It was certain Nigeria would be irked by any action, foreign or local, which might expose its direct or even indirect involvement/responsibility in the controversy over killings of unarmed protesters at Lekki, on the demand for disbandment of the police outfit, notorious as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). It is therefore essential Nigerians are reminded on the background of the popular demand for the scrapping of that supposed law enforcement agency.
Quite unusually, President Muhammadu Buhari and of course Police Inspector-General Mohammed Adamu both wasted no time in conceding the legitimacy of the protest as well as the demand and also almost immediately disbanded the outfit. Indeed, allegations of criminal tendences of the SARS fellows at the various panels are clear vindications of the swift action Buhari and police boss Adamu took in sacking SARS. This seeming distinction of Buhari and Adamu was being covered by foreign media mostly from their home bases until Nigerian army violently got involved even by its admission at the Lagos anti-SARS probe panel, of shooting into unarmed protesters at Lekki, Lagos.
With the record of Nigerian soldiers against Biafran agitators in Enugu, Onitsha, and Port Harcourt, Odi villagers who were sacked in Bayelsa, blatant partisanship in inter-ethnic war of supremacy in Zaki Biam in Benue state, fatal repression of protesting Shiteson Kaduna-Zaria highway and mysterious intermitent wiping out of various communities in Plateau state by armed men in uniform, it was becoming clear that unjustifiable force was gradually creeping on Nigeria as a state policy in settling political scores, reinforcing ethnic differences and enhancing religious supremacy. In the process, soldiers were becoming unhinged, as in a civil war. Yet, efforts were made more than three times in this column to alert that it was a question of time for such mentality to be of concern to international community, foreign governments and agences which now conduct trials for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, at the Hague, Netherlands.
The coverage of the Lekki killings by America’s Cable Network News (CNN) must therefore be seen by ordinary Nigerians as in furtherance of the station’s philosophy of service to humanity by informing other parts of the world, on any form of atrocity wherever such operates anywhere in the world. In the comfort of our homes throughout Nigeria, we view every evening CNN reports of state reaction to anti-government protests in Belarus, Kyrgistan, Poland, Mali, New Zealand, Cameroon, Togo, lately Ethiopia, Uganda, brutal repression in Rwanda, Burundi, Russia, Saudi Arabia, corruption in Israel, terrorism in Germany, France, discrimination against muslims in India, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, India’s violation of demarcation of Kashmir, demand of Scots to secede from United Kingdom, demand of English-speaking Cameroonians to secede from the country, abortion controversy in Poland, anti-immigrant racism in Austria Hungary and South Africa and of course, back home, police murderous brutalities . against blacks in various cities in United States. What therefore is so superb about Nigeria to be exempt by CNN? Better still, soldiers should stop killing unarmed Nigerians. If CNN could report to the entire world, the killings of American blacks by American police, why not similarly report such disturbing events in Nigeria?
Only hours after the army shootings at Lekki on October 20, vested interest took over the social media denying any killings and asking for the corpses or bereaved families (Read the accompanying piece). The political landlord of Lagos state, governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu stuck to his oath of office by confessing that two people died in the Lekki shootings. The army now turned on him (Sanwo-Olu) that he was misinformed. Who misinformed him? Governor Sanwo-Olu took the offer of an interview to give his side of the story to CNN. Given similar chance by CNN, the army refused on the convenient excuse that a probe was going on. Should CNN be blamed for airing its report with the explanation that the army refused to give its side of the story? What therefore mattered (and still matters) is not the number of Nigerians but the very idea of sending armed trigger-happy men to shoot into unarmed peaceful protesters Till now, nobody has accused the Lekki protesters of violence. Equally, how many of the looters and thugs far away from the Lekki peaceful protesters were ever shot by the army? The shooting of Lekki peaceful the protesters was therefore aimed at violating the right of Nigerians to make government accountable through criticism, protest and agitation. Such rights are no favour or special concession to Nigerian citizens and we must resist any attempt to subjugate the country on that score.
