Pictures of dead bodies in Sokoto being loaded into trucks for mass burial hit a raw nerve within me. Sokoto, seems to me as one of the relatively peaceful States in northern Nigeria. But not anymore. Scores were killed, without any resistance from any kind of security structure, at the national or sub national level. And so, Nigeria seems to be turning into one huge mass grave.
Zamfara has consistently been a war zone for the better part of the last thirty six months. At a point, according to Senator Kabir Marafa, who represents the state at the Senate; Zamfara became an occupied territory, occupied by militias who were as bloodthirsty as they were unrelenting. It is to the eternal shame of its Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, that he is the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, an ambiguous body that has neither focus, direction, nor relevance. When the killings in Zamfara got quite unbearably high, Yari finally summoned courage to speak out, asking bereaved residents to pray unto God. He didn’t tell residents to hold him accountable for his inaction, partly due to the fact that sparking a debate on the killings may rub off negatively on the President; a man whose second term ambition is the most important project presently which mustn’t be derailed.
Herdsmen, who have always been regarded as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world, are living up to their billing. Almost unhinged, they have carried out mass killings in many parts of Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi. Thousands have been killed in the so-called “Farmers-Herders clashes”, but which look anything but a “clash”, rather, resembling a premeditated orgy of fatal violence being meted out in pursuance of a land grab agenda and ethnic nationalism drive.
Killings of innocent persons on a large scale didn’t start today. It started with Boko Haram, a bloodthirsty group that sought implementation of strict Shari’a in parts of the North. At least, we knew that was a war. A war on terror that rightly attracted global attention. At some points, a state of emergency was even declared in the most affected States. Death tolls were depressing, but the were sadly expected. And we all looked forward to the end of the crisis. But while Boko Haram attacks have gladly receded, it seemed fatalities have just refused to go. People are still being killed continuously.
The tragic thing about the bloodshed we are grappling with now is that, while it is going on unabated, there is denial at the highest levels of authority on whether it is happening at all in the first place. Just the way Goodluck Jonathan pussyfooted in the moments immediately after the mysterious kidnap of Chibok girls, leading to a heavy cloud of denials and uncertainty hanging over the entire scenario, the Buhari administration has refused to admit that the killings going on in the country is abnormal, and that it requires a tough approach.
The reluctance of the Buhari government in dealing decisively with herdsmen attacks has given oxygen to conspiracy theories that, not only does the President approve of the killings, he is actually vigorously pursuing a Fulani nationalist agenda through herdsmen. The president has done very little to quench the fire of such propaganda. Rather, by his utterances, reactions and body language, President Buhari has given the killers every reason to believe they can go ahead without inhibition, as security forces are rarely deployed against them. As a matter of fact, the president’s security structure often take up the unpaid role of spokespersons for herdsmen.
Perhaps, the greatest tragedy of the Buhari administration is the unfortunate normalization of the gruesome killings going on in parts of the country. During the thick of the Boko Haram crisis, every report of bomblasts or death tolls sent chills down our spine. Protests, both offline, and online, were spontaneous reactions to the killings. We all thought it was abnormal that our country could become a hotbed of terror, a bad advertisement for all citizens. We tried to force the government to do the right thing: end the killings, or step aside. It was an apparent decider in the election of 2015. However, things have changed.
The online protests have ceased. The streets are carrying on as normal. We know people can become protest-weary, but our problem isn’t that we are protest-weary. We are simply told to see the killings as normal. The newspaper headlines are silent on deaths of innocent citizens. There is a quiet normalization of the murders. When we scream about it, we are told to stop heating the polity. When we keep screaming anyway, we are called politicians. What’s worse? The presidency even goes as far as claiming we shouldn’t shed hypocritical tears about the killings by herdsmen as more people died under several tragic circumstances under the previous administration.
So, we are required to sit down, and accept the deaths in good fate. We all would die one day anyway. So, we shouldn’t see the deaths of people in the middle belt, whose time has simply come, as anything unusual. And, as the defence minister also said, if we keep blocking the routes of grazing cattle, do we in our right senses assume we wouldn’t be killed? And, as Femi Adesina brilliantly opined, if we get tired of open grazing, shouldn’t we consider that donating our ancestral lands to herdsmen for ranching is better than allowing them kill us?
So, we know what to do to avoid the swords of the herdsmen. And if we refuse to do it, and they strike, we are to blame. Getting outraged over deaths we caused in the first place then, is sheer hypocrisy.
This is Nigeria. Sadly.