No matter how hard one tries, it is difficult, almost impossible, for any Nigerian to pretend not to be angry with the way things are going right now. Even those who want to be seen as being politically correct in this season of anomie are struggling to keep their balance because, let’s face it, there are limits to political correctness.
Something has gone fundamentally wrong with the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. He has failed to be the transcendental, pan-Nigeria leader we all craved for after the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. I don’t know how the illusion came about that such an insular, provincial leader like Buhari can step up to the plate at such a critical time in Nigeria’s history. But here we are, once again, at the crossroads.
For me, the massacre last week of innocent citizens by Fulani herdsmen at Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State was the last straw. Over 50 people were killed in cold blood, scores displaced, and about seven villages and property worth millions of naira, including the Christ Holy Church International, destroyed. The victims were killed in the most gruesome manner – some had their throats slit, others were simply butchered with machetes and at least one was burnt alive on a commuter bus. Nobody deserves this fate.
Yet, security men got wind of this attack at least 24 hours before the hoodlums struck. Uzo-Uwani Council Chairman, Cornell Onwubuya, reportedly alerted Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the Commissioner of Police, Ekechukwu Nwodibo, that armed Fulani herdsmen had invaded their community to wreak havoc. No action was taken. The Department of State Securities (DSS) that claimed it discovered mass graves of “Hausa-Fulani” residents allegedly abducted and murdered by suspected members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in Abia State, without any evidence, did nothing to stop the carnage. The military that arrested 76 youths from Ugwuneshi community in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State for protesting against the abduction and gang raping of their mothers and sisters did nothing to forestall the mayhem.
After the carnage, Ugwuanyi wept and declared two days of fasting and prayers. It took Buhari – who had threatened to deal with Niger Delta militants like terrorists and vowed to deal decisively with IPOB and MASSOB for daring to challenge the status quo in Nigeria – three whole days to break his silence on the carnage.
I have wondered since last Monday what would have happened if the people of Nimbo had organised to brutally murder 50 Fulani herdsmen. By now, the security forces would have sacked the entire local government. They would have done to them what soldiers did to Shiites in Kaduna. Imagine what would have happened if some Igbo hoodlums were to go to any community in Katsina, Bauchi, Kaduna, et cetera, to kill, maim, rape and plunder. The perpetrators would have been summarily dealt with and the whole of Ala-Igbo would have become desolate by now.
Those who want to be politically correct say Buhari should not be blamed. But for those crying out loud, he is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If we don’t blame him for allowing the atrocious acts of Fulani herdsmen spiral out of control, who, then, do we blame? Besides, the silence of the government is a clear abdication of its role in ending these killings. Keeping silent in the face of these horrendous atrocities makes both the president and his government complicit in the fatalities. So, for me, the biggest tragedy in all this is not just the deaths but the fact that a government idles away, with the president sitting on his palms, keeping ominously silent while citizens get wiped out.
May I ask the commander-in-chief whether these herdsmen are licensed to carry these sophisticated weapons? If not, why are they not arrested? Why have they not been disarmed? Or, is it impossible to disarm them? If yes, how then can such a government be trusted to fulfill the most basic of its obligations – the protection of the lives and property of citizens? Where are these marauders getting these sophisticated weapons from? How and where did they learn how to use them? If it is okay for the pastoralists to freely acquire and use such weapons, what stops the sedentary farmers from enjoying the same privileges?
Now, back to citizenship and whether the Nigerian project as presently configured is worth it. I had a testy exchange of text messages with a friend who believes that this periodic spilling of Igbo blood in Nigeria may well be our lot and we should accept our fate with every amount of equanimity since any attempt by Ndigbo to ward off such attacks or even revenge will only lead to more killings of our people scattered all over Nigeria. When I argued that our people should no longer offer the other cheek to be abused, particularly when the barbarians who revel in spilling human blood have taken the battle to the Igbo heartland, my friend riposted:
“You can choose to do nzogbu-nzogbu, the first people that will get wiped out will be our Igbo brothers in other people’s land. You can choose to do nzogbu-nzogbu when you are landlocked and without access to an international border. The consequences will be predictable … we are used to coping as Ndigbo instead of asserting our full rights as citizens. I just wish to claim my status as a citizen.”
This is contradictory. How can you claim your status as a citizen of a country that cannot even guarantee you the most fundamental of human rights – right to life? A country where you cannot even protect yourself against the onslaught of hoodlums, not to talk of complaining because your brothers living in other parts of the country may be slaughtered? So, what is the worth of the citizenship of a country that neither guarantees your safety nor the right to complain and seek redress when you are violated?
But my friend is not done yet. He gave me a reason why the Igbo, like a lamb being led to the slaughter house, should not complain in the face of the havoc by rampaging Fulani herdsmen. “I will tell you what I told Berom leaders in Jos in 2002: a sedentary population will not win a war of attrition with a population that has neither land nor a postcode.”
I was flummoxed. So, what is the duty of the state? Just because of the peripatetic nature of the Hausa-Fulani race, they have become outlaws, no longer restrained by the laws of the land? And the victims of their atrocious acts dare not complain for fear of being visited with more violence while the government looks the other away? Isn’t that anarchy?
Truth be told, these attacks will continue. So, Ndigbo should brace up and defend themselves. What is going on is full-fledged terrorism. These murderers are not ordinary cattle herders. This is a deliberate agenda being pursued by those who don’t place any value on human life.
Today, Nigeria boasts a worse terrorism record than Somalia, a failed state, no thanks to the activities of Fulani herdsmen. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, which identifies the Fulani militants as a terrorist group, only Iraq and Afghanistan suffered worse terror attacks than Nigeria in 2014. Of the 20 deadliest terror attacks globally in 2014, nine occurred in Nigeria, with Boko Haram – which overtook the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the deadliest terror group – taking credit for eight. The ninth, an attack which claimed over 200 lives, was attributed to Fulani herdsmen. While Boko Haram claimed 6,644 lives, Fulani militants, named as the fourth deadliest terrorists in the world, killed 1,229.
But that was even yesterday. As I write, Fulani herdsmen have overtaken Boko Haram in hawking their fatal wares to a hapless citizenry, having killed more Nigerians this year than their dreaded Boko Haram cousins.
It is time to rethink Nigeria. While the argument of many that the sheer size of Nigeria and its huge potential makes the idea of a united country inevitable remains plausible, it is only the living that can enjoy those benefits. A country that cannot guarantee its citizens the right to life is not worth the name.