Some Nigerians innocently and others ignorantly, have made laughable submissions on the involvement or concern of foreign countries like Britain and United States on the Lekki shootings. Such submission might be tenable in a situation where Britain, for example is hell-bent or unduly overzealous on the future of Nigeria as one country. Only Nigerians can and should be left to. voluntarily keep their country intact. Any involvement of Britain in that situation could only be aimed at priortisation of British economic interests over the interests of component Nigerians who should not allow foreign interests to determine their future. Furthermore, break-up of or keeping Nigeria one is no threat to world peace or humanity. It is an entirely different situation in cases of ethnic/religious cleansing or violation of human rights as state policy.
Accordingly, Nigerians querying Britain’s right to be concerned on the Lekki’ shootings should equally ask themselves what was Nigeria’s business in the Gambia in 2015 when President Buhari visited the country to persuade ruling President Jamme to accept the election results and quit? Another question for those querying Britain’s interest in the Lekki bombing is, what was Nigeria’s interest in the carnage going on under the civilian administration in Mali to warrant Buhari’s intervention by sending special envoy former President Goodluck Jonathan to arrange peace, an effort which collapsed when Nigeria took the side of the oppressors by dictating to if not forcing the new military rulers in Mali to return the country to civilian rule within months? Why is Nigeria mediating in the civil war currently going on in Ethiopia? the man there is not Aremu Otta but Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Also, during the civil war, in the light of Nigeria’s intransigence instigated by southerners in Gowon’s cabinet and other hawks, Ivory Coast recognised Biafra and France publicly expressed sympathy for Biafra, Richard Nixon touched on the civil war during his campaigns for the 1968 American presidential elections, and expressed worries over the sufferings in Biafra. Nixon won the elections and thereby sent jitters through the Nigerian government which successfully sought Britain’s assistance for diplomatic intervention to prevail on the new American president not to recognise Biafra. That, in essence, is Britain’s major leverage especially on a very conservative Nigerian leadership in matter’s such as the Lekki shootings. And against whatever denials by Nigerian government on the matter, countries such as Britain and United States have their special sources of indisputable facts, switching off of street lights and cctvs or not.
On a note of humour, Nigeria’ protest to CNN is more of Shakara Oloje, as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would put it. The blunt truth is that governments all over the world hardy contend with the station’s credibility standard, even if unpalatable. The facts are also too disturbing for being stood upside down. First, the military was never at Lekki. Then, military were involved. Then, Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos state knew nothing about the involvement of the military.But the governor was accused of inviting the military, contrary to his claim. Also, first information was that nobody died throughout the shooting at Lekki only for the Lagos governor to admit that one person which he later increased to two to have died. Anyway, when did government, the police or military authorities in Nigeria ever confirm exact fatal casualty figures in any incident? Were Nigerians told any number killed during the shooting of Bafran agitators in Enugu, Onitsha or Port Harcourt? How many were killed during the sacking of Odi village in Bayelsa or Zaki Biam in Benue state? The standard is for each authorities to give an ever unreliable figure while each newspaper in Nigeria (in particular) would publish its own figure of casualties. In short, for such setback, ten Nigerian newspapers would publish ten different figures.
The military?some six years ago, Nigerians were told that Boko Haram leader Shekau had been killed. He must have resurrected or how did it happen that till today, he issues war bulletin against Nigerian army?
Nigerian military should not be irritated by media focus on the Lekki shootings. Its account is within the military philosophy of British war-time prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill that “In war, truth is so important that it must be accompanied every time with a battalion of lies.”
We may not immediately appreciate the degree of service to humanity CNN has performed on Nigeria. It is not advisable for Nigeria to embark on any showdown with CNN which has called Nigeria’s bluff with a second report on Nigeria. Henceforth, with that knowledge, intrusion of Nigerian army into socio/political controversies will become measured
Finally, the difference is clear between Napoleon Bonaparte and out-going American president Donald trump. The French emperor easily conceded that he “would rather face one thousand bayonets than one newspaper,” an self-admonition ignored, by Donald Trump, who is on his way home. But APC will seek votes in 2023.
