On Saturday 15th March, we went to the mortuary of Abuja’s National Hospital. We saw seven cold and soulless bodies. They were all passively shaking as the slabs they lay on were one after another pulled out of the freezer. They weren’t even properly labeled as the mortuary staff attending to us had to go through at least 14 drawers before finding the bodies that had been delivered throughout the day. There were no immigration staff to be found anywhere and family members were running from one hospital to another searching for answers or worse, a dead body that used to be a loved one.
The bodies all looked alike; Cold, battered and young. Some were still in their underwear, others in clothes. Their skin and hair was dusty, the previously white shirts and short turned brown. No one who was at the mortuary came out the same. Death is not at all pretty.
The one thing certain from that day onwards is the cause of their death: a stampede as a direct consequence of Abba Moro’s (Nigeria’s minister of interior) negligence before and during the recruitment exercise.
As recent media reports confirm, the Minister insisted on the conduct of the exercise even after concerns about insufficient crowd management were presented to him. He approved the use of a stadium with 60, 491 capacity for 70,000 applicants. He neglected or refused to employ the services of crowd control personnel and the direct result was the death of at least 17 individuals. He neglected to pay for early preparation of security personnel until the 14th March and they were completely overwhelmed and insufficient to properly and safely manage the crowd at the various venues. This tragedy – after the ones in 2008 and 2012 – was foreseeable and avoidable. The minister of interior made willful and blind decisions led to the death of at least 17 young Nigerians and injured many more.
We have written about Mr. Abba Moro’s guilt via negligence, but is writing enough in a country that uses the law only to oppress the poor? We can all agree that Nigerians have just about one week memory span before they prepare for the next scandal or tragedy. Tweets have of course have been written, trended and blog posts circulated. But we realized the need for Nigerians to step out and participate in direct action apart from just sharing thoughts, information and anger. Responsibility must be placed on someone, and there must be a backlash for acts against the people of Nigeria.
I: How we took this decision
On Tuesday after the tragedy the President was reported to have “grilled Moro and Paradang over deaths at Immigration Recruitment”. To applaud this would be to foolishly fall into an antidemocratic trap laid out by the government. How does grilling the guilty address the death of not 1, 2, but 17 people? The automatic employment given to the family members of the deceased and the injured is also a slap on the face of every Nigerian and every applicant that applied for the job. It is an insult to their memories. The dead deserves justice not a bribe and we cannot be blinded by sentiments. At the death of foreigners, Nigeria flies their flags at half-mast. At the death of these Nigerians, not even an acknowledgment by the Nigerian government.
The government has failed to do the barest minimum: take responsibility, apologize and take immediate steps not to ensure the same never happens again.
After the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, David Cameron current Prime minister of Great Britain apologized to the whole nation after the truth was unraveled in 2012. Keep in mind that this happened long before David Cameron knew he would get a say in the governance of Great Britain yet his government still apologized to the families and to the nation.
“I want to be very clear about the view the government takes about these findings and why after 23 years this matters so much, not just for the families but for Liverpool and for our country as a whole. Mr Speaker what happened that day – and since – was wrong. It was wrong that the responsible authorities knew Hillsborough did not meet minimum safety standards and yet still allowed the match to go ahead. It was wrong that the families have had to wait for so long – and fight so hard – just to get to the truth. And it was wrong that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans”
Mr. Abba Moro is guilty for failing to protect the applicants by refusing to provide adequate security and he is also attempting to blame the dead for their own deaths while refusing to take responsibility for his obvious crimes and short comings.
Because of these reasons, we decided to draw attention to the actions of Mr. Abba Moro and demand not for his resignation but his prosecution. Mr. Abba Moro is a murderer at least by negligence and we as Nigerians should not stand by while he continues to hold public office.
II: Why take direct action?
A few people may ask why we didn’t wait for the National Assembly to take up the case and form an investigation committee. However we all know that if and when they act, it would result in what has happened too many times before: a ‘white paper report’ which reflects power relations within the committee and the undue influence of the Minister and the Comptroller General. But assuming the impossible happens and the report does reflect the truth, the National Assembly could only advise the President to relieve the Minister of his duties, and we all know this is clearly not enough!
As Nigerians, we can all agree that the resignation of Mr. Abba Moro would be insufficient. A basic principle of the rule of law is legal security. Every judgment has to be comprehensible and derived from the law. This is the major difference between the decision of a judge and a politician. A legal accusation cannot be responded with a political decision, because the resignation doesn’t correspond to the admission of guilt. Nothing would prevent Mr. Abba Moro from seeking further political appointments after the dust has settled which would be a slap on our collective faces.
