Ihembe Martin, reachable via firstname.lastname@example.org, is a postgraduate student in the Department of Political Sciences @ the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Sad about brutal manhandling of Nigerians under the lock down regime, he is calling for civil society oversight and full investigation.
By Ihembe Martin
Despite the challenges of governance occasioned by ethnic chauvinism, grand corruption, state capture, etc., somehow, Nigeria adroitly has a way of managing pandemics. The ebola episode is one such instance. With COVID-19, the jury is still out on the perception of the effort(s) of the government but the verdict might not be more than mixed fillings as it is now. While the federal and sub-national governments hurriedly came up with makeshift arrangements (medical), it’s heartwarming to also see how sub-national governments have effectively deployed their executive power (not for political reasons as it’s always been the case) to contain the disease. It is worth noting that Lagos State has been exceptional and outstanding in the battle against COVID-19. Also, the role of the private sector and public-spirited individuals in complementing that of the government is both impressive and commendable. All these put together must have had a mitigating effect on the spread of the insidious disease across the country.
However, there is a snag to this effort. Aside from the government’s slow response to calls by Nigerians to close national borders and international airports, its stay at home directive/order which is backed by the use of coercion by deploying armed personnel without explicitly spelling out the rules of engagement and the consequences of violating them is unfortunate, to say the least. To the security services, their deployment without “strongly” echoing the caution of civility was a license to mercilessly and ruthlessly deal with Nigerians, including resort to extrajudicial killings. Incidentally, Nigeria is not an isolated case in Africa.
The new media space in Nigeria is flooded with videos of bestial scenes of security men serially torturing Nigerians. The most unfortunate of this bestiality was the brutal murder of an innocent Nigerian by a soldier in Warri, Delta State which the Police authorities in that state has been trying to explain with difficulty. It is sad to note that with this turn of events, whatever credit the government has earned in its combined effort(s) to contain COVID-19 has substantially gone to the debit side of the balance sheet. Yes, COVID-19 is an insidious disease; but in spite of its insidious nature, it doesn’t brutalize and sniff life out of people the way men of the security services have done in Nigeria, because with good medical attention, the possibility of one recovering from it is very high.
So, why the ruthlessness to the point of the killing of anybody for “supposedly” defying the stay at home directive? Is this the best way to command obedience in a polity that claims to be a democracy? Why this macabre display of barbarism reminiscent of primitive society? This is sad! While the hierarchy of the security services assured Nigerians of the civil conduct of its men when complaints of their ruthlessness became deafening, it is sad to note that allowing their bestiality get to the extent of taking the life of an innocent Nigerian shows it is not in control of its men on the field.
More worrisome and exasperating is the action of the government in the response of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, which I consider “unstateman”. During a briefing in session with the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus, the attention of the SGF was drawn to the unprofessional conduct of security men in enforcing the stay at home order and he responded by blaming Nigerians for not being law-abiding citizens. It would not be entirely wrong to say that the failure of the government to address the issue of highhandedness on the part of the security services further embolden them. Well, the SGF only did what the government is known for. It is quite unfortunate that the only way most Nigerian governments, including especially the one led by General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) have this predilection for using a violent approach in relating with the on civil matters.
To show how emboldened the security personnel was because the government did not see their action reprehensible, a very offensive video trended (is still trending) on social media wherein two soldiers boldly threatened to sexually abuse Warri women and daughters, kill them, and even give them HIV; all because they (soldiers) alleged one of their men was killed in Warri. This allegation of a dead soldier has been confirmed by the police to be false. Well, media report has it that the Nigerian Army has acted on the matter and the soldier in question has been arrested. This is what we hear whenever a trigger happy soldier or policeman engages in unprofessional conduct that involves the life of a Nigerian and then the matter dies without any actions taken. This time, the Civil Society, Non-Governmental Organizations and other organizations responsible for oversight on accountability must ensure that all those involved in this act of ruthlessness face the full wrath of the law in order to douse tension and avert what could be a youthquake.
The other point about to mention here is how leaders must keep in mind how COVID-19 has shown that they are not safe because there are no Europe and America to run to anymore. That is to say that when this is all over, they have to start having serious conversation about possible ways of building critical infrastructure in Nigeria, especially in the health sector. This conservation must be marched with action.
All in all, it has been very interesting to see how one-time geopolitical foes who were torn apart by ideological differences cozying up to each other as division gave way to mutual cooperation more in line with the Kantian notion of perpetual peace in order to save lives. This is what we see with Moscow reaching out to Washington with medical equipment and Havana to Rome, to mention a few. There is something instructive about these in this trying moment. It shows that no matter the sophistication of a country’s nuclear arsenal and its economic success which assures it a hegemonic status, that insurance is not sufficient in the light of COVID-19.
Given the huge infrastructural deficit in Africa, especially in the medical sector, our prayer and hope is: COVID-19 spread in Africa shouldn’t go beyond what it is now. Otherwise, the combined casualties of the Second World War and the holocaust would be nothing near what would happen.