Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Extra-Judicial killings in Enugu, Nigeria

If you follow news from Nigeria closely, you must by now be completely sated by stories of constant, imponderable acts of violence levied on the citizenry by the state police and security forces. Even more than during the years of military dictatorships, the scale of extra-judicial murders taking place in Nigeria today calls for international condemnation, since the Nigerian government appears unwilling to pay serious attention to this terrible phenomenon.

Earlier in the year, the Nigeria army was drafted in to quell the violent uprising by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in North Eastern Nigeria. How did it end? Well, the leader of the sect Mohammad Yusuf was arrested, paraded in front of the media and later handed over to the police. The next thing we saw was his dead body. The police initially said he was killed in a gun battle, until an army officer controverted the police account by asserting that Yusuf was handed over to the police alive and healthy (save for some minor injuries he sustained during the uprising). Photographs of him in hand cuffs in police custody surfaced. The police changed its story: he was killed while trying to escape from custody. When human rights groups complained the Minister of Information, sulkingly stated that the man's death will be thoroughly investigated. That was it. Yusuf's father-in-law, a so-called financier of the sect, was executed illegally by soldiers, in front of cameras. (Watch with caution!)

Now both the BBC and some national newspapers are reporting the recent mass burial of more than 70 bodies lodged at the mortuary of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, the former capital of Eastern Nigeria. Bodies apparently deposited by the police since the past 6 months. The police has once again come up with its usual mantra: these bodies, we are told, were casualties from gunfire exchange between police and armed robbers. But media reports indicate that 6 of the bodies are of young men the police had paraded in public alive recently as a gang of kidnappers. They were never prosecuted. But their bodies turned up in the mortuary. In another instance the police claims that one of the dead bodies belonged to a teenager SUSPECTED of armed robbery.

These stories leave me cold. It makes me wonder what bloody nation--I know it is a leap to think of Nigeria as a "nation"--thinks so little of the lives of its citizens. Someone has to account for these wasted lives. Someone must be responsible for the apparent brutality of these so-called security agents.

What rankles me is that the Nigerian Ministry of Information is busy buying image launderers to help "Re-brand" Nigeria. The least the Ministry can do for my fellow citizens is investigate and let the world know how those piles of bodies at the UNTH mortuary came about. The families of some of the "disappeared" men are pleading for help, and if it is indeed true that the human rights of these Nigerians have been so violently violated, no amount of re-branding will help the image of our country.

1 comment:

charles said...

Thanks for this Chika. As I write now I am presently in Enugu, although I reside at Awka from where I visit the archive in Enugu. Just yesterday I was driving past Aroma junction and I saw a dead body of one young man lying beside one of the ubiquitious police check points around Awka and Enugu. A lot of buses sped past while some police men went about their duty of collecting 20 naira without any slightest moral scruple regarding this dead body beside them. We sped past also without any idea of how that body came to that place nor why the police would not explain what happened to the young man. Nobody asks questions here. I can assure you that it takes a courageous soul to survive in eastern Nigeria where i presently live. You have just given us a glimpse of the huge abuse that happen here on a daily basis. But I can assure you that it needs only the Grace of God to save this nation. Things are really tough.