By Jide Ajani
This is the report of the visit of the Victims Support Sub-Committee of the Presidential Committee on the Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts in Northern Nigeria, otherwise known as Boko Haram amnesty committee, to those affected by the suicide bombing which took place in Kano, penultimate week.
The report is revealing and presents a very emotional side of members of the committee. From the outset, it was agreed that names of victims would not be mentioned but that does not in any way detract from the substance of this exercise in compassion. Because of the loss and harrowing nature of the pain, names have been withheld.
The man did not know he was trying to lift a lifeless body – the body of his wife. She was on her knees; as if offering prayers to God.
In fact, that was the first thought that crossed the mind of her husband; that his wife was either praying; or that she was having problems standing on her feet.
This was minutes after the explosions that rocked the Sabon-Gari area of Kano penultimate week tore through the serenity of the evening.
Once the first wave of explosions rocked the area (more like a drinking-cum-relaxation joint), the man simply voted with his feet. His wife was actually standing by him. And, according to him, he thought his wife took after him as he ran off. He was wrong.
After berthing in a place of safety, he discovered his wife was not with him; ostensibly, he thought the woman had taken off in the other direction. As the dust kicked off by the explosion began to settle, he walked back to the spot from where he took off – his wife’s shed.
There, he found his wife on her knees.
It was in an attempt to lift his wife up that the horrific reality of what had happened hit here like another bomb. As he tried to lift her up, he discovered that the bomb had actually blown off the face of his wife of many years.
His story is just one of the many that members of the Victims Support Sub-Committee of the Presidential Committee on the Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts in Northern Nigeria were treated to last Monday afternoon at the Police Station, Sabon-Gari, Kano.
There was another young man who was actually planning his wedding – he was billed to get married in 48hours. But the wedding was never going to hold. The Kano bombing saw to it.
Some others lost their entire means of livelihood; some lost buildings.
There were many more tales of horror by affected family members who had been invited for a parley with the Committee members. The team was led by Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, former Foreign Affairs Minister; it also had Hajia Naja’atu Mohammed, Abubakar Sodangi and the Adamawa State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. Community leaders and some police officers were also on hand.
The Committee members’ day started with a visit to the palace of the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero.
The members arrived there at 10 in the morning.
The members got to Kano the previous night so, punctuality and a sense of purpose was the order of the day.
At the Emir’s palace, the members were received by the WaanBan Kano, the next in command to the monarch. Not that the Emir considered the visit of the Committee members as beneath him. Sunday Vanguard gathered he was just not on hand to receive them. Palace sources made Sunday Vanguard to understand that his royal highness had some other very personal challenges to attend to.
Two things were on the agenda but inexorably linked to mortality. First was the commiseration for the bombing; and second, for the death of the Wakilin’ Kano, who passed away just two days earlier.
From the Emir’s palace, the train moved to two of the hospitals where some victims of the bombing were still receiving treatment – Murtala Muhammed Teaching Hospital and Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.
At the Murtala Muhammed Teaching Hospital, there were six patients while three more were being treated at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.
The members went round the intensive care department of the hospitals where they interacted with the patients.
It was a sight that created an outpouring of emotions.
The members spoke with the patients offering words of consolation that “there is still life and, therefore, there is hope for them”.
Akinyemi and his team stood ramrod in some cases as the victims recounted their tales of woes and how the bomb hit them.
There at the hospitals, the team came across a woman who, though had two sons receiving treatment and convalescing in bed, had lost a few other members of her family.
One woman on sick bed told the Committee members how she lost consciousness when the bomb exploded. The next thing she discovered was that she was on bed in hospital, one leg already amputated while the second one was heavily strapped with bandage. Sunday Vanguard gathered that even the other leg would require massive reconstructive surgery for it to remain useful.
There was another man who narrated how he lost his only son to the explosion.
They also met a man who lost three children at once and he himself was badly injured
One by one, the tales of woes began to weigh heavily on the minds of the members.
For Akinyemi and Hajia Naja’atu, the tales were becoming a bit unbearable.
Hajia Naja’atu, being a woman, made it all the more unbearable.
Their grief was no longer concealable as the expression on the faces of the members betrayed the inner pain which, in due course, gave way to heavy hearts and eyes filled with tears.
As they walked through the aisle, the members came to terms with the somber reality of the grief domiciled among the victims.
