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El-Zakzaky: Hurting memories of a massacre

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In 2015, hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise called Shi’ites, were violently crushed by the superior power of the men of Nigerian Army with mass burial allegedly conducted for 347 victims by the Kaduna State Government. More than two years after, the Sect’s leader, Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky, his wife, Zeenat, and over 200 members have remained behind bars, even against court order. MOJEED ALABI, who visited some of the victims, their relatives and the scenes of the violence, report on the religious extremism and human rights abuses that characterized the massacre

Hajia Maimuna Abdullahi Husseini is completely depressed and worn out. The 48-year-old mother of 10 no longer thinks straight as she is constantly frightened and haunted by the imagination of the horror that may have accompanied the alleged killing of her husband and six children; all in one fell swoop.

Maimuna’s 54-year-old husband, Mallam Abdullahi Abass, was a trained motor mechanic, but hard times later compelled him to trade in Islamic items such as books, pamphlets, audio and video tapes of lectures and teachings of Islamic scholars.

He was popular for selling recordings of the renowned leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as ‘Shi’ite,’ Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky. As a member of the group, he decided to venture into the new business, and this was what his family had lived on until 2015.

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, Abass was one of the hundreds of thousands of other IMN members across the country and beyond who had converged on the group’s Hussainiya Baqiyatullah –a religious and cultural centre, located along the Zaria-Sokoto Road, Zaria, Kaduna State, where they were to commemorate a flag hoisting event.

The Coordinator of the IMN’s Academic Forum, Shuaib Ahmad, told New Telegraph that the event was to mark the beginning of the Month of Rabiul Awwal (third Islamic calendar month)- the birth month of Prophet Muhammad, when the Movement’s green flag was to be hoisted, replacing the black one.

On the said date, Abass, and his six children – Abdulrazak Abdullahi, Abbas Abdullahi, Muhammad Abdullahi, Ahmad Abdullahi, Ibrahim Abdullahi and Jawad Abdullahi – whose ages ranged from 18 to 28, had taken strategic positions to display the items for sale.

Their mother, Maimuna, was also with the other four children at the centre, but at the female wing, where she had also displayed women wares and other items for sale.

The family was hopeful that the school fees needed by Abdulrasak and two of his other siblings would be made on the day. That dream never came to reality. Since that day till date, their whereabouts is yet to be ascertained. They were among those assumed to have been crushed by the men of the Nigerian Army, who had engaged the group in a fight to the finish that lasted three days.

Their remains could also have been part of the 347 bodies of the victims of the incident that the Kaduna State Government claimed it conducted mass burial for.

But two years after the unfortunate incident, Hajia Maimuna still does not want to believe her husband and six children could have been killed and buried in a manner she described as “conscienceless.”

Maimuna, who is now very feeble and fragile, had embarked on many weeks of self-imposed hunger strike, in protest of the great trauma she said has been caused her by the alleged killers of her family.

Speaking through an interpreter, who craved anonymity, Maimuna, who spoke in Hausa Language, told New Telegraph that she would have preferred that the whole family was wiped out instead of the seven who were believed to have been killed by the soldiers. The development, she said, had left her with the burden of life, especially the care of the remaining four little kids.

She said; “Every night, I see my husband and my children. They come to me in dreams and I cry a lot because when I wake up, I don’t see them again.

“Initially I did not believe they were dead, but almost two years after, I have realised the futility in the search efforts because they are neither in the hospitals nor in the prisons. We combed mortuaries too, but nothing was found. So, I believe they have been martyred, and I wished the whole family could have been so martyred.”

Meanwhile, if Maimuna is still in doubt of the whereabouts of her husband and children, it is not so for Hajia Amina Isa Ahmad, whose son spoke to her just before the soldier fired the shot that might have killed him.

Amina, who is in her 40s, is a Senior Computer Operator at the Institute of Computing and Information Technology, at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where her husband, Dr. Waziri Isa Gwantu is also a lecturer. She lost two sons – Hassan and Hussein Waziri (twin brothers); one stepson, Mohammed Waziri, and a stepdaughter, Fatimah Waziri.

As at the time of their alleged murder, the 19-year-old Hassan and Hussein Waziri just gained admissions to the Department of Library Science and Business Management respectively, while their stepbrother was a 300-level student of the Department of Computer Science, and Fatimah, a 200-level student of the same department, all at ABU.

According to Amina, her experience may be too traumatic to narrate; saying about two of her children had managed to narrate their ordeal to her on phone shortly before their last breath.

“But unfortunately, the soldiers had cordoned off everywhere and I could not rescue my children at the point of their death,” she told New Telegraph.

Responding to questions from our reporter, who had traced her to the ABU Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Shika near Zaria, where she had taken one of her remaining eight children for treatment, Hajia Amina’s eyes were full of tears, using her long scarf to mop it.

She explained; “On that very day, my husband had taken the children to Hussainiya Baqiyatullah. But while on his way, he heard gunshots and found out it was due to a misunderstanding between the military and the IMN members. He wasn’t surprised because about six months before then, Sheikh Elzakyzaky had informed members that he received security reports that the military was trying to feign an attack by IMN members so that they could hide under such false alarm to attack the Movement.

“He then decided to take the children to the home of Sheik instead of the event centre, hoping that they would be safer there, but he was wrong. When the soldiers finished with those at the Hussainiya, they moved to Sheik’s house and leveled the whole place.

“Where I was hiding, I saw Hussein when he was shot and was being taken by the members of the Movement’s medical team to a makeshift treatment centre. I wanted to jump out, but the other women held me back and tried to calm me down. In the evening on Sunday, December 14, my son called me on phone and could hardly talk because he had lost so much blood. He was gasping and told me the soldiers had found them out and were killing everybody. He said there were only few people to be killed before it would be his turn, and he prayed for forgiveness if he had offended me in any way. That was my last communication with my son.”

Amina further explained that his stepchildren, who she had been taking care of in her about 21 years of marriage, also died in similar circumstances. They were part of those allegedly gruesomely murdered by the soldiers at the home of the group’s leader.

Expressing his grief to New Telegraph, Amina’s husband, Dr. Waziri, said what was more painful to his family was that after killing his children, he was denied access to their corpses and could not bury them according to Islamic rites.

“They were buried in mass graves. What offence have we committed to deserve this kind of oppression? Not even in war is this permitted by laws”, Waziri cried.

In a similar development, the duo of Idris Umar and Alhaji Monsur Alli also had each child killed during the attack. Mahdi Idris was a 20-year-old son of Umar, while Alli’s Mohammed Kabir was 24 years old when they were mowed down.

According to the two parents, that their children were martyred had lessened their pain, but the fact that they were buried like animals was a sin they would never forgive the government for. They said they were ready to lose their lives for their faith and accused the Nigerian government of impunity.

Meanwhile, Jubril Tukur and Yusuff Abdulkareem, who live on 27, Mamman Yola Street, Hayin Dogo, Samaru Area of Zaria, were some of the lucky victims of the incident. They escaped the scene of the violence with wounds from gunshots.

According to Abdulkareem, he was shot on the thigh and suffered Femur Fracture. He had just gained admission to study Computer Science at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) shortly before the incident, and two years after, he is still nursing the wound and may have forfeited the admission.

