Very early in life, kids are warned never to play with fire because, as they are told and indisputably too, fire burns. The language of the caution is both literal and figurative. Sometimes, a kid really needs a bitter experience to drive home the message but, after that, he or she lives with frightening memory never to have a second encounter. Even a gown-up daring his finger into fire needs no alert to reverse.Worse still, he who defies common sense to jump from a balcony will be permanently disabled if at all alive to tell the story.
Like the kids or grown-up in these illustrations, Nigeria, or more specifically, we, as a people, are sleep-walking back to the same road through which we passed barely 50 years ago with all the attendant tragic consequences. The omens are frighteningly the same. Repeat of drums of war, which led to the collapse of the first republic, criminally partisan two successive earth-shaking military operations and inciting remarks/publications. Events leading to the current “touch and go” tension were unwarranted and avoidable. A section of Nigerians (mainly Fulani cattle herdsmen) pursued their daily bread at the expense of fellow citizens maintaining their landed property, especially farms. Suddenly, particular states, especially Plateau and Benue states, started recording mysterious fatal victims through arson, slaughter and executions by those suspected to be Fulani herdsmen. The killings were largely one-sided and followed the exact pattern by the Mau Mau terorists in the pro-independence campaigns in Kenya in the 1950s. Similarly, the culprits committed their crimes overnight leaving no clues except mere suspicion.
The helpless Benue State governor Sam Ortom had to rise in defence of his people by enacting a local law within his jurisdiction to control the operations of Fulani herdsmen and guarantee safety of residents of Benue State. The new law failed in the intended purpose of guaranteeing security of life and property of Benue residens. But, fortunately, the law exposed the Fulani herdsmen as the culprits of the mysterious Mau Mau-style murders in Benue State, with their open bluff not to comply with the law regulating cattle grazing in the state. And as if to sustain that vow to violate the law, Nigerians were alarmed not only by the dramatic rise in the killings numbering over 100 but also the spread of the murders committed by the Fulanis to states like Plateau, Adamawa, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo, Anambra, Imo, Taraba, Nasawa and even Niger. At that stage, Benue, Plateau and Taraba states quite rightly felt neglected by the Federal Government in favour of the Fulani herdsmen committing the ‘’Mau Mau” murders.
The situation was not helped by President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai to move two battalions (about 1,500 soldiers). Buhari also ordered Inspector-General of Policec Ibrahim Idris to relocate to Makurdi. Rather than improve the security situation, these two commands increased the killings in Kogi, Adamawa, Benue, Plateau and Taraba states. Meanwhile, public and media criticisms mounted on Buhari for not exhibiting concern over the mysterious killings by Fulani cattle rearers all over the country. By the time Buhari eventually visited, especially Benue and Taraba states, there were strange and shocking revelations. Governor Ortom said at government house or the Tor Tiv’s palace, that the the polic Inspector-General deserted his Commander-in-Chief’s posting to Makurdi after only a few hours. In response, Buhari explained that he was shocked by that information. In Taraba, Buhari was also informed that the Fulani murderers were always armed with AK-47 rifles for their criminal activities against unarmed farmers. Buhari then ordered on the spot that anybody unlawfully carrying AK-47 rifle should be arrested
On Buhari’s return to Abuja, he and IGP Idris met at Aso Rock, ostensibly to discuss, at least, why the command post at Makurdi was abandoned after a few hours and then without informing the C-in-C? How many other very junior officers could be allowed to breach such instruction without being disciplined? And to be fair, on finding the Makurdi postinfg abandoned, did Governor Ortom alert Buhari? If not, why not? Whichever, President Buhati owes Nigrtians full explanations because our fellow citizens were killed and continue to be killed by Fulani herdsmen needlessly. No interview with him (Buhari) will be complete or even objective without asking what happened to the posting to Makurdi and what action he took to avoid a repeat.
