Any time I recall scenes from that video showing security officers of the Nigerian state ferret men, young and old, able and disabled, from behind closed doors in their homes and efficiently shoot them to death in the streets of Maiduguri in 2009, I find myself thinking: If that had been a nightmare, and not an event in actual history, it would still have had the power of occasioning some form of insanity. I ask myself: What manner of people would view such scenes of cold mass murder, executed by agents of the state in the country whose citizens they are, and still carry on as though there were something like human society in Nigeria? But apparently we all did carry on that way—and yes, there is human society in Nigeria; maybe not quite humane, or maybe just humane and inhumane by turns. We all watched that video and expressed our shock—I still feel the bile in my mouth when I think of that old man in crutches, escorted out of his house, made to lie face-down in the street, and finished off with a bullet. We all spat out our shock or held our mouths open in disbelief, and afterwards we carried on as if nothing strange, nothing disturbing, had happened. Perhaps nothing strange, nothing disturbing, indeed, had happened. There had been Ogoni, Odi, Zaki Biam, etc., etc., before Maiduguri. The Nigerian state does not only underwrite our citizenship, it also has the right and power to overrule our life and issue us with death, even on a large scale. That, for you, is the Nigerian state under which we organize what may be taken as Nigerian society.
In 2009, there was genocide in Maiduguri. I am not being sensational in making that claim. I am not even being as ‘sensitive’ as Wole Soyinka or as ‘insensitive’ as OBJ. I am only stating the fact as I saw it captured in that video. I do not recall that the dead in the Maiduguri genocide were ever memorialized in a public ceremony or even much remarked in the media and public discourse. For us, sensitive and insensitive Nigerians alike, life went on. We reduced it all, at most, to the extra-judicial killing of one man—Muhammed Yusuf, the leader—or as I believe—the front or fall guy of the Boko Haram.
Part of the tragedy of the matter is that we were not the only ones to forget the dead in the Maiduguri. They were also forgotten by the Boko Haram, the terrorist group whose attacks on the police and the populace provided the pretext for that murderous police action. The people have never mattered to the Boko Haram. Their wellbeing was never the issue; otherwise such a moneyed and globally networked group like the Boko Haram would have used its resources to establish a socio-economic enclave, an alternative to the Nigerian ‘shitstem’, wherein the people may feel a sense of ownership of and participation in governance. Rather the people themselves are the hostages and victims of the Boko Haram, their human shield and cannon fodder, their pawns and counters in the enterprise and gamble of violence. The Boko Haram have never included the dead in the Maiduguri genocide in their bill of grievances. Rather, they supplanted the massacre of people with the murder of their figurehead, making the latter the only issue that requires reckoning on the part of the police force.