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Time to end the butchering

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Musings by Garba Shehu

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The resolution taken on Thursday, last week by the House of Representatives in Abuja to investigate the killing of 60 traders at the cattle market in Potiskum, Yobe state is politically important. I do not suggest that the outcome of the investigation will lead to action by way of arrests and prosecution of individuals. But it will serve a historical purpose.
The sceptic will say to you that about three years ago, the legislature investigated the scam in the electric power sector and came to a conclusion that a whopping $16 billion had been stolen by identified actors. Nothing has happened to them. In fact, the lead character in that scandal, who once said he had no sense of shame, has become a regular face at anti-corruption lecture circuits at home and abroad; he has been playing the ostrich and pontificating against corruption, so called.
Nigerians must also be feeling a lot of frustration about the discovery by the current parliament that money in excess of N151 billion had been stolen from pension funds. This happened at a time when old and tired pensioners collapsed and died in queues in front of banks, waiting to obtain the ever-elusive monthly stipends.
While this has been playing out without any definite indication that just one person will receive punishment beyond their week-long pre-trial detentions, the mother of all scams broke out. This is talking about the petrol subsidy scandal in which a massive sum of N1.07 trillion was stolen and shared between officials of government and importers of petroleum products. So far, the body language of the government and that of the Attorney-General of the Federation convey a sense that this too will go the way of those past scandals.
What I find beneficial in these discoveries is that they add to our statistics. The PDP and the current rulers will not be in power for ever. There must be a day, in our lifetime or that of our children, or that of their children, when someone will dig up the records and say, “hey, what happened here? Who did what? Where is the money?” It is something that has happened in other jurisdictions. Ghana, our neighbour dealt with this situation in a way many didn’t like. For, on that day, the streets of Accra overflowed with the blood of rulers, past and present.
The role of our parliament as a forum for public hearing and the documentation of records of fraud and theft therefore is a significant one in our given circumstances and must never be taken for granted.
Honourable Aliyu Yakubu, the fellow who tabled the motion for the probe of those deaths in Potiskum, which was subsequently adopted, told fellow parliamentarians: “All the security measures of the government are not yielding the desired results. There may be a few benefits, but compared to harm and ill-effect the security operations are having, the efforts of the security services come to nothing. I don’t see any purpose their deployment is serving. On this particular mass killing of the innocent traders at the cattle market, the shooting spree went on for three to four hours. Security checkpoints were within two to three kilometres of this market. They (security) pretended as if they heard no evil, saw no evil”.
In agreeing with him, the House mandated the Committee on National Security, Intelligence and Public Safety to call the Service Chiefs and the National Security Adviser, NSA, to a hearing to explain how and why there happened this wastage of large number of lives and of unquantifiable property. This hearing, if it holds in public, must enrich our record of mismanagement and impunity even if it leads to no action by the government. The generations of future Nigerians must find a record of how the rulers of this country abandoned the people to live like animals in their savagery and depravity. It is also possible that shocking records may emerge as to who are the sponsors of this violence. Are they politicians from the North of the country, thereby confirming the innuendoes of President Goodluck Jonathan and his inner circle? Or could it be that it is the government, as is being speculated, that is muzzling the public? Is the Nigerian government at a war with Nigerian citizens?
This public hearing must also ignore the dismissive statements of the Jonathan Government to find a way to see and listen to the 127-page deposition of Henry Okah, the repentant Niger Delta militant who is standing trial in South Africa. Are there geo-political reasons from the violence on the North or in the North? Did the President order the two bombings in Warri and Abuja in 2010 to black-paint his opponents?
This investigation may also bring focus to bear on the famous remarks the NSA, General Azazi, made at Asaba. Is PDP responsible for the violence and terrorism in the country? Yoruba people say that the man they are suspecting of being a thief must not be toying with his neighbour’s goat. What is the evidence with the NSA?
This public hearing may also help to examine the conduct of the police and the army in dealing with the civilian population. Are the police and the army a state within the state that nobody can call them to order?
In the course of the same sitting, the House stopped barely short of calling the emergency rule instituted by the President on a selected number of local council areas a stupid enterprise that had achieved nothing. The only noticeable effect is by way of the seizure of their monthly allocations and the House is right to ask that all such money be released.
Worse still, the militarization of cities and towns, has adversely affected the economic life of the people in such areas like Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Yobe and Suleja. With curfews in force, traders and others, struggling commercially for a living have to operate for only few hours and start rushing back home. Even banks in these Boko Haram infested areas now operate fewer hours than normal because of the curfews. The ordeal of the people in these areas is too unspeakable. It is a double whammy for the citizens of these areas: they are not safer because of these security operations and at the same time, their means of livelihood is declining day after day.
The head of the army, General Azubuike Ihejirika told army commanders in Kaduna at a get-together last month that the army was in a state of war but they don’t seem to be deploying accordingly. The January 20th invasion of Kano by the insurgents remains the deadliest in the country. The city has two army formations, an Air Force station and a robust police presence that includes a command, a training school and a police university, a 30 minutes drive from the city centre. If January 20th happened to Kano as an accident or a surprise, why is there no pursuit, no rapid response to the daily attacks that have featured in the city?
In addition to the perilous security situation in most parts of the country, many of the affected state governors appear to be unconcerned about what is going on in their states. They appear to be acquiescent or under some sort of a spell. Under our Constitution, the security services are all under political control and the leading authority in each state is unquestionably the governor.
When you look at all these things, knowing that this is a country in which the culture of impunity is well entrenched, a consolation may be in the House of Representatives’ talk shop. These big men may be asked questions. That may be the only way to call them to account. Records will be obtained and kept. A future government may one day come and issue a whitepaper on all the whitepapers, not a whitewash we get from this government.
Under our Constitution, the government may be angry but it can’t dissolve the parliament. Let the House fear no one.

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