Political assassination in Nigeria

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OF all the political developments that currently bother me, the one most difficult for me to analyse and comprehend appears be the new regime of political assassination in the south-east zone of Nigeria. General Sani Abacha’s junta first professionalised political assassination, and then developed it into a systematic method of fighting the “enemies” of the state in general and the supporters of Chief Moshood Abiola in particular. After the death of the general and the inauguration of Obasanjo’s government, the nation enjoyed a brief assassination-free period. Then the evil regime returned- thus confirming the thesis that a political weapon, once it emerges out of historical circumstances, does not simply disappear, and is not withdrawn at will.

However vigorous the campaigns against the weapon, however righteous or self-righteous our opposition to it may be, a political weapon disappears only when the circumstances that brought it into being, the need which nourishes it, and the conditions which makes its employment possible disappear. Thus, whereas it is debatable whether or not the weapon of aircraft hijack employed in Nigeria in October 1993 has disappeared, we know that the weapon of political assassination in Nigeria did not come as an aberration. It is, in fact, still being fashioned and developed.

I am of course, not the only one bothered by the regime of political assassination. But what bothers me more is the peculiarity of this regime in the South-East. I can, without being cynical, advise a Nigerian politician who is scared by the spectre of political assassination to disengage publicly from politics, and be seen to have done so. But then, in the South-East, especially in Enugu and Anambra states, non-politicians are being assassinated politically. Chief Victor Nwankwo, who was assassinated in Enugu a couple of weeks ago, was not a politician in the Nigerian sense of the term: hustling for office – appointive or elective – and “chopping” from politics. However, although Victor was not a politician, he was political in the sense that his thinking, his actions, his ideas and his pronouncements were all informed and influenced by politics, radical politics, to be specific; He was a brilliant intellectual, engineer and publisher. His contemporaries say he was very brilliant as a student. I can also confirm that he was a serious human being. I first met Victor in Enugu in 1990 when I was a guest of his elder brother, Arthur Nwankwo. I had come to attend events marking Chinua Achebe’s 60th birthday in Nsukka and to negotiate the publication of a manuscript by The Fourth Dimension the management of which Arthur was then handing over to Victor.

Professor Chimere Ikoku, assassinated in the same city, Enugu, a fortnight after the elimination of Victor Nwankwo, was not a politician. However, as an academic and intellectual, he belonged to the radical political tendency. In other words, he was political. I first met Ikoku in Jos in May 1976, at a meeting of a national committee of solidarity with the people of South Africa then fighting the apartheid regime. Professor Ikoku chaired the meeting and I acted as Secretary in the absence of the substantive Secretary. We, on the left, celebrated the appointment of Chimere Ikoku as Nigeria’s first leftist University Vice-Chancellor. Others have since followed, including the latest: Professor Akpan H. Ekpo of the University of Uyo. A few months before Nwankwo and Ikoku were murdered, armed thugs invaded a prayer ground at Enugu. The priest can be described the way that I have described the two murdered compatriots, that is, he is political and radical, but not partisan. The priest, I think, escaped unhurt, but some worshippers were reportedly killed and others wounded. Several other priest, I understand, have recently escaped assassination in Enugu. A couple of weeks ago, Anambra State witnessed the murder, in Onitsha, of a prominent lawyer and his wife.

 

I may attempt a further description of the frightening phenomenon that now characteristics politics in parts of the South-East, including Enugu and Anambra States. We remember Ken Saro-Wiwa, the radical writer and minority rights activist, a highly political but not-partisan fighter, who was executed by General Sani Abacha seven years ago, in November 1995. Saro-Wiwa was offered large sums of money to keep quiet and betray his people. He refused. He was offered a big and lucrative position in government. He refused. He was blackmailed. He called the bluff of the blackmailers. He was threatened. He asked the faceless agents to go to hell. Having exhausted all possible means of calling Saro-Wiwa “to order”” but without success” the forces against which he was battling decided he must die. And he died. If the opportunity of the “Ogoni Four” had not offered itself for use in carrying out the death sentence on Saro-Wiwa, other opportunities would have been found, or created, by forces whose power, while it lasted, was second only to that of God.

