IDEAS Radio 21 February 2020

Ier Jonathan-Ichaver: Mass Atrocity Deaths Report

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, welcome, welcome to the Public Square.  Eleven minutes past four, and we are set and ready to roll. On the Public Square we’re looking at all the big significant political development issues happening in and around the country.  Today on the show we’ll be looking at Mass Atrocities Tracking Report 2019. And that’s on the IDEAS section with Ayo Obe, and then we’ll be having conversations after that with Professor Chidi Odinkalu, as well as Agba Jalingo, the now … a free journalist, who did grab a lot of headlines, and we talked about him here, I remember when we spoke with Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka.  Follow the programme on Twitter @PublicSquareNG, @RotimiSankore, @naijama, @ideasradiong, @AghoghoOboh, also @NigeriaInfoFM.

Then afterwards we’ll let you know when you can talk to us on WhatsApp as well as when the lines are open.

Good evening Rotimi and Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Good evening Aghogho.

Rotimi Sankore: Hello!

AO: We also need to welcome our guest in the studio.

AgO: Yes, we have ‘Aye-er’ … Jonathan …

Ier Jonathan-Ichaver: Ier Jonathan.

AgO: Ier?  Just say ‘I’ …  Oh my god! I’ll take off the headset.

AO: Well, between Aghogho and Ier …

AgO: Ok, sorry about that, Ier Jonathan is a member of Nigeria Mourns coalition, and founder of SESOR Empowerment Foundation.  Great to have you on Public Square.

IJI: And thank you for having us.

AO: You’re welcome.  Ier, as I was saying, what IDEAS tries to look at in issues of moment, are Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability.  Now it comes under the general heading of anti-corruption, but as we always say, corruption is not just about the money and where that’s gone.  Because in … when a report of this nature comes out, I think – I mean, before I get into the issues of who is accountable for it – I would like you to perhaps just give us a brief explanation of what the report is.  It’s a very short report, but in that … in its nine pages, including the cover page, it packs a powerful punch. And I wonder if you can give us a brief explanation of what’s in the report?

IJI: Ok.  So for some years now, I think for about two years now, we started … we had started the process of basically tracking the killings.  Because one of the things we saw that was coming out, first with the Boko Haram insurgency, and then various things happening around the country, was you just hear these sensational reports, this has happened in this place, a thousand people have died, or three hundred people … 

AO: Unnamed people.

IJI: Unnamed, one, so we’re not even naming …

AO: Not properly counted.

IJI: Not properly accounted for.  And then one group … one set of authorities is saying: That’s not true, it was less.  Another group of people are saying it was more, and sometimes the communities affected would say this or say that.  I remember we had things like that in Agatu. And several places and so on and so forth. Even when, for example, Abuja bombing happened, you remember that bomb that happened on the outskirts … you know, we didn’t have a clear figure.  And what struck me is that till today, there’s not been a consistent list of victims, you know, that we can say, or the government can authoritatively say, that this has happened. Some of that has started happening. So what has informed this was that we need to really be able to say: Ok, these are the numbers of people that have died, and corroborate the … these happenings.

AO: Ok, so that’s why you say that the figures that are given are actually, almost undoubtedly going to be on the conservative side.

IJI: On the conservative side absolutely, because they’re corroborated.  They are things … they’re only recorded … we only recorded the figures that we could corroborate; corroborate basically across the nation.  So the report basically just looks at … I mean, it’s stunning! At least 3,188 Nigerians were killed between January and December alone, in atrocities …

RS: 2019.

IJI: Sorry, 2019 alone, in atrocities, violence related, typically mass … 

AO: And can I please, also ask you to explain, because … and I would urge listeners (I mean, I know this is radio) but I would still urge listeners to go to the … to the Twitter handle of Nigeria Mourns, or Global … witness, Global rights … 

IJI: Global Rights.  GlobalRights.org

AO: … GlobalRights.org, where you can see actually some of the infographics.  And one of the striking ones is the one which says the reported violent killings  breakdown for 2019. And … right at the end there are Enugu State with four, and Abia State with one.  So can you, in the context of saying these are mass atrocities, why does a state which has one killing, or one death I should say, one fatality, still come under the heading mass atrocities?

IJI: Basically, we actually say it’s an atrocity, and it’s extremely about the violence, the violent nature of some of these killings.  Basically …

AO: So it’s not that everybody who is affected by the violent incident that has to be killed before it qualifies for this report.

