland settled their demand for a right to self-determination from Britain through a democratic referendum. In 2015 Britain settled their demand to exit the European Union/ federation through the “Brexit” referendum. Neither the Canadian government, the British government nor the European Union with some of the most powerful armies in the world resorted to killing its own citizens to stop those who sought independence or self-determination. The right to self-determination must be understood by Buhari and the Nigerian army for what it is. It is a fundamental as well as a democratic right for all peoples as enshrined in the UN and African Charters. Nigeria is signatory to these conventions of international law and is bound by them even much more than she is bound by local laws. All over the world, lawful and civilised societies use democratic instruments, nation building and good governance to resolve issues of self-determination.
Killing your own citizens as Buhari and the Nigerian army is disposed to do as a means of suppressing dissent and the right to self-determination is not only a crime against humanity—such methods have never worked anywhere. If anything, such methods; the sense of injustice and alienation that it engenders will only harden the resolve of those who seek a separate state, attract more sympathy and bring in more recruits for them. More often than not, history teaches us that repression leads to armed revolt. The continuing mishandling of IPOB separatists will assuredly only lead to more crises. Were force of arms alone enough to stop secessionist movements, we wouldn’t have IPOB, MASSOB, Niger Delta Avengers, MEND and other such self-determination groups in the aftermath of the Biafra-Nigeria war. This is a fundamental lesson Buhari and the Nigerian army is yet to learn. No nation can ultimately succeed or enjoy enduring peace when the state is run as a colonial or Apartheid state where nationhood subject to injustice, inequality, 2nd class citizenship and other forms of discrimination is by force.
Nations endure and succeed by nation building, justice, equality, the rule of law and more importantly on the basis of fundamental democratic freedoms which includes the free and unfettered right to self-determination. It is not an accident that nations where all fundamental rights are given rarely if ever disintegrate. This is because most citizens would have no need to separate from a state where justice, equality and all basic freedoms are guaranteed and where grievances are addressed through dialogue. On the contrary, practically all states where conflicts, separatist groups and general violence are prevalent are states where the instruments of state, i.e. the army and police are used to violently suppress dissent or any agitation for self-determination. Consequently such nations get locked in endless conflict, most often becoming failed states and most often ending up in disintegration. The latter, is the same no win route Buhari and the Nigerian army has chosen to travel. By choosing to so callously deny its own citizens the most fundamental right to peaceful protests and the inalienable right to life, the Nigerian state has constituted itself into a colonial state and in its worst form an Apartheid state.
Colonialism and Apartheid is the only fitting description for a regime that so callously kills its own citizens for espousing different opinions. When in June 1976; the South African Apartheid regime unleashed its police on protesters killing many in Soweto; a shocked and outraged world condemned it. Incidentally Nigeria was one of the countries that voiced its criticism of the Soweto massacres. The Soweto brutality went on to become famous, emerging as one of the most important galvanisers of the global anti-Apartheid movement. Similarly the 1929 Aba women’s riot and the 1949 massacre of 21 coal miners in Enugu by the British colonial authorities was condemned by all. Both incidents represent the most notable casualties of the anti-colonial struggle and like the Soweto crisis helped to galvanise the anti-colonial movement.
But today; the Nigerian army in a supposed free state can kill hundreds of peaceful IPOB protesters in cold blood, kill hundreds of peaceful Shiites in cold blood, hold Nnamdi Kanu, El Zakzaky and other peaceful agitators in detention against court orders and practically act as it deems fit. Of what purpose did independence from British colonialists serve if the supposed Free State has turned out to be more repressive and murderous than the colonial authorities we sought freedom from? The sadistic killing spree of the Nigerian state under Buhari has become worse than a colonial and Apartheid state put together. It is a tragedy of limitless proportions that in the 21st century and in a supposed post-colonial state, Nigeria has a leader and an army that relishes the wanton killing of its own citizens. This is a no win route that will lead nowhere other than to the sure and further balkanization of the nation.