THERE was a time our lives did not matter. That stage is long behind us. We now live “estimated lives” measured by unimportance, no respect for our dignity, an unabashed admission that governments can do anything and get away with it – particularly if it involves the lives of some people who may never make the national statistics of worthy people and things.
What does it matter if about 120 people are killed by a drone attack in Tudun Biri Village in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State? Who are they? Of what importance are they? Who would notice when about 120 people are deleted (as they jocularly say in Warri) from a national population of more than 200 million?
Nigerian lives are estimated. We do not know how many we are. Nobody cares. We do not know where our people live, how they live. We have bogus “national planning” for projections to set the country on a certain sail. While at it we see nothing wrong with not holding censuses. We plan without figures.
How many people died in Tudun Biri? Different figures would come from different sources because we are not sure. We cannot be sure because we do have the facilities to collate figures into useful pools. Our interests in statistics do not go further than budgeting for more gadgets that would be stolen or not bought so that next year we can budget more and buy more for doing nothing about challenges that keep changing.
Of the said number of the dead in Tudun Diri, how many were children, men, women, the aged? Do they have names? Is there a national data base from which we can know who they were? When we talk of compensations, to whom would they be paid? One could sense that some smarter government officials have found a hole through which to disappear a budget.
We do not know who died in Tudun Diri. It seems that we are sure of what killed them. The victims (that is what those who survived are called) do not have the words to say what hit them. By the current definitions victims would not include the families that lost relations. The other villagers whose environment has been polluted by the sorrows and whatever chemicals were used in the drone are not victims? Once the noise dies, those who are hospitalised would be discharged. The case will be closed. They would go home, die, or live the rest of their lives handicapped, unable to provide for themselves and their families. After all, they are from Tudun Diri. Even if they are counted, they do not count.
A lot went wrong in Tudun Diri. It is not about that little community. It would not have mattered if it was a big place. Our government places no importance on life.
When a serving general was killed on the Abuja-Abaji highway, were the security agencies enraged enough to do anything about it? Of course, we have forgotten another general who was killed, buried in a small grave in Plateau State. Nothing happened.
Government’s attitude finds expressions in gratuitous and platitudinous speeches about how pained the President was. Vice President Kashim Shettima represented the President at the mass burial of the victims of the air strike that had been blamed on the villagers being mistaken for the bandits that regularly attack them.
They are actually safer in the hands of bandits with whom they broker seasonal peace terms. Farming can hardly go on in most parts of Northern Nigeria without the farmers agreeing to share produce or pay bandits for protecting. It is still not so useful as there are many bandits, and many factions that pierce peace agreements.
In their sorrows they had to listen to Shettima going on about the President calling him 17 times about the bombing. Perhaps, if there was no bombing, the President would have asked Shettima about the progress on the Vice President’s two residences that are being renovated at N10 billion, more money than is required to improve lives of some Nigerians.
“The President was deeply touched by what happened. We would like to assure the people and government of Kaduna State that the government will take measures to protect and preserve the interest of our nation. The victims will be well taken care of under the FULAKO Initiative which will commence by this month and this community will be the first to be rebuilt in the North West zone. All measures will be taken to ensure that future occurrence is averted. Government will go to the root of the issue and anyone found culpable will be punished accordingly,” Shettima said.
We have seen “touched” Presidents cut short foreign scenes, race to the scene of disasters to empathise with the affected. The 17 calls to Shettima sufficed.
The army’s two contradictory explanations point to efforts to say different things about the same event. The army in Kaduna initially said the air strike was a mistake. A statement from Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters claimed that suspected bandits embedded with civilians and that was why they were bombed.
The victims were buried in two mass graves on 4 December 2023 effectively marking the close of the matter.
Here is a chronology of such killings in the past one year:
· 18 December 2022, an air strike by the Nigerian Air Force killed 64 people in Mutumji village in Zamfara State.
· 24 January 2023, a military air strike killed more than 40 herders in Doma area of Nasarawa State.
· January 2023, dozens of vigilantes were killed by a military air strike in Galadima Kogo in Niger State.
The 2017 air strike on Rann village, a border settlement with Cameroon that housed an internally displaced persons camp, killed 115 civilians. It was the national record for these accidents that are these days referred to as incidents. The killing in Tudun Biri has shredded that record.
Words and more words are not the solutions. Without any importance to lives, nothing would change. One of the challenges before our government is that sad as the pictures from Tudun Diri are, government officials see the setting as a campaign ground. Did the government need Tudun Diri to be bombed to know that it should commerce its FULAKO Initiative? How many times have Nigerians been promised that government would end banditry and it never did?
What is more worrying is that the clumsy explanations about Tudun Diri heighten fears that the strikes can be repeated elsewhere and added to the list of errors of the military. The killings in Tudun Diri was by air, others are being killed by security agencies on land, sea, in their homes. They may not make the headlines. Their lives are not “estimated” because they never existed.
The military and security agencies need to ensure that more civilians are not wasted in the pursuit of uncertain targets. Our lives are important no matter where we are found. Bandits cannot be killing us and our security agencies join in the sport.
SOMETIMES we should be grateful for the little mercies governments show us. The Federal Government decided to renovate the residences of the Vice President with N10 billion, and people have been shouting all over the place as if the national till has been emptied. What would you have done if you are told each of those estates required N20 billion to fix? We should weigh the government’s prudence with equanimity rather than our poverty. The people who are serving us are not poor, they do not come cheap.
Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues