• Friday, May 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

The massacres will eventually go round

Nigerian army

There is currently an attempt by paid government hacks, fanatical supporters and ethnic/religious affiliates of the Buhari administration to minimise, obfuscate, and even deny the Lekki massacre by a unit of the Nigerian military on October 20, 2020, even though the massacre was captured live on social media and by both local and international journalists.

This is not new. Due to Nigeria’s often fractured, ethnic and religious politics, and the unvarnished love of lucre, some people will lend themselves to any campaign – even to the extent of defending genocide – to protect the government in power or demonstrate their loyalty. But they need not worry. The massacres will get to them too sooner or later.

Lt. Gen Victor Malu, Nigeria’s Chief of Army (1999 – 2001) learnt this the hard way. On November 4, 1999, a militant group in Odi, an Ijaw village in Bayelsa fighting for resource control, was said to have killed seven policemen. A few days later, another five policemen were killed. At the behest of President Obasanjo, Malu ordered troops into Odi November 20, not to arrest the killers of the policemen, but raze the town and massacre its inhabitants as a reprisal. The soldiers demolished every single building in the town, barring the bank, the Anglican church and the only clinic in the town. Hundreds of unarmed civilians were massacred.

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Malu retired from the army in April 2001. Barely six month after, it was the turn of his community to taste the bitter dose he unleashed on Odi. The government sent a contingent of soldiers to mediate between the Tivs and Jukun who were almost perpetually at each other’s throat and Tiv militias mistook the soldiers for Jukun militias and killed 19 of them.

Those cheering and excusing the army need not worry. As someone crudely describes the country, he said “Nigeria is turn by turn limited”. Their time will come and then they will understand.

 

Expectedly, the army’s reprisal was in form of genocide: They came in armoured vehicles and tanks, gathered the villagers for a peace meeting, separated the men, ordered women and children to leave the vicinity and opened fire on the naive men. To erase evidence, the army set ablaze the bodies of some of the victims. They also went round other villages –Vasae, Anyiin Iorja, Ugba, Sankera and Zaki – Biam killing and burning houses and any structure they could see. By the time the army was done, thousands had died and some of the villages had been completely destroyed. The genocidal soldiers didn’t even spare their former Chief. Malu’s house in the village was destroyed and three of his relatives were among those killed.

A thoroughly distraught Malu spoke to The New York Times the next day from his Lagos home asking a question he should have asked himself when he ordered the invasion of Odi: ‘How can you kill innocent civilians, farmers carrying yam on their heads? Can you mistake a yam tuber for a missile?’ A heartless Obasanjo even appeared on national television to justify the massacre as an act of self-defence by the soldiers. Malu was completely broken and he never recovered from the shock until his death in 2017.

Nigeria’s power bases are so diverse and diffused along ethnic and regional lines that no one ethnic/regional group can control political power for long. The most peaceful arrangement the political class therefore made to avoid conflict was rotation of power. Buhari will not remain president beyond 2023. Power will shift to another region. And, of course, the new president will use his awesome and unchecked powers to unleash the military too on other sections of the country. Nigeria will eventually get to us all.

Luckily, any Nigerian president will have at his command the services of a genocidal and cowardly army whose only winnable wars are against unarmed and defenceless civilians. When has the army won a battle against armed opponents? That was how they kept massacring peaceful agitators for resource control in the Niger Delta until the youth of the rejoin got the gist and took up arms.

The army couldn’t stop the insurgents from severely crippling Nigeria’s oil production and supply and the state was forced to enter into a multi-billion dollar settlement with the armed groups. The army has also been helpless against a rag tag army of Boko Haram insurgents who have determinedly challenged the legitimacy of the Nigerian state now for upwards of ten years. So far, the army has only been able to technically defeat Boko Haram while the casualty figure in its ranks have continued to rise daily to the extent that the army and the government no longer acknowledge or report the casualties. Unable to successfully confront armed groups, the army is always desperate to boost its sagging morale by being squared against unarmed civilians.

What is more, Nigerians are never in agreement that its army is a professional genocidal army with a rich repertoire of war crimes/crimes against humanity. We find a way to excuse the behaviour of the army and blame the victims. We blamed the people of Odi for killing policemen; we blamed the Tivs for killing soldiers; we blamed the Shiites in Zaria for blocking the path of Chief of Army Staff; we blamed the people of Gbaramatu kingdom for harbouring Tompolo; we blamed IPOB agitators for wanting to break up the country. And now some are trying to blame the youth for protesting at the Lekki toll gate.

Those cheering and excusing the army need not worry. As someone crudely describes the country, he said “Nigeria is turn by turn limited”. Their time will come and then they will understand. After all, their alter ego – Buhari, before he became president, was also railing against the army for killing Boko Haram insurgents in Borno.