The Air Force killings in Sokoto

ON Sunday, October 20, a mother of seven, Mrs. Maryam Abdulrahman and a student, Mr. Abdulsalam Lawan, were allegedly killed by men of the Nigeria Air Force who stormed the Mabera area of Sokoto South Local Government Area of Sokoto State to avenge the alleged harassment of a girlfriend of one of their colleagues. According to reports, six other persons sustained various degrees of injuries, including gunshot injuries, but were treated at the Trauma section of the Sokoto Specialist Hospital and released. One of the survivors of gunshot injury, Suleiman Aliyu, stated that about 10 airmen had stormed the area in a Toyata Hilux around 8:30 pm on the fateful day, asking the whereabouts of the ‘tea’ vendor in the area. When told that he was not around, they went on a rampage, beating anyone in sight and shooting sporadically. “We then started running. In fact, I was about to enter one of the nearest houses when one of the soldiers shot at me and an elderly woman who was trying to rush into her room. The woman died instantly,” he added.

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But another witness provided even more graphic details:“The Air Force men came along with the girlfriend who was allegedly harassed, for her to identify those who harassed her in the area. They met some youths at the Maishayi (beverage, bread and eggs vendor) joint and asked the girl to identify her alleged harassers after forcing them to kneel down. In the process, a brother of one of the youths came to make an inquiry on why they were being punished but got a slap from one of the Air Force men in response. He then ran into their house, brought out a machete and attacked one of the Air Force men, with other youths stoning and booing them. The Air Force men then retreated, drove away, reinforced and came back, beating and shooting sporadically. As a result, two people were killed while several others sustained various degrees of injuries.” The witness added that the rampaging soldiers took away some people, some of whom were still in detention. Sadly, when journalists went to the headquarters of the 119 Composite Group of the Nigerian Air Force, Sokoto, to get the force’s reaction to the incident, they were chased out by armed officers at the gate.

Happily, however, on Monday, October 21, the Nigerian Air Force said that it had begun investigations into the incident. The NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said: “There has been an allegation of the unfortunate killing of two persons at Mabera area of Sokoto as a result of a fracas between NAF personnel and suspected Islamic Movement of Nigeria youths within the community. However, details regarding the unfortunate incident, which also led to some NAF personnel sustaining serious injuries, are still sketchy. Consequently, the NAF is investigating the matter with a view to ascertaining the facts as well as establishing the degree of involvement of its personnel. It is pertinent to reiterate that the NAF is a highly disciplined and professional force that does not tolerate or condone acts of indiscipline or violations of human rights of citizens. Therefore, every NAF personnel found guilty of a misdemeanor, in the past, had always been dealt with in accordance with extant laws and the general public duly informed. We wish to assure the general public that, in line with the NAF’s usual practice, this case will be investigated thoroughly and appropriate action taken.”

To say the least, the October 20 killings in Mabera are highly unfortunate. They show that democracy in the country is still tainted by military belligerence and bestiality. It is unthinkable that trained soldiers would go on a rampage, beating up harmless civilians over the alleged maltreatment of a girlfriend. If indeed a girlfriend of one of the rampaging men had been harassed, the proper thing to do was to investigate the circumstances of the unfortunate incident, arrest the culprits if need be, and hand them over to the police for prosecution. From the accounts of the survivors of this dastardly incident, it is clear that a key personae in the harassment claim, a food vendor, had left the area when the airmen arrived. But being to all intents and purposes lords over the civilian populace, they could not exit the scene without unleashing a reign of terror in order to demonstrate their power and superiority over the Mabera residents.

In the typical military logic of guilt by association, every resident of the area where the alleged harassment of a girlfriend took place had become a criminal that needed to be taught a lesson. In the ensuing melee, a young student and an old woman running for dear life were cut down in cold blood. If this crime against humanity is not punished swiftly and decisively, this land will never know peace. It is indeed saddening that the Nigerian democratic space has become clogged with uniform-induced terror. At various times, men of the armed forces, the police and the various paramilitary agencies have visited untold hardships, terror and brutality on innocent civilians for the alleged sins of a few. They have jettisoned civility and reason, treated their fellow citizens worse than slaves, and held the laws of the land in utter contempt. Lacking neither discipline nor professionalism, they have made a complete mess of the huge sacrifices that Nigerians made to enthrone democracy after decades of military horror.

Justice must be done in this case and be seen to be done. We enjoin the Air Force authorities to treat the case with all the seriousness it deserves and apply the service regulations appropriately. Mrs. Maryam Abdulrahman and Mr. Abdulsalam Lawan must not die in vain. Indeed, one of the sons of the deceased woman, a 20-year-old, said: “We want the perpetrators fished out and punished in accordance with the gravity of their offence. This is a terrible loss.” We cannot agree more.

Nigerian Tribune

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