The writer’s task is not an easy one, it is more so in our kind of society where the bizarre happens nearly hourly. We battle with topics to handle and this week for me was no different. Nduka Obaigbena is a phenomenon and a pacesetter in journalism practice in the world, penultimate weekend he clocked sixty years, a good time to talk about him and draw some useful lessons on media and national development for the benefit of our country; in fact I think time has come to make Obaigbena the Information Minister. That won’t be at-least for now. The other would have been to outline solutions to the seeming challenge of Herds-Men/Farmers clashes and of-course insecurity plaguing the country; remember this column has run with the view that seventy percent (70%) of what we pass as insecurity has its root in rough political tactics often employed by leading political figures and groups.
There was also to be the assessment of the performance of the Super Eagles in the just concluded African Nations Football tournament which ended in Egypt last weekend, all these would have to wait because something more serious with capacity to destroy our country happened in Abuja on Monday. The Shiite group of Muslims embarked on another protest march against the continuous detention of their leader El- Zakzaky and suddenly their procession came face to face with the Police who in the bid to disperse the crowd began tear-gassing which soon graduated to shooting life bullets at fellow citizens. It was unfortunate, by the time the hunting spree ended; over eleven persons including a top Police Chief had been sent to the world beyond.
We condemn the killings, and our sympathies goes to the families of those who lost someone in that ugly incident, may God grant them fortitude to bear the loss and grace to pass through this period of great darkness. For those injured, it is our prayer that God will grant them quick recovery. Government should take over the cost and treatment of those injured, similarly those arrested should not be subjected to any act of indignity or abuse, whatever is the case, they are citizens and more importantly human beings with inalienable right to life and decent treatment. The truth about the tragic event is that this was one development that was clearly avoidable. The cloud has been thickening for a very long time and the signs that it could rain were clearly written on the sky, the heaven’s blackboard, all those who mean well for our country caught the signal and responded very well in various forms. The protest by the Shiite group did not start on Monday; it has been with us for over one year. It kept growing in intensity and anybody with cognitive intelligence knew it was a matter of time before things boil over if not properly handled.
Few weeks ago, the group registered its boldest move when they stormed the National Assembly, by the time it was over, destruction of life and property had occurred. The State said it was a sign of violent disposition and it held on to that and that was to shape their response to subsequent protest match by the group. Just last week, I had said definition of terms is important, it guides the kind of solutions to be applied. If the planners in government had recognized that protest is part of democracy and that it offers the citizens the biggest weapon to press for a right, the attitude of government and its officials to protest would be different from what we have see. Our appreciation of protest as a tool of change would have engendered a disposition of preparation, for instance, the adjoining environment to Aso-Rock, the seat of power and the National Assembly should have space for people to gather, talk and shout at their leaders. It is no offence as presidential spokesman Garuba Shehu has tried to make us believe.
The nasty fallout at the National Assembly was the consequence of poor management of conflicts and agitations. We like to apply force and threats when constructive engagement, appeals and persuasion would suffice. There was nothing wrong in a very top member of the National Assembly coming out to address them and assuring them that their grievances would be looked into speedily, if that was done it is possible they would have returned home happy that they have registered their anger at the most appropriate place and the expectation of positive outcome would have given them some degree of succor. Since that encounter at the National Assembly, the Senate has been mute until Tuesday but the House of Representatives made some reasonable but feeble reactions. They raised the issue on the floor and very intelligent contributions were made particularly the one suggesting an interface.
I describe their reactions as feeble because after the talking and hitting of the gavel, everything returned to statuesque-ante. They never constituted any committee to pursue the matter and there is no record they had any engagement between them, leaders of the group and heads of security agencies. Last Tuesday they did so after the damage has been done. Nevertheless their latest actions are good steps in the right directions. Proscription has no place in this matter, Shiites have a constitutionally guaranteed right to hold belief. The approach of the Federal and Kaduna State Governments is not commendable, it borders on set belief and belligerency. There is no reason and tact in what they do. When logic takes a flight what we see is what we have on our hands currently. Governor El- Rufai of Kaduna hates the group with passion and from what we see one can also say that President Buhari is also of the same disposition. What really is the sin of the Shiite group? Is it such that can’t be corrected by way of administrative procedures? What is behind not allowing El-Zakzaky to enjoy the bail already granted him by the court of law?
State intervention in the Shiite protest was mismanaged, it is wrong to have tried to break-up the procession by forceful means, it doesn’t matter what their behavior was two weeks earlier. It is a heinous crime for the State to fire live bullets into a crowd of protesting Nigerians. It is a crime against humanity. In sane places what happened is enough to topple a government, but that cannot happen here, yet some people can be made to pay a prize; how possible it is, is difficult to say especially against the background the IGP ran to the president at the time of protest to receive fresh directive to protect citizens Governor El-Rufai should be directed to discontinue the trial of El-Zakzaky. Government should constructively engage Shiites to see what can be conceded or taken away from them. The Buhari administration cannot afford to be fighting in different fronts; particularly we can’t afford to create another Boko-Haram from the Shiite group. It should scar us that gradually we are creating a hunter’s colony and culture. The hunter mentality kills everything; it has no space for reason.