Imagine the reaction of America and Americans were 100 US Marshals and FBI agents to be gunned down by a secret cult in a single incident. Or to put it in another way, where else in the world would over 100 police officers and other security agents be killed in one confrontation without a cataclysmic upheaval within the political system?
Only in Nigeria will 103 law enforcement agents, comprising officers of the Nigeria Police, State Security Service and Mobile Police be killed in cold blood in the line of duty, yet not as much as a formal investigation has been launched to find out what happened, who gave what orders, whether the officers were prepared for the mission and who was responsible for the brutal massacre that took place. The conspiracy of silence is indicative of fundamental malfunctions in the country’s security structure. What kind of message is government sending to security officers? What sort of lessons will they take from the development?
The events that happened during a clash between security agents and the Ombatse cult in Nasarawa State a few weeks ago is a terrible stain even in the murky waters of rule of law in Nigeria. More than anything else, the message it conveys to the Police and other security agents is that Nigeria may not be worth dying for. It tells them plainly that should they make the ultimate sacrifice and die in the line of duty, not only will they be buried and quickly forgotten (if their bodies can be found), but that no action will be taken against the perpetuators. In other words, their lives are expendable.
Maybe it is because the Nigeria Army knows this that they went on a rampage in Baga when some of their men were killed. In retribution for the killing, the army simply leveled the town, shooting indiscriminately, burning and pillaging. At the end of the killing orgy, scores of innocent men, women and children lay dead and over 2000 homes destroyed. In Baga, as in Nasarawa, not even the usually worthless government commission of enquiry was constituted to at least pretend a level of decency. In both cases, parties took the laws into their hands, knowing that that would be the end of the matter.
Make no mistake, the Nigeria police are no saints. Many innocent people have been killed in police custody, or even on the streets for no reason. Just last week, the Plateau State Police Command dismissed two officers for selling arms to criminals. Bad eggs in the police have been known to engage in armed robbery. The police are as rotten as Nigeria and a sad reflection of the chaos that characterize life in the country today. But does that warrant the slaughter of 103 law enforcement agents, just weeks after another 50 policemen were also murdered in cold blood with no repercussions while accompanying dignitaries to the burial of a relative of a minor government official?
No other country in the world would accept or even tolerate this level of impunity and wanton disregard for the lives of security personnel: Afghanistan has been at war for almost as long as anyone can remember; the FARC rebels in Columbia are engaged in the longest running conflict in the world; police recruits are regularly blown up by suicide bombers in Iraq; Somalia has been in a state of conflict for over two decades; other parts of Africa like Angola, Uganda, Sudan, Algeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra- Leone, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Mali Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere have experienced war and civil conflict, but never in one incident were 103 policemen and security agents murdered in cold blood.
Instead of immediate action to fish out the perpetrators of this shocking crime to serve as deterrence to other acts of criminal impunity and re-establish trust in the families and colleagues of those who fell in the line of duty, very little seem to be coming out from government. The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, has not told the country what he plans to do over the murder of dozens of police officers, while the Director-General of the SSS, Ita Ekpenyong, was quoted recently as saying that the brutal killers had been “forgiven.”
At a candlelight vigil held for the 10 SSS operatives that lost their lives, he reportedly said, “To those who could kill the body, note that you have made your community an ignoble sepulchre of innocent law enforcement agents, and that even though our spirits and will are cast in iron, we have forgiven you. We have obediently handed all of you over to the Almighty God since He taught us that vengeance is His.”
To put it mildly, this is pure garbage. It may be politically expedient to “forgive” the deaths of over 100 officers, but the law should run its full course. Are the lives of Nigerian security agents that expendable? Is murder no longer a crime in Nigeria?