By Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo
“Who’s there?” A voice queried from inside. However, Ifeajuna replied by kicking the doors open with his boots.
“You’re under arrest sir,” Ifeajuna said, pointing his gun at the Prime Minister, who looked startled. “Get up sir; we don’t have a lot time.”
“Alright,” the Prime Minister replied gently, “allow me to dress up.”
He put on a white flowing robe with white trousers, a pair of slippers and his prayer beads. Without fear and a disciplined face, he trudged out of the room and the residence gently as Ifeajuna and his soldiers accompanied him with pointed guns.
When they reached the parked vehicles, Ezedigbo had arrested the Financial Minister, Chief Okotie-Eboh, and had tossed him like a bag of groundnuts into the back of the 3-Ton truck while the Prime Minister was assisted into the backseat of Ifeajuna’s luxurious car, a red Mercedes Benz, as the convoy drove off to the rendezvous.
Some few kilometers to their rendezvous, the Prime Minister became restless and muttering to himself as he rattled his prayer beads. Okafor hinted Ifeajuna of the situation who quickly slammed the brakes and came out of the car.
“Are you alright sir?” Ifeajuna asked the Prime Minister as he opened the side door. “Or would you like some fresh air?”
To Tafawa-Balewa, it was a rhetorical question and the decision to answer or not rested on him. Without answering the Major, he gently alighted from the car and ambled towards the darkness as Ifeajuna watched anxiously, oblivious to what the Prime Minister was up to.
Then from a slow walk, to a pace and a sprint, the Prime Minister dashed for the darkness. Ifeajuna did not bother to pursue. Quickly, he grabbed his gun from the car, cocked it and aimed for the fleeing Prime Minister whose white outfit contrasted the darkness and conspicuously gave him away.
The “revolution” had failed and the Prime Minister had become a liability to their movement anyway. The Major shot sporadically at the fleeing figure sending the tranquility of the darkness to a bustle of gunfire like the crackle of burning dried leaves.
Tafawa-Balewa fell as Ifeajuna stared in horror at the darkness whether he got his target. The Golden Voice of Africa had been silenced.
Quickly, he moved towards the still body of the Prime Minister and after confirming he was dead, dragged him to a tree trunk and rested the body in a seating position with his clothing still intact.
Then he and Okafor brought out Largema’s corpse from the boot of the car and laid it down beside Tafawa-Balewa’s body.
Having realized the coup had failed on their part, they sped, en route Abeokuta-Sagamu, towards Enugu in the East, which was nearly 450 kilometers away.
In the above excerpt from A Carnage before Dawn, published online by Okada Books, the author, Ayomide Akinbode, took us on a historical novel on Nigeria’s First Coup D’état which took place in the night of 14-15 January, 1966. Today, 52 years after the bloody event, it is still the same bloody story of killings, as Nigeria has not known peace and security of lives and properties.
As humanity continues to be aghast and the media abuzz with the news of the pervasive, wanton killings that are currently bedeviling Nigeria, it the thrust of this article to assess the ominous development and make a case for why a stop must be put to the gory events in the country, if truly the citizens genuinely desire to existentially break the jinx of their collective utopia for sustainable peace, security and development.
Did our history begin with the curse of Cain? It is a gory tale of murder, assassination and torture in any event. So much blood has been spilled throughout history that the whole world could be painted red with it – with plenty to spare. When will man stop killing his fellow men? When will his thirst for blood ever be quenched? These are the thought-provoking questions raised by Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad [who later became the Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community 1982-2003] in the opening paragraph of his master-piece titled Murder in the Name of Allah, written on the heel of the 1953’s Public Disturbance in Pakistan which shut down the 5-year old independent country amidst carnage and curse.
Would it be inconsequential to remark, for instance, that the gory tale of bloodbath in the Nigeria’s first Coup D’état recounted above did signal an ominous repetition of the history of Cain’s carnage and curse which re-occurred to change the national fate of the nascent independent state of Nigeria, barely 3 years after her 1st republic in 1963?
