There is no official public death registry in Nigeria. When citizens die, they just die like that. No record. It is the only nation in the world where this happens.
But what is worse is that for political reasons which are quite irrational, the Nigerian security departments are well known for underreporting deaths if reported at all.
The recent massacre of Nigerian soldiers at Metele in which the death toll of the second incident was at least 118 soldiers was first not reported by the Nigerian military and then when it was reported several days later after the media had exposed it, was hacked down to “23” in the official army report. Soldiers at the scene reported that at least 200 men had died in two incidents that week.
As at the time the army released its political figures, SaharaReporters had reported that bodies of solders were still at the site of the tragedy. It is possible that the Nigerian army only reports the bodies in its personal possession and does not count the ones it is yet to retrieve.
The habit of the Nigerian army has been repeated in almost every instance of soldier deaths. Unlike all other countries in the world where not just the true number of brave soldiers dead but the list of their names is made public for prayers and gratitude, the Nigerian military is embarrassed by the fall of its soldiers and buries the incidents, the true picture, names and numbers killed.
Nigeria’s police, statistical bureau and ministry of interior should also furnish the public the record of deaths of citizens and soldiers by number and name, but these departments are likewise either incompetent or conspire to conceal this public record for senseless political purposes.
The underreporting of the dead is even worse when it comes to civilians, especially youth killed by overhanded military and police action.
In the recent Abuja massacre of Nigerian minority shia Muslims, while between 40 and 100 were killed when the Nigerian army unleashed volleys of live rounds at peaceful unarmed protesters and occasionally stone throwing rioters, the Nigerian army and police released the figures of the killed as “only 3.”
“3” happens to routinely be in the number released. “3,” or “23.” The numbers the Nigerian army released are also typically odd figures. “3,5,7” are the most common.
On other instances the state security offices just seal their lips. During the massacre of IPOB youth holding prayers that occurred on Onitsha in early 2016, the Nigerian army simply described the victim, Amnesty and news media reports as ‘outlandish,” and the security departments never gave figures and the identities of Nigerians killed by the authorities.
This mission to hide the dead leads to secret mass burials. PremiumTimes in an exclusive report that June titled “SPECIAL REPORT: How the Onitsha massacre of pro-Biafra supporters was coordinated — SSS operative” gave a chilling account of how the Nigerian military and police secretly buried as many as 100 youth in 15 mass graves in the Onitsha military barracks. See here:
It would not be the first or last. In the aftermath of the Zaria massacre of December 2015 when according to victims, 1000 minority shia Muslims were massacred in a combined effort by members of the Nigerian military, police and radical islamist youth ferried by the authorities, the Nigerian army gave the figure dead as “7.” The Kaduna state government in its panel confessed to burying 350 victims while implicating the Nigerian army as having brought the bodies and coordinated the mass burials. The army has not admitted to date.
Nigeria seems to be cursed by the denial of its people in life and death. The secret burials or our men, women, youth, soldiers and civilians cannot bring good to the nation. Many a saint has been buried secretly by the police or army. This pattern cannot continue.
As its tenure comes to an end, we call on the Buhari government to order an end to this puerile, disgusting and evil practice of denying Nigerians in death. Shame should not bring on further rot on this nation. It is never too late to fix and bring and end to sins. The Metele incident is too painful for Nigerians to wait or hope on a new government before trying to end this abomination.
That the security authorities may feel they have made errors or failed in their duties should not lead to more sinister errors and cover-ups. There should be consequence for police and military failures to report the deaths of Nigerians and worse for intentional attempts at covering the names and numbers.
Dignity in death is our fundamental right!
Written by Dr. Perry Brimah