The recent massacre of over 200 Nigerians in Plateau State raises fundamental questions about governance and the worth of life in Nigeria. This is not the first time and may not be the last where tens and hundreds of Nigerians are slaughtered in meaningless violence that cannot be explained within the context of reason and civilised coexistence. This discourse reviews the circumstances of this massacre, the basic duties of the state and government and makes recommendations to stop recurrence.
The 1999 Constitution unequivocally provides for the right to life and states that this right cannot be taken away in a way and manner not sanctioned by law. The right is also protected by a plethora of regional and international standards ratified and applicable in Nigeria, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, etc. The right to life is the most fundamental of the fundamental constitutional rights because it is the fulcrum upon which other rights rotate. Human rights, property rights, environmental rights, etc., can only be enjoyed by the living and make no meaning to dead men and women. It is therefore the right that deserves the greatest protection by the state. The constitution again declares that the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of the government. Security may be broad in context but human security in terms of ensuring the continuation of life of the citizens and residents in Nigeria is critical in any definition of security. Deeming security as part of the primary (not secondary) purpose of government reaffirms and defines the great importance of the right to life.
The duty of the state to protect life includes the duty to respect life; being a negative duty to refrain from any action or omission that may endanger lives or take away people’s lives. The duty to protect mandates the state to ensure that third parties, state and non-state actors are not allowed to violate this inherent right. The duty to fulfil includes the provision of resources, laws and policies, enabling environment, etc., that support life and even enhance the quality of life. These duties envisage a state with a monopoly of the means of violence that can result in a loss of lives, and where non-state actors have access to the means that can take life, to regulate and control such third parties. Where the sacrosanctity of the right to life has been abused, the state is expected to take steps to conduct detailed investigations, to bring the perpetrators to justice through prosecution, to ensure justice to the victims and their survivors, to provide compensation and apologies and to provide guarantees of non-repetition.
Over the years, the Nigerian state through the political leadership has deliberately failed, neglected and refused to perform these stated duties to protect the lives of citizens. So many parts and states of Nigeria have virtually become killing fields. From Benue to Niger, Zamfara to Kaduna, Borno to Plateau state, theatres for a continuous harvest of blood have been established. The killings heightened under the incompetent Muhammadu Buhari administration. The expectation was that the Bola Tinubu administration would take steps to put an end to this orgy of insanity. Evidently, we are still witnessing the continuation of the norm.
The scenario painted by survivors and commentators of the recent Plateau massacre goes like this. Murderers invade a community in droves. They come armed with high calibre and assault weapons; their means of transport include cars, motorcycles, etc., and in such a manner that would ordinarily be difficult for them to pass unnoticed through the plethora of security checks in the area. The marauders take their time killing, looting, burning down houses, etc., for several hours and in the last instance, over a period of two days. The communities invaded make distress calls and the calls are ignored and not a single security operative intervenes to challenge the killers. The armada of Nigerian security operatives includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Department of State Services, etc. The security architecture fails to collect or get intelligence information of the impending attack and while ongoing for over 24 hours, could not mobilise to defend the communities. When the killers have slaughtered enough Nigerians in accordance with their desire, they retreat and still travel back through the same route from which they came or a different route and thereafter become spirits and vanish into thin air.
Thereafter, the security agencies now move into the deserted and mourning community and the Commissioner of Police regales Nigerians with how he has dispatched a capable team to maintain peace and start investigations. The task force in charge of law and order acknowledges receiving over 30 distress calls and starts a meaningless explanation of why they could not intervene until after the killers have gone. Statements are issued by all the relevant security chiefs and the political leadership dispatches a high-level official who reads a funny and ridiculous speech that makes no meaning in the context of the deliberate failure of the state. Meanwhile, not a single perpetrator will be arrested, there will be no prosecution and the dead will be buried by the few who are living and life will move on. In some instances, the remaining natives will be too scared to return and they will be settled in makeshift camps as internally displaced. The killers will now occupy the lands and remaining properties of the community and the security agencies and political leadership will look the other way. Sometimes, a panel of inquiry will be set up with funfair and raised expectations and the report will be allowed to gather dust on the shelves as the recommendations will not be implemented.
In failing to gather and provide intelligence, the intelligence architecture is complicit and failed in its duties. In failing to respond to distress calls, the police, Army, who are members of the responsible task force, are complicit and have blood in their hands as accessories to the crimes. In failing to conduct proper investigations that will lead to arrests and successful prosecution, the police and other responsible agencies have explanations to offer to the Nigerian people. For elected officials who should have taken preventive action or post-crime action to bring the perpetrators to book but failed in the discharge of their duties, they have violated their oath of office.
The recommendations are straightforward, any official who could have taken preventive steps or at least responded to distress calls that would have reduced the number of the dead and the maimed should be dismissed from their positions and prosecuted either for negligence of duty or as an accessory before or after the crimes. A high-powered investigative team should be empanelled to arrest the killers and bring them to justice through watertight investigative reports. The perpetrators are not spirits. Survivors have come on air to give information about the places where the killers are hiding.
The blood of the innocent cries aloud. Justice and nothing short of justice will assuage their spirits. And if the impunity is allowed to continue, expect a harvest of more blood in no distant time.