Although he was not interested in coming to power through a coup or otherwise, Ken Saro-Wiwa was considered by the Abacha junta to be more dangerous than opposition political leaders and coup-tested, but disloyal, army officers. Why? Because Saro-Wiwa’s ideas and messages went deep into the foundations of the civil society and some state institutions. As Karl Marx would say, Saro-Wiwa’s ideas were becoming a powerful weapon. A coup plotting army officer and his collaborators can be arrested and executed. The matter may end there. An ordinary politician can be defeated or rigged out of an election. The matter may also end there. But the “danger” represented by someone like Saro-Wiwa cannot be easily excised. It is deep, pervasive and “poisonous”. And you know how poison moves. The current wave of political assassination in the South-East can be likened to the Saro Wiwa question.

The question arises why has politics in the South-East produced the Saro-Wiwa question? In other words, why has political assassination of non-partisan radicals become so prominent in the South-East? Or put differently, why has the conservative political right become so desperate in the South-East? If I restrict myself to the level of politics and the state, a provisional answer can be given. The Eastern power bloc was destroyed during the crisis and civil of (1966-1970), leaving Nigeria with only two power blocs – the Western and the Northern. The situation subsists. But the struggle to reconstitute the power bloc in the East, with the Igbo ethnic group as core, has been going on since the end of that war and the re-integration of defeated Biafra into the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The struggle is between the political forces in support of this reconstitution and those opposed to it. Of course, there are political forces which, for various reasons, are neither here nor there. Most of those fence-sitters are opportunists seeking to benefit from both sides. The whole argument over Igbo presidency is an aspect of the struggle for, or against, the reconstitution of an Eastern power bloc. If the dividing line appears confusing to you, then seek out the political opportunities for explanations. And in doing this you must distinguish between revolutionary partisans of a truly equal and united Nigeria and opportunists who seek accommodation in slave situation.

Whereas before Olusegun Obasanjo became president, the struggle was not altogether a do-or-die affair, it has now become so. And whereas before Obasanjo it was not an either-or question, today it is. Several Igbo politicians argue that you are either in support of the historical project, or you are against it; that you cannot eat from both sides. Those who are against the emergence of the power bloc seek federal support to hold on to the control of their states, while trading away any claim which the Igbo mainstream politicians make on the centre. Those in favour want to establish their hegemony in the East as a way of strengthening their claim on the leadership of the centre. I think the group opposed to the emergence of an Eastern power bloc is the one fashioning and using the weapon of political assassination. It would appear that there is a support for my thesis in the press statement which Arthur Nwankwo, brother of the slain Victor Nwankwo, released after the latter’s burial at Ajali, Anambra State. This support, I think, I saw, at least, in the list of the government and state agencies Arthur indicted for complicity in the murder.

In conclusion, let me make two quick points. As I recalled in this column a couple of weeks ago, the Austrian philosopher, Karl Popper, posed the question of how to construct a state such that governments can be changed by a majority vote, without violence, without bloodshed, and before an incumbent government does too much harm. We may ignore Popper’s class prejudices and reflect on his question. Secondly, we should try to make a distinction between victims of political violence in general and victims of deliberate political assassination.

