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The growing list of Nigerians who are licensed to kill

   I will remember the scene untilI die because scars don’t go away and this was a scar on the soul. The soul of a young boy. It was shortly before the Civil War. 

My School was on holidays and I was going home. The school bus took some of us who were travelling to the motor park and a senior ensured we were in the right bus. My bus –if you could call it that – was a wooden contraption that packed people like sardines. 

I was squeezed between adults in what looked like a long row. I knew it was going to be a long trip to Ibadan. Unfortunately,the trip was made even more uncomfortable by intermittent stops. READ ALSO: Recruitment: NDLE A releases candidates list for final screening If we were lucky, the armed soldiers who manned the checkpoints would wave us on after briefly stopping us.

Occasionally, prying eyes peeped into the bus and scanned the faces.I noticed some people were uncomfortable. I noticed some people tried to avert their eyes. But what does a child know(kil’omodemo). Then came a stop where we were all ordered down.Apparently, some peering eyes were not satisfied with what they had scanned.Rude questions were asked by the armed soldiers. 

We were ordered back into the bus but without two squirming, shivering passengers. There were pleas for them by some passengers. But they were frightened pleas. They were led into the bush. The bus was waved on but the driver did not move;either from fright or compassion. 

The elders knew what was going to happen. I didn’t until years later when I was able to reconstruct the incident. This time, the driver was ordered to move. It was a menacing order. He obeyed. We hadn’t gone far when we heard gun shots. 

The silence in the bus was deafening.Some eyes might have darted to the spaces left behind by the‘disembarked’ passengers.If I, a mere young onlooker, can remember this incident so vividly after about fifty five years, what about people whose loved ones were killed in their presence?What scars are they carrying? In the intervening years,we have had a bloody Civil War, we have had coups and counter coups. 

They all claimed lives. It soon became established in the nation’s consciousness that soldiers were licensed to kill. They could kill anywhere and with impunity. If there was a campus protest and soldiers were drafted in, a few lives would be lost. If there was a street protest and soldiers were drafted in, a few lives would be lost. It didn’t take long before policemen joined the fray.  

They too secured the license to kill harmless and unarmed civilians.Soon, lives were being lost for ‘refusal to cooperate’. A fellow could lose his life for as little as fifty Naira or simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This licentiousness was too good to be limited to the Armed Forces. Politicians joined the unholy band. 

Whoever was deemed to be a clog in the wheel of their ambition was taken out. Every ambitious politician– and ambition is another name for politics – had his own band of armed thugs. They became licensed to kill.Religion felt it should not be left out as people felt the need to kill for God.Funny, this need to kill for God seems to be limited to a particular religion. 

And one that ironically calls itself a religion of peace.People were being dragged out and slaughtered for alleged blasphemy against the Quran. And because nothing happened to these self-styled ‘Army of God’, one can deduce that they are also licensed to kill. This army branched out to become more antagonistic towards education and modernization. 

It also became deadlier.Herdsmen as we knew them were benign, harmless people who felt more comfortable with cattle than with humans. But they faced existential threat due to cattle rustling and desert encroachment. They were faced with two uncomfortable choices. They either change their age old way of life and adapt to a more sedentary lifestyle or force their ways into other people’s farms. They chose the latter. 

They needed guns to sustain this dated and unwholesome way of rearing cattle They were not only supplied guns by the high and mighty, they were protected.They joined those licensed to kill. One top politician either from inebriation or stupidity or both said the Fulani herdsmen could be excused because they grow up valuing the life of a cattle more that human life. So the killings continued unchecked.Soon, the line between cattle rearing and banditry became blurred.Cattle rustlers became bandits. Herdsmen became bandits. 

They soon found out what their bosses in the city have always known; that crime pays.Especially crime with little or no consequences. Even as we speak, Abuja has not made up its mind on what to do with armed herdsmen and bandits occupying our forests. There is still a lot of double-speak going on. Others,especially in the South-East are asking why they should not join the list of those licensed to kill. So they sack and loot police stations. 

And so the killing continues; and so the mayhem continues.What had started as military killing has over the years degenerated into street killing. And with every killing that is not met with dire consequences, Nigeria loses respect for the sanctity of life. It is a sad commentary that right now, the life of a cattle is more valued than a human life.Enough should finally be enough. Only soldiers are trained to kill and it should only be at the war front. Otherwise, it is extrajudicial. Even there, war crime sexistto deal with excesses. 

All other forms of killing, be it police, political, religious or from herdsmen should be treated as murder.It is good that the government is trying to mop up small arms. There are too many guns in the system. It should look into how these arms are entering the country. Those in charge of the borders should be sanctioned for negligence or complicity. However, in order to overcome the trust deficit that this government has built up in the minds of people, the mop up should start with the aggressors and not with people trying to defend their homesteads. 

Self-defence has never been a crime in international law; especially when applied with a commensurate force. When the bushes and highways are swept clean of guns, the home dwellers will have no reason to sleep with guns under their pillows. Vanguard News Nigeria 


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