Nigeria has always killed its citizens.
It killed them in the infamous pogroms against the Igbo people in the 1960s in Northern Nigeria, and it devolved into slaughtering them in the hundreds of thousands (or millions by some accounts) in the Biafran War that continues to haunt our national imagination.
It killed them in several protests during and against military rule in the 1970s long before I was born, and killed them again in the 1980s when I was just a child. It killed them in the 1990s when citizens dared to step into the streets to demand the announcement of the winner of the historic June 12 elections, and killed them again in my teens, under the presidency of General Sani Abacha.
Democracy didn’t rid Nigeria of its hunger for blood. From 1999, Nigeria has killed citizens everywhere from Odi, Bayelsa where thousands were killed in what is now known as the Odi Massacre, to Maiduguri in Borno.
In response to public protest, it kills people.
In response to criminals and domestic terrorists, it kills its people as collateral damage in blunt, disorganised battles against better equipped enemies, and by its sheer incompetence and corruption.
The Nigerian security forces are particular experts at murdering Nigerians. In fact, we have gotten used to it. Gotten used to hundreds killed for peaceful self-determination protests. Gotten used to the numbers of people killed, tortured, arrested by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that we are presently protesting again. Gotten used to the tens that have been killed, in an ongoing onslaught on citizens by security forces since we started these #EndSARS protests two weeks ago.
When it is not calling us, it is unable to save us from death. Unable to save us from 1 800 recorded deaths from bandits in 2018. Unable to save us from the over 400 killed by Boko Haram in 2019. Unable to save us from the at least 1 100 villagers killed so far in 2020.
And yet, rather than hide its face in its shame, here it is again, killing us.
As I write, at least seven people are reported dead by the Nigerian police who — as captured in a live video I just watched on social media — opened fire on peaceful protesters, unarmed citizens in the seats of Lagos protesting at the most public of places, the popular Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria.
It is doing this because protesters remain — peacefully — on the streets for the 13th consecutive day, ignoring the ambiguous and dishonest responses by the government to the demands to end police brutality, hold murderous cops accountable and reform the nation’s security apparatus. It violated the constitutional right of citizens to protest by “banning” the protests and when citizens refused to leave, it sent soldiers to make them.
The images are gruesome. My friend is presently weeping as I write, as he watches videos I cannot bear to watch. “See bullets,” DJ Switch, a popular singer who is streaming the deaths and injuries live on her Instagram page to over 150 000 viewers, so that the world sees for itself, is saying, reporting on the chaos and confusion as the security forces paid by taxpayer money to protect us is once again killing us.
Seven confirmed dead. Several confirmed wounded, including the one that we see on video also, with a bullet being removed from his leg because there are no ambulances and the protesters are huddled together, afraid to move, lest the killers who are still at the protest grounds open fire again.
We are all watching this as if it were a movie. We have never seen anything like it before — not because it has never happened before, but because we can actually see it live with our eyes and hear it with our eyes. We can confront the evil of our own government by ourselves, and we cannot deny that we see what we see and hear what we hear.
A generation is confronted with the reality of its own nation: Nigeria kills its people. Nigeria has always killed its people. And if we do not radically change our country, Nigeria — from president to president, in an unbroken chain — will continue to kill its people.
As I am about to run out of words for this piece, the guy for whom bullets were being removed from his leg was just announced dead.
Chude Jideonwo is host of the TV and radio network #WithChude, which creates safe spaces for conversations about mental, emotional and spiritual health across Africa. He is also co-founder of human flourishing company Joy, Inc.