John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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“To Live and Die in LA,” and Maiduguri

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
March 25, 2014

A dog walks past burnt houses in Angwan Gata village, in Kaura local government area, Kaduna State, March 19, 2014. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

Northeastern Nigeria increasingly resembles the world depicted in the 1985 film, To Live and Die in LA. Directed by William Friedkin, the story is about Secret Service agents’ pursuit of a counterfeiter. In the process, differences between criminals and law enforcement personnel nearly disappear. A reviewer observes that the criminals have more of an inner life than the law enforcers, whose actions are “endlessly self-consuming,” leading to “meaningless death and brutality.” A “contradictory moral universe” emerges “where the wrong people die and redemption is an illusion.”

So, too, in Maiduguri, Nigeria. According to IRIN, the lines between soldiers and Boko Haram attackers are increasingly blurred. Soldiers sent to help civilians are accused of human rights violations, even torture. A New York Times report on the recent killings at Giwa Barracks on March 14, suggests that what occurred was a slaughter of the innocents; the majority of the 500 killed were “not proven insurgents.” Nor does it seem likely that the increasingly horrific realities on the ground will change soon. IRIN notes the difficulty in gaining access to areas in need and states where, “very few local NGOs or civil society organizations are responding to needs in the north.” Such horror in Nigeria parallels that in Central African Republic.

Nihilism in the northeast looms as an outgrowth of corruption in the heart of Nigeria’s political system. Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi was “removed just as he was shifting his inquiry to where the money [the missing $20bn] has allegedly gone,” the Financial Times revealed last week. Vested interests, it appears, moved to protect themselves from exposure.

A central theme in Friedkin’s work is that, “nothing can be relied upon in this world. Women turn out to be men, good guys behave like bad guys, people are not who they claim to be, partners betray each other, money could be real or fake, and death comes when you least expect it.” These are conditions Nigerian writer Ben Okri may have anticipated when a character in his novel The Famished Road exclaims, “the sun bared the reality of our lives and everything was so harsh it was a mystery that we could understand and care for one another or for anything at all.”

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  • Posted by Chike

    Human rights violations in Maiduguri aren’t any different from the Nigerian Army’s conduct in Asaba (1967 – the Asaba Massacre), or in Umuechem in 1991 or in Odi in 1999 or in Zaki Biam in 2001

    It isn’t any different from Lugard’s “punitive expeditions”.

    This kind of behaviour is part of the DNA of the Nigerian Army. This is how they treat “bloody civilians”.

    Western analysts & diplomats have probably “only discovered this” – but they generally kept quiet during previous human rights violations because they were focused like a laser on Nigeria’s oil – “human rights” be damned.

    Nothing will change. If Jonathan is replaced by a Northerner in 2015, the same heavy handed brutal tactics will be used against hapless civilians in the Niger Delta. This is 100% predictable.

    Nigeria will continue to muddle and wobble, until it finally implodes. The question isn’t if, but when.

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