IJI: No, no.  And a lot of it is around some of the reasons, you know, Boko Haram accounts … ISWAP attacks, cult, gang-related violence.  So you have some of those things that we also look at, that basically talk to the reason why it’s called an atrocity. Extra-judicial killings as well.  So those are some of the things that we basically look at.

AO: So can I ask, now to come to my … my particular bugbears.  First of all, with regard to Accountability: Who do we hold accountable?  Or is there in fact any serious attempt at holding people accountable for these mass atrocities?

IJI: I think our Constitution states who should be held accountable.  The responsibility for the protection of the lives of Nigerians lies with the Nigerian Government and of course, its security apparatus which is derived …  Because the authority for leadership devolves from us being able to … we … the reason we’re a nation and the reason we’ve submitted ourselves to the leadership, is that: You will protect us, You will make sure that these things are dealt with, that there’s justice, that where there’s violence, where there are atrocities, the killers will be found, the perpetrators, the funders of these things will be fished out and justice will be served.  So those are the people to hold accountable.

AO: And in fact in Nigeria, all the reins of the security apparatus in one way or the other, they end up in the hands of the President, because he’s the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces …

IJI: Absolutely.  Absolutely.

AO: … he has operational control of the Nigeria Police, and then we have all these other bodies …

IJI: The other things that we have, the other bodies, the Army and everybody.

AO: So … but what effort, is any effort in fact being made at holding people Accountable, or is there any consistency about it?

IJI: Absolutely.  I think part of the efforts that have been made, this is where, one: even just being able to document, so that we can actually speak, and use this as a tool for advocacy to say: Look, people are dying, these are the numbers.  It’s not about: Oh, somebody came and sensationalised it or it’s a sensational report. So one, that was it. Number two, the other thing that we’ve been doing, and several groups across the country have been participating, is the Nigeria Mourns, so we have the National Day of Mourning, where we really call attention to these killings.  And it’s not just about calling attention and saying: Oh, people have died and mourning, that is one space, but also, there’s the call for the government to do its job, and find the people who are responsible for this violence and bring them to book. … For example, a lot of election-related violence last year, and we’ve not seen any notable convictions.

AO: No.

IJI: Even though there were such high numbers of people killed.  … So these are some of the things that, some of the activities that the National Day of Mourning, Nigeria Mourns as a group, tries to do across the country to call attention to these issues.  Of course, there are other people, other partners who are going to court, who are trying to call the government to its responsibilities …

AO: To hold it to account?

IJI: … to hold them to account, to say this is happening, how come we’ve not getting this?  Of course, you’ve heard about the cries for the security chiefs to be sacked …

AO: Well, the security chiefs whose tenure has expired, to be …

IJI: Exactly, exactly!  … Because they’re not being effective.  … We can colour it any way we want, but they’re not. … So these are some of the things that … some of the actions that have gone on and continue to go on.  And we continue to record. Even now, January, December, we keep looking at the figures and seeing. I mean already January is not looking good I think there are almost about … over a hundred people killed again, violence-related and we’re still hearing scary figures every day.  So it’s quite scary, but definitely, the people to hold to account are … the person to hold to account is the Commander-in-Chief and those who are appointed …

AO: And that’s both for the mass atrocities where they are reported to have been perpetrated by the … by government agencies, but equally where the mass atrocity is perpetrated by an outside agent like a bandit or a terrorist, or a non-state …

IJI: A non-state actor, absolutely.  I mean one of the things that is also striking, is that one in six of these deaths is actually the death of a state security agent, whether a policeman, an army person.  … And so, of course, our hearts also … because it’s not just about saying: Oh, the civilians are dying. Our security …

AO: They’re still Nigerians.

IJI: That means our security forces are depleting.  Policemen are dying, army people are dying. And we hear these stories every day.  So it’s quite … it’s very serious.

AO: And do we find that where these things happen, there’s any more … whether the level of attempt to discover or find the perpetrators is any more intense, or is it just still put under the pile of “Well, this is politically-related violence and we just have to live with it.”?

IJI: I think, our finding is, sadly, where there are certain personages affected, you see more effort.  So if there are people who are more highly politically – what’s the word? 

AO: A class thing.

