Blood on their hands
By Abdul Mahmud
It was the late Chilean poet, Nicanor Parra, renowned for his disavowal of traditional poetic styles, who famously wrote in his poem, ‘young poets:’ “too much blood has run under the bridge to go on believing that only one road is right”.
He was right in two respects. One, though our interpretation may appear not grounded in the immediate message of the poem, there is a sense in which Parra can be applied to a wayward nation whose primary purpose shifts from protecting citizens to killing citizens and from preserving the relationship between the nation and citizens to destroying same relationship. However one looks at it, one cannot but be shocked by a nation that has become exceptional in killing its citizens, burning their homes like Alexander the Great burning his boats. Here is the paradox. In spite of the nation’s waywardness citizens persist in it, living in and believing what is clearly an abusive relationship. Two, a nation that doesn’t exist for its citizens, exists for the powerful, who, becoming terrors, see themselves as the protectors of the nation that exists for them and not the citizens. Killing becomes the reality of the powerful and the scourge of the powerless.
Any conscientious citizen would be upset by the sight of blood flowing in the street and running under the bridge, by the actions of a malevolent government for whom killing citizens is second only to preserving its poor image, as we noted in this column a few weeks ago: “it is also worth noting here that our government is just as bad, if not just as pernicious as the bad people among us with propensity to evil. For many years, armed personnel of the state have turned their guns on defenceless citizens, turning our country into the killing field”. We shall return to this later. The resort to violence, the kind which makes power meaningful to the powerful; and the nation less meaningful to the powerless, displaces the legitimate authority that citizens exercise and replaces it with terror. Here, displacement achieves one purpose: the destruction of the “bridge” which links government with the governed. Destruction, it must be said, imposes the will of the powerful on the powerless and ensures that evil is pervasive, while the nation writhes in fear without ever quite stepping outside itself to ward off the evil sharpening knives, pulling guns, spilling blood, and eats up the piles that hold up the bridge of the nation. Still, power insists that “one road is right”, forbids opposition, and smiles into its blood-smeared knives, not scandalized by its bad behaviour.
Certainly, one road cannot be right in a country of diverse nations, of many tongues and cultures turned into many roads which lead to a single brotherhood. When power closes off all roads, it announces itself as the only road. To justify itself as the only road, citizens must travel the road or be damned. For power, it is its way or the highway, so we begin the return to the killing field by summarizing what happened in Oye. This summary is necessary because it makes it easy to see how a country turns on its citizens and commits democide. In this context, it is easy to see how a nation and its rulers proposition themselves as attack dogs, display a certain aggressiveness and anger toward peaceful protesters, for example, while nurturing fear and pinning unrequited love for the outlaws that confront them. This fear is often expressed in language game, secret love and undisguised hate. Remember: the peaceful protester, Omoyele Sowore, is behind bars under the Terrorism Act, while bandits who have turned a vast swathe of northern Nigeria into ungoverned spaces are fete in state houses and showered with love. To power, Sowore is a terrorist, while bandits who have blood on their hands are blood brothers. Note, our reference to secret love is neither strange nor curious: the Stockholm syndrome is real.
Now, the summary on Oye. Last week, two students, Joseph Okonofua and Oluwaseyi Kehinde, were killed by the police. The deceased were among students protesting the epileptic power supply to the rural university town. According to the President of the students union of the university, Oluwaseun Awodola, officers of the Counter Terrorism Unit attached to the security entourage of the First Lady of the state, who was on an empowerment and advocacy tour of the town, opened fire on protesting students. Video clips have since surfaced on social media showing armed police officers aiming their guns and pulling the triggers on students. The First Lady has been accused of ordering the shooting to death of students to secure her safe exit from the town, as the protest turned violent. She denied: “I am scandalized and shocked beyond words to hear that I instructed officers to shoot at students”. What can’t be denied, at least from witnesses’ accounts, is that police officers in her entourage were responsible for the killings.
There is more. Take the December 2016 killings of Shiites in Zaria. What was their offence? The ‘murderous dogs’ of the state alleged that they closed the road the Chief of Army Staff was scheduled to drive through; they touched his chest when he attempted to talk his way through the Shiites’ cordon. Displaying the killer instinct of the mad dog, the army unleashed unimaginable violence on the Shiites, killing three hundred and forty seven citizens in one fell swoop in Zaria. Oye connects Zaria in a familiar way. What they both have in common is the primacy of power over the people as sovereign, of lives of the powerful over the powerless. The practice of shooting its way out of trouble suggests that our country is ever so glad to arm men, trigger-happy at that, to sacrifice poor citizens to the god of power like the Carthaginians who sacrificed children of the poor to Moloch. So, it doesn’t matter if too much blood runs under the bridge, if blood is on their hands.