Insecurity in Nigeria and the inevitability of falling back on ethnic faultlines have become a reoccurring phenomenon in Nigeria.
That is what on Monday, the 11th day of the month of May compelled the governors of the 17 southern states to meet in Asaba, Delta state capital. The mission was to deliberate on the state of the nation, particularly with respect to the growing insecurity of lives and threat of secession by some southern ethnic nationalities. And this is largely due to the nonacceptance of the need for the central government to effectively address the challenge of religious extremism driving violent insurgency, conduct a referendum to find out if every part of Nigeria wants to remain in the union, the failure to deal with the herders-farmers conflicts with sincerity, plus the reluctance to devolve political power to the states by the federal authorities also known as political restructuring.
The very significant day that the political leadership of southern states collectively spoke with one voice about the apparent oppression and marginalization of the long suffering people of the south is bound to become a day as remarkable and memorable as June 12,1993 which is the day that the late MKO Abiola’s victory at the polls as president of Nigeria was annulled by then military government led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB.
Remarkably, as a way of immortalizing the late MKO Abiola, June 12 has been declared by the current administration as democracy day in replacement of the former May 29 date, on which outgoing governments had performed the political ritual of handing over the reins of power to their successors.
Hopefully, 11th May, 2021 would be remembered in history or commemorated as the day that the good people of southern Nigeria spoke out forcefully in an effort to liberate themselves from the shackles of oppression by shifting from hushed complaints about internal colonization from under the table where it has been for some time, to the top of it.
l’m drawing a parallel between 12th June ,1993 and 11th May, 2021 because it is the day that 17 southern governors dropped the ‘bombshell’ communique which has been over due. The release of the 12 point statement is so epochal
it could end up being as defining and significant in the politics of our country as the 12th June event that has become a watershed moment in the annals of political developments in Nigeria.
Wittingly and unwittingly, the day could assume a historical significance basically because it is the day that the south found its voice; and likely to be the day that our country got retrieved from the grasp of those practicing prebendal politics. This is a political theory espoused by Richard Joseph in his book:
“Democracy And Prebendal Politics In Nigeria”Richard Joseph
In Joseph’s calculations, prebendal politics is a phenomenon that is steep in farcical predispositions. It is a political system where elected officials and government workers feel that they have a right to a share of government revenues and use them to benefit their supporters, co-religionists, and members of their ethnic group. Those who subscribe to the theory are of the belief that it is the web in which our country has been trapped for some time. But more so in the past decade or so.
How redeeming is it that for the first time, the governors of the southern states who hitherto seem to have been browbeaten and cowed by their counterparts in the northern side of Nigerian equation , as they appeared to have acquiesced with oppression and suppression, now tend to have shaken off political partisanship and woken up from their slumber which has left citizens in the region at the mercy of the marauding outlaws and criminal elements disguised as herdsmen that have been committing heinous crimes such as rape, murder and generally wrecking havoc on hitherto peaceful and tranquil communities, and indigenes stretching from the forests of Ondo and Oyo states in the south west to Ughelli in the Niger Delta region , all the way to Enugu and Abia states in the south east.
Given how sensitive humans can be when it comes to land matters , simply because while human populations are growing at geometric progression, land is probably being added at arithmetic rate , (considering land reclamations from the sea) it is needless pointing out how incensed and riled up are the folks whose ancestral lands, homes and means of livelihood are being threatened or already seized without hindrance by the aggressive intruders also known as killer herdsmen or bandits.
In the absence of the federal government’s commitment or inability to offer protection to the critical masses under its care nationwide ; and especially as the presidency had made it clear after Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom berated president Muhammadu Buhari for shirking his constitutionally assigned responsibility to protect all citizens: And the response to the effect that security falls under the purview of governors, (even when they are not operationally the chief security officers of their states) the 17 southern states governors appear to have elected to take their destinies into their hands.
Considering that our country is now severely under siege and currently only held together by tenterhooks, the 17 southern governors decided not to continue to standby and look while they kill their brothers, (throwback to Bob Marley’s hit song ‘Redemption Song’) by convening the timely and timeous meeting in Asaba, now known as ‘Asaba Declaration’.
