Worth of a Nigerian life (For the late Muhammad Sulum)

By Lanre Awofeso   |   22 January 2015   |   11:00 pm  

THE body was still dressed in the arsenal jersey he was wearing before he was shot. Drenched in blood, rumpled and half covering his torso, revealing more blood all over his body, mouth partly opened, with his left arm flung lifelessly over his head. The sight of Muhammad Sulum’s body was too sad to behold, too painful to ignore; the circumstances of his death even more agonising. Staring at the picture, either on the pages of the dailies or the Internet created the same effect on any human being with real heart: sorrow, anguish, indignation, anger, most of all, a thirst for justice!

  November 6th, 2014, to millions of Nigerians, has gone down into history like any other day. To the family of the late Muhammad, it will remain a date never to be longed for again. The day their precious son was killed and all his potentials, dreams and aspirations died with him. I have always stood on the notion that “the fundamental denominator of our humanity, the real commonwealth that binds us all, one which transcends culture, class, race and religion is the sanctity of human life!” and it’s on the altar of this immutable belief that one cannot look away, stay silent or indifferent on the killing of a young, innocent and promising Nigerian, Muhammad Sulum (regardless of his religion), whose life was consumed by the wickedness of a soldier.

  According to reports, the late Muhammad was stopped by a soldier at Bolori layout in Maiduguri, got into his car and ordered him to drive ahead. On getting to a point where they seemed to be alone, he pointed his gun at an unarmed Muhammad, and with all the satanic courage he could muster, looked him in the eyes and shot him at close range! He went ahead to drag the body out of the 1998 Honda Accord believing him to be dead and drove off. But as the saying goes, “nemesis is no man’s relation!” poor Muhammad was alive long enough to draw the attention of compassionate Nigerians to whom he gave the account of his encounter with his assailant before he died in hospital.

  The soldier was subsequently apprehended at an Oando Filling Station in the company of a colleague of his and both have remained in custody at the 7th Division Headquarters of Nigerian Army in Maiduguri.

Such was the tragic tale of late Muhammad Sulum. The question staring us all in the face like a sore thumb, begging for an answer is this: Will Muhammad’s killer gets away with murder like several such cases of killings by the police and the military in Nigeria? Will the cry of Muhammad’s mother and family for justice go unheard and to no avail, like that of countless mothers and fathers who have lost a dear child, irreplaceable loved ones to trigger-happy and blood thirsty uniformed officers?

  In the face of rising security budgets every year, we seem to be witnessing an unfortunate proportional increase in the loss of lives and properties in our beloved country. It’s not just alarming, it’s frightening! If parents are made to go the extra mile and have to work harder just to provide the basics of life for their children due to the high level of corruption in the country( endless hours in traffic due to bad roads, almost zero power supply and having to buy petrol every day and now devaluation of the naira which promises harder times ahead!), yet  they cannot guarantee the safe return of their children every moment  they step out of the house, then we need no prophet to tell us that the nation is no longer at ease!

  According to Amnesty International: “Nigeria’s police have been responsible for large numbers of extrajudicial executions, deaths in custody and cases of torture and other ill-treatment of alleged criminals in custody; the police kill hundreds of people every year with impunity. The Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), a Nigerian NGO, estimated that in 2009 at least 1,049 people had been killed by the police. 

  Many are unlawfully killed before or during arrest in the street or at roadblocks. Others are tortured to death in police detention. A large proportion of these unlawful killings may constitute extrajudicial executions. In other cases, people disappear from police custody.” (Amnesty International 14 October 2011: Nigeria Human Rights Agenda 2011-2015).

   Examples of these killings are not far-fetched: the killing of Ademola Fatai, a father of three in the hands of members of the Rapid Response Squad of the Nigerian Police in Ikorodu, during the fuel subsidy protests of January 2012, the killing of Oyoma Edewor by a sergeant in FESTAC, May 2013, the shooting of a bus conductor in Ketu by a police officer in November 2012, an inspector’s killing of Ibrahim Fagbohun, a conductor in Agege area of Lagos in December 2014, and the list can just go on! 

  The above instances and statistical figures immediately bring to bear the question of how mentally stable or psychologically healthy are the members of the services. Founder of the Mental Health Foundation, Emmanuel Owoyemi made it known recently:  “There is no argument on the fact that many of Nigeria’s policemen should be in mental institutions. In the United States where there is a strong mental health system, many military men suffer from PTSD, let alone Nigeria where there is no psychosocial or psychological support.”

  In the same vein a sociologist, Monday Ahibogwu, clearly stated that regardless of the public outcry against the spate of killings by the Nigeria Police, military and paramilitary organisations this might continue in spite of complaints and criticisms owing to the fact that, “in any of the armed forces and paramilitary organisations in Nigeria, no mental health assessment takes place at the point of recruitment!”  

  In my opinion, the above facts still bring us back to the issue of corruption in these organisations and the nation at large. Why? Because even if the required funds for these processes are made available, it will only end up in the same way as the Police Pension Fund and the missing $20 billion dollars! 

  In all the cases cited above, one may begin to wonder, in how many of these was justice delivered?

To the soldier, the late graduate’s life was worth just a 1998 Honda Accord and it was reason enough to shoot an unarmed innocent young man at close range. To the policemen on our roads and checkpoints, the life of a conductor and bus driver is worth just N50, for which they have never hesitated to shoot! I am not just saying this for poetic effect; it’s what I witnessed before at Cele Egbe Bus Stop in 1998! But to our government to whom we pay taxes and cast our votes, I have always wondered, what is our lives really worth? Is it worth protecting? Is the life of the average Nigerian worth being secured in and outside this country? Most of all, what is the worth of the life of the late Muhammad Sulum and countless others? Is it worth pursuing justice for? How many mothers of Muhammad are out there, whose cry for justice may never be placated? How many Muhammad’s fathers are out there, groaning silently for the loss of a dear child never to be seen again? How many more innocent and promising Nigerian lives need to be wasted before sanity is instilled in our security services? 

  Ruminating over these killings has only gone a long way in reinforcing my faith in God and the notion of Judicium divinum – God’s retributive justice , because after all said and done, what is the guarantee that the average Nigerian, even if he can afford it, will get justice?

• Awofeso, a chartered accountant, lives in Lagos.



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