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Okuwobi-panel report and semantic manipulation

Okuwobi-panel report and semantic manipulation
November 24
17:34 2021

The legendary Chinese philosopher, poet and politician, Confucius, said if he had the opportunity of ruling the world, his first task would be to fix the meanings of words. I am not sure whether Confucius, who lived between September 28, 551BC, and April 11, 479BC, had in mind today’s sophists who are in the employ of governments at all levels in Nigeria, twisting or trying to manufacture, semantics to extenuate many of the unforced errors with which the history of Buhari presidency is replete. This does not exclude those who have positioned themselves as freelance defenders of the indefensible.

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When the offsprings of Boko Haram commenced operations in the north-west, announcing their arrival at the vast scene of crime that Nigeria has become; rather than call a spade by its name, they said, they are not terrorists like their progenitors, but “bandits”. It does not matter to them that, they engage in all the criminal activities that define terrorism. They kidnap for ransom; rape, kill and maim; down military aircraft, lay ambush for military convoys, attack military bases, illegally tax rural dwellers and kill whoever fails to pay tax. They threaten to do more if some government officials do not fulfil certain pre-election promises made to them. They said they need to draw the attention of some people in government who had agreements with them but breached the agreements.

Meanwhile, Oxford Dictionary defines terrorism as; “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. But in the wisdom (or lack of it) of these sophists, “we can’t call them terrorists because they might get angry and go full-blown”. In the south-east, they call those who have arrested the peace of the region; “unknown gunmen”. Some say they are ungunned known men. Trust Nigerians to come up with some funny ripostes.

Now to the crux of today’s piece. Last year, October 20 was a day that many Nigerians, home and abroad would not forget in a very long time to come. It was a day that some men of the Nigerian military men shot at protesters who were protesting “police brutality against the youths”, that had become the modus operandi of men in the special tactical unit of the Nigeria Police Force, known as the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) over a very long period of time.

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The #EndSARS protest was organised in such a way that, they were gathered at the toll collection point on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos, popularly known as the Lekki toll gate. From the beginning of the protest, earlier that October, it had been a very peaceful protest, by Nigerian standard and even across the globe, for about two weeks. But all that was shattered on the evening of October 20, 2020. One of the leading figures of the protest, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, popularly known as DJ Switch, was doing a live stream as the shooting went on, while she was also running for her life. It took extraordinary bravery to be able to do what she did on the night, while the security forces were shooting at the protesters.

The American Cable network TV, CNN, and Arise TV, did a live commentary, coverage respectively; and in a matter of minutes, it gained global traction and attention. Pictures of the green-white-green Nigerian national flags, stained with the blood of protesters littered social media. The incident was reported as a “massacre”. The minister for information and culture, true to his job description as someone who is hired to defend the government, threatened the media houses that gave it the leverage that brought it to the attention of the international community. There were reports of the security forces preventing victims from being evacuated for treatment, while the leftover of the Nigerian national flag with which the youths were armed, were used to mop the bloodstains on the road. There were controversies as to the number of casualties.

By the following day, the question that begged for an immediate answer was not, how many lives were lost, but who invited the military into a peaceful civil protest? Then who ordered the shooting? First, the defence headquarters said they were not aware of whatever transpired at the Lekki toll gate. Later, they said they were there on invitation by the Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to enforce a curfew that was imposed, a few hours earlier, but that they did not shoot. When the pressure mounted more seriously, they admitted to shooting what they called “blank bullets” that, according to them, do not have the capacity to hurt a fly.  Later when they were confronted with pieces of live bullets from the scene, they said they only shot into the air. But the leaked report of the Lagos state judicial panel of inquiry on restitution for victims of SARS related abuses, submitted to the Lagos state governor put paid to the bare-faced lies by an otherwise well-respected institution like the Nigerian Armed Forces.

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That said; the “senior prefect” of those who vehemently denied any military involvement, shooting or death of any protest at Lekki toll gate, the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, after a feeble attempt at maintaining his ground went underground, while the ‘freelance defenders of the indefensible’ unleashed themselves on our collective sensibilities, saying “… Errrrrm, Errrrrm…., what they said was that whoever says people died should bring evidence, even though, they were aware of the killings, adding that, it needs to be proven by the bereaved, blah, blah, blah”. Shameless.

