Mark Amaza: Of Unknown Soldiers and Dead Student Protesters

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A couple of days ago, students of the Nassarawa State University, Keffi, went on a march and closed the road through the town which held up the journeys of numerous passengers to protest the lack of water and electricity on their campus for upwards a week. Like it is usual with student protests, the police was called in to quell the impending unrest. When the protests began to overwhelm the cops, soldiers from the 177 Guards Battalion, Keffi were called in. By the time the soldiers were done ‘quelling’ the riots, between two and eight students were dead, depending on whose report is to be believed.

It is a sad situation in this time in Nigeria that our security agencies have still not learnt how to control protests and even quell uprisings without using excessive force such as firing live bullets into the crowd. Obviously, use of water and rubber bullets to control protests is an alien concept to them.

It is saddening that in a democracy as Nigeria’s, the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, of movement and of expression of thought and opinion are not being respected. Admittedly, the students erred in restricting the right of movement of others, but trying to resolve that with force worsened the issue. The police should have sought out the student leaders and tried to have them protest in an organized and lawful manner.

However, it is most saddening that after the dust has settled and some students have been left dead in its wake, the Nigerian Army has come out to deny that the students were not felled by the bullets of its soldiers. Not only is turning the military on the very citizens it is supposed to protect a return to the dark days of the military, an attempt to cover it up rubs salt into a very fresh wound.

If the students were not shot by the soldiers, then who shot the students? The soldiers were the only ones there with guns, and some students were left dead at the end of the protests. It doesn’t take much of a logical jump to conclude that the soldiers deployed from 177 Guards Battalion, Keffi are responsible for the shooting of defenceless student protesters and should be held so.

While Nigerians have gradually becoming used to hearing  of unknown gunmen always been held responsible for the numerous recurring murders and crimes in the country, they will not and should not accept the idea of ‘unknown soldiers’. The only unknown soldier that is known is the one at whose feet wreaths of flowers are laid every Armed Forces Remembrance Day to remember the sacrifices of servicemen and women.

The Nigerian Army should, for starters, accept responsibility for the actions of its men that have cost the lives of young men and women who are being educated to be drivers of our society. It should also investigate the incident and find the erring soldiers, making sure they are disciplined and made to pay for the lives of others.

Lastly, our security agencies must learn the proper ways to control protests and not exacerbate them into riots. We have lost Nigerians far too many to lose more.

The blood of these students must be crying out for justice. We deserve to give them nothing less than this.

The Herald NG is a leading newspaper in Nigeria at the forefront of the digital revolution.

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