Murders and political assassinations have been part of the human experience for as long as humans have existed. Legal definition and differentiation aside, murder is simply the unlawful killing of a human being by another human being. And although political assassination is also a form of murder, it is done primarily for known gains. In other words, while murder may be committed for no justifiable reasons, assassinations, on the other hand, are carried out for religious, ideological, economic, military, or political purposes. Nonetheless, across ages and cultures, most killings — assassinations or otherwise — go unsolved.
Some of the earliest assassinations in Africa include that of Hiempsal I in 117 BC in what is now modern Algeria. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was killed in Egypt in 48 BC. Those who have been assassinated in recent times include Patrice Lumumba; Thomas Mboya; Amílcar Cabral; Stephen Biko; Thomas Sankara; and Ruth First. In the case of Nigeria, many high profile assassinations have remained unsolved: who pulled the trigger, or who ordered the trigger to be pulled on Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, Adekunle Fajuyi, Samuel Akintola, and Ahmadu Bello? And who snuffed the life out of Bola Ige and MKO Abiola? Nigeria has yet to settle these questions.
Except during heightened political seasons, political assassinations seem not to be very common in Nigeria. Murder, on the other hand, seems to be. Depending on the regime in power, killings can either be a past time or a trade. For instance, when the Nigerian government didn’t know what to do with Dele Giwa they blew him up. When they didn’t know what to do with Ken Saro-Wiwa, they cooked up phony charges and then hanged him. When Alfred Rewane was becoming a thorn on their flesh, they silenced him. Along with these eminent citizens are dozens of unsung Nigerians who were also murdered by the state or by individuals within the state.
At other times, deranged individuals kill other human beings simply because they can. These are the senseless killings: killing done without emotion, and without remorse. Who, for instance, killed Harry Marshall; Jerry Agbeyegbe; Sunday Ugwu; Momoh Lawal; Odunayo Olagbaju and Janet Oladapo; Ahmed Pategi; Victor Nwankwo; John Nunu; Funsho Williams; Chimere Ikoku; Ayodeji Daramola; Dele Arojo; Isyaku Muhammadu; Udo Marcus Akpan; Ogbonnaya Uche; Theodore Agwatu, and Emily Omop? And then there was Abigail and Barnabas Igwe.
Journalists have especially taken some of the hardest hits in Nigeria. Take, for instance, the killing of Tunde Oladepo; Okezie Amaruben; Fidelis Ikwuebe; Nansok Sallah; Edo Sule Ugbagwu; Bayo Ohu; Nathan Dabak; Bolade Fasasi; Modu Gubio; and Enenche Akogwu. Long before they were killed, there was Dele Giwa. In his prime, he was Nigeria’s foremost journalist. Many aspiring and practising journalists wanted to be like him. He was good. He was great. “Who killed Deale Giwa?” has been a continuing stanza and catchphrase in the Nigeria polity.
In spite of what some may think human life is not valued in Nigeria. After all, this is a country where one’s life can be snuffed out at any given moment and for no just cause. For a buck — for a lousy buck — you could lose your life. You may lose your life if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. Instead of legal action in the court of law, some may resort to extralegal actions. Instead of justice, there is jungle-justice. The level of intolerance is such that unknowingly stepping on toes could cost one his or her life. In Nigeria, living is so expensive, life has become cheap. Month after month and for several agonizing months, Boko Haram has been taking innocent lives. When it is not Boko Haram, it is armed robbers, rogue security personnel, or cult and gang members. This is not saying anything about police extrajudicial killings.
The loss of any life is cause for concern. And anyone who has ever experienced such loss (whether it was expected or not), know how heart-wrenching it can be. There are times when one cannot tell whether such a horrendous and reprehensible act is a homicide or an assassination. Take for instance the death of Maj.-Gen. Tunde Idiagbon (retd.) in 1999. Did he die a natural death, or was he killed? And who killed him? One other unsolved demise is that of Major Isaac Adaka Boro whose date of death is generally believed to be May 9, 1968. How he died and what he died of has remained a mystery — especially to his family (who has yet to experience a sense of closure). Was he a casualty of the 1967-1970 Nigeria-Biafra War, was he assassinated by the Nigerian Armed Forces, or was he a victim of friendly fire? Those who know are not talking.
While homicide and murder rate in Nigeria (five per 100,000) cannot be compared to homicide rate in countries such as South Africa (37 per 100,000); Angola (39 per 100,000); Zimbabwe (34 per 100,000) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (35 per 100,000), we still have to worry. We have to! One of the unfortunate parts of the Nigerian murder-assassination narrative is that the Nigeria Police have been found wanting at almost every instance. Their failure to properly investigate is legendary. And the reasons for these are simple: poor financial compensation and poor training; low morals and mediocre leadership; and the archaic and non-functioning equipment they have to work with. Do the police even have an up-to-date forensic laboratory? I doubt it!
The aforementioned, and many other factors, account for why the police in Nigeria solve less than 30 per cent of all homicides and assassinations that occur in any given year. And then there is the Judiciary — an arm of government that is thoroughly inefficient and monumentally corrupt. It is not uncommon to see high profile murderers, certified treasury looters, scam artists, rapists and all sorts of nefarious characters set free for “lack of evidence.” It is as if judges at all levels have a price. Criminality, therefore, is gradually becoming a national pastime in Nigeria. This should worry every one of us, especially the minders of our security architecture.
• Sabella Abidde can be reached at: [email protected]