As the calendar turns, the Nigerian leadership would be wise to contemplate a nagging problem that beset the country in the old year and one that will continue to trouble the nation if not urgently and comprehensively addressed.
The question –it’s the most important conceivable question of the year 2017 –is: Will the Nigerian government wake up to the reality of the ascendancy of the alternate Boko Haram? Or will it maintain its supine posture of passive spectatorship while an ostentatiously hyperactive and ubiquitous killing force wastes Nigerian lives?
On Christmas eve, President Muhammadu Buhari broke a heartening news to a people in need of cheer, a nation in recession and in despair: Nigerian troops have accomplished the ”final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists.” Buhari framed the takeover of Sambisa forest, the fabled stronghold and operational headquarters of the terror group, by the Nigerian military as a remarkable moment in the near-complete triumphant closure of the reign of terror in the land.
But on the selfsame day he was exulting in the near-assured prospect of a Nigeria free from terror, a notorious nomadic variant of Boko Haram invaded Southern Kaduna and made an overkill. As if intent on disproving his claim that terrorism was in decline in Nigeria, ‘Fulani’ herdsmen left behind a pile of corpses, an earth sodden with blood and a climate of grief.
The herdsmen had a ‘successful’ 2016. They were the terrorists of the year. As the government made gains in the battle to degrade Boko Haram, they waxed strong in sophistication and audacity. They demonstrated that they were headhunters capable of killing on the ambitious scale of Boko Haram. They hawked carnage from village to village. Destroying farmlands. Maiming. Killing.
2016 diary is a crowded timeline of their successive massacres. Almost every day, Nigerian dailies published a story about the latest village attacked by the headhunters.
An exhaustive chronicle of the massacres executed by the headhunters in 2016 would be a research exercise in statistics. And while such factual accounting is vital to communal memory, the tallying of casualties of those killings risks depersonalizing the tragedy of every single death and is certain to end up reducing the entire story to a lone number. Yet, to discuss the activity of the herdsmen without a reference to body count would be minimizing the killings and the very commonness that frequency bestowed on it.
So, here is a snapshot of their tour of horror: Agatu (more than 400 people were killed). Tarfi (12 people were killed). Nimbo (40 people were killed). Unguwan Anjo (3 people were killed). Kodomun (30 people were killed). Godo (11 people were killed). Akegbe Ugwu (a seminarian and a pregnant woman were killed). Oke Ako (2 people were killed). Inikiri-Umuezeoka Effium (a septuagenarian was killed).
These killing streak happened because the headhunters were largely unimpeded by any measure of Nigerian security agencies. The Buhari administration declined to admit that the ‘herdsmen’ were a full-fledged militia with a competent terrorist agenda. The government, instead, took up the obnoxious duty of normalizing the mass murderers and legitimizing their hate, calling their blood sport a product of valid grievances and even proposing policies to appease them.
Officials of the government advocated for the conversion of swaths of people’s ancestral lands into ‘grazing reserves’ and the importation of grass from Brazil. The idea was to use taxpayers’ property and money to placate the vampires depopulating the country. To bribe the murderers to sheathe their swords.
The leadership of the Catholic Church said that, so far, the headhunters have killed 808 people in Southern Kaduna. This statistic represents the harvest of death in the killing field that four local government areas of Kaduna state has become. In other costs, 57 people sustained injuries and 1422 houses and 16 churches were burnt to the ground.
Individuals and civil society organizations have been expressing dismay that the Buhari government is pretending that what we have on our hands is anything but adventurous terrorists disguised as nomadic pastoralists. Wole Soyinka particularly deplored Buhari’s inexplicable indifference to the crisis as overt complicity, ‘’an encouragement of violence on innocents.’’ The Nobel Laureate lamented that he has ‘’yet to encounter a terse, rigorous, soldierly and uncompromising language from this leadership, one that threatens a response to this unconscionable blood-letting that would make even Boko Haram repudiate its founding clerics.’’
