By Abimbola Adelakun
President Muhammadu Buhari was quick to condole with Belgium over the unconscionable terrorist attack it suffered on Monday but one should not take his concern for humanitarianism. It was a verbal photo op – or voice op, if you like – by a President who wants to be counted among globally visible leaders. If Buhari genuinely believed in the worth of lives, he would have paid attention to the repugnant violence happening on his watch, the latest being the massacre of the Agatus of Benue State.
Days after that vile act, the President’s spokesperson, Mallam Garba Shehu, released a press statement that expressed simple “shock” at the incident. The statement was carefully worded to say nothing – it avoided any self-commitment and lacked a resolve. In fact, merely sending his voice through a proxy – rather than addressing the nation on the issue – showed how casual Buhari was about the affair.
In the statement, Buhari promised they would “act immediately” (even though days had passed since the incident happened) and added that they would “conduct an investigation to know exactly what happened” because “the only way to bring an end to the violence once and for all is to look beyond one incident and ascertain exactly what factors are behind the conflicts. Then he added, “Once the investigations are concluded, we will act immediately to address the root of the problem.”
The press statement itself smacks of administrative reticence and overall, a moral cowardice. We are talking about the massacre of whole communities and the man who took an oath to defend the life of every Nigerian says he is looking for the root of the problem? By claiming to search for “root causes” (which are not exactly obscure, mind you) Buhari makes it seem the mass killings are merely incidental to a more fundamental cause elsewhere. Even if the Agatus were personally responsible for any of the causes of grazing issues – for instance, climate change – they are in no way deserving of such brutal fate.
Why bring up a quest for “root causes” when you are faced with the more urgent task of confronting their killers and subjecting them to justice? By raising the issue of “root causes” Buhari merely distracts from the crime and seeks to etiolate the gravity of the violence by reducing it to an abstraction. That, in itself, is another form of violence against the Agatus. What good was that point of finding “root causes” and “looking beyond (that) one incident”? What is so painful and unbearable about sighting the decomposing corpses on the ground that they are in a hurry to “look beyond” them? This is like someone committing grievous murder and the Police Chief saying he will look beyond this “one incident” and find the root causes of psychopathy!
One of my biggest problems with former President Goodluck Jonathan was his accommodating attitude towards evil. He just could never summon enough adrenalin to act on anything. From the Ombaatse killings to Baga massacre, to Chibok abductions, to the mindless evils of Boko Haram, he was content to merely issue demoralising press releases to “condemn” the violence, set up a committee and let Nigerians exhaust themselves waiting for decisive actions to accompany his inaction. Buhari has not displayed a stronger will than Jonathan. As a matter of fact, he seems to be reading from his playbook. Jonathan was quick to condole with France when terrorists attacked them. Yet, at the same time, Boko Haram was ravaging parts of Nigeria and you never heard “pim” from him.
Since Buhari became President, we have seen the extrajudicial killings of pro-Biafran protesters treated as if it was of no consequence. When the President was asked during an Al Jazzera interview to watch the video of the protesters being murdered, he stoutly refused. He would not deign to let his much-vaunted incorruptible conscience be stained with their blood. When he had the opportunity to address the killing of the Shiites too, he left no reasonable person confused that he had already prejudged the issue and the gory details do not bother him. To Buhari, those Shiites gave up their right to life the moment they tested the will of security agents with their recalcitrance. Nothing about his unmeditated responses suggests he ran his thoughts on the treadmill of democratic ethos. If Buhari’s anti-graft war is truly about finding and punishing those who have reduced the quality of Nigerian lives through their greed and thieving tendencies, why is he acting so lacklustre when those same lives are being directly destroyed and more so, in such a brutal manner?
There is a part of me that seriously wonders what President Buhari meant when he talked about the “root of the problem.” That there is a background story to the massacre we are unaware of and which makes the fate of the Agatus somehow justifiable? Or, that justice for the dead in Nigeria is an improbability and is therefore more realistic to focus on resolving other issues? If the question of finding root causes becomes necessary, it should be the Nigerian state reflecting on the level of its weakened ethical structure such that some people can inhabit their own moral universe.
Please, note that the Fulani herdsmen who are alleged to have carried out these acts have not denied their involvement. Rather, they have sought to justify it, in interview after interview. One time, it was because they were avenging the death of their livestock. Another time, they dug up the death of their tribal chief in 2013 that was left unredressed. What they have not done so far is deny their own crime. Ironically, it is the agents of the state that have been helping them play down their heavy-handed brutishness and brutality.
The evasiveness in Buhari’s statement percolates to other arms of government. The Inspector-General of Police, Soloman Arase, has talked about “holistic” measures to stop massacres caused by Fulani herdsmen.
One time, he claimed the attacks were carried out by non-Nigerians who, unexplainably, managed to penetrate the country. Another time, he claimed to have been to Benue State but did not see so many dead bodies. Nothing he has said so far betrayed that he has a real clue. With so much power invested in him, the best he could offer in return was wring his helpless hands about a horrible crime he is impotent to redress.
Whatever Buhari’s current stand on the Agatu killings, it is important this is not merely cast into the bottomless bog of Nigeria’s blood-soaked existence for at least two reasons: One, if the Fulani herdsmen get away with this, they will move further down south. Already, they have been committing atrocities in parts of South-East and there is no telling how more emboldened they will get.
Two, for once, the mindless violence in Nigeria needs to begin to be redressed. There have been too many acts of violence and the blood of victims will not stop crying from under the ground. To put a stop to these kinds of killings, or just strengthen the ethical foundations of our society, it is imperative we do more than tell murderers to go and sin no more.
Senator David Mark, who was attacked when he made an onsite visit, should lead the initiative to fight for his people and retrieve their dignity. He needs not join the tribe of disempowered citizens who simply beat one palm against the other to wonder what the world was coming to. He has the various forms of capital needed to push this case forward. If Nigeria continues to act blind, he should involve international human rights agencies who can compel Nigeria to act. It took “foreign attention” like this to finally rouse Jonathan from his lethargy on Chibok girls. Maybe, it will help Buhari to begin to mind his own business, right at home, and not be flying around the world.