By Rotimi Fasan
THE Federal Government last week inaugurated a 22-man probe panel that would conduct full scale investigation of the ‘remote and immediate’ causes of the violence that followed the victory of President Goodluck Jonathan in parts of the North last month.
Headed by Sheik Ahmed Lemu who is the former Grand Khadi of Niger, the judicial panel has the responsibility of unravelling what is already public news, namely that the violence that followed the April presidential election was perpetrated by individuals and groups out to protest against what they said was the loss of the North in the election.
Perhaps the only thing new that the panel might come up with is an official or, better put, government interpretation of the mayhem that increasingly appears premeditated when set against the backdrop of the violence that preceded the election in different parts of the North.
It is as if those who failed to stop the elections from proceeding thought they could create a state of insecurity enough to invalidate their outcome.
Whatever the case may be, the panel has been inaugurated with the promise of a judicial commission of inquiry into the same matter by Abuja. Aside the setting up of the probe panel, President Jonathan also gave N5 million to the family of each corps member, so-called national heroes murdered while on duty during the election.
The question that comes to me is if N5 million is enough compensation for the life of each of these Nigerians callously slain by their own compatriots. And this is a fact that must not be overlooked- that the slain ‘corpers’ met their untimely end not in the hands of some foreign terrorists or while fighting against some invaders from outside the shores of Nigeria.
They did not, like the American special forces that took out Osama Bin Ladin, have to embark on some extremely dangerous mission abroad on behalf of the state. They died working as electoral officers during a mere national election that involved no more than the use of writing materials and harmless machines. They were not found stuffing ballot boxes or snatching ballot papers from voters. Yet they had to die- several in very gruesome circumstances. Their death couldn’t have come from a more harmless enterprise.
Which leads me to repeat my earlier question- is N5 million enough compensation for such loss to the bereaved families? Certainly not! This may explain the anger of those who have called for the scrapping of the NYSC scheme in the wake of the post-election violence.
They hinge their argument on, among others, the fact that the scheme has outlived its usefulness and the air of insecurity that pervades the life of an average corps member in parts of the North. Yet one knows what happened to the ‘corpers’ is what an average Nigerian from other parts of the country suffer once there is any breakdown in order in the North.
Such Nigerians are the immediate target of attack: their life, property and business come under fire by people who only the day or minutes before were well-known neighbours. Many times perpetrators of these cowardly acts are never brought to justice as are those responsible for the religious and sectarian killings that has turned Plateau State into a boiling cauldron.
The situation is not helped by the irresponsible remarks of certain Northern leaders, remarks which tend to place little value on human life. We’ve seen this in the cavalier explanation given for the violence by the defeated CPC presidential candidate whose loss at the polls seemed to have fuelled the mayhem that followed the election.
Mohammadu Buhari simply explained the attacks and killings in terms of displeased voters expressing their anger at their loss. He spoke as if all the votes his main opponent got came from Southern Nigeria if not just the South-South; or as if his own victory is the entire handwork of his supporters from wherever he thought they come from in the North.
Buhari was hardly done when Isa Yuguda, Governor of Bauchi State where most of the corpers met their death, sought to compare the killing of the corpers to some unexplained attack he said he had suffered while serving in Ibadan in 1979. Not done, he spoke about his son that was ALMOST lynched during the latest electoral mayhem in Bauchi and his own house that was torched.
While Nigerians were still griping over Yuguda’s remark, it was the turn of the Legal Adviser of the CPC, Abubakar Malami to pitch in carelessly by drawing facile comparison between the murders and arson in the North and the breakdown in order that followed the electoral heist in the West in 1965. What this man failed to tell us is if the ‘wet ti e’ attacks were directed at Nigerians or specifically Northerners from other parts of the country.
In case Mr. Abubakar needs to be reminded, the electoral violence in Western Nigeria in 1965 was among politicians and their supporters from the Western Region. Neither were the attacks in the West that followed the 1983 election nor the protests, mostly led by pro-democracy groups, against the annulment of the 1993 elections directed at non-Yoruba.
True there were movements of mainly Easterners from the West in 1993 following the war-like atmosphere of that period but it wasn’t because they were targets of attack by the Yoruba. Those who choose to be selective in what they remember must not assume everyone share in their affliction.
For as long as there is that attempt to make light of or cover up for obvious cases of criminal activities by misdirected Northern youths for so long would it be difficult to halt the intermittent attacks on Nigerians from other parts of the country each time the youths choose to be violent.
It was in this context that spokesperson for the bereaved families of corpers spoke of inadequate security in parts of the North in his response to President Jonathan’s speech at their meeting in Abuja. Other Nigerians who derive no comfort from the constant promise of state officials that adequate measures would be put in place to ensure safety for serving corpers have called for their retention in their region of origin.
This would obviously defeat the vision behind the establishment of the scheme. But how can we go on where some people act as if outside the circle of the law? Should President Jonathan insist, as he has promised to, on the full imposition of sanction on those found guilty of causing the last electoral violence he would be attacked by the likes of Buhari of punishing those who didn’t vote for him.
But he must do what is right while we hope that responsible Northern leaders would support him. Otherwise, the NYSC scheme might be living its last days.