The atrocious event saw the shedding of the blood of Nigeria’s First Prime Minister, the Premiers of the Northern and Western Regions, the Federal Minister of Finance, and most of the senior army officers. Of course, cases of bloodshed had earlier occurred across the three regions of the country, particularly, on the heels of the crises that greeted the 1964’s National Census and the Western Region’s election in 1965. However, considering the ominous effect the above 15th January bloodshed bore on the national destiny of the country, one may conclude that, if bloodletting is both a sin against the God of life and crime against humanity, then the bloodshed was, symbolically, an ominous incident that profaned the Nigerian soil and marked a turning point from humanely giving of life to violently causing of death in the history of Nigeria. Since then, the number of the cases of assassinations, extra-judicial homicides and wanton killings caused by the various recurring political power struggles, electoral crises, ethno-religious conflicts, inter-communal/intra-communal conflicts, vigilante killings, civil war, insurgency, militancy, suicide terrorism, abduction-for-death killings, armed robberies and alleged killings for ritual purposes etc are as uncountable and unimaginable much as they are dastardly and disturbing.
Let us look into few of the notable data. According to Wikipedia, during the two and half years of the 1967-1970’s Nigerian Civil War, there were about 100,000 overall military casualties, while between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians died of starvation. In the same vein, the 1980s were bedeviled by the Maitatsine riots which were a series of violent uprisings instigated by Islamist Muhammad Marwa on December 18, 1980 in Kano and resulted in 4,000 deaths (including Marwa).
To jump from the late histories and come closer to the recent ones, the last two decades have arguably been the bloodiest and most disturbing periods in Nigeria as a result of the increased spate of mass killings in the country. Again, captioning on religious violence in Nigeria, Wikipedia also recalls that the events of Abuja in 2000 and Jos in 2001 were riots between Christians and Muslims that took hundreds of lives. Another such riot killed over 100 people in October 2001 in Kano State. In 2002, the Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel wrote her sarcastic article which led to the demonstrations and violence that caused the deaths of over 200 in Kaduna.
Similarly, the reaction to the Mohammed cartoons brought about a series of violent protests in Nigeria. Clashes between rioters and police claimed several lives, with estimates ranging from 16 to more than a hundred. This led to reprisal attacks in the south of the country, particularly in Onitsha. More than a hundred lost their lives.
Recently, on June 28, 2018, Tribune [Online] published the checklist of killings in Nigeria from 1999 to 2015 released by the Senior Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media, Femi Adeshina. The list shows 2,500 recorded deaths during the November 20, 1999 Odi killing. Similarly, between February and May 2000, about 5,000 people were killed during riots over Sharia law in different parts of the North. In 2001, hundreds of people, including the old, infirm, women and children were killed in Zaki Biam. Between September 7 and 12, 2001, Jos, Plateau State, erupted in internecine killings. Between 500 and 1,000 people were killed. In 2010, 992 people were again killed in Jos. Just a year after, on 16th May, 2011, Reuters reported Human Right Watch’s record in which more than 800 people were killed and 65,000 displaced in three days of violence following a presidential election in April won by President Goodluck Jonathan.
In fact, according to a report titled Ethnic and Religious Crisis in Nigeria, published by ACCORD on 29th August, 2016, between 1999 and 2013, more than 11,000 deaths have occurred in Nigeria. This statistics is however an extremely modest one when compared against the report published on December 12, 2011, by International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law on Nigerians who died outside the law since 1999. According to it, there are over 54, 000 unlawful deaths in Nigeria since 1999. The writer, Emeka Umeagbalasi, further analyzed the progressive pace of the review. He writes: On 8th April, 2003, the Leadership in the then Anambra State SLO estimated that over 18,000 Nigerians died outside the law since 1999. On 5th August, 2009, Intersociety estimated that over 30,000 unlawful deaths took place in Nigeria since 1999, a period of ten years, and on 17th March, 2010, we reviewed it and concluded that the number might have increased to 34,000 as a result of the further rise in the killings. Our later findings, however, indicate that this figures were under-calculated, hence, the latest figure in the neighbourhood of 54,000 illegal deaths.
More worrisome is the finding that between 1 June 2006 and 31 May 2014, the absolute number of violent deaths recorded by the Nigeria Watch database was 61,241. We must not quickly forget that in 2014 alone, according to Global Terrorism Index, at least, 1,229 people were killed in the Middle Belt.
