An al­pha­bet for a life

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

The lead story in yes­ter­day’s Sun­day Trust set me think­ing again as to what has be­come of hu­man life in Nigeria and of the many events, per­sons and in­sti­tu­tions that have con­trib­uted to this state of af­fairs. Sun­day Trust re­ported that the corpses of 21 de­tainees killed in Sun­day last week’s melee at the head­quar­ters of the Depart­ment of State Ser­vices [DSS] have been ly­ing at the Na­tional Hospi­tal’s mor­tu­ary for a week and no one has come for­ward to claim any of them. Not just claim; no one so much as went to the mor­tu­ary to see the corpses and de­ter­mine whether a miss­ing rel­a­tive or friend could be among them.

Mat­ters were not helped by the fact that DSS did not close to the hospi­tal the iden­ti­ties of the dead men. Each of the bul­let-rid­dled corpses was in­stead la­belled with an al­pha­bet, “A”, “B”, “C” etc. Only DSS would know who “A” is. Why did Na­tional Hospi­tal ac­cept the corpses on the ba­sis of con­trived anonymity? A man was held at DSS head­quar­ters for months or even years for a sus­pected ter­ror­ist of­fence. He must had been re­peat­edly de­briefed and the story of his en­tire life should be some­where in DSS files. The probe was prob­a­bly in­con­clu­sive, other­wise he should have been charged to court. Af­ter all, DSS charged Kabiru Sokoto to court for the Christ­mas Day bomb­ing at Madalla, one of the sin­gle worst out­rages in the whole Boko Haram in­sur­gency.

The de­hu­man­is­ing process ac­tu­ally be­gan much ear­lier, with the in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion of per­sons in­com­mu­ni­cado. If men are held for sus­pected ter­ror­ist of­fences, DSS should ideally in­form their fam­i­lies. I do not see how that com­pro­mises state se­cu­rity. In any case, since the men are be­ing held so that in­ves­ti­ga­tions could take place, their friends and rel­a­tives should have found out about their de­ten­tion in the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. If no rel­a­tive, friend, col­league or as­so­ciate was ever con­tacted by DSS agents, the in­escapable con­clu­sion is that no in­ves­ti­ga­tion was tak­ing place. Would men be held for­ever on sus­pi­cion? oko Haram is the big­gest se­cu­rity prob­lem to con­front this coun­try since the civil war, but I still do not see why the rules of de­ten­tion this time are more Dra­co­nian than those in the days of mil­i­tary rule. Un­der the terms of the mil­i­tary-era State Se­cu­rity [De­ten­tion of Per­sons] De­cree No 2 of 1984, people could only be de­tained on the writ­ten or­ders of the Chief of Staff, Supreme Head­quar­ters for a max­i­mum pe­riod

Bof six months, which could be re­newed. How did it come about this time that a 2013 amend­ment to the Ter­ror­ism [Pro­hi­bi­tion] Act per­mits DSS to de­tain per­sons in­def­i­nitely with­out charge? This pro­vi­sion con­flicts with the spirit and even let­ter of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion. Any po­lice agency that could sim­ply hold per­sons in its cells in­def­i­nitely has no mo­ti­va­tion at all to carry out in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Why is no one ask­ing ques­tions about the num­ber and iden­tity of people be­ing de­tained not just by DSS but in var­i­ous mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties in the North East? Some com­mit­tee or an­other of the Na­tional As­sem­bly should be ask­ing such ques­tions. Even if the de­tails will not be dis­closed on the House or Se­nate floor, mem­bers of a se­lect com­mit­tee should be fur­nished with such in­for­ma­tion on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, as we see in other lands. The CIA briefs con­gres­sional com­mit­tees about even the most sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence in­for­ma­tion.