Narrating his escape experience, he said he was just lucky to have fallen into a drainage after being shot, and that more than 10 hours after he was shot, he could not move out of the gutter.

He said; “But the following morning when men of the IMN medical team were moving round, they discovered my body. They had thought I was dead, but one of them saw my fingers moving, and picked me alongside others to the teaching hospital.

“But after few days at ABUTH, there was report that the soldiers were coming to raid the hospital to kill us, so we were moved discreetly to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano where I spent five months at the orthopeadic unit. The Movement later flew me to Al-Zam Hospital in Tehran, Iran, where I spent a month between June and July, 2017.

“Today, I walk with the aid of the crutches and as soon as things improve, I hope to return to school.”

On his part, the 36-year-old Tukur, a shop owner and father of two, spent a year at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano, and since he was discharged, his ankle where he suffered gunshot was yet to fully heal.

Tukur’s business has since run down and now lives at the mercy of what his wife could make from her petty trading. “As you can see, where can I go with this leg for now? Until it is finally healed, I am living on the help from Allah and my wife is also trying to do her best. But no matter how hard, I still strongly believe in my faith and it cannot be killed by bullets from mere mortals.”

There are hundreds of similar stories across many homes in Kaduna, Zaria, Kano and every other cities and states, where members of the IMN live or lived, as the case may be. Many children are today orphaned and wives widowed as a result of an avoidable crisis.

How the crisis started

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, reportedly travelled from Dutse, Jigawa State capital to attend the Passing out Parade (PoP) ceremony of the 73rd Regular Recruits at the Nigerian Army Depot, in Zaria.

On the same day, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) was to commemorate its flag-hoisting event at its national headquarters- Hussainiya Baqiyatullah, which is located along the major Zaria-Sokoto highway, where the Chief of Army Staff was scheduled to pass.

Ahead of Buratai’s arrival and as it was the practice of the security operatives, advanced team of the Army Chief had staged patrol along the road, including the venue of the IMN’s programme. And on its part, members of the IMN, including men of the security and road traffic units, who were allegedly armed with batons, knives and machetes, also took positions on the road.

However, investigations by New Telegraph revealed that members of the IMN were scared of the presence of the soldiers at its event location. The fear, sources disclosed, might not be unconnected with similar clashes with the military in the past, especially on July 25, 2014, when about 34 members of the movement, including three sons of the leader of the Movement, Mahmud, Ahmad and Hamid Elzakyzaky, were killed.

The trio had taken part in the Movement’s annual procession, otherwise regarded as Quds Day Celebration, which was in solidarity with Palestinians over massive attack from Israel. The soldiers had allegedly opened fire on them following disagreement over rights of way.

As at the time of their death, Mahmud was a student of Al-Mustapha University, Beirut, Lebanon; Ahmad was studying Chemical Engineering at Shenyang University, China; and Hamid was an Aeronautical Engineering student at Xian University, China.

Thus, according to the Academic Forum of the Movement, the argument that ensued between the soldiers and the members of the Movement was not unnatural.

Meanwhile, while the argument was still on, the Chief of Army Staff arrived the scene, and his men forced their way through the crowd leaving many members of the Movement dead.

The Coordinator of the Academic Forum, Shuaib Ahmad, told New Telegraph that; “About an hour after the Army Chief left, there was reinforcement of the Army carrying heavy arms and box of ammunitions that resumed killing indiscriminately. We saw the Nigerian Army killing children who were confused and running for refuge outside the Hussainiyyah. They remained in that situation, killing any of the members at sight, while the brothers and sisters of the Movement, who were also armless, took cover inside the Hussainiyyah.

“The soldiers called on those inside the Hussainiyyah who are in their hundreds to come out of the Hussainiyyah with their hands up which some of them did, but were shot by the soldiers as they went out and this prevented the others from conceding. Later that night the Nigerian Army threw grenades at the Hussainiyyah, pulling down part of the wall to gain access. Those inside were taking cover as the soldiers have surrounded the entire building and were shooting indiscriminately and there was nowhere to go to.

“Soon, they cordoned off the entire area and took away the corpses of those they murdered. Some of the corpses at that time were deposited at the Mortuary of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Shika near Zaria. They later brought down the frontage of the Hussainiyyah and later leveled the entire structure on Sunday, 20th December, 2015.”

Attack on El-zakyzaky’s house at Gyallesu Area

Investigations by New Telegraph revealed that at about 9:00pm on the same day, more soldiers in some trucks arrived the residence of the leader of the Movement at Gyallesu Area of the city through the Congo Campus of ABU and shot ‘indiscriminately.’

Workers at the Federal College of Education, including a security personnel on the campus, who identified himself simply as Ilyasu, described the scene of the attack at the Gyallesu Area as Commando-like.

According to Ilyasu, the soldiers shot sporadically at the crowd and that rather than giving in, the IMN members simply kept shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (Allah is great), and that as they attempted to remove the corpses of their fallen members, the soldiers kept shooting and killing more, until they finally gained entry into the Sheik’s compound.

Ilyasu said in Hausa Language; “Few of us who were brave enough to watch, climbed up trees and saw the whole thing. I was afraid myself because anyone the soldiers saw in the neigbourhood was at risk. It was like a film.”

Ahmad said apart from the numerous members of the group who were killed at El-zakyzaky’s house, leading brothers of the Movement, including Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud Turi, “were martyred.”

“Also, they killed 3 children of Sheikh Zakzaky, namely Hammad, Ali and Humaid, and their mother, Hajia Zeenat Ibraheem was shot severally. Also killed at the scene was a journalist working with the Kaduna State Media Corporation (KSMC), Alhaji Ibrahim Usman. And at last, Sheik was brutally shot and was arrested with his wife and has since been kept in detention, even against court order,” he added.

Attacks on IMN’s cemetery, film village and park (Darur Rahma)

In furtherance of the attack, soldiers from the same 73rd Regular Recruits at the Nigerian Army Depot also moved to the Movement’s park, which comprises a film village, cemetery and farm, occupying a large expanse of land located in Dambo Area of the city.

When New Telegraph visited the site, there were rubbles from the demolished structures on the land and the burial ground which were scattered during the attack.

According to Ahmad, many lives of the Movement’s members who had taken refuge at the location were also claimed by the violence, and that the soldiers allegedly moved the bodies to the mortuary at the ABU Teaching Hospital at Shika.

Nigerian Army reacts

Though when New Telegraph tried to speak with the Nigerian Army’s Spokesman, Brigadier General Sani Usman, he failed to pick his calls on many occasions, and when he did pick, he requested that messages should be sent.

But when questions were sent to him via a text message, he refused to answer. However, the newspaper’s Defence correspondent (name withheld), who the Brigadier General Sani was already familiar with, sent the same questions through a text message by phone. But rather than responding to the questions, Sani simply sent a warning message that read; “Don’t ever send me this kind of thing.”

