The month of August, 2016, will be remembered by the people of Niger as that of bloodbath and preventable extrajudicial killings. We witnessed the biggest crisis in the state that resulted in losses of lives of state and non-state actors in an unfortunate clash. As expected in the political establishment, the August 4 clash between members of the Nigerian Armed Forces and a Community in Bosso Local Government Area has already become a matter of politics to some group. Instead of being an occasion for sympathy and swift action from the appropriate authorities to check lawlessness.
The first major controversy in tracking the reports of the clash was our inability to establish the facts and propaganda of what led to the fatal face-off. The military, through the spokesman of the Army Headquarters, have already popularized their narrative in the media with the Gbagyi communities of Bosso Local Government Area not even accessible by the media to offer us their own side of the story.
According to the Army Headquarters, the August 4 invasion of the “armed bandits” by the military was authorized over intelligence report that there were arms stockpiled in the affected villages, which they couldn’t even spell right. What, however, frustrated this narrative were: one, the people of those villages were not “armed bandits” as claimed by the Army, they were legitimate farmers, hunters and craftsmen whose land hosted the Federal University of Technology in Minna, Niger State; two, the Army Spokesman claimed that “arms and ammunition” including “ AK-47 rifles, pistols, revolver guns, loaded Dane guns, amongst others, were recovered in the operation.
Well, the images shared as those of the arms and ammunition recovered at the villages, however, did not include these sophisticated weapons listed by the Army. We only saw locally made handguns, axes and cudgels. What also makes the position of the Army suspicious is, eleven of their men were reported killed and yet they were still able to recover these arms and ammunition. The question we ought to be asking is, if these people were “armed bandits”, how come they didn’t flee with their arms and weapons after the killings of the soldiers?
The Army returned to the villages and embarked on extrajudicial killings and sadly the corpses of civilians executed were all taken away in their trucks and vans. For many days, the soldiers turned Bosso Local Government Area into a killing field, hunting the villagers across the state and killing them on the spot. Yes, without any judicial or legal means of determining the culpability of those powerless individuals they ought to have arrested first and handed to the appropriate authority.
While the Army served as the judge and executioner in its own case, the Governor of Niger State was overseas, possibly holidaying and enjoying himself. For days, the killings went on, and in all those heart-breaking days, there were neither public statements nor effective actions to stop the killings from the Governor.
It took the swift intervention of Senator David Umaru, who represents Niger East Senatorial District, for a voice of reason and understanding of the clash to become clear to us. His press statement and efforts to establish the facts of the clash further motivated a section of the media and people tracking the unfortunate drama to take peculiar interest in the clash. In fact, Thisday Newspaper even carried that “In Surprise Attack, Armed Bandits Kill 11 Military Personnel in Niger State”, giving a dangerous impression that the soldiers were tracked and killed at their base!
Through David Umaru and others who joined the campaign against extrajudicial killings in the state, especially the foremost writers and public affairs analysts from the State, Ibraheem Dooba and Gimba Kakanda who have been addressing the issues on their social media platforms, we got to know that the people of the affected villages, which are Kpaidna, Lengbe-Dagma, Bambe, Kopa, Lunku and surrounding villages, were not armed bandits but bonafide indigenes of the State who have lived in those villages for years.
We also got to know that the villagers were attacked some time in July by the people they suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, with many of them killed and hundreds displaced. This made them security-conscious and vigilant of harmful threats coming to them. So, the so-called military operation to recover “sophisticated weapons” at 1 AM was perceived by the people as another return of the invaders. They responded with their locally made handguns, arrows and cudgels. They responded in ignorance and fear.
Sadly, instead of apologizing to the people of Niger State for misleading the media over the clash, the Commissioner of Information in Niger State, Mr. Jonathan Vatsa, issued a statement stating, “issues of security should not be used for political advantage and politics should not be played with issues bordering on security especially when it involves a strategic organization like the Military.” This unfortunate remark from the spokesman of the state government is an endorsement of the military’s role as the judge and executioner!
At the time Vatsa stated this, and then, as reported in an online media, “he asked the people to be calm and go about their legitimate businesses,” the soldiers were in Kpakungu, which was like a refugee camp for the villagers, hunting fleeing members of the villages and killing them on the spot. Instead of Vatsa to complement the man playing the role of his principal, he trod a rather pedestrian and needlessly polarizing path. One may only marvel at the reasoning and wickedness of the man who thinks an intervention to stop extrajudicial killings is a way of taking “political advantage” or “playing politics”.
Well, as long as awareness of the soldiers’ excesses was created and that the actual root of the clash was also highlighted, then Senator Umaru’s politics is that the people want to be saved from the unprofessional conducts of the military. The international human rights community and civil society organisations must step in at this time to mount pressure on the Niger State Government to reveal its inability to protect the people of the affected villages when the first attacked occurred.
Perhaps the most disappointing twist of this clash is, when Senator Umaru advocated setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry, the government quarters responded by announcing a committee to report on the clash in 24 hours, and sadly that 24 hours came and passed without a word from the government. We are not even talking about the joke of establishing the fact of such a fatal clash in twenty-four hours! At this point, I think we can only plead with neutral parties to come in and help in seeking justice for all parties.
By Abdullahi Bello Kuta
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