What is the worth of a Nigerian life? How much value do the country’s leaders place on it? This question was not far from my mind when as a university student I travelled between Ibadan and Ife in the 1980s and sometimes saw a corpse lying on the roadside just like the remains of any dog or cat. That same question comes to mind when we see security forces in Nigeria interact with protesting citizens. It is troubling to see the highhandedness with which protesting citizens are squashed.
The recent attack by the army on a crowd of protesting Shiite Muslims was a distressing sight. I do not support disorder, nor applaud anarchy. But, when law enforcement officials open fire with live bullets into a crowd, we must ask the question, “What is the worth of a Nigerian life to our leaders?” When is it acceptable for the army to unleash lethal force on unarmed individuals? What happened to safer methods of crowd dissipation like tear gas, rubber bullets or even Tasers? Is the country unable to provide these to our law enforcement officials or are live ammunition just the method of choice?
Such actions as displayed by the soldiers suggest that there is no culpability when law enforcement uses lethal force on unarmed protesters or worse still, that such actions are condoned by higher authorities. Much as we must support our law enforcement officials who are often called upon to put their lives at risk in the line of duty, reckless disregard for human life must not be tolerated. Perhaps these officials lack training in handling a disorderly crowd, perhaps they lack the necessary equipment to handle the situation appropriately, or maybe they feel at liberty to act with impunity because of the lack of accountability.
The army has of course denied confronting the protesters, stating instead that it was the protesters that took them on by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, but these are not comparable to live ammunition. And to whom much power has been given, much restraint is expected. When we watched the wounded carried by their friends and saw the bodies on the ground, we could only wonder: how could those who have been given the power to protect the citizens use that power instead to end their lives?
Human life is valuable and irreplaceable. Our law enforcement officials deserve to be protected by being well-equipped and well-trained to safely carry out their duty. But respect for human life is one of the fundamental qualities of a civilized society. Those whose duty it is to protect the citizens must not turn around to attack the citizens. The quality of law enforcement and security in Nigeria remains rudimentary at best and casts the country in a bad light. We continue to look forward to the day when adequate resources will be committed to law enforcement and security in our country. We look forward to when our men and women in uniform will be equipped in every necessary way such that they capably carry out their duty for the safety of all.