NDoM, Mass Atrocities and IDEAS, Episode 77 (29/5/20)

IDEAS Radio 29 May 2020

NDoM, Mass Atrocities and IDEAS

Aghogho Oboh: Shaku maku everybody … beautiful weather we’re having this season as we go into the second half of the year.  And I’m Aghogho Oboh on the Public Square where we’re looking at all the big political and development stories happening around us.  Remember you can join the conversation on social media any time, @PublicSquareNG, @Ideasradiong, @RotimiSankore and @aghoghooboh.  

We’re going to open the Public Square as usual with Ayo Obe, and we’re looking at yesterday’s big event which was marked by a number of civil societies: the National Day of Mourning, several thousand people killed in just a couple of months, and that’s something that has IDEAS components in it.  And then when we’re through with IDEAS, we do a beeline to the centre of the Public Square, Rotimi Sankore and I will be joined by the Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, on this new election policy guideline in pandemic, the Corona virus.  It will be interesting to see how that conversation goes there.  Remember that the fourth quarter of this year we’re going to be having elections in Ondo and Edo states.  But we’re ready for the Public Square, and we’re ready to kick off with Ayo Obe.  

Hello Ayo! … Hello Ayo?  … we’ll try and fix that and get Ayo Obe shortly on, but just give me a second, and then we will look at the National Day of Mourning.   Remember, that yesterday I said, Nigeria observed this National Day of Mourning, and … and majorly by civil societies … a civil society initiative to mark the fact that over the years thousands of Nigerians have died as a result of mass atrocities, and in IDEAS, Ayo will be discussing the link between these deaths and the concepts of Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability.  Just give me a couple of seconds and we’re going to connect with Ayo Obe to help open the Public Square.


AgO: Ok, I think we have Ayo Obe … ok, still trying to do the connection …  And so we finally have Ayo Obe in the Public Square.  Hello Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Hi Aghogho, how are you?

AgO: I’m brilliant, and how are you?

AO: I’m fine.

AgO: Alright, everyone readjusting and realigning to life in the times of the Corona virus pandemic and finding new ways of getting on with life.

AO: Indeed.  But I’m still looking forward to being back in the studio!

AgO: Absolutely, and we’re looking forward to welcoming you back with open arms.  A number of listeners asking: When is Ayo going to be in the studio?  And I said: She’s here already!  You’re just not looking in the right places!

Ok, Ayo just before you connected, I was just letting the listeners know about what happened yesterday which was observed as the National Day of Mourning.  It’s a civil society initiative to mark the fact that over the years, thousands of Nigerians have died as a result of these atrocities.  And we’re looking at the link between these deaths and the concepts of Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, which is the long form of IDEAS.  So Ayo, the first question which is of course, the obvious which we have dealt with over and over again when we’ve had discussions every Friday, has been to understand the IDEAS component, for example, of mass atrocities, and why we are soberly looking at this National Day of Mourning in 2020.

AO: Well, Aghogho, the first thing is to remind ourselves as you said, that some of the context … the … the components of IDEAS are Integrity and Accountability, and certainly, obviously if there are atrocities perpetrated by our own government’s security agencies, definitely they have to … there has to be Accountability for that; it’s not a matter of the Police or the Army being accused of atrocities such as killings or torture and so on, and then nobody is held to account.  But I think also that most of the atrocities that we also have to look at, are also those perpetrated by criminals, and you know, they could be bandits, they could be insurgents, they could be terrorists or they could even be mobs. … rioting for one thing or the other, or setting on one group or the other.  

AgO: Absolutely.

AO: And I think that the point about Accountability here is that the government owes the citizens of Nigeria security, it’s the first requirement … it’s the first reason why people come together as government … under a government.  And so if these atrocities are being perpetrated, and the criminals or the terrorists or the mobs are able to get away with it, then it becomes a question: What is the point of the security agencies?  Are they guaranteeing our security?  So they are also … even though they are not necessarily the direct perpetrators, the security agencies are still accountable for the … for the atrocities, bringing the people to justice and of course, finding out who was responsible and bringing people to justice and of course, making the victims whole, as far as is possible.

AgO: Absolutely, and those are questions around Accountability and what it means for us.  Do you …there’s something we … well, it’s unfortunate, most times in the news, it’s like the biggest secret, every time you have to report on killings, the question is: How many people have died?  And that way it becomes a topic of conversation … in the news reportage and all of that, but it’s a question I think people often want to know, whether we talk about atrocities only when people have been killed?

