By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“If we can’t be our brother’s keeper, let us at least not be his destroyer.” – John F. Kennedy
ON Thursday last week, our nation lost a little bit more of its humanity, after over one hundred people perished in a fire while scooping spilt petroleum from a crashed tanker. Exactly how many people died in those circumstances, in a State literally sitting on oil resources may never be known.
Their ashes and partially-burnt limbs will be gawked at by fellow citizens, who will then all walk away. Soon the incident will be forgotten; the same way we walked away from victims of many of such disasters in the past.
Vague references and arguments over poverty, greed and indiscipline will be made; but these will not stop another of such disasters occurring soon. And the nation will be reminded then of the disaster of Okogbe which is now a statistic, and it will move on.
A few days before the fire from a crashed tanker took over 100 lives, prominent citizens including a Senator and other legislators gathered around a mass grave with villagers in Maseh, Riyom Local Government of Plateau State to bury men, women and children burnt, shot or hacked to death. Reports say the event was attacked, and in the stampede to escape which followed, the Senator and another legislator collapsed and later died.
While the corpses remained begging to be buried, a section of the local community blocked the highway and killed a few more people. It was all just another day in the killing fields that Plateau State has become. The next few days were also followed by routine intensive searches, burnings of villages and homesteads and the shooting of many cattle around Barikin Ladi. The nation duly noted these events, and our humanity died a little bit more.
Mass killings in incidents such as the fuel tanker fire and the events around villages in Plateau State make headlines. Many others do not. Victims of the bombs and bullets of the Jaamatu Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (JASLIWAJ) (a.k.a Boko Haram) are registered daily.
Daring attacks such as those suspected to have been planned to eliminate the Shehu of Borno and the State Deputy Governor in a mosque last Friday, briefly hold public attention.
The bomber who prayed with the Shehu and then attempted to blow him up a few minutes later will merely redress the growing perception that the JASLIWAJ insurgency (if indeed it is responsible for the attack) only targets Christian places of worship and villages. There are many other mass killings or deaths, the most widely observed being those that involve the Nigerian elite, such as the recent crash of an aircraft in Lagos.
Hundreds die on our highways daily, and the bulk of fellow travellers barely slow down to ask what happened, or how many have died.
Violent crimes take dozens of lives in towns and villages, and communities bury their dead and move on. Communities fight over land or grazing routes, or over seemingly innocuous reasons. Hundreds who survive become refugees and are left at the mercy of the elements. Those who survive with their lives, limbs and homesteads grieve and move on.
Our nation has learnt to live with evil, and this is taking away our humanity. Every single life taken unjustly, or lost through avoidable circumstances weakens our humanity.
The more we tolerate unjust or avoidable death, the less likely we are to ask why they happen, and stand up to ensure that they stop. Mass killings, including avoidable disasters and lives lost to criminals, security agents or ethnic and religious conflicts, or through incompetence or indifference of leaders must be accounted for.
The constitution says our governments have two primary functions: to protect our lives and property, and pursue our welfare. In most parts of our land, development cannot take place without peace; and since neither community nor citizen has peace, none can develop.
In other parts, peace will be unattainable unless substantial inroads are made into poverty. So you will have to develop people in order to have peace.
Democracy and the peoples wish
The simple yet very difficult irony is that democracy is only as good as ordinary people want it to be. Citizens must rise to demand that bad roads must be fixed by those with responsibility to do so. Dangerous drivers who cost lives must be brought to justice. Police must work.
The courts must work. Someone must pay for incompetence, indifference or criminal negligence when aircraft crash. Citizens who are aggrieved by actions of other citizens must have visible and tangible relief for their grievances. Murderers who hide behind contrived causes to kill fellow citizens and security agents must be stopped and punished by the law.
Leaders who cannot protect us from mass murderers, or from criminals who kill because they can, have no business leading us. It is that simple. The simple yardstick to apply when next we have opportunities to elect leaders, or participate in appointing community leaders is their potential to protect us from unjust or avoidable death. This is not too much to ask from a democratic system which cannot promise to do any more than this at present.