Meanwhile, in its memo submitted to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry that was set up over the crisis, in January 2016 by the Kaduna State Government, the Army had claimed the clash was an attack by the IMN on the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

The report of the Commission reads in part; “The COAS and his entourage left Dutse for Zaria at about 11:30va.m., and arrived at about 2:20 p.m. However, along Sokoto Road, close to the IMN’s shrine called “Hussainiyya Baqiyyatillah”, a group of suspected IMN members in their hundreds, armed with dangerous weapons, blocked the convoy of the COAS. Efforts were made to appeal to them to allow the COAS and his convoy passage, but they remained adamant, saying that it was only “Mallam”, meaning the leader of the movement, who could instruct them to grant access to the COAS. Specifically, the Director, Military Intelligence, Provost Marshall (Army) and the Acting Director, Public Relations pleaded with them for about thirty minutes to no avail.

“The Nigerian Army noted that the senior officers in the COAS convoy took considerable personal risk by leaving their vehicles and trying to persuade IMN members. After about thirty minutes, what appeared to be gunshots were heard coming from the direction of the shrine while some of the IMN members appeared to be flanking the Nigerian Army delegation from the sides as if to encircle them.”

The report added; “The troops responsible for the safety and security of the COAS had to act and clear the road when it became obvious that he was in danger. The NA further noted that prior to the incident, Zaria was peaceful and the team that came to receive the COAS and his entourage transited through the same route 20 minutes to the blockade without any sign of procession.

“The Nigerian Army also posited that the “ambush” was pre-planned and premeditated with the aim of causing harm or even eliminating the Chief of Army Staff as the IMN members’ motorcycles and cars were neatly parked and the road was littered with heavy stones and bonfires. This and the prevailing security situation in the country, as well as a previous attack on the COAS in Borno State, were given as the context from which the Nigerian Army’s action of ‘shooting through the blockade’ was taken.”

However, in its defence of the actions on the following days, the Nigerian Army noted that security reports had indicated that members of the IMN were planning to retaliate and that arms and ammunition belonging to the group were already stockpiled at the three locations of Hussainiya Baqiyatullah, El-zakyzaky’s house at Gyallesu and the Daruh Rahma on Dambo Area of the city. This, according to the report informed the Nigerian Army’s decision to descend heavily on the locations.

But in the report, the Nigerian Army did not list the weapons recovered from the locations, and never gave the number of casualties recorded on the part of its victims.

…To be continued tomorrow

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Delta Steel: Prostate from mismanagement

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CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

 

Despite efforts to revive it and restart production of steel for local and export purposes, the multibillion naira Delta Steel Company (DSC) has remained comatose, writes YEKEEN AKINWALE, who visited the firm situated at Owvian, Aladja town, Delta State, in this concluding part

 

“When that place was flourishing, they said it was federal character; northerners were there, southerners were there, but when it was run aground, people accused us of folding our arms and being naive. We say no, before people accuse us again.” The case is still ongoing.

 

The communities want the court to issue an order restraining Premium Steel from continuing to take over the assets of Delta Steel without a valid sale and/or transfer of the company. Short-changed by AMCON and Premium Steel and mines management Former workers who worked at the plant between 2005 and 2012 when Global Infrastructure Company unsuccessfully managed it are demanding the payment of their entitlements.

 

 

The new investors will know no peace, they have vowed, until their debts are defrayed. At the time the new investors took over from AMCON in April 2015, the company had a backlog of seven-year unpaid salaries, which the workers say was calculated to be N3.2 billion – but AMCON says the amount is far less: N2.1 billion.

 

Other liabilities, according to findings, are indebtedness to contractors put at N2.5 billion, indebtedness to foreign suppliers placed at $4.4 billion and liabilities to statutory bodies and corporate creditors such as Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which alone make up N12 billion.

 

AMCON, it was gathered, has settled some of these liabilities; particularly debts owed the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), which recently restored electricity to the plant after seven years of darkness. The workers argue that the difference of N1.1 billion was due to the omission of some names and figures in the report submitted by the consultant hired to compute their entitlements.

 

They accuse AMCON of short-changing them despite their years of sacrifice at the company. Peace Oputu, chairman of Iron  and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSSAN), reveals that efforts to make AMCON adjust the figure to N3.2 billion were fruitless.

 

 

 

“We (the workers) gathered ourselves and met with AMCON. We talked but the meeting was fruitless because they didn’t agree to our terms,” says Oputu, disappointed in how workers have been treated by the Federal Government after the collapse of the steel company.

 

“They calculated certain amount, N2.1 billion as what is owed DSC workers, but we have EDP that takes care of all expenditures and all the money that comes in for the company. “When we met with the committee set up by Delta State government, we made it very clear to them that our money is much more than that.

 

“Then we calculated the money with the EDP, and came out with N3.2 billion. This was what we took to AMCON in Lagos. AMCON said their own was just to acquire; they had paid the debts owed by the company and as a result, they didn’t have any other thing to give us. “They were just going to part with N600 million, representing 22.5 per cent of the N3.2 billion. So, the meeting was deadlocked because we were not happy.”

While waiting for their entitlements, ICIR gathered that about 500 retired staff of the steel company died in the 13 years that followed, that is 2005 till date.

 

This explains why, when AMCON came to disburse the N600 million in March 2017, those still alive ignored the directive of Oputu-led ISSSAN and Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) not to collect the money. Though it was obvious that they had been underpaid, the workers, who were dying of hunger and sundry illnesses, could not resist the temptation of the AMCON payment.

 

“Hunger is there, you cannot tell anybody not to collect the money. We the union came out and instructed them that nobody should go out to receive it but the next day people went out. You can imagine the level of poverty among our people,” laments Oputu. But ISSSAN and SEWUN are insisting on the payment of 100 per cent allegedly agreed by the unions and AMCON, through its receiver/manager. They allege that AMCON acted without consulting them in the calculation and payment of “25 per cent of their total entitlements”.

 

Adewale Okeshola, general secretary of ISSSAN, laments that AMCON reneged on the agreements reached at the meeting with its receiver/manager. “We later gathered that AMCON through the receiver/manager was holding meetings with some disgruntled elements within the workforce in DSC who paraded themselves as seeking the interest of the workers who have suffered delay in the payment of their salaries for over five years now,” he says.

 

“These groups, we gathered, entered into an unholy alliance with the management to short-change the workers in the payment of their terminal benefits. After a protracted wait, we were shocked that the workers had been paid 25 per cent of their entitlements as final payment.

 

“This is not only a far cry from the agreement reached between the two unions and the receiver/ manager appointed by AMCON, but also unacceptable. We want to say that SEWUN and ISSSAN were not carried along in this decision.

 

We have made several entreaties through correspondences to the concerned authorities to rescind this dehumanising decision and honour every agreement both parties reached for the interest of peace and harmony. Up till now, our efforts have fallen on deaf ears, thereby creating tension and restiveness by workers.” Efforts by the state government to intervene have yielded only little result, at least not in assuaging the worries of the aggrieved former workers.

 

A committee on Delta Steel Company Affairs set up by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and headed by Moses Odibo, wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari requesting N5 billion bailout for AMCON to offset the salaries and other indebtedness so that the company’s new owners could resume produc-tion in November 2016.

 

The amount requested was not released. Rather, the President, it was learnt, referred the letter to AMCON to defray the debt since that is its statutory responsibility.

 

A breakdown of the sought N 5billion is as follows: N3.2 billion for staff salaries, N1 billion as part payment of N7.5 billion indebtedness to PHCN/BEDC, N198.7 million owed Nigerian Gas, N500 million for general supplies and N58 million to offset scrap supplies.