AO: Well, no, definitely we cannot talk about atrocities only when people have been killed, and in fact it’s our failure to understand the link between the atrocities where people don’t get killed and the ones where they do, that probably actually allows the matter to escalate.  Because it certainly covers issues like abuse of human rights and  the duty to respect human rights whether we are in government or not, and that actually includes not just the actions by our police and security agencies, but also actions by criminals and terrorists.  When the Chibok Girls were kidnapped in 2015 … 2014, it was not done by government, but the … but it was still an abuse of the human rights of the kidnap victims, and we are still saying that the government is accountable for bringing … for not only for rescuing the kidnap victims, but also for bringing the perpetrators to book.  You’ll also remember also that we had a report by the National Human Rights Commission recently which related the human rights abuses that were suffered by Nigerians at the hands of security agencies who were acting under guise of enforcing the anti-COVID19 lockdown.  Certainly there were deaths, but there were also abuses and forms of inhuman treatment.  So I think that we need to understand that the victims of atrocities are not just those who die or are injured, but they are also people whose rights are abused.

AgO: And the numbers often times, have formed debate topics about whether those numbers are accurate or not … when those killings have happened, which of course explains why we have thousands rather than hundreds in the way the killings have happened and the way they have also been reported.  But do mass atrocities raise any Integrity or Ethics issues?

AO: Well yes, I think they do, particularly when it comes to the disputes about figures, or the alleged concealment of atrocities.  For example, in its statement on the National Day of Mourning yesterday, the Civil Society Joint Nigeria Crisis Action Committee said (and I’m quoting them now):

“… the country continues to experience an exponentially rise in violence, perpetrated by organized criminal groups with a monumental loss of lives, livelihoods, and property.  For the most part, the destruction associated with this spiralling crisis of violence and mass killings has been grossly under-reported.  Even with the suppression of information on these killings, it is quite clear that the toll of killings has risen dramatically.”

And then they go on to say that at least seven thousand nine hundred Nigerians were victims of violent killings between 2018 and now, and that in this first quarter of 2020, there were almost one and a half thousand deaths and this is not just in the north east where we have an insurgency, but across the country, from – as they say: “From Akwa-Ibom to Zamfara, Nigerians wake up daily to fresh news of mass atrocities which are barely acknowledged by the government and a vast majority of fellow citizens.”

But I want to say Aghogho, that in a way, disputes about numbers can be a bit of a red herring.  And … if we are going to do something about these mass atrocities, does a dispute over the numbers help us make practical progress?  Or do they obscure the issues?  In fact I’m reminded of the old question: How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Because for my money, if a group says 12 people were massacred and official sources say 6, then we take them at their 6 and we say: Who are the 6, and what has been done in respect of those who killed, or abducted, or tortured the 6?  

AgO: Or even, prevent it from re-occurring?

AO: From there, we move on and say: Ok, we understand what’s being done about A, B, C, D, E and F, but we also draw attention to G, H, I, J, K and L.  What’s being done about them?  And I think that’s why it’s important that the victims of mass atrocities should be identified and named, so that we don’t create this expectation that once the numbers are big, we can call those who say: “Look, every affected victim has to be accounted for” … you know, we tend to say: “Ah, they’re being unreasonable.  Ṣebi they have tried, they’ve done something.”  … I mean, quite frankly Aghogho, I was looking at an article that I wrote in 2015 about … on the 500th anniversary of the kidnapping of the Chibok Girls, and I talked about the fact that there’s a call for a National Register of Missing Persons because it’s an attempt to shed light on this area of ignorance… “And that ignorance goes beyond this wilful refusal to count ourselves properly, or to register our births or deaths.”  I had been listening to an inquest into the deaths of the 96 people who died in the British Hillsborough disaster at a football match in April 1989.

AgO: ’84, ‘84.

AO: And each individual victim had a … an inquest.  You know, you contrast that, you remember when the Synagogue Church of All Nations guest house collapsed, and people were saying: “Why should we have an inquest into the deaths of 116 people?”  So we have to … we have to identify each victim.

AgO: Mmm.  Absolutely.  So, in case you’ve just joined the conversation on 99.3 Nigeria Info, Public Square, Ayo Obe is looking at the National Day of Mourning, the IDEAS component of the discussion is what we’re looking at.  Remember, you can join via WhatsApp if you have any questions for Ayo, 08095975805, or you want to contribute in your comments around the killings that have happened, horrendously, several thousands in the last year.  …  So Ayo, how do we move from counting and mourning (or rather, counting and not even counting) like you’ve shown that sometimes we’ve … the government and the authorities have been lax in responsibilities here, in the Accountability section when it comes to mass atrocities?

