The recent massacre of hundreds of innocent men, women and children in Enugu has brought to the fore the escalating menace of malevolent marauders suspected to be either terrorists or herdsmen or both. The Enugu state Commissioner of Police is reported to have said in a self-indicting reaction that the massacre was the handiwork of hoodlums. If that is the case, then he has no business being police commissioner as he could not pre-empt, avert or contain such large scale bloodletting by AK47-wielding hoodlums. But that is another matter.
Not a few are angered by the fact that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are being given ethnic colouration under the blanket appellation ‘Fulani Herdsmen’. And they do have a point. Pigeon-holing crime and criminals is no crime fighting strategy. Criminals are criminals no matter their ethnicity and they should be dealt with as such. But it becomes another thing when known criminals are treated with kid gloves because they are perceived to be of a particular ethnic stock. In a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, such an attitude pulls at the cords of national unity and can only vitiate the fabric that holds the nation together.
Cases abound of devastation caused by suspected, and in some cases, known Fulani herdsmen from the serene surroundings of Jos in Plateau State, through the sprawling agrarian landscape of Benue state, to some tranquil recesses of the Niger-Delta. In most of the cases, conflicts were triggered by damage caused by the cattle of the nomadic herdsmen to the crops (and means of livelihood) of the communities they traverse.
In April 2013, I was privileged to be part of the National Good Governance Tour of the South-South geo-political zone with former Information Minister, Mr. Labaran Maku. On our way from Bayelsa to Delta state, in the Ohoror-Uweru community near Ughelli, we came across a gory incident that threw the convoy into panic mode. First we saw a couple of bulldozers deployed for road construction in flames. We saw women with children on their backs and scanty belongings on their heads running away from what as yet we knew not. Members of our crack security escort team were instantly dispatched to ascertain what was going on while we followed cautiously. Some of those in flight for fright that we questioned said some Fulani herdsmen had attacked the community in retaliation after one of their cows was killed by members of the community whose crops had been damaged by the herdsmen’s cattle. I recall that some ‘wise’ aids promptly advised the minister to remove his cylindrical hat as his dressing might invoke the ire of the enraged community members if they identified him as a ‘kinsman’ of the perpetrators.
Then we came to the centre of the community. Two young men were lying dead in the middle of the road. The head of one of them had been partially blown off by a high caliber weapon, presumably an AK47. Spectators and community members on the scene confirmed what we had heard from our fleeing informants. A short while later, when we stopped at the next gas station to refuel, some of the brave security men who had pursued the fleeing attackers recounted their mission and there was nothing to suggest that the attackers were mere hoodlums. That was three years ago.
Today, the current political climate in Nigeria has spawned all manner of analysts, especially on the social media. Anyone whose views do not align with ‘supporters’ of the government in power are either dubbed haters or losers regardless of whether those views are altruistic, patriotic or not. Patriotism has assumed a new definition distant from the view of the great American writer, Edward Abbey, who said in ‘A Voice Crying in the Wilderness’ that “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
Some analysts are crying stridently that attributing these growing attacks to Fulani herdsmen is a campaign of calumny by ‘haters’ and political jingoists. But if one may ask, was it haters in Nigeria that last year categorized Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world? In the ranking by the Global Terrorism Index, it was said inter-alia: “The little-known group, formed of individuals from the semi-nomadic pastorial ethnic group Fula people existing across several West African nations, has seen a dramatic escalation of its activities in the past year. In 2013, the Fulani killed around 80 people in total – but by 2014 the group had killed 1,229.”
Haters or not, what most people find difficult to comprehend is the apparent conspiracy of silence on this matter. Self-acclaimed elder statesmen who were shouting on roof tops with their infernal voices during last year’s electioneering campaign have suddenly developed vocal arthritis. Self-acclaimed agents of change have put their gear in reverse and are retreating from this issue. Self-acclaimed prophets of good luck are looking on in dumb amazement. Worst of all, members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, to which I proudly belong, seem suddenly to have developed cold feet. Perhaps more appropriately, cold fingers, such that they cannot hit their keypads with their characteristic censorial vigour. Take the latest mayhem in Enugu for instance. When the news broke on social media, I went online to confirm from the mainstream media that is now daily losing steam. What did I find? Only Vanguard Newspapers had the story (as at the time I searched). And we know that almost all ‘frontline’ newspapers have correspondents in Enugu. Why was the story not promptly and extensively reported by the mainstream media?
The brigade of sycophants who mumble meaningless lullabies to please their masters instead of speaking truth to power have reclined into their cacophonous cocoons. What could be responsible for all this? Could it be because their masters have said little or nothing on the matter and so they are not sure on which side they stand? Could it be because there is not even palpable body language to decipher the disposition of their masters to this debacle? Whatever it is, and whoever is responsible for the spiraling carnage, let it be known that it is most unwise to continue to ignore this shit in polythene bag hanging from the ceiling fan because when it bursts, the fan will spray it on everybody.
It is a good thing that the Presidency has issued a statement after much unnerving silence. According to a Vanguard report, President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered security chiefs to hunt down those who perpetrated the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani local government area of Enugu State on Monday. President Buhari gave the order in an address delivered on his behalf by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the public presentation of a book, entitled ‘Who will Love My Country: Ideas for Building the Nigeria of our Dream’, written by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, in Abuja. The president said in a statement read on his behalf by Lai Mohammed:
“Before making my remarks about the book, let me use this platform to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the attack perpetrated on the Ukpabi Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani area of Enugu State on Monday. I deeply sympathise with all those who lost dear ones, as well as those who lost their properties in the attack…. “I have directed the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police to secure all communities under attacks by HERDSMEN, and to go after all the groups terrorizing innocent people all over the country. This government will not allow these attacks to continue.”
Isn’t it instructive that even the president acknowledges that HERDSMEN (emphasis mine) are responsible for some, if not all, of these attacks while some puppets are busy dancing more than the pull on their master’s strings?
Some cynics have been quick to posit that the condemnation “in the strongest possible terms” would have been much stronger if it had been delivered personally by the Commander-in-Chief and even more so during a sympathy visit to the victims as we have seen other world leaders do so often. Nevertheless, while we wait with bated breath for the expected crackdown, let us remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who initially supported Adolf Hitler but later became one of the arrowheads of the opposition to the Nazification of German Protestant churches.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
This is not the time to pander to ethnic sentiments. It is the time to build bridges in a country whose citizens are perching precariously on the tenterhooks of economic vicissitudes.
As the Holy Book says, “Those who have ears, let them hear.”
(From Random Thoughts: A Collection of Essays & Poems by Tony Ekata)