By Muyiwa Adetiba
I will remember the scene untilI die because scars don’t goaway and this was a scar on thesoul. The soul of a young boy. It wasshortly before the Civil War.
Myschool was on holidays and I wasgoing home. The school bus tooksome of us who were travelling tothe motor park and a senior ensuredwe were in the right bus. My bus –if you could call it that – was awooden contraption that packedpeople like sardines.
I was squeezedbetween adults in what looked likea long row. I knew it was going to bea long trip to Ibadan. Unfortunately,the trip was made even moreuncomfortable by intermittent stops.
If we were lucky, the armed soldierswho manned the checkpoints wouldwave us on after briefly stopping us.Occasionally, prying eyes peepedinto the bus and scanned the faces.I noticed some people wereuncomfortable.
I noticed somepeople tried to avert their eyes. Butwhat does a child know(kil’omodemo). Thencame a stop where wewere all ordered down.Apparently, somepeering eyes were notsatisfied with whatthey hadscanned.Rudequestions were askedby the armed soldiers.
We were ordered backinto the bus butwithout twosquirming, shiveringpassengers. Therewere pleas for them bysome passengers. Butthey were frightenedpleas. They were ledinto the bush. The buswas waved on but thedriver did not move;either from fright or compassion.
Theelders knew what was going tohappen. I didn’t until years laterwhen I was able to reconstruct theincident. This time, the driver wasordered to move. It was a menacingorder. He obeyed. We hadn’t gonefar when we heard gun shots.
The silence in the bus was deafening.Some eyes might have darted to thespaces left behind by the‘disembarked’ passengers.If I, a mere young onlooker, canremember this incidentso vividly afterabout fifty five years, what aboutpeople whose loved ones were killedin theirpresence?What scarsare they carrying? Inthe intervening years,we have had a bloodyCivil War, we havehad coups andcounter coups.
Theyall claimed lives. Itsoon becameestablished in thenation’sconsciousness thatsoldiers were licensedto kill. They could killanywhere and withimpunity. If there wasa campus protest andsoldiers were draftedin, a few lives wouldbe lost.
If there was astreet protest andsoldiers were draftedin, a few lives would be lost. It didn’ttake long before policemen joined thefray. They too secured the license tokill harmless and unarmed civilians.Soon, lives were being lost for ‘refusalto cooperate’.
A fellow could lose hislife for as little as fifty naira or simply for being at the wrong place at thewrong time. This licentiousness wastoo good to be limited to the ArmedForces. Politicians joined the unholyband.
Whoever was deemed to be aclog in the wheel of their ambition wastaken out. Every ambitious politician– and ambition is another name forpolitics – had his own band of armedthugs.
They became licensed to kill.Religion felt it should not be left outas people felt the need to kill for God.Funny, this need to kill for God seemsto be limited to a particular religion.
And one that ironically calls itself areligion of peace.People were beingdragged out and slaughtered foralleged blasphemy against the Quran.And because nothing happened tothese self-styled ‘Army of God’, onecan deduce that they are also licensedto kill.
This army branched out tobecome more antagonistic towardseducation and modernisation. It alsobecame deadlier.Herdsmen as we knew them werebenign, harmless people who feltmore comfortable with cattle than withhumans.
But they faced existentialthreat due to cattle rustling and desertencroachment. They were faced withtwo uncomfortable choices. They eitherchange their age old way of life andadapt to a more sedentary lifestyle orforce their ways into other people’sfarms.
They chose the latter. Theyneeded guns to sustain this dated andunwholesome way of rearing cattle They were not only supplied guns by thehigh and mighty, they were protected.They joined those licensed to kill.
Onetop politician either from inebriation orstupidity or both said the Fulaniherdsmen could be excused because theygrow up valuing the life of a cattle morethat human life. So the killings continuedunchecked.Soon, the line between cattlerearing and banditry became blurred.Cattle rustlers became bandits.
Herdsmen became bandits. They soonfound out what their bosses in the cityhave always known; that crime pays.Especially crime with little or noconsequences.
Even as we speak, Abujahas not made up its mind on what to dowith armed herdsmen and banditsoccupying our forests. There is still a lotof double-speak going on. Others,especially in the South-East are askingwhy they should not join the list of thoselicensed to kill.
So they sack and lootpolice stations. And so the killingcontinues; and so the mayhem continues.What had started as military killing hasover the years degenerated into streetkilling.
And with every killing that is notmet with dire consequences, Nigeria losesrespect for the sanctity of life. It is a sadcommentary that right now, the life of acattle is more valued than a human life.Enough should finally be enough.
Onlysoldiers are trained to kill and it shouldonly be at the war front. Otherwise, it isextrajudicial. Even there, war crimesexistto deal with excesses. All other forms ofkilling, be it police, political, religious orfrom herdsmen should be treated asmurder.It is good that the government istrying to mop up small arms.
There aretoo many guns in the system. It shouldlook into how these arms are entering thecountry. Those in charge of the bordersshould be sanctioned for negligence orcomplicity.However, in order to overcome the trustdeficit that this government has built upin the minds of people, the mop upshould start with the aggressors and notwith people trying to defend theirhomesteads.
Self-defence has never beena crime in international law; especiallywhen applied with a commensurateforce.
When the bushes and highways areswept clean of guns, the home dwellerswill have no reason to sleep with gunsunder their pillows.