The Nigerian security agencies reported an exchange of fire between them and suspected men of the Boko Haram group on Kyari Close, Zone ‘E’, Apo Legislative Quarters, near Gudu Cemetery, Abuja yesterday. About eight of the suspects were reportedly killed and several others wounded when, according to security agencies, Boko Haram insurgents opened fire on security men as they searched for an arms cache in an uncompleted building.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) is apprehensive over this particular report because it has all the ingredients of an extra-judicial killing. The Apo seven saga is still fresh in the memory of Nigerians. We however declare ab initio that we condemn terrorism and all other acts of violence whether against individuals or against the state. Nigerians must adopt non-violent means to express dissent.
Our doubt is strengthened by interviews conducted by the media with residents and workers in the area who spoke to newsmen. They affirmed that the incident was another case of merciless massacre of civilians. Some of the witnesses testified that the uncompleted building houses scores of Keke NAPAP (tricycle) operators and some petty traders, who usually retire to the place after their day’s activities after payment of a token fee of N200 to the mai-guard (local security guards) in the building.
MURIC affirms that Boko Haram insurgents are a misled and misinformed group. Nevertheless, innocent people must not be slaughtered under the guise of hunting Boko Haram. We are particularly bothered by rising cases of religious and ethnic profiling against people who wear beards and Northerners residing in the South.
Hausa communities in Lagos, Ogun and other parts of the South West have been raided in the recent past by security agents searching for Boko Haram insurgents. Such raids have resulted in the arrest of hundreds of innocent Northerners. The socio-economic lives of communities raided have been dismantled while families have been scattered like wild oats.
MURIC reminds the security agencies that such arrests are arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional. Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of movement and the liberty of every Nigerian citizen to reside and work anywhere in the country.
We must also remind the Nigerian security operatives that there is no emergency rule in Abuja or anywhere in the South. While we appreciate the intricacies, dangers and difficulties of intelligence gathering and apprehension of suspects, everything must be done to ensure that innocent people do not fall victims of arbitrary arrests or extra-judicial killing. It is all these added together that is called professionalism.
MURIC calls the attention of the Federal Government to rising fears of religious stigmatization among Muslims. Some are already taking undue advantage of the Boko Haram phenomenon to use the security agents to take their pound of flesh from Muslims and Northerners in general. Some do it as a way of revenge for losing their loved ones to past crises in the North.
Others do it out of sheer hatred for Muslims. Hate-motivated reports and allegations envelope the air in regions outside the emergency zone, particularly in the South.
Our security agents therefore need to carefully study reports before swooping on suspected areas. Henceforth, MURIC will hold the Federal Government responsible for any extra-judicial killing or any arbitrary arrest of Nigerian Muslims. We will use every available constitutional means to ensure that justice is done. We are prepared to start challenging these illegal actions in Nigerian courts of law. The Federal Government must rein in its overzealous and trigger-happy security agents.
The Nigerian Army must also call its men to order. The role of the army is to protect the territorial integrity of the country. The victims of yesterday’s massacre were poor Nigerians who have taken up hard and poorly paid jobs instead of taking to crime. Now they have been slaughtered by the agents of the same Federal Government that has failed to provide them with jobs and secure homes. Our security agents should know that it is the acute poverty in the land which has forced thousands to sleep under the bridge and in uncompleted buildings. Many of those who take refuge in such places are neither crazy people nor criminals. It is a mark of the failure of government.
It is very significant that this tragic incident occurred 24 hours to the International Day of Peace thereby robbing the day of much of its lustre. MURIC affirms that Justice is the Soul of Peace. Those who fail to give justice will always lose the battle for peace. We call on the international community to pay attention to the plight of Nigerian Muslims who have today become endangered species, stigmatized, harassed and oppressed.
There is a strong suspicion that the constant killing, harassment and intimidation of Muslims by security agents are all part of a pre-planned agendum. There are allegations of systematic reduction of the numerical strength of Muslims in the army via untimely retirements and other means while there is unprecedented surge in the population of Christians in the same institution.
We demand an explanation from the Nigerian Army authorities regarding the lopsidedness in the recruitment of officers and rank and file of this strategic institution in recent recruitment exercises. There are fears that it is a grand design to continue this ethnic and religious cleansing against Northerners and Muslims at random. MURIC alerts Muslims in the South that the debilitation of the North is at the detriment of Muslims all over the country.
We challenge the Federal Government to explain its silence over the gross imbalance in recruitments into the security agencies. Should a Christian president pursue an agenda of religious cleansing in the army? Or should he continue to look the other way in view of such glaring lopsidedness. Aso Rock must answer this question. We demand immediate investigation and a subsequent redress. To be comprehensive, such investigation must also be extended to the police and State Security Services. Those who seek genuine peace must not discriminate. In this regard, we charge the Security Committee of the National Assembly to make its own investigation of these allegations.
Some take undue advantage of the Boko Haram phenomenon to take their pound of flesh over ordinary misunderstandings they may have with Northern Muslims or as a way of revenge for losing their loved ones to past crises in the North. There is therefore need for critical assessment, objectivity and professionalism on the part of the security agents. The army in particular must insulate its institution against any possible misuse by overzealous officers. This is why the country must ensure balance in recruitments.
Finally, we appeal to human rights organizations within and outside Nigeria like the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Amnesty International, African Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Commission to, as a matter of urgency, conduct their impartial and independent investigations into the above allegations with a view to stopping extra-judicial killings and religious genocide in Nigeria.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)