What is more, some criminal suspects allegedly involved in gun-running were lately reported to have escaped from police custody in Kogi State. Within hours, IGP Idris removed Commissioner of Police, Kogi State, Ali Janga. That is the standard discipline in the military and police. Failure to invoke that standard in the military and police’s handling of the criminal activities of the Fulani cattle rearers, especially where his direct instructions were both ignored or yielded no results rendered President Buhari vulnerable to pungent public criticisms for alleged partisanship. Of course, Buhari later warned service chiefs and commanders that any future breach in maintenance of security would attract sanctions for those concerned. That seeming tough stance is no more than unnecessary pampering of favoured officers. Otherwise, the sanction threat should have been invoked the moment instructions were ignored. Career in the armed forces creates no room for personal, religious, class, political or economic favouritism interests. The sole pursuit is national interests, especially in crisis situations. An officer performs or he is chucked out, no matter his status. After IGP Idris removed Commissioner Ali Janga, admittedly to pre-empt critical insinuations, other police commissioners will know what is at stake. Henceforth, Buhari too should hold his military officers to that standard in handling security in troubled areas throughout the country.
Does that, therefore, necessarily make former chief of army staff and ex-defence minister, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma, the macho man of these troubling times? Not in any way. Just as Buhari was putting his officers on notice for sanctions, in case of security breach, Danjuma made two major pronouncements that the army was partisan in handling Fulani cattle rearers criminally rampaging all over the country and that Nigerians under siege should defend themselves. The major extra in Danjuma’ observation is his distinguished status, which, whether the authorities like it or not, has now raised the Fulani cattle rearers’ row to a seeming decisive level. If the potential war declaration came from us insignificant Nigerians, Nigeria’s secret police would have invaded our abode at the dead of night to be whisked to Yellow House, Abuja. The captive might not be attended to for the first 12 hours. I had that engagement up to 10 times at their Awolowo Road, Lagos, fortress in Lagos more than 30 years ago. Therefore, the demand of the Sharia Council for Danjuma’s arrest is unwarranted and should be ignored. I have given my advice.
That said, there was nothing new in General Danjuma’s observation on the partisanship of the military during emergency operations. It is a disturbing criminal stain, which has been developed into some kind of legitimate culture. If we overlook the earl y days of the Nigerian Army, when we lost the best Nigerians in public life and even the arned forces (January and July 1966 as well as the civil war), we cannot, for purposes of fairness, ignore the peacetime partisanship of the military. Was the military fair to Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s family in 1978? Was the military fair to unarmed Odi villagers in Bayelsa State in 2000? Was the military fair in subduing the Tiv people of Zaki Biam to the advantage of their Jukun neighbours in their communal clash? Was the military not partisan in weakening Shiite Muslims for their Sunni rivals? What can we say of the Nigerian military in their regular pastime of mowing down unarmed Biafrans in any legitimate pursuit of the principle of self-determination recognised by United Nations? It hurts when security forces take sides or run riot during operations meant to protect the innocent/beleaguared. We must, therefore, speak for others rather than only when we are on the receiving end.
In an apparent desperation to escape Danjuma’s charge of partisanship, the Nigerian Army blaimed the Taraba State government for allegedly refusing to co-operate with the army. Was the way out for the army to abandon the innocent, the weak and unarmed to be murdered by crminal aggressors? Did the governments of Plateau, Anambra, Benue, Adamawa, Edo and Delta also refuse to co-operate with the army, such that caused large-sale and widespread murder of farmers by criminal Fulanis in these areas?
There are these two unpalatable options with which Nigerians are unduly intimidated in times of crisis. First , the very idea of Nigeria disintegrating as a result of ceaseless internal crisis after crisis. If so, for God’s sake, let it be a painless exercise. Mikhail Gorbachev performed that wonder in 1985 when, to the world’s astonishment, he dissolved the defunct Soviet Union into at least 15 republics. In 1993, Czekoslovakia, after a referendum, opted for mutual peaceful disintegration into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The original country was forcefully created as spoils of war by the world powers at the end of first World War in 1918.
The second option with which Nigerians are threatened in times of crisis by those counting on the army is a return to civil war, 50 years after the first civil war. Bad news awaits them.
The world has since moved on away from the crimes against humanity with which many combatants escaped. With the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, specially created to try war criminals, Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo as well as other war criminals from Rwanda, the Congo and Burundi are serving jail sentences in Netherlands for crimes against humanity. Blood-thirsty war-mongers in Nigeria must learn that lesson.
From the Yugoslavian civil war, Croatian General Slobodan Praljak pre-empted imminent sentence after trial by committing suicide with cyanide. Another war criminal, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic died of a heart attack while serving jail sentence for his part in the civil war.
Continued peaceful co-existence is, therefore, a better option for Nigerians although based on mutual respect and equal rights.