Eight months after Soyinka proffered that censure, ‘this leadership’ has not become a tad more responsible in treating the threat of the headhunters with the seriousness it deserves. ‘This leadership’ has continued to spare the terrorists the experience of a proportionate answer a viable state is obligated to unleash in defense of the lives of her citizens. ‘This leadership’ is calm and relaxed, emboldening the slayers to presume possession of an official license to run a program of infinite genocide.
It’s been one week since the Christmas eve and Christmas day killings of Southern Kaduna occurred. President Buhari has offered no word in acknowledgment of the incident. Christian Association of Nigeria described his informed silence as ‘’a perceived official endorsement’’ of the pogrom. That’s a measured statement. That conclusion is the only logical inference you can draw from the rigid refusal of a healthy commander-in-chief to condemn the violent killing of scores of people he swore to protect and lead.
Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, came on national television to bat away complaints about his principal’s lack of empathy. He said Buhari would not bother to comment on the mayhem in Southern Kaduna because there was a subsisting debate on the Nigerian version of federalism and its ramifications. Adesina spoke with an inhuman and inhumane callousness that suggested that officialdom’s position was that ‘herdsmen’ killings state were the headache of state governors, the in-name-only chief security officers that don’t control any security agency in their domain. He conveyed the message that victims of the killings were on their own.
Adesina’s citation of an argument on federalism as the reason why Buhari has been remiss in his duty to defend Nigerians against the headhunters was disingenuous. He told an abject lie when he said that a civic discourse on federalism constrained Buhari from intervening with words and deeds, to condemn the headhunters and comfort the victims. The truth he knows but couldn’t articulate is that Buhari does not care about the ‘herdsmen killings’ and is unwilling to pretend otherwise.
Acting is not Buhari’s forte. When he cares about a supposed security threat, he leaves no one in doubt. He regards Niger Delta militants as economic saboteurs and he showed it. He authorized the deployment to troops to the region and the aerial bombardment of militant hideouts in the creeks.
He considers Biafra activists subversive felons and he never tires of saying so. Actually, he repeats it so often that sycophantic heads of Nigerian security agencies feel duty-bound to send their officers and men to shoot Biafra sympathizers, in genuflection to Oga’s paranoia.
This president sees cattle rustlers as criminals. And he is invested in stamping them out. He personally attended the launch of a military operation designed for that purpose, dressed in army uniform.
But Buhari steels himself against the pervasive wickedness of the headhunters. He treats them with genteel politeness. He feels, says and does nothing, lest he offends their sensibilities. He respects them too much to reckon with their record of criminality.
Buhari’s cavalier attitude towards the bloodthirsty headhunters indicates a horrible deference to a thoroughgoing death cult. He seems to believe it is proper to excuse the killings because to interrogate it would mean to dispute the herdsmen’s right to kill human beings in the name of cattle rearing. His dubious respectfulness, his surrender of the presidency’s capacity for outrage to the headhunters, is inspiring impunity in the heads of the headhunters.
Nigeria must confront this issue this new year. And it is vital that we do so urgently. If we continue to permit this insatiable terrorist group to keep operating without let or hindrance, the monster will increasingly grow ruthless, robust and formidable.
Nigeria is declaring victory over Boko Haram 20,000 lives late. It was the apathy, hypocrisy and corruption of the past leadership that helped a pack of followers of a backyard Islamist sect morph into a world-class terrorist organization. Sadly, this incumbent ‘law and order’ leadership is, to all intents and purposes, grooming Boko Haram’s replacement.
The matter of the herdsmen is nuanced. Culture, commerce and climate change are the present day dynamics driving their perpetual movement. An objective study of their case will recognize these factors and appreciate how they interact to keep the herdsmen in motion.
Still, conceding that there is a context to the herdsmen’s mobility should not have to amount to tolerance for their penchant to use gratuitous violence to navigate the terrain. The Nigerian state has to tackle the crime part of their activities. Their tendency to kill for sports must be called by its correct name and punished the right way. Or else, the terrorists will keep killing because Nigeria permits them to.
The ugliest legacy of the man President Buhari succeeded was enabling the rise of Boko Haram. The saddest legacy Buhari can leave is presiding over the rise of the alternate Boko Haram. He must not let the flag of another terrorist group rise in his time!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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