If a perceptive artist was commissioned to draw a portrait of President Muhammadu Buhari, he would have to think of how to present an image of a conflicted, two-faced commander in chief. Buhari is a hawk and a dove. A lion and a lamb. A war monger and a pacifist.
He is waging wars against cattle rustlers and Niger Delta militants while winking at the prolific mass murderers that parade as ‘herdsmen’. He is fighting to secure Nigerian cattle and oil facilities even as he literally feigns ignorance of a genocidal phenomenon claiming countless Nigerian lives.
The double standard is not as a result of an oversight. Buhari receives daily security briefings. He is constantly updated on the condition of safety of lives and property in Nigeria. He is furnished with processed data on past and present security threats and predictive intelligence on future scenarios. His rich knowledge of the security situation of Nigeria is critical to his ability to fulfill the fundamentals of his job description as the president of the republic.
So, why is Buhari treating the wastage of Nigerians by the ‘herdsmen’ with asymmetric indifference? Why does he condone the killing of Nigerians when he is raging against cattle rustling and pipeline vandalism? Aren’t human lives incomparable, in value, with cattle or crude oil? Shouldn’t the protection of endangered human beings come before that of animals and oil?
This question is important because Buhari and his generals categorize every serious security challenge as a battle and create a special military operation to defeat it. They dedicate a new operation to any pattern of criminal behavior that they consider too dangerous to be allowed to wane on its own timetable.
This inclination to resort to military operation is the reflex of a Buhari presidency that feels it is under obligation to use any effective means to de-escalate any spiral of criminality before its perpetrators develop a false sense of invincibility.
Constitutional purists take exception to this new normal of deploying the military to undertake law enforcement assignments that fall under the purview of the Nigerian police. The idealists say that repurposing the military as a quick fix talisman for suppressing domestic crimes is essentially unlawful and potentially risky. They argue that fitting the military into the vacuum of weakness of the Nigerian police, in the long run, could have the effect of orienting the focus of the Nigerian military away from their core mission. They surmise that the perennial distraction of the Nigerian military with police duties may be eroding the professionalism of our armed forces, and therefore, vitiating the readiness of the Nigerian military to defend the country against external aggression.
The Nigerian Army is presently prosecuting two military operations to combat violent crimes that the Buhari administration deems to be beyond the capacity of the Nigerian police to confront. Operation ‘Harbin Kunama’ is addressing the menace of cattle rustling in some parts of the North. Operation ‘Crocodile Smile’ is battling the sabotage of oil installations by militants in the Niger Delta region. But there is no hurricane-name-sounding, operation-scale military response to the runaway terrorism of the ‘herdsmen’.
In July, Buhari flew to Zamfara State to launch Operation Harbin Kunama. Prior to that time, a part of Zamfara state, particularly Dansadau forest, had become the playground of cattle rustlers. Armed gangs resident in that bush were invading villages from and impoverishing people whose wealth is mainly denominated in cattle.
Buhari went to the forest dressed in military uniform. His physical presence and his appearance in combat gear were a message. He wanted to signal that he took the suffering of the victims of cattle rustling seriously, and that he was committed to doing everything within his powers to end the scourge.
At the occasion, Buhari spoke to the heart of the matter. He said that his government viewed cattle rustling as a crime. He warned, in the clearest terms, that the mandate of the operation he came to kickstart was to achieve a complete wipeout of cattle rustlers troubling the people of Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi and Niger states.
Long before the launch of Operation Harbin Kunama, Nigerian troops had been operating in Niger Delta communities the top rank of the Nigerian military suspect might be the holdouts of Niger Delta Avengers. In the name of searching for the supposedly hiding militants, the soldiers besieged the otherwise sleepy enclaves. They invaded people’s homes, desecrated ancestral shrines, and assaulted women and the elderly.
Later in July, the Nigerian Army commenced an operation codenamed ‘’Exercise Crocodile Smile’’. The army said ‘’ the aim of the exercise is to practice our Special Forces and other units of the Nigerian Army in Amphibious and Internal Security Operations in riverine environment and also check criminal activities like kidnapping, militancy and piracy and other forms of criminal activities in support of the civil authority.’’ But the raison d’etre of the operation is one: to incapacitate the militants and render them incapable of destroying oil installations in the Niger Delta.
Operation Crocodile Smile is a supplement to a prior and parallel Operation Delta Safe which was inaugurated to ‘’ improve security in the region and particularly, safeguard oil facilities from militancy and vandalism’’.
Some conflict experts, thinkers and writers –including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka –have proposed that constructive dialogue has a better chance of yielding a solution to the militancy problem than military operations. But the government is not manifestly unwilling to initiate a conciliatory outreach.
