Sunday, December 6, 2020 9:00 am
By Festus Adedayo
British statesman and Liberal politician, William Ewart Gladstone and this white friend of my Shaki, Oyo State-born friend, who we call Kollysho, seem to be in a consensus of mind about the dead and their treatment. Kollysho and his white friend both live in Maryland, United States of America and one evening, during the reign of General Sani Abacha, they had driven round town. While discussing life matters generally, my friend pulled up at a Shell gas station in Baltimore. The white friend was aghast that Kollysho would choose to buy fuel from Shell. It was at a time when activists all over the world were calling for a boycott of Shell Oil. Shell had been accused of inhuman pollution of Niger Delta lands and aquatic resources. Other charge against Shell was the maniacal killing of environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa by the goggled military despot. “In Nigeria, such things don’t matter,” I suspect that my friend, carrying about our Nigerian national emblem of insouciance, must have told his white friend.
The above provoked the curiosity of Kollysho’s white friend who had a very faint knowledge of Nigeria. “Is Nigeria an independent country?” he asked. “Yes,” Kollysho replied him. “Does she produce oil?” Yes. “If so, why can’t Nigeria just explore and sell her oil herself, rather than through Shell?” Nigeria can’t, Kollysho replied his interlocutor. Curious in an eerie way, the white folk further asked why Nigeria could not? “Because we just can’t!” the Shaki folk answered. You could see a miasma of weird confusion circling the white man’s face. He then asked Kollysho how bad Nigeria was. “Very bad,” he replied. The white guy’s curiosity sank deeper and deeper. He asked so many other questions, so as to judge how bad things were for Nigeria. The question he probably had no gut to ask, but which must have agitated his mind, must have been, “Pardon me, are Nigerians human beings?” Finally, he asked, “Are dead bodies found on the streets, left for days and left to rot?” Yes, Kollysho answered. Then the white friend went dead silent, for minutes. When he found his voice, he said, in an apt quip which should be able to win a Nobel: “It must really be bad because, any nation that does not respect the dead cannot respect the living.”
About a century before then, Gladstone also so concluded about a nation and its dead. He had served for 12 years of four terms as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, from 1868 to 1894 and twelve years as Chancellor of Exchequer. Though a believer in the philosophy of slavery like John, his Scottish father, William believed that a people’s disposition to their dead is what they are. He had said, “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure, with mathematical exactness, the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”
Still on what kind of pantheon a people erect for their dead, Daniel Canodoce crosses my mind. If there is an author whose work I have cited countless times to buttress the above assertion, it is Canodoce, popularly known as Can Themba’s. He was a young Marabastad-born South African writer who died in 1968 at the age of 44. Peradventure, multiple citations of a dead artist’s work approximate the African concept of invocation of the spirits of the dead, this writer’s excessively frequent intrusion into Themba’s graveyard to cite his short story, The Dube Train, would have worn out his spirit.
Anyway, Themba, a drunk of renown, literary prodigy and journalist with the famous Drum magazine, alongside another literary icon, Nat Nakasa, was one of South Africa’s journalists who blended journalism with creative writing. They were part of the black Apartheid era young writers who lived by the weird dictum, “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.”
The narrator of The Dube Train, who prefaces it with a description of fellow train commuters as “sour-smelling humanity;” exhibits his impatience with this “hostile life” and “the shoving savagery of the crowd.” Using narratology, we are shown an early morning Dube township train coach to Johannesburg with commuters therein and a girl viciously assaulted by a tout – tsotsi. A woman upbraids the men as cowards for allowing the tsotsi have such a field day without coming to her rescue. The tsotsi pulls a knife as a muscular fellow commuter confronts him but the sudden jerk of the train deflects the knife and pierces the muscular man. All of a sudden, the stabbed man pulls the tsotsi and flings him out of the window, ostensibly to his death. No one bothered that humanity had lost a member. They continued their prattling and howling. Themba ends the story by telling the readers that the murder of the tsotsi “was just another incident in the morning Dube Train” and the crowd “greedily relishing the thrilling episode.” With this, Themba explained the banality and ordinariness of death in the Apartheid era.
The more I observe President Muhammadu Buhari in the past five years of his rule, the texture and temperature of his government and the disposition of Nigerians generally to the dead these days, the more I agree with the trio of Gladstone, Kollysho’s white friend and Themba’s The Dube Train about the ordinariness of Nigerian life and the banality of death in Nigeria. What is left of Nigeria is just an unfeeling shell. Nigeria and Nigerians have lost their sense of empathy and the vitality that makes a being. In the past one week-plus, aftermath the slitting of the throats of 43 – or whatever – rice farmers by Boko Haram insurgents in Zabarmari, Jere local government of Borno State, this conviction has become even more grounded.
