By Sam Eyoboka
LAGOS—CATHOLIC Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos Archdiocese, Anthony Cardinal Okogie has asked President Muhammadu to focus more on the security challenges facing the country than preparing for the 2019 elections.
According to him, security is more important than the election.
Okogie also charged Nigerians to demand from the current government the whereabouts of those responsible for the killing of Nigerians in different parts of the country, insisting: “what is the Federal Government and its security agencies waiting for?”
In a memo made available to Vanguard yesterday, titled “WHO AND WHERE ARE THE CRIMINALS? What a Nation!”, Okogie who has written several letters to question certain unpleasant happenings in the polity while politicians are busy scheming for re-election, said the matter of security “must be rightly addressed without sweeping any item under the carpet. It is by far more important than getting elected or re-elected in 2019.”
According to him: “Everyone is talking about crime. Tell me, who are the criminals?” So sang, more than 40 years ago, the Jamaican artiste Peter Torsh in his album “Equal rights”. Today, that question has become extraordinarily pertinent in our beloved country Nigeria.
”Here in Nigeria, we talk of armed robbery, kidnapping, and now, murder by herdsmen. But who and where are the criminals? Are we pretending not to know them? And are we pretending not to know where they are? But our God of JUSTICE looks on!
“Nigerians are familiar with the drama of parading suspects. On prime time television, the police treats us to it.
Some men and women are apprehended by the police, made to sit by dangerous weapons, and paraded as criminals. And the story ends there. We hear of no prosecution, no conviction, no sentencing.”
Apart from the fact that such drama amounts to media trial, pronouncing them guilty even before they are arraigned as prescribed by law, we never get to know if indeed they are the criminals. What has happened to the many suspects paraded in the media by the Nigeria Police? And what has happened to the dangerous weapons supposedly seized from them? Our government and its security agencies, if indeed they are responsible and accountable, owe Nigerians some credible explanations.
The recent terrorist acts of herdsmen and the way the Federal Government has reacted—its spokespersons and the security agencies—bear a disturbing resemblance to the issue of dramatized parade of suspects. The laws of this country were broken by those who butchered citizens of Nigeria the way they would butcher their cows. First, the reactions of leaders of Miyetti Allah, by way of self-implication, did little to hide the identity of the criminals.
Secondly, government officials came up with contradictory explanations. Some government officials blamed it on the fact that the herdsmen were not treated as Nigerian brothers. We were told the herdsmen acted in such unparalleled barbarism because they were not accommodated by their fellow Nigerians. We were treated to the tale that the herdsmen committed such heinous crimes because of a law made by a state government.
We were told, by the Inspector General of Police, that the killings were consequences of communal clashes. In other words, clashes among communities of Nigerians. The Minister of Defence, for his part, even went as far as painting the picture of murderous herdsmen as Nigerians denied access to grazing route by farmers.
Then, in grotesque contradiction, the Directorate of State Security, DSS, said perpetrators of this crime were not Nigerian herdsmen but members of the Islamic State in West Africa.
Officials of the federal government cannot, on the one hand, say these butchers are Nigerians in need of accommodation by fellow Nigerians, and, on the other hand, turn around and say they are foreigners. The two explanations amount to a simple fault of logic. No public office holder who offers such explanations deserves to spend one more minute in office. He should either tender his resignation or be fired. He cannot be counted upon to secure the people.
But apart from the fact that such utterances insult the intelligence of Nigerians, they beg the issue. The issue is neither the nationality nor the ethnic affiliation nor the religious identity of the herdsmen. The issue is the crime they committed. In Nigeria, the crime of murder is punishable by law. Our government cannot pretend not to know who the criminals are. The issue is: where are the criminals? Why have leaders of Miyetti Allah not been called in for interrogation?
Since security is de facto in the hands of the Federal Government, these are questions the government has a non-negotiable moral obligation to answer. Setting up a committee to prevent a reoccurrence is a good idea. But that does not justify the fact that these murderers are still walking and talking freely.
It is cruel and cynical to subject security matters to the manipulation of our religious and ethnic differences. It is utterly unbecoming of statesmen to prioritize political calculations over the value of life and property. Every Nigerian citizen is special. The rights that belong to us by virtue of being human beings and citizens are to be protected at all times.
It is no longer news that our country has become a bye-word in the comity of nations. The international community looks with wonder at a country so tall on promise but short on delivery. The way our government mishandles matters of security gives the rest of the world the impression that we cannot govern ourselves. Little wonder derogatory words are used to describe us. But we can, and we must change the negative perception by doing things the right way. At this point in time, the matter of security must be rightly addressed without sweeping any item under the carpet. It is by far more important than getting elected or re-elected in 2019.
Since the Federal Government controls the security agencies, we Nigerians must insist that this government furnish us with credible answers to these and related questions: who and where are the criminals? Where are the people who kill Nigerians? Why have they not appeared in court? What is the Federal Government and its security agencies waiting for?