 

Despite these calculations, particularly the debt to workers, AMCON paid only 25 per cent of N2.1 billion that it said was the workers’ entitlement.

 

The workers argue that from the time when the Federal Government took over the company from Global Infrastructure Company till date, no letter was given to any staff regarding disengagement, retirement or any related matter. “Invariably, the government is not coming closer to us and we don’t know what is happening with this company for now,” laments Oputu.

 

“My members are working there because what gets to your mouth gets to your stomach. My people are dying in the township there. We lost minimum of three people every day.

When the new investors came in, they made several publications that they were going to turn Delta Steel Company around, promising to spend billions of dollars. “But today, that is not what we are seeing. If they don’t live on the account of the school; they won’t survive.

 

The proceeds from the schools are what they use to run the plant and one of the schools, school II, is grounded.

 

“We were over 5,000 when the company was working well, but we were reduced to almost 2,000 when Global Steel came in. Several people have died, more than 700 since 2011.” Jude Nwauzor, manager, Corporate Affairs of AMCON, did not respond to questions on the allegation of short-changing the former workers.

 

While he promised to get back, he referred the journalist to Joseph Nwobike, AMCON Receiver/ Manager for the company. In an SMS, Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said he would not respond to gossips and unfounded allegations.

 

“Thank you for contacting me. I really do not respond to gossips and unfounded allegations. The records are there for all to see,” he says. But when he was further asked to make the record available by this journalist, he went mum.

 

AMCON, though, says it ensured that all verified former workers who were eligible and also participated in the agency’s verification exercise were fully paid directly. Following their inability to liquidate the debts they owed several banks, AMCON took over the assets and undertakings of Delta Steel Company Plc (DSC)/Global Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (GINL) and appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ajibola Aribisala, as the receiver/ manager of the company.

 

However, in 2015, AMCON replaced Aribisala with Nwobike, who subsequently engaged the services of an audit firm to carry out a verification of the former staff. “At the exercise, only those who were staff of DSC/GINL at the time of the take-over by AMCON were audited,” AMCON says in the report.

 

“At the conclusion of the exercise, Nwobike engaged the representatives of the staff – an engagement that led to an agreement to accept as full and final settlement of their outstanding salaries and gratuities, a percentage of the verified sums.” It was, however, gathered that although the percentage agreed to be paid was below the workers’ expectation, AMCON says the arrangement was the best in the circumstance, seeing that DSC/GINL was insolvent.

 

 

According to AMCON, over 1,600 staff were screened and paid in the exercise, which lasted between March 13 and 31, 2017. Hunger, sickness, deaths…the plights of ex-workers “My wife dey house now, to eat dey hard us; na so so quarrel. I don’t know where to start from and I get seven children.”

 

That is the lamentation of Francis Agbonkaro, who worked at the plant as a plumber for 25 years. With three university graduates and four undergraduates and a wife to cater to, life has not been easy for him since his retirement in 2005 from the company without the payment of his benefits.

 

The whole family, he reveals, lives on the petty trade run by his wife in the Steel Camp – the residential quarters constructed for staff of the company. “Na my wife just dey do small small thing wey we take dey survive. I get seven children. Three graduate, four no graduate, dem don already finish secondary school because no money to sponsor them. I no fit calculate how much dem owe me,” he says. But he is happy despite his poor condition of living because several of his colleagues who worked at the plant have died of hunger and treatable ailments.

 

“Population wey don die, dem no dey fit talk that one. I even fit say the population wey die dem plenty pass people wey dey alive. Some house dey here, the husband die, the wife die,” Agbonkaro continues in Pidgin, apparent signs of poverty all over him. Still, he can be said to be lucky. His colleagues, Salami Omokha and Osifo Mathew, are already cursing the day they joined the steel company – they have lost their sights due to years of exposure to high temperature without protective gears as con-casters at the plant. Omokha, who also retired from the company in 2005, was a melter of iron ore.

 

“Melting has to do with converting iron ore, which has been reduced to direct iron, and then you convert them to liquid steel, you convert them to any grade of steel you want,” he explains. Before iron ore can be converted, the melter must attain the temperature of about 1740 degree centigrade.

 

That, Omokha says, was usually done by him and others in that section “and not that you have the safety devices to look at those things”. “Those are the things we looked at and today now we are having the adverse effects; we cannot see.”

 

Trained in Germany and Italy for iron ore melting, he says 90 per cent of those that worked there “have this problem I’m having now; the problem of sight”. “I went to Germany and Italy in 1980 and 1981 where I was trained as an electro handler, melter, and caster. I trained many people on the job when I returned, and many of them today are happy to identify with us now that we gave them good training.”

 

Life after retirement has not been rosy, as according to him, “the situation after retirement is hopeless”. “We are surviving through charity, particularly from friends who are better placed. My children are not grown up yet; even the ones that have graduated have no jobs. Our wives are the ones jumping from places to places, converting whatever they have to money. We are also hoping for a better tomorrow whether the Federal Government will remember us.

 

“We are not getting our retirement benefits. I’m in my condition now, the plant is also in its own condition; we don’t know who to speak for who. Whether the plant is to speak for me, because the plant is also in the same condition in which I am now; the plant is sick. “I wish the Federal Government can have a little rethink and come back to that place to see exactly what they have there. They should not allow it go fallow the way it is now. People are there now but nothing meaningful is coming out of there. It is like the government is not taking the issue of Delta Steel Company seriously.”

 

When reminded that the plant had been handed over to a pri-  vate investor, he asks: “How can you give the company to a private investor without following up, without knowing its profile and without know what they are doing there? “The government is weak in this area.

 

There are so many of their projects that are abandoned. Come to where we are residing in Township, schools have been abandoned, taken over by weeds. It is a nonchalant attitude by the government.” On whether the Premium Steel and Mines Limited has the capacity to transform the moribund plant, Salami retorts: “Those are not steel makers; if they are still makers we will know. The same government that allowed them in is the same government that owes us.

 

“My health challenges are numerous; one, I cannot see far objects. Doctors told me that there are cataracts in my eyes and these are the manifestations of areas where we worked. Again, the pains are there all over. Many of the people that worked with us have long died. “Government should live up to its responsibility and pay us our money, our entitlements, so that we can also straighten our heads and maybe we can live longer. With better treatment, nobody will know that you are sick; meaning that there is a solution to your problem. We have problems and the solution is there; only that we cannot afford it.”

 

Of the trio, Osifo Mathew is the worst hit; he has been suffering from stroke and has lost his sight. With his eyes wide opened though laced with mucous to suggest there are problems with them, Mathew could not recognise his friends. Twenty-five years of exposure to high temperature as a con-caster at the steel company is responsible for his battle with glaucoma. With such debilitating health condition, he is also not paid his entitlements after retirement from the company. Looking straight at this reporter as if he could actually see him, he says, “I worked at con-cast. We started the steel company and I was retired in 2005.

 

But up till now, I have not collected my entitlements. I have problem with my eyes. In fact, when the eye problem started, I was first affected by stroke. “The eyes have been bad for the past four years.