AO: Well Aghogho, I’m afraid that I’m going to sound a bit like a broken record here, because I’ve said this before, but we have to get to the place where there is accountability for criminal acts, no matter the identity – and by identity, I’m meaning things like class, religion, ethnicity, race, gender, or profession – of either the victims, or of the perpetrators.  You know, this thing where we say: the wife was killed by the husband: “Well, you know, domestic violence”, or we say: “Oh, it’s those people killing themselves over there, or we say “It’s cultists who have been killing themselves and fighting”, and so on and so forth.  Obviously it applies to the security agencies, particularly the Nigeria Police, but I think it also applies to the rest of us.  We also have to accept that … we have to have the imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of the victims, so that we don’t say: “Oh, well, that’s those people, that’s their culture, we don’t have to …” or whatever, “Oh, if they decided to go into cult activities …”  We have to …  Where there’s crime, there must be accountability … And I would say also that we need to address the training, the rules of engagement of security agencies, and to end impunity not just for the members of the government, or the security agencies that act in the name of the government, but also for the criminals and terrorists.  I mean, the JN-CAC spoke of (quote and unquote) “vast swathes of ungoverned territory have been taken over by rustlers, bandits and vigilantes whose preferred currency is blood.”  And they said that:

“We have to end the spiral of the conflict in the regions by ordering … full investigations into the killings to fish out and bring the perpetrators of the crisis to justice;

Ensure that there’s humanitarian aid and assistance to communities displaced by the crisis, and also take measures to combat the proliferation of small arms”

… and so on.  Now I want to say that the JN-CAC also said that “the government has shown itself unwilling or unable to confront the killings”.  I’m not going to necessarily agree that that government has been unwilling to confront the killings, the fact is that we have seen numerous reports of engagements between not only the armed forces and terrorists and bandits, but also between the police and other types of criminal.  And the truth is that many of our security agencies have lost their lives in such encounters.  So I don’t think that we should downplay their sacrifice by a “nothing is being done” type of narrative.  I think that we’ve moved on from the situation where the government felt that they could just commiserate briefly with those affected, and then move on, because they were relying on some kind of national “Well, it’s not us” mindset, to avoid being held for account.  And in fact, I think that the National Day of Mourning is about telling government that we are not ready to “briefly commiserate and move on”.  Now, we also have to recognise however, that Boko Haram, ISWAP, climate change, the fallout from Libya which has disseminated small arms and terrorist methodologies throughout the West African region; those mean that the scale and intensity of the violence we confront are increasing.  We also know that we can’t expect to know all the steps being taken by security agencies to confront these, because intelligence activities aren’t conducted in the open!  And quite frankly, for all we know, it may be that unknown to us, the government is pushing a huge boulder of response to all the violence uphill and is nearing the crest of that hill …  But the fact is that we ordinary citizens, we can only go by results.  So we have to keep on pushing, just in case government is falling into that mindset of: “They’ve forgotten, we can … we can move on”.

AgO: Mmm, you know, bring the conversation to a close Ayo … just like you’ve said, and a lot of things I’ve also read from the report by the civil society group, saying that it proposes a rash … a raft of actions to be taken, whether it’s long term or short term, which are second … which are primary solutions to primary problems, like you mentioned, some of these things can be traced to the economic problems with environmental issues, for example Lake Chad has made those places now become huge swathes of land and unoccupied but by people of questionable character.  Would you say that we … the authorities head off straight and start to deal with the short term approaches to resolve the problems rather than look at the long term, which in some cases, require huge capital investment in terms of infrastructure and human capital development?

AO: You’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head Aghogho.  There have to be some short term responses because people are being killed and they are being displaced … we have a huge population of Internally Displaced Persons as well as refugees in other countries, so we have to have an immediate response.  But definitely the long term response has to be investment in our people and investment in government, so … governance I should say.  So it’s … we have to multi-task!  I’m sorry, Government cannot say: Let me do one, and then the other.  It has to be able to do both.  Or all, I should say.

AgO: Absolutely, absolutely.  Thank you very much Ayo Obe for opening the Public Square today.

AO: Thank you Aghogho.

AgO: And I do hope that if by next year we have to look at this again on the National Day of Mourning, we can do a comparison, and see whether the picture is better this year compared to the next year.

AO: Maybe that boulder will have reached the top of the hill and it will be downhill all the way!

AgO: Absolutely.  Thank you very much Ayo.

AO: You’re welcome.  Bye bye.

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