Echo of 1953 bodyless murder in Lagos
Can the absence or disappearance of the corpse of a murder victim in any way, exonerate suspects or even culprits? That was the legal knot untied by Nigerian Supreme Court, Lagos in 1953 and British Privy Council in the murder of a Lagos Muslim preacher by secret Oro cultists.. The courts in Lagos and London convicted the murder suspects even without the deceased’s and relied only on circumstantial evidence. Eleven of the cultists were hanged for the murder of one man.
Even Saudi Arabian government, two years ago, was forced by international pressure, to abandon its erstwhile attempted official cover up of the brutal murder and wicked dismemberment of the corpse of a US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s onsulate at Instanbul, Turkey. The Saudi government initially claimed that the journalist had left the consulate but the Turkish government released audio of the gruesome murder to powerful diplomatic channels. Following the visit of an American top diplomat apparently to assist in damage control, the Saudi government arraigned some of its security agents in a mock trial and convicted them.
The scene of the murder inside Saudi consulate in Istanbul was washed clean by the murderes and till today, there is no trace of Khashoggi’s corpse. In the 1953 murder case of a Muslim preacher, the deceased, Alhaji Bisiriyu Apalara, one evening was delivering sermon somewhere around Apapa Road, Ebute Metta, West, during which he sharply criticised secret cult membership, especially Oro cult and Ogboni fraternity. . At a stage, some of the listeners got infuriated and warned the preacher to stop his sermon or he would be dealt with. How he would be dealt with was implied not only in the threat of the critics but also in the tradition of the Oro cultists who leave no trace of their punitive action. The preacher defied the Oro cultists and dared he would preach the following week at Kano Street, Ebute Metta East. Meanwhile, he took what he thought was adequate safety precaution, by reporting to police authorities, who offered him an armed police personnel to protect him.
On the D-Day, preacher Apalara showed up at Kano Street, near the junction of Tapa Street, Ebute Metta, near the lagoon. Mid-way into the preacher’s criticism and condemnation of Oro cult membership, according to evidence tendered by the prosecution and unrefuted, there were shouts of “Oro baba, o” accompanied by incantation and followed by surging Oro cult members who pounced on Apalara and hit him on the head with a steel object. Instantly, the police security ran for his dear life. Either by accident or design, the street lights on Kano street and adjoining Tapa Street completely went off throwing the entire area into darkness just as was with the peaceful protesters at Lekki. Prosecution also claimed that after being bludgeoned, preacher Apalara was dragged into a nearby house, 8, Tapa Street by the Oro cult members. That was the last ever seen or heard of Alhaji Apalara on earth. But if the murderers thought they left no evidence to convict them, especially with the disappearance of the deceased’s corpse, they undermined British justice, as Nigeria was under British colonial rule at that time
With up to twenty suspects arrested for Apalara’s murder in what was a national and sensational murder trial, the general impression was that (a) the murder of one man and (b) the disappearance of the deceased’s body could never result in the guilt let alone the conviction of even one of the accused. My generation (and older ones) eagerly waited for the verdict. Eleven of the accused were pronounced guilty by the highest courts in Nigeria and Britain. Even then, there was still the illusion that the death sentences might be commuted to jail terms
It should be noted again that the body of the murder victim, Alhaji Apalara, was never found and yet, eleven Oro cult culprits were sentence to death.. Nigerians merely woke up one morning and around 11 a.m. and saw newspaper vendors inflating the cover price of a special (second edition) of the day’s Daily Times with banner headline “APALARA’S HANGINGS BEING CARRIED OUT” at Broad Street prison.
The prosecution and the the court relied strictly on the series of circumstantial evidence — threat against the deceased, evidence of police security and other witnesses on events preceding the attack on the deceased at Kano Street as well as the involvement of those who carried Apalara inside 8, Tapa Street, Ebute Metta. The court ruled that the onus was on them to account for Apalara’s whereabout. There was also a special inquiry into the mystery of switching off of street lights to cover up the the murder.
In 1955, there was another sensational case in Lagos when a music band leader, Israel Njemanze was murdered by his colleagues, strewn along rail lines at Yaba, to give the impression their boss was a victim of train accident. Five of Njemanze’s colleagues were convicted and hanged.
Those were the days of justice in Nigeria, even under foreign rule.