Before the troll mob advance, consistent with the misshapen line of pedestrian reasoning that dogs Nigerian social discourse, that my given name and the religion it suggests that I profess effectively disqualify me from commenting on the massacre of Zaria, I present my credentials: I am a human being. And my humanity obligates me to interrogate that rash annihilation of members of my species by the Nigerian Army!
I feel violated by the reality of that cowardly carnage. That real life killing spree that mimicked an action movie. That one-sided war enacted as roadside theatre!
A near compulsory labeling has marked the narration of that bloodbath: The casualties were ‘’Shiites’’.
That seemingly innocent characterization, evoked as an ingredient of detail, leavens the disaster and makes the variant of Islam they practiced the shroud around their carrion. It conceals the fact that the murdered were more than the subject of the animus of mainstream Sunni muslims. It sidesteps the fact that they were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. It denies that they were bona fide human beings.
Well, they were…human beings. Those killed by the Nigerian Army. And they weren’t aliens. They were citizens of the Nigerian state. They were like us.
The Nigerian Army claims that Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzakky’s disciples self-destructed by attempting to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Burutai. That’s a pant combusting lie. The Shiites didn’t do substantially more than mount blockades on the highway and obstruct human and vehicular traffic.
The people’s action was unlawful. Their exercise of the freedom of worship should have respected the right of movement of other citizens. The law of the land says all people, theists and atheists, have equal right to move freely without let. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria breached that law by parlaying the population strength of its congregation to deny other individuals the right of way.
But we would be disingenuous to pretend that the Zaria roadblock is unprecedented. It was a common excrescence of a generic local conditioning of selfishness.
Nigerians have a predilection for celebrating their private agenda at the expense of the rights of other citizens. Whoever reckons that he has a good reason to appropriate the road, marks off his appointed portion and defends it against ‘trespasses’ with territorial jealousy.
‘Ex-militants’ barricade the highway in the name of calling the attention of Abuja to the delayed payment of their Amnesty stipend. Kogi youths block Abuja-Lokoja road to agitate for the coronation of the late Abubakar Audu as heir of his father’s inchoate electoral governorship win. Christians trouble traffic with their Christ the King carnivals. Muslims colonize segments of the public road during their jumat prayers.
Odd as this tradition is, it is fairly popular and Nigerians appreciate its use. When you are at the receiving end of the blockade, you take it with equanimity: because you remember the neighborhood indulged you when you cordoned off part of the street to host your child’s christening ceremony!
The Zaria blockade, like other banal instances of such obstruction, is a marker of our progress in civilization. So it is inexcusable for you to kick into butchery mood when you sight bricks on your route…because you happen to be, by the accident of appointment, the Chief of Army Staff.
The real scandal is that the head of the standing army of Federal Republic of Nigeria directed this grotesque abuse of military firepower.
I shudder to think that he watched, like a cinema viewer, as his convoy boys procured uncountable human toll on his behalf. I try in vain to shirk the thought that he permitted them to kill to their heart’s content. I hate to imagine he liked the gory look of that abattoir of civilian corpses!
There is no rationalizing that fatal predation. It was not a moral lapse. The wild cannibalism and the span of time it took to consummate confirms it was a calculated orgy.
The destruction just defies intelligible deconstruction.
Zaria, it must be stressed, was not the abandonment of military professionalism. It was the betrayal of soldiery. It was sadistic gunnery. An opportunistic fun time of heinous brutishness!
Burutai and his soldiers killed as if the uniform they wore mandated them to depopulate Nigeria. They killed as if they were dressed to kill!
Like all tragedies Nigerian, the measure of the harvest is undefined. The body count is a conflict of thumbsucks. The dead are twenty. No, the dead are one thousand and more.
Burutai’s men did not rest after the massacre. They tried to erase the evidence of their bloodguilt. They rushed into Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, collected their trophy corpses and dumped them in a mass grave!
Apart from Zakzakky, who sustained four bullet wounds and a bleeding abdomen, his deceased deputy and his biological son, other fatalities are unknown. They are nameless and faceless.
What’s ultimately distressing about the incident is that Tukur Buratai, the man who cheered the troops as they killed Nigerian civilians, represents the top brass of the Nigerian Army. His appalling conduct in Zaria says much about his discretion as an adult and his tact as a general. He proved that the most volatile patient of a mental home can successfully parade himself as the trustee of the territorial integrity of Nigeria!
The plot is incredibly bone chilling.
You run into a blockade erected by religious zealots. You can’t keep a cool head and summon reason to your aid. You can’t intuit that resorting to force would cost human lives. You order the soldiers at your command to exact the worst maximum destruction possible. And when you are through killing them, you bury them, and swear to the press that ‘’God’’ rescued you from the dead!
Buratai’s resume reads that he was once the Commander of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji, Kaduna State. This stint, I suppose, was one of the points that recommended him for appointment as army chief. Unfortunately, this massacre seems to establish that the former teacher of soldiers may have imparted nonsense to bearers of state arms as code of soldierly behavior. A supporting witness is the army spokesman’s ‘clarification’ that Burutai’s trigger-happy entourage played by ‘’the rules of engagement’’!
Naturally, the alarm should ring that this jerk who incurred an estimated thousand civilian deaths is running the Nigerian Army and defining its operational strategy. His inability to navigate the relatively petty dispute of Zaria is an indication that he is incompetent to manage more complicated contexts that have far-reaching implications for the security of the entire Nigerian state.
The biggest heartbreak so far is that one week after Zaria, President Muhammadu Buhari Buhari has refused to fire the chief culprit and released him and his killer squad for trial. This Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, who until his election was a resident of the neighboring city of Kaduna, has not deigned to acknowledge the well publicized news that his army chief decimated Nigerians for sports. He has largely treated the bloodshed as a non-event.
The most Buhari has done is pick up the phone when his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, called to express sympathy and concern.
Given Buhari’s manifest apathy, it is clear that he wasn’t moved by the odor of the massacre. If he could cast off diplomatic courtesy, he would have rebuked the Tehran busybody for mourning when the bereaved is not grieving!
Even as lamentations soared in Zaria and outrage spread around the world, Buhari celebrated his 73rd birthday.
He made himself available to be ‘surprised’ by his aides with a giant card. He posed for photographs with them. He beamed with smiles.
He received a silent drill display, a parade, a portrait and a giant card from the Presidential Guards Brigade.
He received the birthday card from the policemen serving in the Presidential Villa.
His wife, Aisha, threw him a special dinner. The birthday boy liked it. He received his VIP guests with a handshake and a smile.
Now, birthdays matter because life matters. And all human lives have the same essence and intrinsic worth. When human lives are arbitrarily cut short, we owe our own nature the task of accounting for the callousness.
The President’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, says Zaria massacre is ‘’a military affair’’. Nothing could be more scandalously false. The massacre is a humanitarian affair. It registers in the thinking of the Presidency as a negligible mishap because one of Buhari’s grandchildren was not one of the casualties.
Buhari is leading the crusade to recover the money looted from public treasury by former public officials. Through his fabled ‘body language’, he has inspired the anti-graft agencies to pursue the looters and strip them of their stolen wealth.
The Zaria massacre imposes on him the duty of proving that trivializing Nigerian lives is as much a crime as plundering the public till. He cannot shield the murderers from justice. He cannot celebrate his turning 73 while endorsing an incalculable mass murder with his inaction!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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