President Buhari does not believe that the Niger Delta militants have a legitimate grievance that the Nigerian state ought to acknowledge with a roundtable discussion. Hence, his singular preference for the option of military crackdown. The other day, he ‘advised‘ the militants that the government was eager to crush them like Boko Haram!
Yet, Buhari has yet to attempt anything –word or deed –that aspires to match the gravity of the threat of the ‘herdsmen’. Though his briefing papers and national newspapers tell him about the murders perpetrated by the ‘herdsmen’, the mounting body count has hardly moved his heart. He has not visited, called or written a single bereaved family. He has not deigned to publicly denounce the career killer. He has not so much as made any gestural feint to show he was marginally worried that the ‘herdsmen’ were depopulating Nigeria.
He would not order or authorize the Nigerian military to create a military operation to tackle the ‘herdsmen’. He would not warn that he would treat them like the death cult. He pretends that the statistics of killings that arrives his desk speaks of the murder of numbers, not murder of human beings.
Buhari relates to the feeling of loss of victims of cattle rustling. He is the product of a background where cattle have a central place in life, culture and business. He is Fulani by birth. And he is a cattle farmer. He boasts 270 heads of cattle as part of his worldly goods.
Buhari feels interested in the Niger Delta. The region accounts for the greater percentage of Nigeria’s crude production. The spate of economic sabotage in that area has reduced Nigeria’s oil revenue. Global crude price is low. Therefore, he needs an uninterrupted flow of petrodollars to run an import-dependent, monoproduct economy that depends on crude sales for survival. And Nigeria’s fall into recession means he needs even more money to lift the country to recovery.
But Buhari feels nothing is at stake in the massacre of Nigerians by ‘herdsmen’. In his book, the human casualties don’t matter as much as cattle and crude oil. In point of fact, he would prefer that all the cattle and oil facilities in Nigeria be safe and Nigerians routinely murdered by the ‘herdsmen’. If he could negotiate, he would barter Nigerian lives for the safety of the all-important cattle population and oil production infrastructure.
Buhari takes cattle rustling personally because he shares ethnic heritage with the victims of cattle rustling in Zamfara and Katsina. He cannot ignore the militancy in the Niger Delta because it is starving him of the ‘oil money’ he needs to lubricate the wheels of government. He is uninterested in the butchery of Nigerians by the herdsmen because the issue does not directly impact him. It doesn’t give him sleepless night.
This is the only rational inference that can be deduced from his discriminatory deployment of ‘federal might’. He regards cattle rustling and blowing up of oil pipelines as heinous crimes that the state must counter with maximum force. He reckons the rampant mass murder of Nigerians by ‘herdsmen’ as a trivial issue that merits no disruptive intervention.
Six months after Agatu massacre, the herdsmen who enacted the carnage are yet to be arrested. The herdsmen actually returned to another Benue village and killed 12 more . After the herdsmen killed 40 in Nimbo, they have done rashes of killings in Southern Kaduna and Adamawa. Two weeks ago, the ‘herdsmen’ returned to Enugu and killed again in their signature dawn attack. They slaughtered a catholic seminarian and slit open the belly of a six months-pregnant woman.
The easiest way to irritate Buhari is to ask him whether pro-Biafra groups do not have the constitutional right to hold peaceful protest in Nigeria. He will fulminate. He will repeat that canvassing for secession is the treasonable equivalent of provoking a civil war.
In his one year in office, a lot of young men and women who dared to dramatize their disenchantment with the dysfunction of the Nigerian state, were slain in Buhari’s putative war. Nigerian security officials shot them dead. The placards of the youths earned them instant execution.
But the ‘herdsmen’? They will never kill enough Nigerians to arouse anger or grief in Buhari. No matter how many they kill, Buhari continues to apologize to them. He is planning to parcel out lands and gift them to the ‘herdsmen’ as ‘grazing reserve’. He is saying the Nigerian state owes the ‘herdsmen’ the debt of politeness and respect. Regardless of the number of Nigerians the ‘herdsmen’ kill, you don’t try to punish them or take proactive steps to avert a repeat occurrence. The nomad’s war crime is mitigated by the presumed underlying cause of their search for green pasture. The ‘herdsmen’ kill because they have to. They rid the terrain of human beings so their cattle can graze without disturbance!
Yesterday, VANGUARD referenced a DSS intelligence report that revealed the ‘herdsmen’ are ready to attack communities in the South East. A sign of the veracity of the intelligence is that the villagers sighted the well armed ‘herdsmen’ on Tuesday along Onitsha-Awka Expressway, sneaking into Ukpo town in Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State.
If, as usual, nothing is done to avert the looming massacre, the ‘herdsmen’ will act out their script, disappear and reappear in another place… to kill and maim again!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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