 

They said they cannot operate it because it is glaucoma. “They recommended drugs and eye drop. I can see just faintly. The last eye drop I bought was N9,000 and used it for two weeks.” Osifo makes one final plea to the journalist: “I want government to pay my money so that I can treat myself. As you are talking to me now, I’m just looking at you like a film. I’m not seeing you; I can’t describe the shirt you are wearing.”

•Akinwale is a snr investigative reporter, ICIR, Abuja

 

CONCLUDED

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Delta Steel Company: Dashed hope of a nation

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Sick workers, comatose firm, helpless stakeholders

Two years after the Federal Government handed over the Delta Steel Company (DSC) to Premium Steel and Mines Company Limited – a consortium of private investors – to revive the company and start production of steel for local and export purposes, the multibillion-naira outfit is yet to take off. YEKEEN AKINWALE, who visited the company situated at Owvian, Aladja town, Delta State, finds out that the company is still grappling with crises which look intractable

 

“Warri no dey carry last, na wetin we dey always talk, but for this Delta Steel Company matter, we don carry last,” quips Justice Iyasere, who looks towards the massive structure of the steel company with disappointment clearly etched on his face.

Although Iyasere, a community leader and local government chairman aspirant in Udu Local Government, is not one to give in to pessimism, he admits that it will take more actions than precepts to get the company running again – especially in the face of unending crises ranging from war by ex-workers, to huge debts to suppliers and threats from other interest groups.

Years of politicking, mismanagement and lack of interest by the Federal Government, he says, led to the collapse of what was once the pride of Delta State. If it were alive and running, Nigeria’s reliance on imported steel and aluminium products ought to have significantly reduced.

Its sales to Premium Steel and Mines Limited under the Federal Government’s privatisation programme, besides being opaque, is already a subject of litigation – communities hosting the company in Udu have instituted a law suit against Federal Government and Premium Steel and Mines Limited, to contest the sale.

At the moment, Nigeria spends N887 billion (about $4.5 billion) annually to import 25 million tons of steel and aluminium products. This is not going to end soon except steel plants such as DSC start producing steel locally.

In 1980, when the plant was established and inaugurated under the leadership of Fred Aghogho Brume, pioneer general manager, it was designed to produce one million tons of liquid steel per year. It never attained this maximum production output. Its best performance was in 1983, when it produced 500,000 tons. Since then, the plant has been aground.

“In 1985, the highest steel production a day was 23 heats in the whole of Africa and that year, Delta Steel was producing 21,” says Sam Agberhiere, one of its pioneer staff.

“If government is actually serious about steel making, by now we should have been one of the leading countries in the business. But the reverse is the case.”

From conception, DSC was designed to place Nigeria in the comity of manufacturing countries, particularly giving it an edge in the automobile sector. The Foundry Section, which earlier manufactured brake discs, drums and other parts for Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), Kaduna, has long been shut down.

“PAN in Kaduna was making order in 2002, 2003 and 2004. From here we made brake drums, engine blocks and other accessories in good quality,” says a former staff of the company who did not want to be named because of a running battle with the new management over unpaid entitlements.

The Phase II of the plant, designed to manufacture flat sheets for production of car bodies such as bonnets, car doors, roofs and booths, never took off. The natives who donated the land to government for the company to build the Phase II have reclaimed it.

“In one word, I’d say what killed DSCL is politics. They played politics with the plant. That’s why we have found ourselves where we are today. Warri don carry last here,” Iyasere adds.

Robinson Akpodovhan, retired manager, Shipping and Logistics at the plant, would also not spare government of blame. He says government did not effectively monitor the company.

“You cannot rule out the hands of government from the failure of the company,” he says. “Ajaokuta is over 40 years now and still grappling with construction, and it is also owned by the government.”

Truly, a desolate edifice of the company sandwiched by bush says much about its years of misfortune. Before now, the company supplied billets to Jos Steel Rolling Mill, Katsina Rolling and Oshogbo Rolling Mill. All three rolling mills are also dead.

 

Haunted by ex-workers, heavy debts, unseen forces…the face of a deserted plant

With a gun-wielding soldier and other private security guards manning the gate, a visitor without prior appointment will not have his way in. “Gaining access to the plant is not an easy task; you have to come back in two weeks’ time,” a security guard tells this journalist.

An insider says the new management of the company is haunted by aggrieved former workers who have vowed never to allow operation in the plant except their entitlements are paid. So, the main gate is under tight security against any unforeseen invasion by former workers. But its former owners, Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, is also laying claim to the company and indeed pressing to take it over.

 