April 2003

About Post Author

Anthony-Claret Ifeanyi Onwutalobi

Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.
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Assassination – Causes And Patterns

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Read Time:8 Minute, 22 Second
How one approaches the problem of explaining assassination depends on one’s assumptions about political violence. If violence for political reasons is considered to be unusual and unjustifiable, the causes of assassination are expected to lie in the psychopathology of individual killers. If political violence is thought to be aberrant but sometimes justifiable, or at least under-standable, causes are sought in threatening or oppressive social conditions, which in principle can be changed so as to eliminate the violence. If violence is seen as an intrinsic dimension and a common instrument of politics, causes are to be found in the varying fortunes and tactics of social groups attempting to defend or increase their life chances. A developed scientific theory of assassination presumably would avoid moral assumptions about political violence and would encompass all three causal sources, treating them as sets of variables whose interrelationships result in an increasing or decreasing probability of assassination events. No such theory yet exists. Toward that goal, the following hypotheses are to be considered: (1) The more threatening or oppressive social conditions are for a particular group the more likely the group is to resort to assassination and other forms of violence; (2) individuals with certain psychopathologic characteristics are more likely to be selected for the actual work of killing; alternatively, those selected develop psychopathological characteristics because of the guilt, isolation, fear, suffering, or other experiences associated with their “dirty work.”

Oppression, threat, and assassination. Research on the social causes of assassination indicates that oppression is probably less important than threat in affecting the probability of assassination. Gross has defined oppression as “acts of physical brutality, including killing and limitation of freedom, humiliation of persons, economic exploitation, deprivation of elementary economic opportunities, confiscation of property” (p. 86). He suggests that even foreign domination causes assassination only if it is perceived as oppression, if a political party exists with “an ideology and tactics of direct action,” and if there are “activist personality types” ready to use violence (p. 89). Ethnic and nationalist conflicts appear to be far more important factors than socioeconomic conditions in encouraging assassination and other political violence. Political violence tends to be the work of higher-class visionaries and activists, in contrast to the lower-class predatory types who engaged in “common criminal violence” (p. 93).

The most systematic available evidence concerning the linkage between socioeconomic conditions and assassination is found in a cross-national comparative study for the United States National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (Kirkham et al.). Assassination is associated with political instability, which in turn reflects such factors as a low level of socioeconomic development, a high level of relative deprivation, and a high rate of socioeconomic change. Other contributing factors are a government neither very coercive nor very permissive, and high levels of externalized aggression and hostility toward foreigners, among minority and majority groups, and among individuals, as indicated by high homicide and low suicide rates. The United States is exceptional in combining an advanced level of socioeconomic development with the other features. It is noted that African Americans and other major sectors of the population do generally live under conditions internally approximating those found to be associated with relatively high levels of political violence. The findings suggest that socioeconomic conditions must interact with political and cultural factors to become significant in causing assassination and other political violence.

It appears that oppression becomes causally relevant only when it is interpreted as threat, whereas perceived threat in itself is sufficient to encourage political violence. One major implication of this general proposition is that economic conditions must become political factors to affect the level of political violence. A further implication is that political conditions must be interpreted as threatening in order to be causally significant. The process of interpretation is, then, the key to creating situations in which the probability of assassination and other political violence is significantly increased.

Threats may be real whether or not perceived. For a group to have fewer resources while another has more implies a present or potential threat to the life chances of the disadvantaged. The greater the differences, the greater the likelihood that the more advantaged group is living in part at the expense of the less advantaged (assuming they are bound together economically and politically in a real, if not necessarily formal, sense). Certainly, the less advantaged live more precariously and are more vulnerable to life’s miseries. For them, it is not difficult to see or believe that inequality is threatening. At the same time, the more advantaged will readily see or believe that underclass discontent or gains are threatening. At any given moment, the available resources are finite; the pie cannot be shared without someone having less if another is to have more. Both sides are likely to feel threatened by change—particularly by high rates of socioeconomic change—because it is difficult to predict just who will win and who will lose in the course of events.

The perceived threat posed by existing or changing economic or political conditions does not of itself necessarily produce violence. What is required is that an enemy be identified and that potential assailants be mobilized. Historically, this last step has been accomplished by a campaign of vilification of visible members of a targeted group (government, party, class, religion, nationality, race, or ethnic category), as well as of the group as a whole (Gross; Kirkham et al.). Responsibility for the threatening economic or political conditions is placed squarely on the targeted individuals and groups, who are depicted as entirely reprehensible, irredeemably monstrous, and perhaps even subhuman.