Not able to bear it any longer, the team members turned their back and left.
But not after they made donations to each of the victims; it was just a gesture. It was money as part of running their work and not for donation to bomb blast victims but who want to pull the issue of due process from the bag when Nigerians are in bed, in excruciating pain? The Committee is not expected to make donations but they just could not but act because of what they saw, first-hand – Government money spent on behalf of government.
From the two hospitals, they moved to three sites of the bombing.
One of the police officers investigating the bombings told members of the Committee that, in the early hours after the explosion, a human head was found in the debris. The head is believed to be that of one of the suicide bombers.
There, you could see what photo journalists would love to refer to as ‘people without people’, a description of the tell-tale signs of what had happened: broken window glasses, burnt cars, debris, bombed shops, and bewilderment written all over the faces of residents of that area of Sabon-Gari where the explosion took place.
Indeed, it was risky business for the Committee members as some people still had hostility written on their faces.
However, the members made it clear to residents that they had come to commiserate with them and look for lasting solutions to the issue of insurgency. The last lap of the visit was the DPO’s office in Sabon-Gari, where the Committee members met victims and their families. Now, this was meant to be an interactive session.
Members of the families of the victims had been pre-informed; so they turned up in large numbers.
After the opening prayers, Akinyemi gave a speech. Sad visit
He reminded his audience that the members of the Committee of the whole came just a fortnight ago and were not praying to be back in Kano on another sad visit. “But here we are”, he said, “the Committee felt that this time, the Victims Support Sub-Committee should come and meet with you because our work is not over yet – it’s a long-drawn outing. Therefore, we have come in order to demonstrate how sorry we are and that even sorry is not adequate to express or convey the sorrow or compassion that we feel inside.
“The whole Committee, the President and all Nigerians sent us to say how sorry we are and to let you know that we feel your pain”.
Akinyemi spoke extempore and his message resonated with his audience.
Continuing, he said, “this is a test of the will of all Nigerians. Evil is testing our will and if we allow what has happened to provoke retaliation, we would have succeeded in allowing evil to triumph. We must let those whose job it is to do the investigation take their necessary steps and let them do their job. ‘Be vigilant’
“Everybody is a security man and should be a security man in Nigeria because we cannot put policemen everywhere. Each of us can hear conversations or see some things that are suspicious around”.
At an earlier stage, while heads were being put together to structure the modus operandi of the interactive session, some of the family members of the victims thought the members had just come to talk down on them without getting responses.
Indeed, this created its own tension but it was doused.
After the speech and prayers, Committee members went into the midst of the audience to mingle and offer words of compassion.
The leaders of the Igbo and Yoruba communities also spoke, admonishing their people to be very vigilant.
One of the victims, who recounted his of tale of woe, sent shocks down the spine of everyone there when he disclosed that he lost all he ever had including family.
Whereas the team was at the Emir’s palace for almost 30 minutes, and about the same time at each of the hospitals, the interactive session with the victims’ family members took so much time – almost two hours.
Was the visit meaningful?
Of course yes. The interaction with members of the families of the victims of the bombing demonstrated that government, not minding its shambolic missteps, some times, still cares for he people.
However, the war on militants is not one that works like just switching on a bulb.
It takes time.
In fact, at best, Nigeria can only contain terrorism as it is now; it cannot eliminate it. In Northern Ireland even after the Good Friday Agreement, and inspite of the fact that members of the Irish Republican Army, IRA, are in the government of the day, there are still those who create their nuisance value by insisting that things must happen their own way. What that should tell Nigerians is that a policy of containment, aggressively pursued, can begin to stem the tide of insurgency.
Another level of engagement by government ought to take cognizance of the need for caution in negotiating with the insurgents such that the former does not open itself to needless blackmail by appearing to be too desperate for a deal.
No stop gap measures
Addressing the root causes of insurrection in Nigeria is not and should not be limited to stop gap measures. At the end of the day a national conference may have to be factored into the long term engagement.
There are too many grievances that need to be addressed in Nigeria today. The Fulani pastoralist issue, the Nasarawa killings, militancy in the South and the Boko Haram insurgency weigh too heavily for a 26-man Presidential Committee on the Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts in Northern Nigeria – mind you, the Committee’s initial period of operation was three months before another two months was added.
As sun began to set last Monday, the Committee members headed back to Government House, Kano.