It is reminiscent of the ‘Kaima Declaration’ which was a proclamation of Niger Delta republic by major Isaac Adaka Boro, who after the 1966 coup and before the civil war broke out in 1967 attempted to make the Niger Delta subregion an independent republic.
Being a hutch putsch arrangement, Boro’s rebellion lasted only 12 days before his ill equipped and ragtag militia was crushed by Nigerian armed forces led by Col Odimegwu Ojukwu, then Eastern region governor and General Aguiyi Ironsi, then military head of state.
Quite unlike the Kaima declaration, the Asaba affirmation or announcement should be deemed by Aso Rock Villa to be a friendly rebellion in the manner that incidents of friendly fire occur between friendly forces in battle fronts. That is particularly so because the governors did not equivocate about their belief in one Nigeria and therefore are not dancing to the loud drumbeats of their kith and kins with secessionist inclinations across the southern region and even in north central Nigeria.
Rather , they notably affirmed their faith in one Nigeria,but with a caveat that a national dialogue should be convened to confront the demons suffocating Nigeria directly rather than the current pretense by Aso Rock Villa that all is well in Nigeria and that our country is better off than it was a decade ago.
In my assessment, the most significant item in the 12 point communique from the meeting addresses the root cause of the violence and banditry currently bedeviling our country which is Open Grazing. It is a malaise which the leadership at the centre has failed to tackle. When a situation of open grazing of livestocks resulting in conflicts between herders and farmers reared its ugly head in Ghana and Benin republic, the authorities in both countries swiftly outlawed the practice. The law was swiftly backed up with action by directing the law enforcement agencies to enforce the order strictly. The political action taken in the neighboring countries was like pouring a fire extinguisher into a burning inferno that stopped the combustion, instantly.
In stark contrast, our leaders have been ambivalent, if not complicit about the issue of Open Grazing of cattle by herdsmen which has assumed a pandemic dimension.
Considering that the number of Nigerians that have lost their lives directly and indirectly in the unending herders- farmer conflicts on one hand , and settlers -indigenes clashes as well as internal terrorism by religious insurgents on the other hand ,has dwarfed the statistics of those lost to covid-19 pandemic, insecurity deserves a multi sector and multi specialty task force akin to the covid-19 special task established by the federal government and led by the Secretary to the Federal Government, SGF, Boss Mustapha which has largely succeeded in its mandate , especially because of private sector involvement via CACOVID. Experience has shown that a combination of experts in different fields working together to tackle an identified issue is usually more efficacious.
In that regard the security and safety of lives and property in Nigeria can no longer be the exclusive preserve of our armed forces. The formation of civilian JTF in the North to combat boko haram and the recent trend of establishing of vigilante corps across the four regions -ISBAH in the north , AMOTEKUN in the south west , Ebube-Agu in the south east and Delta Hawk or Midwest Shield in Edo/Delta (in the making) are all testimonies that Nigerians have lost faith in the ability of the conventional security agencies to protect them.
Just as the nation did not rely on only medical experts to stave off the menace of COVID-19, a task to stem the tide of insecurity in the manner that coronavirus was fought to a stand-still is over due.
But why the leadership of Nigeria seem to have been indifferent to the plight of the masses who are being systematically decimated by the outlaws camouflaged as herders ; and which international and local human rights activists have estimated to be in excess of 20,000 souls that had been sent to their early graves in the past couple of decades , beats the imagination. Compare the 20,000 statistics to the 2,067 that have died from Covid-19 pandemic, then it would be clear why Nigeria is currently ranked number 3 on global crimes index, GCI.
If readers are not swayed by rhetorics by those that are compromised because they have vested interests, they would be persuaded by the statistics.
The irony of it all is that while coronavirus is a disease condition that had defiled science and of which scientists worldwide are racing to find a medical cure, (not just vaccine) religious insurgents and violent herders that are like a Frankenstein monster wrecking havoc on Nigerians, are actually products of mismanagement of human relationships.