The Premium Times of February 13, 2017 reported a shocking revelation attributed to Borno Governor that the Boko Haram insurgency has killed 100,000 and displaced two million Nigerians. In the same vein, Sun News Online of 29th June, 2018 reported that while the Amnesty International said it had independently verified that since January 2018, no fewer than 1,813 people were murdered in 17 states, the UN revealed that at least 881 children were either killed or maimed by the Boko Haram terror group and the Nigerian security forces in 2017.
According to the Director Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, the death tolls reflected killings as a result of farmers-herders conflict, communal clashes, Boko Haram attacks and banditry. Indeed, the very recent incident in Plateau State, where armed gunmen attacked 11 villages on 23 June for at least seven hours and killed at least 200 villagers is still very much fresh in the memory of Nigerians.
At this juncture, one is compelled to again revert to Mirza Tahir Ahmad’s panoramic view of the pathology of man’s disease of bloodshed as impressively espoused in his book referred to earlier. He writes, “Abel was the first man to be killed, by his brother, for no reason. The story of that murder has been preserved by the Quran and the Bible as a lesson to us all – it will remain as an example till the end of time. Study history, and one thing becomes clear: that man is an aggressive creature. His aggressiveness has been untamed by the growth of civilization. Man is as cruel today as he was thousands of years ago. The story of his ruthlessness, his tyranny and his aggression is long and painful. The fire of human aggression has not been quenched even after thousands of years of savagery.”
“Assassination of individuals and the annihilation of whole groups of peoples are a repetitive theme of history. States have attacked states; countries have fought against their neighbours and against nations far from their borders. Hordes of people living in the steppes and deserts conquered nations with ancient civilizations; blood was shed by Caesar and by Alexander; Baghdad was destroyed by Hulagu and Gengiz; the soil of Kurukshetra ran red with the blood of Kauravas and Pandavas.”
“Sometimes blood was spilled in the name of honour, sometimes in the name of revenge for supposed wrongs. Sometimes angry hordes overran peaceful lands in search of food, sometimes in search of world domination. But more often the blood of man – created in God’s image – was shed in the name of his Creator. Religion was used as an excuse for mass murder. Seeing this aspect of human nature makes one wonder if mankind is not the basest and most ruthless species on earth.”
Localizing the above analysis in the context of the Nigerian situation, one quickly comes to realize not only the factors behind the carnages in Nigeria, but also the enormity of the concomitant curses they have brought, and still bringing, upon the soil of the country. For, any genuine study of the history of Nigeria would reveal that the more Nigerians had spilled the blood of their fellow countrymen, the more the country had become accursed. True, in any society where human peace and security of lives are elusive, there, sustainable development is ever elusive, and vice-versa.
It is instructive to note that while, according to World Population Review, as of 2018, the estimated population of the country is over 195.88 million, an 18 December 2012 report on religion and public life by the Pew Research Center stated that in 2010, 48.3 percent of Nigeria’s population was Christian, 48.9 percent was Muslim, and 2.8 percent were followers of indigenous and other religions, or unaffiliated. This statistics clearly shows that 97.2 Nigerians claimed to profess faith in the two main religions that strongly prohibit bloodshed. For, the legal dictum, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, is an imperative enshrined in the Biblical book of Exodus that is very commonly heard from the lips of many Nigerian Christians. Similarly, the Quranic junctions: ‘And kill not yourselves,’ and ‘Whosoever killed a person – extra-judicially – it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind’, encapsulated in the 4th and 5th Quranic Chapters respectively, are beautiful Quranic injunctions very often recited daily by the Muslim worshippers. Yet, the spate of wanton killings continues to increase astronomically! This indeed is the most disheartening phenomenon!
When will Nigerians stop shedding the blood of their fellow Nigerians? When will they let Nigeria be cleansed of the curse of blood? Now, as the going gets tough and the tough gets going against both the individual and national peace and security of the country, it is high time Nigerians all realized why this gory tale of carnage and curse must stop. To this end, it is expedient all Nigerians walk the talk: stop the killing; stop the curse!
Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo is a Missionary of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Nigeria, and the National Secretary of the Muslim Writers Guild of Nigeria [Majlis Ansar Sultanil Qalam, Nigeria] E-mail: [email protected]; whatsapp: +2348057437643