I wonder why the brawl on the exact figures of the slaughtered. The whole world knows that we are a dishonest people and statistics always proves very lame to quantify our casualties. For selfish reasons, which we sauce in national security shibboleth, we shroud actual figures of our casualties. However, as at 2014, one of such figures said that, of the 2.3 million people displaced by insurgency in Nigeria since May 2013, “at least 250,000 have left Nigeria and fled into Cameroon, Chad or Niger,” and that, as at this time, Boko Haram had killed over 6,600.” Between 2015 and now under Buhari, at a conservative estimate, Boko Haram must have killed more than five times of the above figures. When this is added to the worsening banditry in the North West, with beheading of victims and kidnapping now pastimes, the summation must be very scary. We don’t care. We don’t mourn any longer. We have become the J.P Clark Casualties, who “are not only those who are dead,” because they “are well out of it,” but we are the casualties “Because whether we know or Do not the extent of wrongs on all sides,
We are characters now other than before.”
Perhaps, we safely arrived at this grisly Gladstone juncture as casualties because we have seen too many dead and too dehumanized to bother about the next death.
Insurgents killed 43 hapless Nigerians in cold blood, tied their hands to the back as they slit their throats. The second day, we all went back to our different businesses, as if nothing happened. Like the Dube train passengers. If tears were ever shed, it must have been by the respective family members of the dead. There was no remorse, no solemnity, no sobriety; no regrets. No flying of flags at half masts. No national address by President Muhammadu Buhari; no single personal word from him, except the doggerel from his media captives. No earth-shaking speeches garlanded with national bother. President Buhari did not fly to Zabarmari the second day to empathize with the people. He didn’t shut the gate of the Presidential Villa to visitors, nor did he heap ashes on his face as Jews did in ancient times.
The next day, Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, further victimized the Zabarmari victims. Why did they not seek permission before going to their rice farms? he asked petulantly. Less than 24 hours after their throats were slit, precisely on Monday, the Nigerian Army further poured vitriol on our national wound. The man who was at the forefront of fighting the insurgents and preventing the likes of Zabarmari massacre, erstwhile Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Olusegun Adeniyi, was convicted by a military court in Abuja. Adeniyi, who took over from Major General Benson Akiroluyo at the Maimalari Cantonment in Maiduguri, Borno State in August, 2019, had starred in a major video that went viral some months after. Therein, he uncharacteristically admitted paucity of intelligence assessment and weapons to fight the insurgents. He further claimed that soldiers under his command, who had just been killed in their hundreds by Boko Haram and their weapons destroyed, were helpless in the war against these sons of a dog. In fact, he upbraided one of the soldiers who was crying like a baby beside him for his effeminacy.
“Since yesterday, we have been met with very strong resistance – from more than pockets of Boko Haram. This morning, from every flank, not less than 15 gun trucks were facing us,” he said and also shockingly admitted that, “it appears the people we are fighting have more firepower than us…” This was an army whose defence budget is in multiple of billions.
Adeniyi had, a few months before, been commended for his gallantry by the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai. On April 5 precisely, Buratai had lauded Adeniyi for never leading “from the rear,” and commended him for being “always in the front.” His, he said, was “the type of leadership that is required and that is an excellent attribute of a field leader.” Shortly afterwards, in a shameless equivocation and systemic demonization of the valiant, Adeniyi’s court-martial commenced. Apart from the reverse of the army authority in trying Adeniyi in a court-martial, the appropriateness of the Army rule cited for his conviction is bothersome and greatly at issue.
The military tribunal found him guilty of “production and publicizing” the video which it said “embarrassed and ridiculed the armed forces of Nigeria.” On June 11, 2018, a military policy on the use of social media for personnel in the Armed Forces had been released, as directed by the Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin. Section 15 (g) of the policy specifically frowns at army personnel “posting any video, audio, materials, pictures during exercises/operations.” The court-martial ordered the demotion of Adeniyi by at least three years and his orderly, Tokunbo Obanla, a private, who ostensibly leaked the video, sentenced to 28 days in jail with hard labour.
While the Armed Forces Act, just like the Police Act, is the bible which undergirds soldiers’ operations, which they voluntarily consented to upon joining the force, the humaneness or otherwise of the Act or even the Olonisakin policy, in this regard and their appropriateness in the instance give cause for worry. First is that the Act does not have any similar provision to the said offence under which Adeniyi was punished. The Armed Forces Act Part X11, Section 45-51 dealing with Offences and Misconduct in Action, have no bearing on the said infraction. I am not aware whether the so-called Military Policy went through the process of passage into the military law architecture or whether, rather than amend the Armed Forces Act to cater for the offence, its framers acted well in making the policy carry the force of law, thereby approximating or acting as substitute to the Act.
