The governors of the 19 northern states on Saturday held an emergency meeting in Kaduna to deliberate over the recent bloody clash between soldiers and members of the Isamic Movement of Nigeria, that left scores killed.
Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum and Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, in his remarks, said the meeting was conveyed to identify the remote and immediate causes of the incident, and thereafter, ensure that the crisis does not spread to other states in the region.
While expressing worry that the incident involves an Islamic group that has a large membership across the 19 in the region and beyond, Governor Shettima noted that the matter, if not properly handled, could trigger another form of restiveness just like the Boko Haram terrorist sect in the north.
He said the governors will take all necessary measures at their disposal to ensure that the incident does not provide room for anyone or group to perpetuate violence in any of the 19 northern States, stating that they will not want the same mistake that happened over the Boko Haram crisis to repeat itself.
The governors also commended Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State for the bold steps he has taken so far to ensure that normalcy returns in Zaria and other parts of the state.
Religious Processions Banned
At the end of the meeting that lasted for over three hours, the forum called on religious organisations and all citizens to respect the law and constituted authority by conducting their activities within the confines of the law.
The governors while condemning the arbitrary blockage of highways through unauthorized processions by some religious organisations and social groups, resolved that henceforth, processions in the region must be allowed only with police permit and protection as prescribed by law.
They also reassured citizens of their readiness to ensure law and order, respect their constitutional rights to practice their religion without infringing the rights of others.
But another point of interest for me is the recurring argument about how much we value human life. What is the worth of a Nigerian life? what does the body language of our leaders say about how much they value the life of every Nigerian. This is critical because it informs how they handle every other thing.
Take for example this analysis from Premium times.
One week after the deadly carnage in Zaria, Kaduna State, involving the Nigerian Army and members of the Shi’ite Community, President Muhammadu Buhari remains silent.
The paper describes the message telegraphed by his silence is less than eloquent, unsettling and disquieting.
Rather unfortunately, and quite oddly, in a presumed secular state, the Shiite movement, like many islamic and christian religious organisations, appears to have its own long-term history of breaking the law, and of impunity, that had not been called to order by previous administrations, especially by holding processions or taking over and blocking major roads with utmost disregard for other road users.
Yet the reaction of many, including Nigeria’s bilateral and multi-lateral partners has coalesced around the view that the conduct of the military in response was both brutal and disproportionate. From within Nigeria, many people and institutions, including the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), as well as the Christian Association of Nigeria have called for an independent investigation.
Amidst this rising crescendo of condemnation and concern, and whilst considering the fact that President Buhari must be awaiting a report of what transpired leading to the massacre, his studied silence appears quite disturbing. He ordinarily ought not to foreclose the need for showing concern by talking to Nigerians about the ill-fated incident.
And, in line with democratic governance, it behoves the President to constantly engage with the public on matters of national interest. Yet, since the incident, the only response from the Presidency has come from a text message reportedly sent by an official spokesperson of the President, Femi Adesina, to a newspaper in which he described what happened as a “military affair”, whatever that means.
The president’s silence is disconcerting for many reasons. First, the Zaria Massacre is the latest in a long and gruesome list of military operations since 1961 that have ended in civilian bloodbath.
Second, President Buhari is not just anybody. He is a two-time Commander-In-Chief, a retired army General and one of the most respected and decorated officers in the history of the Nigerian Army. As a General, what happened in Zaria must be of interest to him. As Commander-In-Chief, he has command responsibility for what the military did. This is not a mere military affair. It is his affair. By keeping quiet, he reinforces the impression that he explicitly instructed the military operation in Zaria or implicitly condoned its manner and outcomes. If this is not the case, then he should say so.
Third, there is disturbing evidence in his silence that far from learning from the mistakes of his predecessor, President Buhari appears willing to repeat the errors that turned Nigerians against the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. It bears recalling that President Buhari rode to the Presidency on the crest of public revolt against the way his predecessor showed scant regard for the lives and sufferings of Nigerians in the hands of Boko Haram extremists. To this attitude, President Buhari promised change. He did not promise being mute.
When citizens are killed in encounters with the armed forces, the responsibility of government is engaged. The people who died are Nigerians. A humane government must show that it cares. By remaining silent, the President appears inhumane and encourages the impression that he neither cares about human life nor about his oath of office.
It is already late but there is still time for the President to correct the course of happenings.
The whereabouts of the leader of the Shi’ite community, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, must be disclosed. He should be released from custody forthwith or charged before a court for crimes known to the law. Contrary to their claim, the Nigerian constitution has no place for the military to hold a citizen in “protective custody.”