If vengeance is divine, defence is human
Last week, after what seemed like forever, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka seized the centre stage. This time, he wore the right costumes and there was no ambivalence on the part of the audience. His statement on the Southern Kaduna religious killings resonated in all critical circles. It all sounded as if the Prof was back from hibernation. He remodeled a popular line from President Buhari on corruption into his. In a do-or-die tone, Soyinka said that religion would kill Nigeria if Nigeria did not kill it.
In truth, there are many monsters threatening to annihilate the Nigerian state of which only corruption and religion have been identified by Buhari and Soyinka. But underlying all the threatening killers is injustice. That is what will surely kill Nigeria if other killers fail.
On Southern Kaduna, for instance, there was a gruesome attack by one side against a defenceless side and lives were lost. I mean irreplaceable human lives. However, what became a bigger issue in the narrative that followed was not the fact that people were killed in cold blood even if it was just one man or woman, but determination of the actual number killed as if the killers had been listed for medals and there was need to quantify each killer’s exploits in the collective orgy for purposes of ranking their awards.
Inexplicably, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotum Idris who could not protect the killed from the killers even under a 24-hour curfew in Kaduna State, had the presence of mind to process the scenes of the attack and return with a report that fatalities were not as high as claimed by the Kaduna State branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). And about three weeks after the renewed attacks on indigenes of Southern Kaduna, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) did its own profiling last Friday and put the figure of deaths at 204.
Painfully, figures and not the sanctity of human life were being discussed and I know why. The attacks were by suspected Muslims against Christians. This is where Prof. Soyinka comes in actually. He thinks it is religion that is making Nigerian leaders to lose their humanity and discuss the impact of life loss in quantitative terms. The Northern Islamic establishment including, quite unfortunately, the Presidency and the Kaduna State Government, is struggling to make the killing of hundreds of people and complete obliteration of Christian settlements in Southern Kaduna look like the normal challenges of ethno-religious diversity. In fact, a presidential spokesman had described the killings as any other matter to underscore the point that the crazy schedule of the President of Nigeria is such that he is less able to react to every matter, including mass murder of defenceless citizens by armed citizens.
There have been other misguided comments to confuse the central issue of pre-meditated annihilation of innocent Nigerians with the events of 2011 when the loss was reportedly heavier on the Fulani side in the aftermath of the violence that marked that year’s presidential election. The recent Southern Kaduna killings are therefore, being explained by the other side as reprisals to avenge Fulani losses in 2011. This is short of saying that the killers acted out of sufficient provocation, surprisingly nursed over five years, and something that could be cited as “extenuating circumstance” by the defence counsel in the criminal charges ahead, if any ever comes up concerning this matter.
Until another commentator mentioned it, I did not know that the entire global landmass had been surveyed, charted and substantial parts allocated to herdsmen as international grazing paths over which they have unquestionable rights including, perhaps, the right to kill encroachers. The fellow posited that there are international conventions that give right of way to nomads across the globe, from one country to another which in effect, makes the nomad including the Fulani specie, a citizen without borders.
I see this as a mindset of the larger Huasa/Fulani establishment manifesting in destructive measures in the herdsman. It also fits into the second narrative of religious/cultural imperialism of the Islamic oligarchy. That is, to use the canopy of the protection of grazing rights to expand the frontiers of the Hausa/Fulani culture and the Islamic faith. It explains perhaps why the new crop of herdsmen take along with them automatic weapons instead of knifes and sticks. If the average cost of an AK-47 assault rifle is N400,000, such a luxury item cannot constitute part of the casual accessories of the Fulani herdsman without a big financier in the background.
All of this could be mere conjecture anyway. But it has been reinforced into a mainstream thinking in the Southern part of the country largely because of the inability of the Northern establishment to do the right communication and promptly too. At crossroads and when there are thick doubts as to whether the northern and southern ends of the country share the same aspirations, leaders up north have always come out late to say very little too to create assurances.
Even now, after so much had gone under the bridge, it was only late last week that former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar rallied a few leaders, including the Sultan of Sokoto, across the geo-religious divide for a seeming ‘road show’ on peace and unity in Nigeria. These people usually talk about peace and unity as if it is something to be created in a laboratory by manipulation. Peace and Unity on whose terms? Is it on the terms of the Fulani herdsman, the Fulani irredentist, the majority tribes or the over-burdened minority elements? And so, what is lacking in all the proposals for peace in Nigeria is the sincerity and courage to stand such proposals on the domain of justice.
The Nigerian State holds a wrong definition of peace as absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of justice and it has no other definition. Buhari wants peace in Southern Kaduna, the Niger Delta, Southeast and all troubled spots in the country without an accompanying package of justice. In the ongoing rhetoric on Southern Kaduna, justice is hardly mentioned. The peace seekers just want peace anyhow. The victims are not impressed and they are being pushed to build arguments to support claims that the killers who are alleged Fulani herdsmen are enjoying official protection. They want to road to peace to start with the arrest, prosecution and punishment of the killers.
Last week also, things turned full cycle for President Buhari. In May 2000, Buhari had stormed Government House, Ibadan to demand explanation from then Oyo State governor Lam Adesina why Adesina’s people (Yoruba) were killing Buhari’s people (Fulani). This followed a fracas between Yoruba and Fulani elements in the state during which the latter were reportedly killed. The question last week was why Buhari who was quick at reacting to the 2000 Oyo killings took all the time to even acknowledge the magnitude of the Southern Kaduna carnage?
So far, I have refused to believe that religion is at the heart of the Nigerian problem. If however I am wrong and the Prof is correct, I will suggest that aspects of the Christian theology be amended immediately to contain the exigencies of the moment. Agreed revenge belongs to God but defence is not the same as revenge. The idea of waiting to be slaughtered like Salah ram and then put the responsibility of protection on God is not even scriptural. Christians must get more proactive and then ask God to ensure their victory over Satan.
And before the descent into escapism and docile rationalization, I want to add that the martyrs of old were completely helpless against the forces railed against them. It is not so with the subsisting generation of Christians who are even better equipped to stage wars. To do nothing therefore and lament while so-called jihadists maim and kill Christians in Southern Kaduna and elsewhere cannot be said to be the purpose of God. The lethargy that makes Christians sacrificial lambs in the hands of killers by whatever description is theirs and not in any way part of the divine code.