By Ikechukwu Amaechi
I AM always amused when some people pretend that they are surprised at the gory turn of events in Nigeria. Why? It was obvious to every discerning, dispassionate observer of Nigeria’s recent trajectory that the country will come to a pretty pass sooner than later. Yes, some delusional political leaders were acting as if nothing was amiss. Our leaders, particularly in the last six years under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch, have been behaving as if we are insulated from the law of nature which basically decrees that the consequences of our evil actions will ultimately catch up with us in a negative way.
For too long, we have sown the wind, yet pretended that reaping the whirlwind won’t be a natural consequence. That is tantamount to living a lie. As Robert Southey, the 19th century English poet of the Romantic school, once wrote: “Curses are like a young chicken: they always come home to roost.” For too long, we have desecrated and despoiled this country. Under Buhari’s suzerainty, some people have behaved as if there will be no tomorrow, as if the day of reckoning will never ever come. Those who called for restraint, justice and equity were derided and shouted down. Now, the chickens have come home to roost.
It has dawned on almost everyone that Nigeria is a stage four cancer patient. The condition has become metastatic and there are serious doubts about its ability to survive. Her condition has so deteriorated that there are now serious doubts whether she will live to see 2023.
But how did we get here? Could it be true that Nigerian leaders who sat haughtily on their high horses lecturing the rest of us on the inviolability of the territorial integrity of the country really believed that there can be peace without equity and justice? Did those who boasted that Nigeria was a perfect union whose future and the relationship of the ethnic nationalities therein cannot even be discussed believe themselves? Apparently they did. Which explains why those who shouted themselves hoarse that everything was going south under Buhari’s watch were labelled haters.
When suspected herdsmen on January 1, 2018, murdered over 70 villagers in Logo and Guma local government areas of Benue State, a development that sparked nationwide outrage, President Buhari summoned leaders from the state for a lecture on cohabitation. “I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your country men,” he told a delegation of political leaders, traditional rulers and elders of the state led by Governor Samuel Ortom at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on January 15, 2018.
The president appealed to grieving Benue leaders, victims of the mindless carnage, “to try to restrain your people”, even as the suspected villains, herdsmen, were busy and openly threatening more violence and death through their umbrella organisation, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, unless the state rescinds its anti-open grazing law, which was passed in May 2017 and took effect in November same year.
There were no sanctions against the murderers even when they vowed that on the issue of open grazing, it will only be their way or the highway. No arrests were made, nobody was tried for the heinous crimes, and nobody was punished. Simply put: no one paid any price. Instead, the then Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris who Buhari ordered on January 9, 2018 to relocate to Benue State to restore order and forestall further attacks on villagers by herdsmen – an order he re-emphasized in his January 25 letter to the Senate that he had “instructed the Inspector General of Police to relocate to Benue State” and “redeploy forces to the most sensitive areas” – flagrantly flouted the order by spending only three days touring the state before returning to Abuja without the president’s knowledge.
When Buhari’s attention was drawn to the apparent affront to his authority by the IGP, who described the January 1 killings as “communal clashes”, he did nothing, implying that the order was not meant to be obeyed. Of course, the attacks and killings continued not only in Benue but also Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba, Adamawa and Kaduna states with Benue as the epicentre of the deadly violence.
As if that was not bad enough, the presidency six months later admonished Nigerians, particularly indigenes of Plateau State, not to cling to their ancestral lands if they wanted to remain alive. Speaking during a programme on African Independent Television, AIT, on July 4, 2018, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in response to a question on people’s attachment to their ancestral lands, said: “Ancestral attachment? You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, how does the attachment matter?”
To have peace in their fatherland, Adesina said natives must give up their ancestral lands to people who his principal, the president, once admitted are not even Nigerians. “If your state genuinely does not have land for ranching, it is understandable …. But where you have land and you can do something, please do for peace. What will the land be used for if those who own it are dead at the end of the day?”
Interestingly, that admonition was made same day the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, warned that history would be harsh on the Buhari administration if it failed to stop the mass killing of innocent Nigerians. Welcoming his colleagues back from the Eid-el-Fitr holiday on July 4, 2018, Dogara warned: “History will have a harsh verdict for us as a government if we fail to live up to this responsibility and it will not matter if we succeed in other areas.”
His warning was not heeded. The Federal Government continued to bury its head in the sand. The weighty issue of insecurity was reduced to mere rhetoric. Every new wave of killings was followed by government bombast – mere words, no action. Instead of taking action against the criminals, the regime resorted to what the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, called “government magic”, making villains out of victims.
For instance, while failing to arrest and prosecute AK-47 wielding-herdsmen who had brutally murdered dozens in Adamawa State, the government instead arrested, prosecuted and secured a death sentence against five natives for allegedly killing one of the murderers.
The situation was the same in Kaduna State where the governor, Nasir el-Rufai, accused Southern Kaduna leaders who he called “criminals” in August 2020, of making trouble with his administration because of his refusal to grease their palms with filthy lucre. “I have no time for nonsense. I will not appease criminals. I will not appease idle people who have nothing to do but to raise a spectre of genocide. They do that to get money into their bank accounts and get donations from abroad instead of standing up,” the governor said during an interview on Channels Television.
Calling the victims murderers, el-Rufai further said: “Anyone that is moderate, anyone that is promoting peaceful co-existence between various ethnic groups is considered a sellout. And a governor like me, who does not appease them because they are used to being appeased, they cause troubles, they organise these killings and then, their leaders are invited by the governor, they wine and dine and they are given brown envelopes. That’s what they have been doing for 20 years.”
So, like the son sent on a stealing errand by his father who does not go stealthily but rather impudently kicks the door open, the herdsmen have overreached themselves, invading the forests of the South and the people are vigorously pushing back to the extent that the corporate existence of the country is seriously threatened.
Truth be told, Buhari is not being honest with Nigerians. What is going on is not herders-farmers crisis. That is a grossly misleading narrative. As long as some Nigerians are living in IDPs camps, having been forced out of their ancestral homes by bandits, most of them non-citizens, peace will continue to be elusive.
Why is the Nigerian state, which according to the sociologist, Weber, is that political institution that claims exclusive monopoly of violence, unable to dislodge these bandits and resettle the natives? Is the government claiming ignorance of the fact that many of the people in IDPs camps cannot go to their farms unless they want to return in body bags? Is Buhari claiming not to be aware that these ancestral homes are effectively occupied by people other than the aboriginals?
Nigerians want peace, but it must be peace hoisted on the totem pole of equity, justice and fairness. Anything short of that will spell doom for everyone.