Events in the country in recent times have continued to draw attention to the precarious nature of the value of a Nigerian life. In some parts of Nigeria of today, ‘The life of man’ as in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is still ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’ People are shot daily for the flimsiest of reasons even by law enforcement agents who are constitutionally sworn to protect the average citizen.
Indeed, since the return of democracy there have been scores of high profile murders and assassinations. These include those of Harry Marshall, Aminaosari Dikibo, Bola Ige, Funsho Williams and Ayo Daramola.
We also have the ongoing Boko Haram carnage in the North East which has morphed into an asymmetric guerrilla warfare with innocent non-combatants who are frequently caught in the crossfire the biggest casualties.
Though Section 14, sub-section (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria expressly states that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government;’ this has clearly not been seen to be the primary focus of this government. To be sure, some of the factors militating against security are the high level of unemployment, poverty and deprivation in the land; but the government has been less than forthcoming in addressing these issues.
Overall, national leadership hangs in a flux. Tales of impunity abound and unlike in other nations where power flows from the people to the leaders, in Nigeria it has become clear that leaders wield maximum and absolute powers.
Were this to be a recent occurrence alone, we would have shrugged it off, believing that it may also wear itself out soon. But it is not, and our recent history is pockmarked by serial cases of highhandedness which confirm that the current wave of impunity and disregard for human value has been around for a while. In 1971 for example, Amachree, a journalist, had his hair forcibly shaven for allegedly portraying the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, in uncomplimentary light.
A few years later, the military regime of Gen. Obasanjo not only set up the crocodile-infested Ita Oko concentration camp to put away opponents of the regime, the administration was also credited with the infamous and viciously vindictive sacking of the ‘Kalakuta Republic’ on Februry 18, 1978, an action that precipitated the eventual demise of the nationalist and matriarch of the distinguished Ransome-Kuti family, Mr. Funmilayo Ransome-kuti.
The Muhamadu Buhari junta of the mid-1980s took despotism to new heights. Not only were perceived dissidents severely punished, Decree No.4 of 1984 was promulgated, which severely restricted the traditional independence of journalists to seek and publish information.
During the Ibrahim Babangida regime, a previously unheard of thing happened when the founding editor of Newswatch magazine, Mr. Dele Giwa, was cut down in his prime, through a parcel bomb.
The successor Sani Abacha administration could not drive the process of change in promoting the value of the citizen. Rather, it saw to the alleged establishment of death squads, the exiling of dissidents and a general sense of unease and insecurity across the land while he held sway.
Great nations hold citizens’ life sacred
Before our very eyes, life was being cheapened. And not even administration operatives were spared. Internal Affairs Minister, Alex Ibru was a victim. Ditto Attorney General, Olu Onagoruwa. And finally, the administration ate up several others, including the No. 2 man, General Oladipo Diya. Other notable victims of the Abacha terror were Pa Alfred Rewane, General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua and Kudirat Abiola. General Olusegun Obasanjo escaped with bruises while Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka and several others fled the land that was eating its own so voraciously.
Even the mysterious death of Abacha did not put a stop to the senseless killings. Between the transition administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the fledgling democracy of the Obasanjo years, there had been more casualties. MKO Abiola was an early one. But darkness became blacker when, the nation’s chief law officer, Attorney General Bola Ige, was murdered in his own house! This was the nadir of the unfolding saga of the devalued worth of the Nigerian life.
These have been harrowing times. An African proverb outlines that you do not beat and hush up a crying child. To have so many instances of rights violations is indeed worrisome.
The Yar Adua and Jonathan administrations have tried in their own little way to improve upon this situation. But it has not been far-reaching enough. While Yar’Adua, for example, very commendably moved to institute an amnesty programme for the militants of the Niger-Delta region, the subsequent hide-and-seek over the health status of the ailing President was indeed yet another sour period in our national history.
This newspaper believes that President Goodluck Jonathan’s prevarications in exploring a broader encompassing solution to the crippling insurgency in the North gives him away as at heart a politician who could not be bothered with the fine details of fixing a major national emergency that the country currently faces. The prognosis going forward is frightening.
We believe that the time to institute the much needed respect for individual and collective value of lives is now. This newspaper is looking to the presidency to initiate same. This is the time for Mr Jonathan to be truly presidential.