Various ethnic groups in Nigeria have been servicing their instruments of war. The atmosphere is filled with agitations, threats and ultimatums. The stage appears set for a long travel to Golgotha, the biblical place of skulls.
Last Tuesday, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) drew their daggers. They ordered Fulani herdsmen in the southern part of Nigeria to return to the North immediately. This, they said, was to ensure safety of their life and property.
The chairman of NEF, Professor Ango Abdullahi, is a former vice-chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. He is well known for always making controversial statements that belittle his status as a professor.
The spokesperson of the CNG, Abdul-Aziz Sulaiman, on his part, claimed that the southern governors had jointly agreed to stop the movement of herders and their cattle in the South. This same Sulaiman and his group recently gave the Federal Government a 30-day ultimatum to rescind its recent decision to suspend the Ruga settlement policy for Fulani herdsmen. Southern leaders had unanimously rejected the controversial Ruga policy.
To Sulaiman, it was regrettable that opinion leaders in the South blamed Fulani herdsmen for the killing of Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, 58-year-old daughter of Afenifere leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti. In the process, he said, “they threatened all forms of violations and breaches against northerners, including the threat of an all-out war.”
That was how the Rwanda crisis started in 1994. The majority Hutu believed that the mainly Tutsi rebel group, Rwanda Patriotic Front, led by Paul Kagame, shot down the plane carrying the then President of Hutu extraction, Juvenal Habyarimana, and his counterpart from Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira. Hutu extremists set up radio stations and newspapers, which urged people to “weed out the cockroaches,” meaning, kill the Tutsi. About 800,000 people (mainly the minority Tutsi) were killed in the ensuing pogrom. Today, Rwandans have learnt their lessons. They currently enjoy relative peace.
We fought a 30-month civil war between 1967 and 1970. Millions of people died in that war. The rest of Nigeria stigmatised the Igbo and killed millions of them before and during the war. Today, we appear not to have learnt any lessons from that tragedy.
Ironically, the major players in the war against the Igbo are the victims of stigma today.
The Fulani herdsmen are the ones taking the blame for the spate of kidnappings and killings in different parts of the country. Their alleged style of attack is to rush out from the bush and start shooting at oncoming vehicles on the expressway. They kill some and take some others hostage.
In the recent past, the attacks were of a different hue. Early last year, for instance, suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked 11 villages in Plateau State for at least seven hours. They also reportedly destroyed over 50 houses. The security forces were nowhere to be seen during the attack. They had also invaded many communities in Benue and elsewhere, leaving death and sorrow in their trail.
It was not for nothing that the Global Terrorism Index, in 2015, rated the Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world. Also, the Washington-based Fund for Peace recently ranked Nigeria as the 14th most unstable country in the world. This is out of 178 countries assessed in the 2019 Fragile States Index.
Many Nigerians are worried. Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd); and former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan are among the prominent Nigerians who have cautioned against the descent to anarchy.
To Anyaoku, Nigeria is on the brink. He advised Buhari, governors, National Assembly members and other political elite to urgently find solutions to the worrisome security situation in the country. This, he noted, was to prevent Nigeria drifting into anarchy and disintegration.
Jonathan advised that the Federal Government, in conjunction with the state governments, must discard the old method and design a different approach to tackling insecurity. In his characteristic style, Obasanjo, last week, wrote an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari. He warned that Nigeria was drifting to a tipping point and that the President should do something to salvage the nation.
Rather than heed the words of advice from these statesmen, the Presidency, as usual, resorted to defending the indefensible. Like an ostrich that buries its head in the sand while the entire body is exposed, the government of the day has continued to live in denial.
Buhari, for instance, claimed the outcry over the state of insecurity was exaggerated. According to him, Obasanjo, Soyinka and some other critics are politicising isolated incidents. He described them as being unpatriotic. Last year, our President attributed the Plateau killings to desperate politicians. These politicians, he noted, had increasingly cheapened human life in their quest to establish a reign of instability and chaos in the country for political gains.
His former Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, also vomited some fallacies last year. He claimed that the killings by herdsmen were attributable to the anti-open grazing laws in some states.
In the heat of the carnage last year, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, told a bewildered nation that there were more killings when the Peoples Democratic Party was in power than what was obtainable under the ruling All Progressives Congress.
True, every country has security challenges. But how have we managed our own? Oftentimes, the President assures Nigerians that his government will not relent in efforts to secure the country from criminal activities. But the more he talks, the bolder the criminals become.
The truth is that this government has failed in its core duty of protecting life and property. By failing to hold criminals to account, the Federal Government helps to fuel insecurity in the country.
Sometimes, the government engages in curious ways to solve the insecurity problem.
The President, for instance, invited the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, to Aso Rock last week. Recall that the Ooni had, on the heels of the murder of Fasoranti’s daughter, called on the Yoruba to unite and stop the Fulani rampage. He had also jointly issued a communiqué with Soyinka where they urged Nigerians to resist Ruga “promoted by backward, primitive, undeveloped minds.” They even referred to Nigeria as a colonial contraption. Curiously, after the meeting with Buhari in Aso Rock, Ogunwusi changed gear.
He said, “Everybody is beating the drums of war. We don’t want war. Who can stand war? We want something better for our youths. We had better use them for something good rather than shouting war and anarchy. We don’t want that … Politicians should be careful not to throw things out of proportion.”
Obviously, no rational mind craves war. But if we must call a spade by its name, why hasn’t Buhari ordered the disarming of the Fulani militias in all parts of the country, especially in the South? Why hasn’t he called leaders of Miyetti Allah to order for causing unnecessary tension in the country?
Why has he not supported the decentralisation of the police for better and effective policing of the country? Why has he not stopped playing the ethnic and nepotistic card in his political appointments?
Let us always put the map of Yugoslavia and Sudan at the back of our minds. When the centre could no longer hold, Yugoslavia split into seven independent states. Sudan is still struggling to find its bearing even after breaking into two. Is that what we want in Nigeria?