IJI: A class thing, or politically, you know?  I mean, I’ll just tell you a story this was a kidnapping story, but we know that a lot of these kidnapping stories end up in death.  And a person who is a senior person in the security forces was kidnapped – I think the police. And the people who were reporting on this said they were shocked at the sophistication of the investigative techniques that were employed to rescue this person, and they rescued this person in the end.  You know, but these are tactics that ought to be available …

AO: What about the ordinary police or officer

IJI:  … to the everyday policeman, to the ordinary Nigerian, to everybody who’s out there, because that’s why we’re here.   So that’s one thing. The other thing that’s very interesting, again, talking about kidnapping and the trend we’re seeing of course, is that as people kidnap for ransom, these ransoms are feeding …

AO: It’s a vicious cycle.

IJI:  … it’s a vicious cycle because they now get more money to buy more weapons.  My personal view is that really, the Nigerian government should have taken a stance long ago,  not to negotiate with terrorists, or at least pay ransom.

AO: Or to trace the money, to mark the money, to …

IJI: To trace the money, find the money, follow the money!  You know! So these are some of the things, where it comes back to Accountability. …  And also the ability of the present government to deliver. Is it that they lack the know-how, they lack the capacity, or do they lack the political will?

AO: They don’t always deploy them.  Now one of the things, and it’s good that you mentioned the present government, because one – as I said, the D in IDEAS stands for Democracy.  And it’s been a tool that has been used by campaigners, to actually say that the safety and security of citizens, is in fact a political matter.  But can you break this down for me a little bit, because: Is it a partisan political matter, or is it a governmental matter, that we are saying that any government, or that any government needs to be held accountable for … as a political matter in a Democracy.

IJI:  Any government should be held accountable.  It is … you know I always say, when it comes to politics, politics really means things that concern the governing of the people.  So the killings of the people in the real sense of the word is a political matter in the sense that this is the real problem where…   People are dying, people are being killed, and of course, as a result, the government should be held accountable. I think what tends happens to happen in Nigeria, people get caught up in this idea, that oh, there’s partisan politics, so if you say for example, my guy is in power now, if anything happens, we’ll blame the other side …

AO: We have to pretend that it’s not happening.

IJI: … we’ll pretend it’s not happening.  But it’s happening to everybody, it’s happening to all of us.  And so the parties that get in, the government get in, they are elected to deliver, whether you are XYZ party, or ABC party or PDP or whatever it is: Deliver the goods!  The goods are our lives should be secure. And if we are demanding for that right, in the same way, when the girls were kidnapped, Bring Back Our Girls, the demands continue all through, whether it was a PDP government or an APC government, we were concerned about the people, about the girls.  In the same vein, people are dying. Dying under the previous administration, they are still dying and increasing, surprisingly, under this administration. They should do their job.

AO: Thank you.  Rotimi, I don’t know if you have any …

RS: No, I have a long list of questions for the main Public Square.  It’s fine, thank you.

AO: OK, well, I want to thank you very much Ier for coming on, and giving us an  Accountability and Democracy perspective. I want to, perhaps suggest that there are also some issues connected with Integrity and Ethics, because when today, you say that the safety of security of citizens is a matter of serious concern, and then when you hold the reins of power, it becomes: Ah, we can’t do everything o!  

IJI: Absolutely, absolutely.

AO: People are bound to see that also, through the prism of Integrity.  So I want to thank you very much for coming on to IDEAS radio, and we look forward to having you again, perhaps with a better report than these terrible figures, which as … I think it needs to be emphasized are on the conservative side. 

IJI: Conservative side, we really hope that will change.  Can I just ask that we follow the hashtags #NigeriaMourns, #NationalDayOfMourning, which is slated for May 2020.

AO: May 28th or May 20th?

IJI: May.  No, May this year We’re still figuring out the dates, just  follow the hashtags, follow us on Twitter, just follow #NigeriaMourns, and more information will be coming forth.

AO: And for the graphics and other information about the Mass Atrocities Report, there’s also a hashtag, which is #NigeriaMassAtrocitiesReport.

IJI: You can do #NigeriaMassAtrocitiesReport, you can do #NigeriaMourns as well.

AO: If you find #NigeriaMourns you’ll find the same information.

IJI: You can follow @GlobalRights as well.

AO: So it’s important because when you see the graphics you get perhaps a clearer picture of the matters at stake.  So thank you very much Ier for coming on to IDEAS radio. So I give the matter back to Aghogho and Rotimi.

AgO: Ok, so Public Square will be right back.