Save for a few employees working on an excavation across the main gate of the company, there is actually no movement of heavy duty trucks that could suggest any activity going on in the company. No deafening sounds of iron casting coming from the plant or the razzmatazz that characterises a steel company.
It wears an old look, all the welcome signposts along the dual carriageway erected by the new management notwithstanding. Keen visitors get the impression of a company not working right from the corridor of the same highway.
The road was constructed purposely to connect the steel plant to the Warri Port, in order to enhance easy evacuation of finished iron products. But the road is not only deserted; it is dilapidated.
A trailer park a few kilometres away from the main entrance of the company that once served as the assembly point for heavy-duty trucks taking finished products is long gone; it has been taken over by bushes; no ancillary business along the road is visible. Business life of the area apparently died with the steel plant.
“As an A-Level student of Federal Government Warri, we were taken to DSCL on excursion; the noise there was deafening – noise of steel production and presence of heavy-duty trucks waiting to evacuate iron products such as iron rods, billets and other products were sights to behold,” recounts Onwuka John, a resident of Owvian.
“In those days, oil workers were resigning. I saw them join the steel sector. Many resigned from Shell to join Delta Steel because everything about the company was too attractive for anyone not to eye its workforce; housing estate, schools, football team and even hospital were owned by the company.
“No company impacted the lives of the Deltans like the steel company, but all that is history now,” he adds.
“It was operating three shifts and you need to see staff buses conveying workers from Steel Town for their shifts to the company. But now, the plant is just like a ghost town.”
The units within – harbour, Direct Reduction (DR) plant and the pellet plant, Lime Plant, Rolling Mill, Electric Air Furnace, and the Continuous Caster – are littered with wreckage and waste, while other auxiliary units of the plant such as the foundry, electrical and mechanical maintenance workshops and water supply system, have all been overtaken by elephant grasses.
Creating an impression of work in progress, however, are a few workers here and there strapping their safety helmets and putting on some dusty factory boots. But there is arguably no steel processing going on in the company.
Waiting for the promised facelift by the new owners, Premium Steel and Mines Limited, the brownish rusty bodies of the equipment and the broken-down or abandoned machines all over the place are relics of a dead giant.
In March 2017, a group of investors from the United States of America and Morocco were reported to have visited the plant, proposing a N600 billion investment to help revamp it – an indication that the new owners too might be in need of financial muscle to run the plant, like their predecessor, Global Infrastructure, which failed to turn it around.
But Victor German, general manager, Government and Community Affairs at the company, denies any such proposal from any investor. He says the Indian investors have both financial and technical abilities to operate the company.
This claim is already being contested. Ebhaleme Pius, a former employee of the company who worked there when it was sold to Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, says the management of Premium Steel and Mines, under the leadership of Prasanta Mishra, lacks not only the technical knowhow and financial muscle to run it successfully but also has no record of steel making.
“Those are not steel makers,” says Pius. “That’s why they are yet to manufacture a pin for the past two years. They cannot manufacture anything there because they don’t have experience in steel making.”
When its new owners took over in 2015, they promised to revive the comatose steel plant with N370 billion. Back then, with an established elaborate plan for the company’s revival with N70 billion in new investments in the first phase and N300 billion in the further phases, it looked like the company was going to have a new lease of life.
German admits that Delta Steel Company, as it is still called by the locals despite change of ownership and nomenclature, is still haunted by many known fears from disenchanted former workers who have vowed never to allow new investors take over the company until the N3.2 billion due to them is paid.
The workers are insisting that all industrial issues be settled, especially backlog of salaries and allowances, before the company can operate. German also confirms that the plant has been bogged down by demands of the former workers. “We met some rigid situations,” he says.
The basic reason the company has not resumed operations, according to him, is the delay in bringing the former workers on board.
“These former workers are waiting, but these issues of liabilities are also there. We have about 100 of them working with us now,” he says.“What we have been doing is trying to meet the demands of the former workers; those who worked with Global Infrastructure. You don’t just come and start work. They are asking for the payment of debts owed the workers.”
According to German, who is also a gas engineer, the management of the company is almost done with the resuscitation of its rolling mill, after which other sectors such as Steel Melting Shop (SMS) would be revamped. But there are arguably no signs that the mill will start work anytime soon.
“We are resuscitating the rolling mill, we are going to buy billets or get them from outside the country,” he adds.
Pius says the steel plant management will not succeed by revamping the rolling mill first because “Delta Steel Company is an integrated plant”.
“You can’t revive the rolling mill that ought to come last in the line of production first. It must be the last stage after they might have revived units like SMS and others. They can’t operate that plant; it is not a rolling mill.”
He alleges that the Indian investors have different plans for the plant. “They want to convert the building to a rice depot or a hotel,” he says. “You know they are Vaswani Brothers and we know their history in this country. They converted Volkswagen to rice depot.”
The payment of some debts by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in April what was needed for the management of Premium Steel to gain access to the plant and commence its resuscitation.
“We started that April this year and we have gone far. We are almost through with the rolling mill. One hundred and sixty workers are going to be employed for the rolling mills when it is operational,” says despite all these commitments, the management of the company still has a lot of bridges to cross. A case before a Federal High Court, Warri Judicial Division, by Udu community, might be a major huddle to cross.
The host community says the details of the transaction between PSML and Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), which gave the company to the new investors, was not made open.
“We do not know the extent of purchase; we do not know what AMCON sold and what they didn’t,” says Sam Odibo (Otota), Prime Minister of Udu Kingdom.
The communities claim they are stakeholders, having been allotted 22 million ordinary shares in the company, representing 10 per cent of its total shares at its privatisation.
Part of their complaint, according to Odibe, is that the Federal Government has continued to shut them out in the privatisation process while dealing with the assets of Delta Steel.
“When BPE concessioned the company some years back, the community did not even know that they had some percentage to be paid because the Indian company, Global, ran the place solo,” he says.
“We say no; we want to know what they sold to you because AMCON sold what was used to borrow money from the bank. Did they reserve anything for the community or is it that they sold everything in spite of huge expanse of land the Federal Government took from us in the name of national interest. But we believe that the Federal Government would not be stupid to sell everything off.”
Before heading for court, the host communities said their efforts to get both the BPE and the AGF to account for the privatisation process were shrugged off. Now, they want the court to declare that they are entitled to 22,000,000 ordinary shares, representing 10 per cent of the total shares of Delta Steel Company, and that both the BPE and the AGF have no right, power or authority whatsoever to sell or transfer to Premium Steel either directly or through any of the agents of the Federal Government, more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel.
The court, they argue, should also declare any purported sale and/or transfer of more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel to Premium Steel by the Federal Government, null and void.
“AMCON is done on the matter; they are not talking to us, same way nobody talked to us in the previous deal that allowed those Indians to run the place aground,” says Odibe.

•Akinwale is a snr investigative reporter, ICIR, Abuja

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Suicide law: When the dead is guilty

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Stigma, criminalisation not deterring suicide

JOHN CHIKEZIE x-rays prevalent cases of suicide in the country and blames the law for the upsurge

 

Stories of people committing suicide have now become an end to a means among the young and the middleaged in the country, especially in a city like Lagos where the hustle and bustle have tremendous effects on the mental state of residents. In 2017, the numerous shocking and alarming media reports of people taking their own lives appeared to have created an awareness in the mind of every Nigerian but what most folks didn’t know is that attempting to kill oneself is illegal and an offence against the state.

The alarm was raised when the sad and disturbing case of a 33-year-old medical doctor, Allwell Orji, who jumped into the lagoon from the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge, was reported on March 19, 2017. The deceased, who was being driven by his driver in a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) with registration number LND 476 EE about 4:50p.m., was receiving a call when he suddenly asked his driver to park. According to the driver, the doctor asked him to pull over, came out of the vehicle and jumped into the lagoon.

His body was recovered two days later. But there was uproar on social media when a 51-year-old textile dealer at Balogun Market, Titilayo Momoh, was arraigned before an Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court on April 24, 2017 for attempting to jump into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge. Momoh, who pleaded not guilty, was arraigned on a charge of attempting to commit suicide.

The prosecutor, Kehinde Omisakin, said that the accused committed the offence on March 24 about 10a.m. contrary to Section 233 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015. Omisakin said the businesswoman was prevented by security operatives from taking her own life. It was further learnt that the accused had been having sleepless nights since she was allegedly swindled of N18.7 million by a Bureau-de-Change operator sometime in 2015. However, upon her arrest, Momoh pleaded with the Lagos State government to pardon her actions on the claim that the weight of her debt pushed her into the act.

Although Momoh was granted bail by Chief Magistrate A. T. Elias in the sum of N500,000 with two responsible sureties in like sum, government later withdrew the case from the court. The judge directed that the woman be taken to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

Momoh’s attempted suicide and her subsequent arraignment brought to light Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, which stipulates that any person who attempts to kill himself is liable to imprisonment for one year, as many people were not even aware that such a law exists.

Looking into the implication of the suicide law as against successful suicides, is a pathetic story of a 42-year-old wielder, Wasiu Alowonle, who killed himself by jumping off a Lagos courtroom window on December 6, 2017; simply out of frustration.

Alowonle was accused of stealing an iron rod worth N40,000 and arraigned before Mrs. O. I. Raji of an Ogba Chief Magistrates’ Court. The prosecuting officer, Yumi Egunjobi, said the deceased was earlier arraigned on October 16 on a one-count charge of stealing and had been in custody at Kirikiri Prisons.

Egunjobi said the deceased was arraigned on December 6 for his trial to commence but no one could explain what made him jump off the window. However, a security guard, who witnessed the incident and pleaded anonymity, told New Telegraph that the deceased was manipulated by a spiritual force to commit suicide as he was already looking pale and frustrated when he was brought in by prison warders for trial. He said: “Although people claimed he killed himself out of frustration from prison officials’ treatment.

