By Azuka Onwuka
The past week filled me with sadness and anxiety. We went into the week still talking about the massacre in Agatu village in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen the previous week. Some newspapers reported that about 300 villagers in Agatu were killed. Gory pictures of children hacked to death filled the cyberspace. Most houses in the community were destroyed and burnt, making the town look like a war zone.
The Ese Oruru abduction and forced marriage and conversion broke over the weekend and caused some outrage and indignation. While it seemed to be ending on a somewhat happy note with her release, it was reported that she was five-months pregnant.
By Monday, there was breaking news of the abduction of three girls at night from Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, Ikorodu, Lagos. By midweek, a crisis broke out in the Mile 12 area of Lagos between the Yoruba and the Hausa. Some papers reported that as many as 10 people were killed, some of them little children. Houses, shops, churches, cars and other items were burnt. Some of the victims were even killed by being set ablaze.
A day after, another video surfaced, alleging that a community in the Orile, Lagos area was destroyed, with at least one person killed, in another Hausa-Yoruba clash.
A sad angle to these incidents was that in the Mile 12 crisis, some media houses and individuals alleged that security forces, who were drafted to quell the crisis took sides, empowered one of the sides to wreak more havoc on the community.
A few days after the killings in Agatu, the Benue State Police Commissioner, Mr. Paul Yakadi, was quoted as saying that 5,000 cows and armed herdsmen were occupying the community. It was also reported that after the presidential directive that the Agatu crisis be investigated, the killings continued. This implies that for such a large scale crisis, the Federal Government of Nigeria did not deem it important to immediately send soldiers and policemen there to keep the peace. It was also curious that President Muhammadu Buhari would be talking about “investigating” the cause of a crisis that claimed hundreds of lives rather than ensuring that troops were promptly sent there to stop the carnage. Investigation can only start when order has been restored in a community.
Compare government’s reaction to the iron fist with which the Shia Muslims and Indigenous People of Biafra were treated for purportedly “blocking the way”, which led to the killing of many members of the two groups.
What keeps gnawing at my mind is: “Why is the life of a Nigerian so cheap that it can be terminated on the flimsiest of reasons?” In other climes, when a crisis that leads to the killing of two or more people occurs, the security agents are brought in immediately, the whole nation stands still and mourns, the President immediately suspends all his programmes and visits the scene to reassure the community that the nation cares about them. But, in Nigeria, 100 or 500 people can be killed with no word from the Presidency nor a visit to the scene.
A Nigerian leader will promptly send a letter of condolence to another President for the death of a few people in that country, but he will not even comment on the death of a larger number of people in his own country or visit the scene of the incident. This has been our fate since time immemorial. The Nigerian life means almost nothing, unless it is that of a very important personality. These are some of the reasons that make many Nigerians not to show the same level of patriotism as the citizens of other countries.
The nation is also doing little to unite the different ethnic groups and religions. It is said that blood is thicker than water to underscore the primacy of family relationship and loyalties over other considerations. In 1914 Nigeria the Northern Protectorate and Southern Protectorate were amalgamated by Lord Frederick Lugard to form one big country called Nigeria. After living together as one nation for over 100 years, Nigerians should have started seeing themselves as one big family where the bond of family will be strong. But that does not seem to be the case.
The ethnic divides are still as wide as a gorge. In a market, for example, a little misunderstanding between two people of the same ethnic group may lead to an exchange of words or even physical fight and nothing more, but if the two people are from two different ethnic groups (especially from the North and South), that same “little” misunderstanding may snowball into a crisis that will claim the lives of many people. Government will talk about “getting to the root of the crisis,” but nobody will be tried or punished for the deaths and vandalism. A few months later, a similar crisis will erupt in another part of the country over another trivial issue that a dialogue can resolve.
It used to be said that it is only football that unites Nigerians. But there is another issue upon which Nigerians agree. That issue is homosexuality. Anytime it is the topic of discussion, people from all the ethnic groups, religions, political parties and social classes unite in opposition to it. But on any other issue, there is hardly any consensus. That is why once issues like fiscal federalism, quota system, federal character, underage marriage, creation of states, rotational presidency, ranching of cows, government sponsorship of religious pilgrimages, etc, are raised, Nigerians become divided along ethnic lines, with no part ready to shift an inch.
The nation also sustains that division by ensuring that every government document a Nigerian fills has spaces for ‘state of origin’, ‘local government of origin’, and perhaps ‘religion’. These ensure that Nigerians are not first seen as Nigerians but members of one ethnic group or the other. At every turn in their lives, Nigerians are reminded by the government that they are different from each other. Recruitment, admissions, and appointments are also done based on state of origin.
Ethnic mistrust may be tolerated but shedding of blood because of ethnic differences is inexcusable. Human life is priceless and irreplaceable. It is a double whammy to bear the havoc of the Boko Haram, while herdsmen become another threat to life, property and peace.
The Agatu incident was not the first. And it may not be the last. It had happened many times in Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Gombe, Benue, Kogi, Enugu, etc. The belief that the Fulani tradition of moving cattle from place to place, sometimes through people’s farms, is a way of life that cannot be altered is not in tandem with the dynamism of culture. My forefathers had a tradition that twins were an abomination and must be thrown away or calamity would befall the community. It was stopped. Imagine my generation insisting that the Igbo culture does not allow twins and then resorting to arms to resist any people that attempt to stop us from throwing away twins.
Furthermore, one of the reasons the milk companies give for not using the milk from Nigerian cows is that it is of low quality because the cows are attacked by tsetse flies as a result of being moved from place to place. But ranching would make the milk and meat richer and bigger because the cows can be protected against tsetse flies and other diseases. So the Fulani herdsmen will make more money and have more peace by ranching.
These frequent ethnic clashes that result in death and destruction of property are inexcusable. They destroy our image. Government must also be alive to its responsibility of protecting lives and property.
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