Unchecked, vilification produces a climate of extremism because the targets of the campaign tend to respond in kind. In such a climate, some individuals experienced in using violence may be deliberately recruited as assassins (hired killers). Others ( political actors) may progress in stages of activism from minimal political involvement to the conclusion that assassination is tactically essential. Still others (expressive reactors) may simply be caught up in the excitement of political conflict, finding in the rhetoric of vilification a means and focus for expressing their discontent, perhaps in assassination. Although individual cases exhibit some overlap and movement among them, these types—hired killers, political actors, and expressive reactors—must be analytically distinguished if the psychology of assassins is to be explored fruitfully.

The psychology of assassins. Psychological profiles of assassins are derived from limited and unrepresentative samples biased in several ways. First, assassins who attack governmental and other institutional figures have been studied, rather than assassins acting on behalf of such figures. Second, assassins of chief executives and other prominent individuals have been studied, to the virtual exclusion of those who kill minor officials and ordinary people. Third, only assassins who have been caught have been studied, so that almost nothing is known about those who are deterred or who escape detection and capture. Fourth, analysis has focused on expressive reactors, with little or no attention having been given to hired killers and political actors. Fifth, the presumption of psychopathology has been strong in both the selection of subjects for study, usually by psychiatrists, and in the analysts’ common tendency to see political (and other) violence as intrinsically abnormal and irrational. Finally, the possibility of organized, tactical assassination has tended to be dismissed in favor of an image of the assassin as typically a loner without coherent political motivation and unable to act in concert with others to further political aims.

Research on assassins and assailants of American presidents has found nearly all to be “mentally disturbed persons who did not kill to advance any rational political plan” (Kirkham et al., p. 62). Douglas and Olshaker argue that political intent or consequences are incidental, emphasizing instead the paranoid loser “assassin personality” (p. 219) as merely another type of murderer (delusional but not hallucinatory) essentially akin to senseless killers such as serial and spree murderers.

Ellis and Gullo found assassins other than “paid gunmen” and political agents to have long histories of psychological disturbance, to have experienced a life crisis shortly before the assassination, and to kill without aim or sense “as far as their political beliefs and aspirations are concerned” (pp. 190–250).

Harris has suggested that to understand assassins one must look beyond psychopathology to the more normal psychology of the “rebellious-rivalrous personality,” a type who “finds authority and restrictions irksome and strives for a redistribution of hierarchical status by competing with the successful lime-lighted rival” (pp. 199–200). Similarly, after pointing out the narrow subjectivity of psychiatric evaluations of assassins, Clarke argues for a classification based on social contextual as well as situational and diagnostic evidence. He identifies four types of assassins, as well as a residual of “atypicals.” His Type I, whose “extremism is rational, selfless, principled, and without perversity,” appears to be equivalent to political actors. Types II (neurotics) and IV (psychotics) are analogous to emotional reactors, and Type III (psychopaths, sociopaths) is perhaps analogous to hired killers (pp. 13–17).

Though recognizing the quite limited explanatory power of psychopathology, Robins and Post nevertheless invoke the concept of a “paranoid style” in trying to explain why many people who are not clinically psychopathological may share a belief that their government or other forces are threatening their physical or cultural well-being. Applying such a label to social movements and organizations merely reinforces the assumption that there must be “something wrong” with people whose experiences and beliefs differ significantly from those of the observer, and whose perceptions of threat may not be entirely unwarranted.

From the limited evidence available, it may be concluded that the hypothesis of prior psychopathology is supported for expressive reactors and may have some relevance for explaining hired killers. However, these constitute only a minority of assassins, most of whom are clearly motivated by political concerns based on religious, nationalist, racial-ethnic, and other widely shared ideologies.

About Post Author

Anthony-Claret Ifeanyi Onwutalobi

Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.
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