If any state institution can achieve justice, it will be the judiciary. As much as this is a long shot, it is our best hope. This is the time for President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to do right by its people to quell past cases that resulted in no conviction or insufficient sentencing. Let the law take its course and by God, punish the guilty!
III: Suspension of the Rule of Law
If Mr. Abba Moro can’t be prosecuted through democratic institutions, the rule of law in Nigeria is obviously suspended. Most Nigerians are yet to understand that the whole country is under an undeclared state of emergency. Legal protection which is supposed to guarantee that citizens can always seek justice at an independent court, ensure that law is always applied and no extralegal spaces occur, determine that culprits are prosecuted no matter who they and their victims are, this legal protection has been turned into tool in the hands of the rich and powerful.
However if this government doesn’t meet its genuine purpose, it loses its right to enforce any law. Subsequently the people’s obligation to obey the law of the state should cease. Nigeria cannot be allowed to stay at this stage where lives continue be snuffed out with impunity; while the people are at the mercy of the powerful.
If the government refuses to heed our call for justice, our disobedience to the law is still within the limits of our fidelity to the law. As we draw our inspiration from the law of nature, we intend to rely on the moral foundation that once convinced people to subordinate themselves under a democratic government. We feel Nigerians can only save what is left of Nigeria’ democratic institutions, if we step out of the game in which only the marginalized are confined to the law while those in government or those who can bribe government step all over us.
IV: Political Action outside the Law
A new field of political action may just have opened up with the actions of this last week, as we regain full self determination – the only limits to our actions is our own fear and our moral conscience – to carry the burden of responsibility to achieve justice for the death of 17 young Nigerians.
If we don’t seek justice, what would be the difference between us and the dead corpses, which were abandoned at the mortuaries all over Nigeria, on the 15th March 2014?
Frantz Fanon argues: “As soon as you and your fellow men are cut down like dogs there is no other solution but to use every means available to reestablish your weight as a human being”.
The loss of 17 innocent lives and the imminent impunity reveals that our absurd hierarchy of power nowadays, dangerously resembles the bourgeois society Frantz Fanon discovered under colonial rule: “For me, bourgeois society is a society where it is not good to be alive, where the air is rotten and ideas and people are putrefying. And I believe that a man who takes a stand against this living death is in a way revolutionary“.
As human beings it is our inevitable obligation to achieve justice and prosecute Mr. Abba Moro.
But how do we go about doing that? In his famous Prison Notes Wole Soyinka demanded:
“From the moment that power is deemed culpable in any way, each family unit should, in place of, or after its regulation morning prayers, make a ritual of throwing their breakfast slop at a pinned-up photograph of the symbol of power before going out to earn a living under an insupportable system”.
As much as Soyinka’s private ritual can help to reestablish a conscience about the illegitimacy of our government, it also points at the insufficiency of our current resistance. During the military regimes, it was an act of bravery to be able to speak up against the wrongs of government. After the end of military rule, it is fallacious to assume that freedom of speech alone will lead to a more just society. We are still content to complain in front of newspaper stands, in our living rooms, at bars over a drink, we pray for a divine intervention or tweet our problems away instead of taking action. Well today we said enough and this is just the start.
We know direct engagement with the government in the public sphere is needed. Everyone has to be willing to bear the consequences. We therefore urge fellow Nigerians to join hands in various acts of civil disobedience.
We cannot allow ourselves to be imprisoned by a ruling class that only trumps out the law when it relates to us but not them. Our resistance must be overt, not covert. We will not show cowardice but strength and courage. No longer will it be okay to ‘tongue lash’ a minister while attempting to sweep the death of 17 Nigerians under the table.
V. Political activism in a repressive pseudo-democracy – Bending the law!
Although civil disobedience sounds like anarchy, we are still looking for creative ways of staying within the law, or at least bend it without breaking it. We can’t promise that anybody will care about our various acts but we hope to inspire a generation to do more than tweet our problems away. This is not a road to fame or relevance but a true need for change and for that, there is no price.
There is no doubt that the administrative negligence of Mr. Abba Moro led to the death of 17 Nigerians. Our job is to ensure he is brought to justice instead of being fired or tongue lashed. We cannot afford to forget. We must keep his guilt relevant until justice is achieved.
We painted the ministry of remind people that it is not so much about the N693,000,000 he misappropriated but it is about the blood of 17 Nigerians he has negligently spilled. We painted the ministry to remind other Nigerians to wake up and fight injustice. We painted the ministry to inspire Nigerians to get up and bend the law so government can take notice. Yes Twitter, Facebook et al work, but offline works too and the combination of all the tools of change is what will hasten the change our country badly craves.
We are able to wash the red coloured paints off our hands but for Mr. Abba Moro and everybody involved in the cover up of this injustice, the blood of the departed will never be washed off
God bless Nigeria and may the souls of the departed rest in peace.