By Kola King
The title of this article is taken from Alan Paton’s 1948 novel set in the prelude to apartheid in South Africa. However, this is a far cry from Paton’s South Africa. In fact, apartheid South Africa would seem like child’s play compared to the tragic events that have become a common occurrence in Nigeria. Apartheid was oppression and discrimination by the minority white racist regime against the indigenous population. Today suspected armed Fulani herdsmen from the Sahel region of West Africa in concert with some of their misguided local kith and kin appear to be waging war on the indigenous population causing mayhem and destruction in many communities across the country. To all intents and purposes, the battle seems to be about access to land and water for the grazing of cattle. In this quest for access to land and water, hundreds have been killed and many communities destroyed in the process.
So this explains the cry for my beloved Country. It is a cry from the depths of my heart. This cry is borne out of the wanton slaughter of innocent men and women by armed militia who have taken to banditry and terrorist acts across the North West and North Central regions especially. Bandits have turned the nation into a killing field. Hardly a day goes by without news reports of killings, mayhem, and destruction in one community or another. Many have been slaughtered in their homes, on their farms and in villages and hamlets. The incessant bloodletting is simply mind-boggling. Now thousands of children have been turned into orphans and many have become widows overnight. For this reason, refugees have continued to stream into Internally Displaced Persons, IDP camps, with an estimated population of about 3.3 million. The blood of innocent persons continues to water the land like intermittent rainfall.
From Benue to Plateau, Kaduna to Katsina, Kebbi to Zamfara the blood of innocent Nigerians has been continually spilled and splattered on the soil and there is a desperate cry for justice by those who have fallen victims to these wanton and senseless murders. Sorrow, tears, and blood have become common staples of daily living. Many have been wailing and weeping in silence. Men, women, children, and the aged are inconsolable as they have been deprived of their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.
In light of this, Benue State governor Samuel Ortom has spent a greater part of his tenure weeping and wailing over the wonting killing of his people by armed bandits. Ortom is the Mourner-in-Chief in a nation gripped by mindless banditry and terrorism. Benue has been of particular interest to the bandits, perhaps due to the arable and fertile land in the Benue valley. To this end, the bandits have waged repeated attacks on Plateau and Benue States which is the nation’s breadbasket, killing and maiming hundreds in their various communities turning thousands of people into refugees. Moreover, these outlaws have formed a parallel government by levying taxes on communities and collecting a tribute to enable farmers to work on their farmlands.
By degrees, the armed bandits have graduated from cattle rustling to terrorism as witnessed by the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna bound train last March in which at least 8 people were killed and more than a hundred passengers abducted by armed gunmen. According to eyewitnesses’ accounts, most of the attackers were reportedly young Fulani boys aged between 16 and 23. The train was carrying 970 passengers. The rail line between the two cities was first hit in October 2021. The motive is apparently to cause mass casualties and terror along a major public transport corridor. Those abducted are still in captivity. More worrisome is the report by the government that there is a nexus between the bandits and Boko Haram insurgents. Still, except this ugly situation is urgently arrested the nation may witness a gradual slide and descent into anarchy.
Fearing a descent into anarchy Bishop Hassan Kukah of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese in his Easter homily had cried out over the constant killings which have become a recurring decimal and called the government to account. The cry of Kukah is the general cry of Nigerians. In the past several years, Nigerians have been wailing and weeping in the inner sanctum of their homes and from the rooftops, the street corners, and even underground cellars. The only thing is that Kukah has amplified and reinforced that cry and anguish in the land with the full weight and gravitas of his apostolic authority and office. Kukah had accused the government of being eager to integrate repentant terrorists than rescuing school children and thousands of others back from kidnappers or keeping our universities open.
Bishop Kukah stated with ecclesiastical and pastor’s authority and candour that Nigeria is bleeding from all sides. He fired on all cylinders and did not spare President Muhammadu Buhari the rough edge of his tongue. The essence of his homily is that the government has failed in its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property. Of course, such a government has lost the moral authority to rule. In short, a government that fails to protect its citizens against bandits and terrorists has virtually lost its legitimacy. In his estimation, the nation is broken in all ramifications. There’s no more hiding place for both the rich and poor. Life has become grim and dreary and drab.
Of course, the presidency has hit back at Kukah, accusing him of hatred for the Muhammadu Buhari administration and working with the opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party to stop the sale of Super Tucano fighter jets to the Nigerian Air Force. Yet there has been a convergence of views among various groups on the issue of insecurity. Even the Northern Elders Forum has gone to the extent of calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign in the light of mounting security challenges that seem to have defied all solutions proffered by the administration.
Also, the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, in a statement declared that “it appears that the continuous callous acts of mayhem, killings, and arson happening almost on a daily or weekly basis around us; either within communities or on the roads we ply, has automatically reset our human psyche that we now have accepted such dastardly acts as part of our lives, to the extent that we no longer feel it… Any government that is incapable of protecting the lives of its citizens has lost the moral justification for being there in the first place… our humanity is being eroded and that erosion is becoming a new normal.”
Just as important, the Chief Imam of Aso Legislative Quarters Mosque, Sheikh Nuru Khalid had admonished the president in one of his Friday sermons where he berated the government for the general insecurity in the land. He wondered why the president has remained aloof to the ongoing killings by bandits and terrorists. He observed that during elections the president went around the country seeking votes but was finding it difficult to empathise with the people by paying visits to communities affected by death and destruction occasioned by the activities of terrorists. He emphasised that in times like this the president should demonstrate leadership and show empathy and also help wipe the tears of the bereaved and comfort those sorrowing. For speaking truth to power, the Imam was sacked from his post.
Flashback to March 2018, Gen Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma had admonished the people of Taraba State to arm themselves against armed bandits and many people had condemned him for pouring fuel on the fire of ethnic and communal strife. However, unfolding events seem to have vindicated Danjuma who was speaking at the maiden convocation ceremony of Taraba State University in Jalingo, during which he advised citizens to rise against ethnic cleansing. Danjuma had said back then that the security forces were not neutral and that they were colluding with the armed bandits terrorising various communities in his home state.
He said the incessant killings which are a target to ethnic cleansing on the people of Taraba and Nigeria at large must stop, just as he called on the people to ‘rise and defend themselves against the killers.’ According to him, “You must rise to protect yourselves from these people, if you depend on the Armed Forces to protect you, you will all die”
With the unfolding events, it will be extremely difficult to discountenance the opinion of General Danjuma. However, at that point in time, the military authorities had dismissed Danjuma’s allegations as baseless.
In all this, the Buhari administration has shown gross insensitivity by its insistence on going ahead with the demarcation of grazing routes which has been a source of conflicts between the herdsmen and farming communities across the country. Besides, it will appear as if the administration lacks the political will to curtail the activities of armed herdsmen who have turned the nation into a garden of sorrow and tears. This is evident by constant complaints by most communities who claim that the security forces have been slow in responding to attacks or only turn up after attacks and destruction by armed herdsmen.
Perhaps stung by the vociferous criticisms, President Muhammadu Buhari has urged all political parties in the country to keep elections and election-related differences aside and join his administration’s drive to defeat insecurity in the country. He stated this at an Iftar dinner with the leadership of political parties in Abuja where the President described insecurity as a ‘‘common enemy’’ bedeviling the country.
“Without mass, popular support to our hard-working Armed Forces, it will take us much longer to finish off the successful war we are waging against terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping. Our country must be kept safe for progress and prosperity to be entrenched,” the president declared.
To restore hope and finish strong, President Buhari owes the nation a duty to crush the bandits and terrorists once and for all and restore peace back to the land.