“The megaphone of official falsehood”, Lai Mohammed, would later resurface on Tuesday, November 22, 2021, to regurgitate the platitudinous gibberish of a denial he has held on to, right from the word go, saying the report is a “rehearsal of fake news”, yet his social media apparatchiks are busy quoting portions of the report to back up arguments. Cherry-picking. I’m not bothered about the minister, because that is his job. He is hired and getting paid to advance the position of the government, whether true or false. But I cannot agree less with Segun Awosanya, popularly known as Segalink, a UK-based social activist, yesterday while featuring on Channels Television’s Politics Today with Ṣeun Okinbaloye when he said that he is convinced that the minister is yet to see the report, let alone read it and that he is only reacting to social media noise. He went further to say that the minister’s reaction, saying that policemen were killed but the panel did not say anything about those killings (of policemen) further widens the trust gap between the government and the Nigerian public. I know, if Lai were not suffering from selective amnesia, he would realise that the terms of reference of the panel do not cover police killing.

If I were to return hypocrisy for hypocrisy, I would have asked the minister, where are the widows/widowers, next of kins of the deceased officers like he is asking parents to come forward for compensation for the dead as if there is a price for the life of every Nigerian. But I won’t do that, for two reasons; one, I am not unaware and I acknowledge that policemen were killed during the saga. And two, I am not a hypocrite like the ministers and his co-travellers.

I am worried for “Buharideens”, as blind supporters of the Buhari administration are popularly referred to, who say that they are not saying people did not die, but that the number is not enough to justify the tag; “massacre”. And I shudder to ask; how many is enough?

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Now that they have the overwhelming weight of evidence from the report, to contend with, apart from trying to discredit the report of the committee, part of the balderdash being bandied around by those nitwits is that; President Buhari never interfered with the proceedings of the “Lagos state judicial panel of enquiry on police brutality and Lekki killings”.

How else would they want him to interfere before they would admit that, “Bàbà ń Dogo” did try to influence the outcome of the panel’s sitting, by freezing the accounts of one of the panel members, Oduala Oluwarinumi, who represented the protesting youths, through the instrumentality of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) such that sitting had to be suspended?

In case you have forgotten; where were you when one of Buhari’s appointees, by the name, Godwin Emefiele tried to cripple the said member of the panel, economically, by freezing her account such that she stopped attending as a result of an inability to fund her transportation to and fro the sitting. I know they would say it was not Buhari who froze the account but the CBN governor or shouldn’t he take responsibility for what Emefiele does, in collaboration with the AGF, as an appointee of his?

I have said it, times without number that; to be a successful “Buharist”, you must pretend to be unintelligent.

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Now, back to the crux of the matter. While the Okuwobi-led panel, in the report, described what happened on the night of October 20, 2020, as a “massacre”, the government and its vuvuzelas resorted to manipulation of semantic. This is one crime against humanity, too many. This is one instance when manipulating semantics is no longer able to conceal crime against humanity.

Quoting from page 294 of the leaked report: section 10 (A&B) states that:

(A). “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags, while singing the national anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context.

“A massacre has been defined as the killing of multiple individuals, which is considered to be morally unacceptable especially when perpetrated by political actors against defenceless victims.—Wikipedia.”

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(B). The panel considered whether what took place at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020, was a massacre. According to the learned authors of Merriam- Webster Online Dictionary, one of the meanings of massacre is “the act or instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty”.

Let look at other definitions from other sources:

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, also defines massacre as; “when a lot of people are killed violently, especially people who cannot defend themselves”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines massacre as; “an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of many people”.

The keywords here are the number and manner of the attack and the defencelessness of the victims. One is then compelled to ask; who fixes the meaning of the word massacre? Buhari supporters or owners of the English language?

So, if the panel says about nine people died, and the spin doctors are saying the number does not qualify the killing to be labelled a massacre, on what authority are they contesting this definition? Where lies thy humanity? How many people do they expect the soldiers to kill before the act could be termed a massacre?.

If intimidating dissenting views, hounding protesters into exile, freezing the bank accounts of protesters, assaulting people who testified before the panel, could not hide the truth of the crime against humanity that took place in Lekki on October 20, 2020, how would semantic manipulation do?

Adebayo Abubakar writes from Ilorin. You can reach him via 08051388285 or [email protected]

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