El­nathan John, au­thor of Born on a Tues­day, Nige­ria

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - El lnathan John Au­thor r of Born on a Tues­day, Nige­ria

It is a truth uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged, at least in Nige­ria, that a group in op­po­si­tion to the gov­ern­ment, and es­pe­cially its army, is in des­per­ate need of a clam­p­down by the Nige­rian se­cu­rity forces. I have wor­ried about this all of my life, some­times swim­ming against the tide of public opin­ion – al­beit with a small band of co-swim­mers – either by ra­tio­nal­is­ing post-protest mas­sacres or cel­e­brat­ing it and prais­ing the army for a job well done. So, I un­der­stand if you are ini­tially un­com­fort­able with the ar­gu­ments in this ar­ti­cle. But stay with me on this: I think the Nige­rian state and its army are right af­ter all. Let us look at the cur­rent cri­sis in Nige­ria’s south-east, where there are se­ces­sion­ist ag­i­ta­tions, and con­sider the ev­i­dence that, at the least, the Nige­rian state and its pol­icy of re­act­ing to protests with the full weight of its army is the best one. But first, a short trip down a bushy path called Mem­ory Lane – a patch of land not quite pop­u­lar in Nige­ria. Not to worry, I won’t take you too far. I won’t go back to the years when we used to write dates dif­fer­ently, like 1999. Let’s start in 2001, Oc­to­ber, when 19 sol­diers were ab­ducted and killed in Benue State in north­ern cen­tral Nige­ria. Later that month, sol­diers from the 23rd Ar­moured Brigade of the 3rd Ar­moured Di­vi­sion of the Nige­rian army, in an ap­par­ent re­tal­i­a­tion, car­ried out an op­er­a­tion in the ar­eas of Logo and Zaki Biam that ended in the deaths of more than 100 non-com­bat­ant civil­ians. I know 100 seems like a dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse, but you have to think of the ef­fects and con­se­quences of that op­er­a­tion: si­lence. Si­lence from the Nige­rian army in re­sponse to rights groups who de­nounced the atroc­ity, but more im­por­tantly si­lence in Zaki Biam. Mas­sa­cred civil­ians can’t scream. Some­times, you have to think long term. Now walk for­ward with me to 2015. In De­cem­ber, sol­diers, for the heinous crime of stand­ing in the way of the army chief ’s con­voy in Z aria, north-west Nige­ria, killed and buried at least 347 mem­bers of a Shia Mus­lim group that calls it­self the Is­lamic Move­ment in Nige­ria.

Don’t ask me why peo­ple ex­pect to re­main alive af­ter a dis­agree­ment over right-of-way with sol­diers. I am only a writer, not a sage. In fact, on 25 July 2014, 33 mem­bers of this group had been killed in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances. Again, don’t ask me why they need- ed to march so badly they de­cided to get killed by the Nige­rian army. Now, granted, I was in­censed when I first heard of th­ese killings, but I am now step­ping back to look at the facts dis­pas­sion­ately. Since De­cem­ber 2015, when hun­dreds of Shias were mas­sa­cred, there has been no vi­o­lence on this front. When 33 wasn’t suf­fi­cient, 347 proved to do the job. Again, it may seem like a high price to pay, but you know, peace and quiet comes at a price. Think long term. Which brings me to the south-east. Ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch, in Fe­bru­ary and May 2016, “po­lice killed at least 40 pro-bi­afra mem­bers of the sep­a­ratist Indige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra (IPOB) dur­ing protests and processions,” sep­a­rat­ing them

Don’t ask me why peo­ple ex­pect to re­main alive af­ter a dis­agree­ment with sol­diers

per­ma­nently from their fam­ily and loved ones. When ag­i­ta­tions con­tin­ued, the army – in a show of force – an­nounced the launch of Op­er­a­tion Python Dance II, which some have claimed has al­ready led to cases of abuse. Now, one might ask why, in re­sponse to a group that has en­gaged in mostly non-vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal agi­ta­tion, is the army send­ing pythons to dance, lead­ing po­ten­tially to the deaths of civil­ians? Read­ing the news from a con­ti­nent where we take many of our demo­cratic point­ers from Europe, I have seen how the Span­ish gov­ern­ment’s be­lief in hu­man rights has led to the Cata­lans do­ing a thing as au­da­cious as at­tempt­ing to de­cide for them­selves if they want to gov­ern them­selves or be gov­erned by Spain. I will not be sur­prised if there are Nige­ri­ans in Cat­alo­nia giv­ing them dan­ger­ous ideas. But now the Span­ish gov­ern­ment has seen the light and is visit­ing Cata­lan se­ces­sion­ism with the force it de­serves. They are fi­nally learn­ing from the Nige­rian army.

Now some peo­ple may talk about re­spect for hu­man life and dig­nity. Some may even blame Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari for alien­at­ing an al­ready im­pov­er­ished re­gion by im­ply­ing that those who did not vote over­whelm­ingly for him do not de­serve equal treat­ment by his gov­ern­ment. Th­ese are dis­trac­tions. I am more in­ter­ested in peace and sta­bil­ity. Af­ter all, we don’t want peo­ple run­ning around ex­er­cis­ing things like rights to free speech and assem­bly. Also, this has noth­ing to do with devel­op­ment and the econ­omy. It is sim­ply about un­ruly peo­ple seek­ing to dis­turb the peace. If you al­low ev­ery­one to gather, you never know what will hap­pen. Too much free­dom is what pro­duced things like Mr Trump, who, in an un­prece­dented night­mare, won the Amer­i­can gameshow where one is re­warded with nu­clear codes and the best-equipped army on earth. This is why I en­cour­age Amer­ica to sup­port Nige­ria. It re­cently re­fused to con­sider the IPOB a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion even though a court in Nige­ria had clas­si­fied IPOB as such. We need Amer­ica to agree with us so that it will be­come eas­ier for sol­diers to sep­a­rate more sep­a­ratists from life and lib­erty. We re­ally don’t want our sol­ders to kill peo­ple and then find them­selves fac­ing war crimes charges in the near fu­ture. The US should think long term. In fact, I would sug­gest that the Nige­rian army do pre­emp­tive op­er­a­tions in civil­ian ar­eas with ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers (APCS) – and, just to lighten the mood, have ‘APC’ em­bla­zoned on them and leave peo­ple guess­ing if it stands for the acro­nym of Nige­ria’s rul­ing party. I am well aware of the peo­ple who want to walk deep into Mem­ory Lane with all its weeds and dan­ger­ous an­i­mals lurk­ing, peo­ple who want to go far into the rea­sons why the ag­i­ta­tions of the south-east per­sist and why it might be im­por­tant to take devel­op­ment and in­te­gra­tion to a re­gion which was the cen­tre of the only civil war we have fought se­ri­ously. But I say it is ir­re­spon­si­ble to com­pli­cate a sim­ple mat­ter. It is im­por­tant to keep the Nige­rian army ac­tive and en­gaged just in case we get at­tacked by an ex­ter­nal force. Also think of the added ben­e­fit: while the Nige­rian army is prac­tis­ing with civil­ian se­ces­sion­ists, it frees the po­lice to do things like di­rect­ing traf­fic and other im­por­tant trans­ac­tions with mo­torists.

While the army is prac­tis­ing with se­ces­sion­ists it frees the po­lice to di­rect traf­fic

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