By Nehru Odeh
Multiple award-winning writer, feminist and public intellectual, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has described the government of Muhammadu Buhari as ineffectual. She made this assertion in an article that was published yesterday in the New York Times. The piece, entitled, Nigeria is murdering its citizens,was written against the backdrop of the EndSARS protest currently rocking the country, the shooting of innocent citizens and the mindless killing of unarmed protesters by the military on Tuesday, 20 October 2020. The writer is sorely pained by what she described as the president’s aloofness and seeming nonchalance when the nation is burning and on the path of self-destruct.
“The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has long been ineffectual, with a kind of willful indifference. Under his leadership, insecurity has worsened; there is the sense that Nigeria could very well burn to the ground while the president remains malevolently aloof. The president himself has often telegraphed a contemptuous self-righteousness, as though engaging fully with Nigerians is beneath him. Twelve hours after soldiers shot peaceful protesters, Mr. Buhari still had not addressed the nation,” Adichie said.
Condemning the shooting of unarmed protesters last Tuesday, the writer, who was recently in Nigeria to bury her father and cousin, wrote:
“At about noon on Oct. 20, 2020, about two weeks into the protests, the Lagos State governor suddenly announced a curfew that would begin at 4 p.m., which gave people in a famously traffic-clogged state only a few hours to get home and hunker down. I feared that a curfew would provide an excuse for state violence, that in the name of restoring order, the army and police would unleash violence. Still, I was unprepared for the carnage that followed at the Lekki Toll Gate, the most prominent in Lagos. Government officials reportedly cut the security cameras, then cut off the bright floodlights, leaving only a darkness heavy with foreboding. The protesters were holding Nigerian flags, sitting on the ground, some kneeling, some singing the national anthem, peaceful and determined.
“A blurry video of what happened next has gone viral — soldiers walk toward the protesters with a terrifyingly casual calm, the kind of calm you cannot have if you are under attack, and they shoot, not up in the air, which anyway would still be an atrocity when dealing with peaceful protesters, but with their guns at arm level, shooting into a crowd of people, shooting to kill. Sparks of gunfire taint the air. It is still unclear how many died. Those at the scene say that the Nigerian army took away some bodies, and prevented ambulances from getting in to help the injured, and that there was still shooting going on hours later, in the morning.”
Adichie also wrote Nigeria has turned on its people, adding that that it has descended into anarchy and chaos. She hinged this state of anomie on failure of leadership.
“The Nigerian state has turned on its people. The only reason to shoot into a crowd of peaceful citizens is to terrorize: to kill some and make the others back down. It is a colossal and unforgivable crime. The brazenness is chilling, that the state would murder its citizens, in such an obviously premeditated way, as though certain of the lack of consequences.
“It is anarchy, a friend told me. Nigeria is descending into chaos, another friend said. They may be right, but “anarchy” and “chaos” are different ways of using language to shield what is fundamentally to blame — a failure of leadership. It did not have to be like this.”
Adichie also lent her voice to the #EndSARS protest and public outcry against the brutality and corruption of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, narrating how her cousin was once a victim of SARS.
“For years, the name SARS hung in the air here in Nigeria like a putrid fog. SARS, which stood for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, was supposed to be the elite Nigerian police unit dedicated to fighting crime, but it was really a moneymaking terror squad with no accountability. SARS was random, vicious, vilely extortionist. SARS officers would raid bars or stop buses on the road and arbitrarily arrest young men for such crimes as wearing their hair in dreadlocks, having tattoos, holding a nice phone or a laptop, driving a nice car. Then they would demand large amounts of money as “bail.”
“SARS officers once arrested my cousin at a beer parlor because he arrived driving a Mercedes. They accused him of being an armed robber, ignored the work ID cards he showed them, took him to a station where they threatened to photograph him next to a gun and claim he was a robber, unless he paid them a large sum of money. My cousin is one of the fortunate few who could pay an amount large enough for SARS, and who was released. He is not one of the many tortured, or the many disappeared, like Chijioke Iloanya.
“In 2012 Mr. Iloanya was 20 when SARS officers arrested him at a child dedication ceremony in Anambra State. He had committed no crime. His family tried to pay to have him released but were asked to bring more money than they had. So they sold their property to raise money and went back to the SARS office but Mr. Iloanya was no longer there. They have not seen him since. Photos of him on social media show a young man, still almost a child, with sensitive eyes and a future waiting for him. There are so many families like the Iloanyas who are caught between pain and hope, because their sons and brothers were arrested by SARS and they fear the worst, knowing the reputation of SARS, but still they dare to hope in the desperate way we humans do for those we love.”