So instead of just searching around the world only for COVID-19 vaccine of which we have received over four million doses, why don’t we also ask the best in the world (for instance Israel, UAE and South Africa) for guidance on how to manage our multi ethnic and religiously volatile society to rein in the internal terrorism-arising from religiosity , separatism and herders-farmers conflicts, which are the three monsters that are about to eclipse, if not asphyxiate our beloved country?
While l was still having difficulty processing the reality of the statistics of the innocent killed as a result of the sheer irresponsibility being displayed by the authorities elected to lead and protect them , and still not being able to wrap my head around the apparent nonchalant attitude of our leaders to the social chasm that has resulted in our country becoming a land flowing with blood and tears, instead of milk and honey, which l presume God had ordained our country to be;in light of the enormous natural endowments that we are blessed with: l have no other option than to recommend that perhaps our leaders should be subjected to some psychological evaluation to determine whether they are not afflicted by “The Perils Of Indifference “ a phrase coined by Elie Wiesel , a writer famous for his witness to the sufferings endured by the Jews in concentration camps in Nazi Germany during Holocaust.
In Elie Wiesel’s wisdom “indifference is always the friend of the enemy.”
In his speech while addressing president Clinton and the US Congress in 1999, Wiesel who drew on his experience in Nazi camp stated the following:
“What is Indifference? Etymologically, the word means ‘no difference’. A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn , crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion , good and evil. What are the causes and inescapable consequences? Is a philosophy of Indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue ? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experience harrowing upheavals?”
Wiesel’s questions to the executive and legislative arms of the US government and indeed the entire American people in 1999 goes straight to the heart of the crisis in Nigeria and resonates with Nigerians.
How long can our leaders be indifferent to the harrowing experience of folks being cut down by the bullets and cudgels of insurgents, violent bandits disguised as herdsmen and crushed by the hunger ensuing from their inability to ply their trade or engage in useful means of livelihood? That is the inconvenient query that our leaders must respond to urgently to avert the imminent danger that is threatening to explode in our face as a country.
Some analysts have drilled down the reluctance or reticence displayed by some of our leaders and the acquiescence of the authorities in Aso Rock Villa and National Assembly, NASS as well as the judicial arm of government with the dastardly crimes of the outlaws disguised as herdsmen to the fact that they are presumably the kinsmen of those in the commanding heights of the three major arms of government.
As such , the collective interests of Nigerians have been relegated, while giving priority to and accommodating the idiosyncrasies of the aggressive herders who in the past millennium had peacefully plied their trade ,but some of whom have now gone rogue by becoming merchants of death.
Although, the rampaging bandits,not excluding kidnappers and separatists in the south , have become such a blight and menace to the larger society by slowly but surely drawing our beloved country into a low tension war , the practice of animal husbandry through open grazing which is a pastoral system bequeathed on the herders by their forebears and a practice which has imperiled others that they share space with, needs to go with the wind. And it is within the purview of the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government, that have apparently been deaf, dumb and blind on the matter, to pass laws that would modernize the practice by introducing ranching or any other modern practice . That the crisis has been allowed to fester is a failure of imagination.
Now, imagine how many ranches could have been established in Sambisa forest and other forests around our country if the $1.5 billion dollars recently (mis)invested in the turn around maintenance of the moribund Port Harcourt refinery were applied in solving the herders-farmers crisis in order to stem the tide of violence which seems as vicious as a furious ogre hell bent on devouring Nigeria.
While sentimental attachments to ancestral beliefs and ways of life are understandable, some of such practices are antithetical to the harmonious co-existence with other members of society that also have similar rights. So it deserves to be at worse , jettisoned or at best, modified.
That’s because discarding old practices and adopting modern ways that are amenable or compliant with current dynamics of society are part of the change in life which should be embraced by all who don’t want to become fossils. It’s from the foregoing prism that the benefits of changing animal husbandry from the current nomadic practice to ranching which is more progressive and has more potentials for profitability and prosperity for herders should be considered. And l made that case in an essay titled: “Pastoralists And Farmers Conflicts In Nigeria’: Time For Fulani Capitalism, Not Herdsmen Terrorism“ an essay which l wrote and published in Vanguard newspaper of 15 February 2021 and also widely shared via online media platforms.