Anyway, from Adeniyi’s conversation in that video, it was obvious that the dialogue was with and strictly for the personal consumption of the Chief of Army Staff. To buttress this, he had been recorded in the video to have said: “Good morning sir, I’m standing here with Sector 2 Commander; the armed helicopter has just come to hover our air, the instruction I gave them was that anything they see moving they should engage because most of my gun trucks are not moving. Like I said earlier, the three battalions are fighting as deployed — nobody is running. But what we have here, I will give you some estimates, sir. Boko Haram has fired more than a hundred mortar bombs at us; they have fired 80 to a hundred RPGs at us; in addition to eight to 10 gun trucks firing at us from all sides. We have not run, and the soldiers are not misbehaving or disobeying orders. We have casualties. I will come and see you in person on what we need to do. But we are not running.”
From my elementary knowledge of matching action and speech with intent, a man who spoke directly with his boss as this, probably due to his inability to leave the war theatre for Abuja where the COS was busy downloading fura and nunu and, apology to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, “with his big fat stomach,” could not have consented to the same video being released to the world. Is military law impervious to provisions of the law of the land? The court-martial should be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that there was a convergence of two elements of conviction in criminal law known as the mens rea and actus reus. In a classical description, offences are measured with these elements. While the former comprises the mental component, the guilty mind, the latter is the guilty act. The Latin maxims say that a punishable act can only arise from a guilty mind. Did a literally supplicant General Adeniyi, almost shedding tears himself in that video, even as he brandished the façade of a soldier’s valiancy, present as one with a mind to embarrass or bring into disrepute the army?
The other question to ask is, in the course of the court-martial, was it found that Adeniyi authorized his orderly to release the video to the social media? This, I doubt. Now, let us dwell on the semantics of the charge and apparent reason for Adeniyi’s conviction. The Olonisakin policy had legislated against “posting any video, audio, materials, pictures during exercises/operations.” Posting them to where? To the enemy, the public or to superior officers? Did Adeniyi deploy that video for the former or the latter? In cases of inability to quickly get information across to the military authorities, did that policy criminalize sending urgent information to the high command via video recording? Did the court-martial find this out? Also along this path, there appears to me a marked difference between a video as a communication instrument and video as a social media object, in which case, who posted that video out should be the culprit.
Fundamentally, the provisions of any law that contravene or are inconsistent with the grundnorm, the supreme law of the land, are to the extent of that inconsistency, void. Isn’t this conviction at variance with the demoted General’s fundamental human rights? This is why General Adeniyi should be persuaded to challenge this court-martial ruling in the Appeal Court. A court-martial – whether by special or general court-martial – is not final and can be quashed as in Captain B. O. Akanni v The Nigerian Army where Hon Justice Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu allowed the appeal of Akanni and ruled that the November, 18, 1998 judgment of the General court-martial which was confirmed by the Army Council, was thereby set aside.
As I pondered on this byzantine, ostensibly self-serving judgment of the court-martial against General Adeniyi, I once again remembered William Ewart Gladstone: “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure, with mathematical exactness, the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.” The words of my friend, Kollysho’s friend who said, “any nation that does not respect the dead cannot respect the living,” also filled my head.
In Nigeria, bodies rot on streets and people go about their businesses unperturbed. Lynching of alleged thieves is a usual sight, like in prehistoric times. Only this weekend, one happened in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. During the EndSARS protest, some persons even went a notch higher: They re-evolved into the cannibalism of their ape ancestors by devouring the roasted corpses of their policemen victims. Governments literally lynch and roast their citizens through inhuman policies and they maintain straight faces. We criminalize our heroes and hero-worship our criminals and villains. The Buhari government will go down in history as the author of this perverted and inverted corpus of national ethos. Not only does it deify “repented” Boko Haram insurgents, it “resettles them” with billions of Naira votes and heroes like Adeniyi are criminalized for standing by high ideals. There are no loyalties to high or even low ideals, just base, animalistic instincts. Erstwhile tender mercies have morphed into scavenging and baying for blood of fellow citizens. We are now a dog eat dog society. Respect for laws of the land have transmogrified into disdain and anarchy, from rulers to the ruled. It is so bad that, even if a whole city lapses into ruins today – God forbid – Buhari will go into his characteristic poise of tooth-picking and cross-legging.
Who afflicted Nigeria with this crop of leaders?
-Dr. Festus Adedayo, lawyer, writer, journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan