I have just been reading one of the most recently published books on the Biafran War in which Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon was quoted as saying, through his August 3, 1966 broadcast to the nation, that the basis for Nigeria’s unity no longer existed. Gowon was then Nigeria’s Head of State. His broadcast was fallout of the ominous events of the period. A revenge coup had just taken place in which Igbo military officers were systematically eliminated by their northern counterparts. Because Gowon, a lily-livered officer from the Middle Belt, could not but do the bidding of the northern oligarchs who controlled him, his government could not protect the defenceless Igbo officers. He could also not protect the Igbo civilian population in the north. An organised massacre otherwise known as pogrom carried out against the Igbo under the watch of Gowon saw to the elimination of about one million Igbo in the North. The result was the Biafran War in which a Gowon, who had earlier told the world that the basis for Nigeria’s unity no longer existed, suddenly declared that keeping Nigeria united was a task that must be done.
Ordinarily, we should be saying that the rest is now history. But we cannot. The wound is as fresh as ever. Gowon says he is now praying for the country, which he brought to its knees. That is hypocrisy at play. His occasional interjections on Biafra usually betray his private convictions. Gowon is, therefore, deceiving no one but himself with his prayer project.
We cannot also say that the events of January 1966 to January 1970 are now history because there has always been a constant playback of the insanity of the era. Nigeria has, from time to time, been engulfed by ethnic flames. Our governments, as pretentious as ever, have always papered over such developments. They have always made them appear as if they were isolated occurrences. But we know that such sectional strifes are a constant staple on Nigeria’s table.
The present security situation in the country clearly betrays and exposes the institutionalised pretences that successive governments in Nigeria have been taking us through. They have always told us that Nigeria is a great country of diverse peoples, who have great faith in the entity. We may not quarrel with this romantic and paradisal portrayal of Nigeria. After all, it is not a crime to engage in mental flights. But when we refuse to face reality, then we have ourselves to blame for the lack and loss that it may bring about.
We have seen Boko Haram insurgency for what it is – a murderous quest by Islamic fundamentalists to extend the frontiers of Islam in Nigeria. The affront has cost Nigeria so much in human and material terms. Yet, the misguided religious zealots have not come anywhere close to realising their objectives. The insurgency has remained a northern phenomenon. Boko Haram has no foothold anywhere in southern Nigeria.
But it would appear that whatever Boko Haram has failed to achieve in the South, the Fulani herdsmen have undertaken to accomplish. I did say in this column a fortnight ago that we should be imaginative a bit in this matter. We should stop to ask why herdsmen, who have been roaming the length and breath of Nigeria for years on end have suddenly become a problem. Is cattle-rearing a new phenomenon in Nigeria? We know it is not. So, why has it suddenly become a blight in the land? We should ponder this question.
I suspect, as I hinted earlier, that Fulani herdsmen have undertaken to accomplish a task, which Boko Haram, for logistical reasons, could not broach. The recent activities of Fulani herdsmen in southern Nigeria is suggestive of insurgency. It is Boko Haram in a different form and shape. And the target is to infiltrate the South of the country, which the conventional Boko Haram could not penetrate. That is the way it starts.
As always, the victims of the brand new insurgency represented by the activities of the herdsmen are crying for help. They are looking up to the Nigerian government to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the people – that of protection of life and property. But like the government of Yakubu Gowon before it, the government of Muhammadu Buhari is looking on while a section of the country is being gradually decimated. Our government has not expressed any interest or concern in the matter. Like the Gowon government before it, the government of the day is, probably, waiting for the oppressed and persecuted to react with equal measure and aggression. When they do, government will then have an excuse, an opportunity to take sides on the matter.
As I noted earlier, that is how it starts. The dark clouds are gathering. The pretenders to the throne of Nigeria’s unity are looking on. They are waiting for the shove to become a push so that they can remind us that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. Such hypocrisy. Such double standard. It is for reasons, such as this that Nigeria has continued to crawl when it should be walking tall.
I am beginning to have a sense of ominous foreboding, following the gruesome massacre that has just taken place in Enugu State. Imagine this story. Defenceless and unsuspecting villagers were swooped upon in the dead of the night by Fulani herdsmen and slaughtered like cows. The mayhem claimed scores of lives. It saw many buildings, including churches, razed and burnt. After the wanton destruction, the herdsmen have returned to their base, obviously getting ready for another murderous attack.
So far, we have not heard from our government. It has not taken a position on the matter. The Department of State Services (DSS), which has been carrying out an inquisition in Abia State, has not spoken. It may not have heard about the massacre of the Enugu villagers by Fulani herdsmen.
The situation really rankles. Here, we are talking about the massacre of people in their ancestral land. We are not talking about migrant Igbo, who always fall victim in foreign lands. In this case, the people are being uprooted from their homes. They are being driven into exile. Then you ask: Is anyone imagining that these villagers do not have the capacity to defend themselves against the onslaught of the herdsmen? The answer is simple. They have the capacity to engage the herdsmen in a bloody combat. We have been told that the herdsmen are usually armed to the teeth with sophisticated assault rifles. But no one has stopped to ask how they procure these arms. Who armed these herdsmen and for what purpose?
Since it is right and proper for Fulani herdsmen to bear arms without question, it is equally right and proper for other Nigerians to bear arms. Those at the receiving end now may resort to this option to protect themselves. Since government is not interested in protecting them, they have no choice but to protect themselves. That is in line with the truism that self-preservation is the first law of nature. When this begins to happen, the situation will become that of everyone for himself and the devil will certainly take the last man. The last man in our context here is the Nigerian state. The pretenders have, at every turn, sounded so protective of the Nigerian state. Yet, they are the worst enemies of its oneness. Their studied silence in situations, such as the Enugu massacre, speaks volumes. They are singing a requiem for Nigeria.