On the blog beat
Nicholas Ibekwe is a Lagos-based investigative reporter and digital media enthusiast.
RNW's Africa Desk is proud to feature as part of its content local bloggers who have a knack for expressing their unique perspectives, independent thoughts and engaging stories. The opinions written here are those of the author and not intended to reflect those of RNW as an institution.
Last May a police officer in northern Nigeria was brutally slaughtered by militiamen, but to this day no one has been held accountable. His brother, our blogger in Lagos, remains tormented by the injustice.
By Nicholas Ibekwe, Lagos
My brother, Christian, was gruesomely killed alongside over 90 other policemen by Ombatse cultists-cum-militiamen in Nasarawa, northern Nigeria, on 17 May 2013. The details I will be sharing are gory and heart-rending. I want to apologize to the families and others affected by this tragedy. I’m not trying to make them relive the trauma.
Christian was part of a police team sent to quell restiveness within the Eggon community of the state, for which the Ombatse militiamen are blamed. Mainly due to haphazard planning and a lack of effort in terms of gathering intelligence by the police authorities, the convoy ran into an ambush set up by the militia.
The men were slaughtered in the most cold-blooded manner. Many of the bodies recovered were sprayed with bullets, butchered with cutlasses and deliberately burnt beyond recognition. The assistant commissioner who led the team was discovered in an abandoned well, bloated, with one of his legs missing. Pictures of some of the officers suggest they were captured before being hacked to death. Their legs were bound and their hands tied behind their backs.
We got the body of my brother, though terribly mangled by bullet wounds and deep machete cuts, back for a proper burial. I hope he died quickly. In fact, my family was fortunate. Over 90 percent of the bodies recovered were mutilated beyond recognition and were buried en masse.
The bodies of the police officers that were recovered by the Red Cross (the police were too scared to retrieve their dead) were treated in the most demeaning manner possible. Charred remains of policemen were stacked together in a heap in plain sight, while decomposing remains were strewn on the floor of over-capacitated morgues.
Families who could recognize their loved ones were asked to pay for their embalmment. The authorities provided no support and didn’t bother to treat the corpses with dignity. I know a policeman who resigned after seeing pictures of the slain officers.
Perhaps in the most blood-curdling heartlessness I’ve ever heard of, one of my brother’s killers called my sister-in-law with my brother’s phone and said: “We are those who attacked the police. We have killed all of them.” It is difficult to say why the man did that, really. The only reason I can think of is that it was the action of a twisted mind.
It disturbs me greatly that 10 years from now, I might have to tell my two nephews, who are three and a half and two years old, that the savages who killed their dad were never arrested or prosecuted. Many of the murdered policemen would still be alive today if the authorities had done basic checks before hurriedly sending almost hundred officers to their deaths. They were not properly briefed and had no intelligence to go by. Many of the officers were told of the operation only a few hours before. Christian, for instance, had already finished his shift for the day and was summoned back by his bosses.
As with most politically motivated crimes in Nigeria, the perpetrators are never brought to justice. Nigerian politicians are more concerned about maintaining their political alliances than punishing those who commit heinous crimes.
I’m not naive. Bad things regularly happen to good people. Then again, if you work as a police officer, the probability of having a bad guy put a bullet in your heart is very high, especially in a restive climate like ours. But Christian didn’t deserve to die the way he did. No one does.
I intend for this piece to serve as a wake-up call for those of us in our nice little bubbles outside the north: evil is roaming just down the street. Most Nigerians in the south are disconnected from the insecurity and the killings in the north. Southern Nigeria is relatively safe. Its inhabitants only read about the killings in newspapers or see it on TV, and fail to understand the magnitude of the conflict. Southerners show more concern when Boko Haram attacks churches or Christian communities in the north.
I want to express how indifferent we have become to the brutal waste of human lives and the impunity it’s surrounded with. I hope by sharing the trauma my family has endured these past months, the reader can at least try to imagine the suffering of thousands of families who have lost loved ones in the convulsing madness that has darkened the soul of the country.
The need for justice – or rather, the absence of it – has tormented me like a sore toe in an ill-fitting shoe. Though I’ve tried to airbrush the feelings with a facade of occasional light-heartedness, I’ve only succeeded in switching from one level of depression to another, like a danfo driver switching lanes in Lagos rush hour traffic.