But I cannot believe that the man was in his right senses because it sounds ridiculous to say that it was an attempt to escape through a three-storey. Escape from a tall building through the window; that is impossible! “I believe that he was compelled by a spiritual force to kill himself. His action was not ordinary especially for someone who has been locked up in Kirikiri for months. He was wearing a white T-shirt, written ‘Fly Emirate,’ and a pair of blue jeans when he was led into the witness box for trial. “But for one reason or the other, the magistrate stood down the matter. He left the box and sat with other defendants on the front row of the court, close to the window.

“I was told he was meant to pay N40,000 to the man he allegedly stole from. But barely a few minutes after the next case was announced, the deceased pushed the other defendant beside him and ran towards the window.

“Before the prison guards could grab him, he had already jumped off and landed on the floor with his head. He died on the spot because his head was badly smashed while his right hand was fractured.” Hence, the worrisome question stuttering on the lips of everyone was what would have been Alowole’s punishment had he survived the suicide attempt?

 

Would the prosecutor have amended the previous charge to accommodate his attempted suicide? Or would he be re-arraigned on a fresh count of suicide? Another related incident is the case of a 31-year-old man, Hammed Olojo, who was arrested by the police on August 27, 2017 while attempting to jump into the Lagos lagoon in a bid to commit suicide but was quickly restrained. Olojo was prevented from taking his own life and charged before an Ebute Metta Magistrates’ Court, Lagos.

The prosecuting officer, Kehinde Olatunde, said Olojo, who pleaded not guilty, was charged on a one-count charge of attempted suicide contrary to Section 235 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.

He was also granted bail by Magistrate O. O. A. Fowowe-Erusiafe in the sum of N50,000 with two sureties in like sum and the matter was thereafter adjourned till November 16, 2017 for mention.

 

Late last year, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, directed the prosecution of a member of staff of China Construction Company of Nigeria Limited (CCCN), Mr. Folarin Odukoya, for attempted suicide. Odukoya allegedly attempted to take his own life about 11p.m. on December 17 by jumping into the lagoon near the Ebute Ero Jetty but was rescued by divers and handed over to the Ebute Ero Divisional Police.

 

However, when interrogated, Odukoya claimed he decided to kill himself because his employer allegedly refused to issue him a document he believed would augment his career. Nigeria, despite being ranked as sixth happiest country in Africa and 103rd in the world on March 20, 2017, according to World Happiness Report 2017, has witnessed more suicides than happy endings.

The giant of Africa, well known for its agility in business and perseverance despite economic hardship, recorded a large number of shocking attempted and completed suicides in 2017 than any other year since its history. However, according to a report made available by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations, Nigerians were ranked sixth happiest people in Africa despite the country’s challenging economic recession.

According to the SDSN Director and Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, the happy countries refer to those with a healthy balance of prosperity in terms of social capital; like acquiring a high degree of trust in the society, low inequality measure and confidence in the government.

 

According to Sachs, the rankings of happiest countries are based on six essential factors such as per capital gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

 

Unfortunately, such happy records soon became a pale shadow when Nigeria, from being one of the happiest people, sunk into the rank of the most depressed country in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports on April 7, 2017. Barely a month after ranking as one of the happiest on earth, WHO arrived at a conclusion that Nigeria has 7,079,815 people suffering from depression, about 3.9 per cent of the population.

 

The figures were released in a report ahead of the World Health Day (WHD) entitled; “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates.” According to the report, “4,894,557 Nigerians, which is 2.7 per cent of the population, suffer anxiety disorders. Depression is the leading cause of disabilities worldwide, and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. “Depression can lead to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15 – 29 globally. Consequently, the condition can lead to more suicide cases in the country.

 

“Nigerians are the most depressed in Africa because, since the number of persons with common mental disorders globally is going up, particularly in lower-income countries, the population is rapidly growing and more people are living to the age when depression and anxiety most commonly occur”.

 

A suicide attempt is often described as an act where a person tries to commit suicide but survives. Hence, most suicide attempts, in some countries, are often based on a terminal or chronic illness. The alarming rate of suicides in the world has varied in several countries while its sanctions still remains a greatly debated concept.

 

The law against suicide has reigned since antiquity and is believed to have emanated from a religious doctrine which claims that God is the sole determinant for the death of humans (meaning that God has the legal right to determine who and when a person should die).

 

According to the tales, especially in ancient Athens, persons who deliberately killed themselves were denied the honours of a normal burial. At the time, the punishment for anyone who commits suicide without an approval from the state entails that the person would be buried alone without a headstone or marker, on the outskirt of the town or city. Sometimes, the family of the deceased would be stripped off their belongings and handed over to the state.

 

Suicide, also referred as selfmurder, within the religious and moral objections, was a mortal sin in the eyes of the church and also a crime under the common law in England in the mid-13th Century. However, before the enactment of the Suicide Act 1961, an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, it was a crime to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and jailed. Even the families of those who succeeded were equally not left unpunished but could also face prosecution.

 

The 1961 Suicide Act, however, decriminalised the act of suicide in England and Wales to enable people who failed while attempting to kill themselves escape prosecution.

 

Although the states abolished the penalties imposed by the common law (property forfeiture and humiliating burial), it was solely to spare the innocent families and not to legitimise the act. Recent studies on criminal codes of several countries around the world revealed that while most western countries decriminalised suicide acts, suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in most Islamic countries. In Africa, where the legality or criminality of suicide attempts are mostly deduced from moral standards and religious tenets, several countries like Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe still legalise both attempted and completed suicide.

 

But in stark contrast, others like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda enforce stringent punishments for offenders. Unlike in Japan where suicide is considered illegal but not punishable, offenders in Nigeria are not left unpunished but are arrested and charged to court for prosecution.

 

However, self-induced deaths have no judicial penalties, but suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in Nigeria. Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 stipulates a one year imprisonment sentence for offenders. While Section 235 of the Criminal law ChC17 vol.3 Laws of Lagos State, 2015, prescribes a hospitalisation order for an accused.

The same chapter of the Criminal Code also criminalises aiding suicide; Section 326 states that any person who procures, counsels, induces another in killing himself is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life. The implications of these laws interpret that anyone who attempts to harm his/her body, under any circumstance, shall be treated as a criminal and duly prosecuted.

 

Hence, anyone guilty of the offence shall face same treatment similar to an awaiting trial or convicted criminal like a murderer, an armed robber or kidnapper etc. Doctor speaks According to Dr. R. A. Adebayo, a former Acting Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, suicide occurs when an individual wilfully or deliberately attempts to end his life and eventually succeeds; while a failed attempt, whether by strangulation, hanging on a rope, taking a poisonous substance or jumping into a lagoon, is called deliberate self-harm (DSH).

 

Adebayo, who is also a clinical psychologist and consultant psychiatrist, said that suicidal acts should not be treated as criminal cases but as an abnormal mental disorder since 80 per cent of the indulged victims suffer from depression.

 

While advocating the decriminalisation of suicide attempts, the doctor said that suicidal patients were being admitted into the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital on a weekly basis but because the society decided to criminalise it, people barely heard of the reported cases. Adebayo maintained that suicide patients should not be tagged as criminals but as patients or victims who need to be accessed and medically examined.