The courts too do not ap­pear to be con­cerned with this mat­ter even though hu­man life and hu­man lib­erty are cen­tral to demo­cratic ethos. It re­minds me of a pas­sage in Arthur Hai­ley’s 1954 book In High Places, which gave a small snip­pet about the Cana­dian ju­di­ciary. Where a per­son’s lib­erty is in­volved, the mat­ter can­not be left un­til the fol­low­ing day. If a per­son is in de­ten­tion and his lawyer has good grounds to be­lieve that his client should not spend the night in jail, a judge could be aroused from his bed at any hour to sit and re­view the case. The mat­ter can­not be left un­til morn­ing, when it could be de­ter­mined that the per­son spent the night in jail un­nec­es­sar­ily. Com­pare that to what hap­pens here. If the po­lice want to pun­ish you, they will wait un­til Fri­day af­ter­noon to ef­fect an ar­rest war­rant so that you will spend the weekend in de­ten­tion be­fore you are taken to the judge on Mon­day morn­ing. As­sum­ing the judge then finds that you are in­no­cent, what is the com­pen­sa­tion for a weekend spent in jail? he Nige­rian me­dia too is not ask­ing enough ques­tions. The news­pa­pers are sat­is­fied to be told that “53 stu­dents were killed by Boko Haram,” “21 de­tainees died in a jail­break” and “Five po­lice­men were killed in an ex­plo­sion.” Who were they? I of­ten won­der why won’t the po­lice and the mil­i­tary hu­man­ise their own ca­su­al­ties and draw pub­lic sym­pa­thy for them by push­ing sto­ries about their wid­ows and chil­dren. I can see that the Nige­rian mil­i­tary and po­lice do not want

Tto ad­mit that they suf­fered ca­su­al­ties. In the process, they cre­ated a sit­u­a­tion where there is lit­tle pub­lic feel­ing for mil­i­tary or po­lice ca­su­al­ties.

One de­hu­man­is­ing episode leads to an­other. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional is now charg­ing that af­ter the March 14 at­tack on Maiduguri’s Giwa Bar­racks, the mil­i­tary re­cap­tured 600 flee­ing de­tainees and sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted them. In that it had the col­lab­o­ra­tion of Civil­ian JTF mem­bers who, wield­ing clubs and ma­chetes, help to round up the flee­ing men and clubbed them to death. What about the pos­si­bil­ity that some of them could be in­no­cent? I re­mem­ber a lec­ture that the then Chief Judge of old Sokoto State Jus­tice Umaru Kalgo de­liv­ered in the 1980s, where he said a judge would rather free ten guilty per­sons than con­vict one in­no­cent per­son. That is es­pe­cially true where the of­fence at­tracts cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment. What if at least one of the ex­e­cuted men at Giwa Bar­racks was in­no­cent? nother ob­ser­va­tion is, the people of Maiduguri did not seem to cry foul over what hap­pened. At the height of the in­sur­gency, Borno Elders were quite vo­cal against abuses by the mil­i­tary in their op­er­a­tions against in­sur­gents. Yet, 600 people were killed in one morn­ing and not a voice was raised against it. That could be due to the creep­ing feel­ing among many, if not most Nige­ri­ans that a Boko Haram sus­pect de­serves sum­mary death. Of course Boko Haram brought this pub­lic im­age dis­as­ter upon it­self with the whole­sale slaugh­ter of stu­dents, vil­lagers and high­way trav­ellers and the ex­plod­ing of bombs in crowded civil­ian ar­eas. I can­not re­mem­ber one guer­rilla group in re­cent hu­man his­tory that is as com­pletely bereft of lo­cal com­mu­nity sym­pa­thy as Boko Haram. The Afghan Tal­iban, So­ma­lia’s Al-Sha­hab, the IRA and the Tamil Tigers all fared much bet­ter.

Back to the ques­tion, why didn’t any­body claim the DSS 21 corpses? Ev­ery par­ent loves his child but there comes a time in life when a par­ent is forced to dis­own his child in or­der to save him­self from so­ci­etal op­pro­brium. Boko Haram in­sur­gents have brought their par­ents to that crit­i­cal point. It re­minds me of a story a col­league once told me about a fu­neral he at­tended in Zaria. A highly re­spected man in the com­mu­nity re­ceived the news that his two grown up sons died in an ac­ci­dent on the Zaria-Kano road. Hun­dreds of people turned up at his house to await the corpses’ ar­rival for burial. While they waited, ru­mours fil­tered in that the two boys did not die in an ac­ci­dent; that they at­tempted armed rob­bery on the high­way and were shot by po­lice­men. The story teller said one by one, all the mourn­ers picked up their shoes and crawled away un­til the fa­ther was al­most left alone.

AMaybe that is why no one is com­ing around to ask af­ter the DSS 21 but that does not mean a state agency should not treat hu­man lives with more de­cency than at­tach­ing al­pha­bets to corpses.

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