 

According to him, what suicide patients need is an intensive medical care for their condition and not prosecution or a prison sentence. He said: “We should never criminalise suicide acts expect those who attack others through bombing.

 

Suicidal victims need treatment and not prisons because they are diseased. It would be inhuman to jail people with mental disorders since their condition is a pathological process. “It’s high time we de-stigmatised mental disorders. Hauling people with mental disorders into prisons would never solve their problems rather the Federal Government should provide more opportunities for treatment.

 

Prison sentence should only serve as punishment to suicide bombers whose intentions are to harm others in the process of taking their own lives. “There are medical factors which induce suicide such as: substance abuse (otherwise called drug addiction), epilepsy, terminal or chronic medical conditions like cancer, stroke and schizophrenia.

 

“Other non-medical causes of suicide include tough financial debt or condition; honour killings common in Japan and Middle East countries (a situation where someone, whose guilt and shame over an offence committed, kills himself in order to honour or cleanse the disgrace he brought to the image of his family); and suicide attacks in the Islamic states like Boko Haram.

 

“All these causes of suicide are induced by depression, aside suicide attack which is an element of religious indoctrination. But, on the contrary, suicide is a medical issue and not a criminal act as pointed by the law.

“A successful suicide victim cannot be prosecuted by the law since the person is dead already but the one who attempts cannot also be reported as a result of the fear of being stigmatised, tagged as a criminal and charged to court.

 

It is certain that more than 15 per cent of suicide attempts won’t be reported. “This, however, makes suicide attempts under reported or shrouded in secrecy. In this hospital, I have witnessed several cases of deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients especially those with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a major psychotic disorder where a patient claims to hear strange voices. This condition is also referred to as auditory hallucination.

 

“According to patients who suffer from this condition, these strange voices tell them to kill or harm themselves. Some of them adhere to that instruction while the lucky ones run into hiding or seek help. There are cases of patients who heard voices and thereafter jumped from a storey building or into a lagoon.

 

“There was a peculiar case of an epileptic patient who got tired of her condition and decided to end it by jumping into the lagoon. She jumped from the Third Mainland Bridge but fortunately she was rescued. Another lady also jumped into the same lagoon after hearing strange voices but she was rescued as well.

 

“Now, in the eyes of the law, these ladies have attempted suicide, but medically we call it a DSH. This is because when the cause of such behaviour is examined, we realise that depression or the strange voices prompted the act.”

Adebayo also explained that after the rescue, rehabilitation, and recovery from such illness, some of these patients eventually come to terms with the damage the illness has done in their lives and might still attempt suicide. He said: “Some of them may not want to continue or brace up with life simply because of shame or guilty.

 

Some might be ashamed of the things they experienced during the illness or the pain or harm they might have caused either to themselves or their families. So in order not to live with the trauma incurred by that illness, they wilfully choose to kill themselves. This realisation is called post schizophrenic depression.

 

“There are certain determinants to aid in identifying a suicidal person like previous at- tempts of harming self, family history of depression and child abuse (especially among teenagers)”. Lawyers speak A legal luminary, Prof Itse Sagay, SAN, said that the basic argument by most people is that if a person succeeds in the act of suicide, then he cannot be punished. But if he fails and is punished, then it sounds unreasonable. Hence, they imply that the person who fails is the one who gets punishment and not the one who succeeds in the act.

 

Sagay said: “I think that the purpose of that law is to serve as deterrent; to discourage a person from taking his/her own life. But the reason I agree with those who say it should be removed from our law books is that it doesn’t really act as deterrent. This is because a person who wants to kill himself is determined to succeed even though he may fail. So, he has no fear whatsoever. “It’s only after he fails that he realises that he could be punished.

But when he embarked on it, his mind was totally made up and firm that nothing else follows. “So, I think that the position of our law on suicide is unreasonable and there’s no justification for enforcing it. Instead, we should have a more robust provision for monitoring people, for tackling psychological problems, in order to discourage people from even desiring to commit suicide and not when the person fails.”

A human rights activist and Director of Access to justice, Joseph Otteh, who also shared same thoughts with the learned SAN, said that “the criminalisation of suicide in our laws is an incident of both our colonial experience as well as, ironically, our slow pace of reassessing the expediency or relevance of inherited colonial laws”. Otteh also called for a review of the suicide law.

He said: “The retention of the offence of suicide in federal statutes possibly hearkens to the fact that there has never been any systematic effort to review wholly, federal penal legislation since Independence from Britain. What has happens mostly are piece meal reviews, additions and few subtractions, leaving the body of colonial laws substantially intact?

“The Lagos position is a lot more thoughtful, sensible and realistic and offers a compassionate physiological and legal response to the problem. It regards attempting suicide as a possible mental health problem, and offers care in dealing with it.

“This is the way the problem should be addressed. It unwarps and unloads the historical political baggage associated with the criminalisation of suicide, and focuses on the needs of the person attempting it rather than perpetuating the flawed historical reasons associated with its use some centuries ago.

“In that era, criminalising suicide was seen to reflect the anger felt by the state at the use of suicide as a form of political defiance of its authority.

The countries where this began have abolished it as an offence, so why should we blindly continue to enforce it?” But Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, SAN, disagreed with anyone calling for the review of the suicide law while arguing that, “should people be permitted to willingly take their own lives?”

He said: “I don’t think there is any sufficient reason for someone to take his own life or be permitted to do so. We all have faith in God Almighty who gives life and has the ability to take it. “The point is, in principle, whether it involves taking one’s own life or that of another person, a believer must remember that he has not the power to give life and therefore has no responsibility in taking life. “It’s not for an individual to decide on terminating his or another person’s life. Even if it involves a terminal illness, they should be helped to get out of it and not encouraged to annihilate themselves.

“If there is a medical condition that warrants euthanasia or assisted induced deaths, which of course is not allowed, but generally, the health practitioners should know what to do in order to pacify or ease the pains affecting such a person.

“Aside those who commit suicide out of frustration, depression and medical challenges, there are those who also do same after committing a crime because they feel the best way to escape punishment is to take their own lives. Would you also say that such suicide is right? “I don’t support suicide neither do I think it is right to decriminalise attempted suicide.

I think that the law against attempted suicide should stand just like the law that makes manslaughter and murder a crime. I stand in support of the law against attempted suicide as a believer and not just as a lawyer”. Also speaking in favour of the law, Yusuf Ali, SAN, said he is in full support of the law against attempted suicide.

He said: “I support the law because it’s not right for a man to take what doesn’t belong to him. Life wasn’t created by man so why should he wilfully take it? “Attempting is what the law punishes since those who succeed are never alive to face prosecution. I do not support any form or type of suicide.” The reality of suicide seems to be catching up with other criminal counterparts like murder and manslaughter, but its stringent punishment to impede further actions remains a questionable approach.

If hospitals are built for the sick in order to aid health challenges and prisons serve as rehabilitation centres and reorientation facilities for lawbreakers and offenders; what happens when a mentally impaired person, instead of being taken to a psychiatric home, is arrested, prosecuted and jailed on the premise of an uncoordinated insanity? How do we punish someone who sees suicide as the fastest way or solution of putting an end to a life’s threatening challenge?

These are obviously questions begging for answers in view of the Federal Government’s reviewing of the law on suicide and its implications.

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