Following the backlash of the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to Nigerian security forces to shoot-at-sight anyone carrying AK47 assault rifles in the forests-a weapon which herders now sling over their shoulders with reckless abandon, (instead of the sticks and knives that the Fulani herdsmen usually arm themselves with) Mr President is now caught in a Catch-22 position because of the contradictions.
This may very well be a classical case of, if you speak, you are dammed, if you don’t speak, you are equally damned.
That is because having not made any declarative utterance on the matter of herdsmen killing, presumably because of his affinity to the Fulani (some of whom are being fingered for the vagrancy) until it had assumed a pandemic dimension, he was massively criticized for his long silence. And now that he has decided to act by giving security agencies the order to shoot-at-sight any AK47 carrying person in the forests, as conveyed last Wednesday by his spokesman, Garba Shehu, he is still being criticised.
The thumbs down obviously stems from the fact that the directive which is so far the closest direct involvement or intervention in the farcical and fratricidal crime of herdsmen killing by Mr President may be considered by his critics as too little too late as the crisis has degenerated. The mindset of those that are of the belief that the conflict has reached an abysmal level justify their position with the videos of innocent farmers and villagers recently killed by suspected herdsmen with their homes and farms burnt down and the reprisal actions of the lynching of herdsmen for allegedly murdering the innocent farmers also in videos that have surfaced in the social media.
Not since the civil war (1967-70) did Nigeria descend so lowly to the level of savagery currently being witnessed.
In protest of the jungle justice meted out to the alleged purveyors of violence that are predominantly from the north-the source of most staple food in Nigeria – the supply of food to the south from the north had been blocked by those sympathetic to those lynched. However, shortly after, reason prevailed and the blockade was removed.
Ordinarily, the conflict needn’t escalate to the extent of bloodletting and the imposition of a trade embargo. But that is what could happen when the leadership at any given time does not make concerted efforts to douse the fire in combustible situations before they spread and cause more damage in the polity.
The government in power should have intervened long ago by enforcing the law which forbids nonmilitary personnel from bearing arms. But it did not until the complete breakdown of law and order in Oyo state and environs.
The incendiary comments by the duo of Bala Mohamed, and Isa Yuguda, past and present governors of Bauchi State to the effect that cattle herders had the right to carry AK47 assault rifles to defend themselves against rustlers and that the Fulani herdsmen shouldn’t be hindered from roaming all the forests in Nigeria, amounted to pouring fuel into a burning furnace. On the contrary, the peacemaker approach by the trio of former head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar, Nasir el-Rufai, Kaduna State governor, and Abdulahi Ganduje, Kano State governor by appealing to the feuding parties that they should hold their peace as alternative grazing arrangements that would modernise the practice of animal husbandry is being made, restored peace and calmed frayed nerves.
Thankfully, both the present and former governors of Bauchi State have also retracted their provocative comments which contravened the law of the land that forbids unauthorised people from bearing arms and criminalizes people who forcefully grab other people’s land. And it is to the credit of those at the helms of the security architecture at the centre -most likely at the instance of Minister of Defense, Gen Bashir Magashi and National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Babagana Mongonu that the highly volatile situation has been brought under control.
Hopefully, the successful quenching of the potential inferno penultimate week would be permanent as it would be in the best interest of all Nigerians, herders and farmers alike, as well as Christians and Muslims to maintain the peace in order to sustain the potentially great country that our forebears bequeathed to us.
It is a no brainer and therefore commonsensical to presume that permanent peace between herders and farmers in our country can only come about when justice and equity are applied in the resolution of the crisis which is now a cankerworm of sorts eating away at the fabrics of our society.
Prior to the current directive to the security agencies to shoot-to-kill, president Buhari’s media aids had been issuing statements on his behalf labelling those engaged in the orgy of killing unarmed Nigerians under the guise of being herdsmen, as cowardly and ungodly. The problem with such a diatribe is that it is counterproductive, especially as the arsonist never made any claim to being heroes or pretend to be priests. As such, calling them cowards or making moralistic appeal to their conscience could never sway them from engaging in the dastardly acts that they seem hell bent on perpetuating in order to impose their extremist beliefs or kill and maim Nigerians by unleashing violence on them in order to cow us into submitting to their whims and caprices.
So, the application of moral suasion by president Buhari’s spokespersons have been roundly condemned as ineffective, puerile and of no value simply because the outlaws are not known to have conscience which their moralizations and preachments could prick.
While the rhetoric from the presidency lasted for the better part of the past five years, more Nigerians were being sent to their early graves courtesy of the villains who can best be described as nefarious ambassadors that have become unhinged in their nihilistic enterprise in spite of the moralizations from the presidency each time they struck.
Even, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, has retreated from being the mourner-in-chief, a label or toga derived from the fact that he was always leading federal government delegations to offer platitudes to the family members of slain victims of the reckless bloodhounds disguised as cattle herders. Perhaps as the killings have become too frequent and his words of commiseration have become too hollow, he has decided to abdicate from the role.
Now, there are best and worst case scenarios for president Buhari’s shoot-at-sight order as conveyed through his spokesman, Garba Shehu.
In as much as the carte Blanche order to shoot-at-sight anyone wielding deadly weapons in the forests by president Buhari, (who is also the Commander-In-Chief (C-on-C) of the Armed Forces of Nigeria) has resulted in significant reduction in the open carriage of arms by herdsmen, the drastic measure can be said to have had a positive effect. But that’s where the best case scenario ends. And that’s simply because the presidential shoot-at-sight order is susceptible to abuse.
It is especially so because of the religious and clannish divide presently suspected to be seeping into the military, which hordes of Nigerian commentators have alluded to and decried as potentially being the worst case scenario in the dangerous presidential directive.
Wittingly or unwittingly, the decision is now a malaise and possibly a case of the cure being worse than the disease, if the statement credited to the highly respected Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi is credible.
It may be recalled that the cleric was reported as having reinforced or accentuated the Muslim -Non Muslim divide in the military and country at large, when in the cause of his ongoing interactions with the outlaws in their forest bases (in the bid to secure repentance from them) he allegedly told the insurgents that it is not the Muslim members of the Nigerian military forces that are killing them. And that it is the non-Muslim soldiers that are shooting to kill them.
If indeed the Sheikh really made the divisive comment attributed to him (as such, a dichotomy actually exists in the military) one can only imagine that the Muslim soldiers would be flouting the presidential order to shoot to kill arms bearing bandits in the forests by refraining from shooting fellow Muslims even when they are found to be bearing arms illegally as directed by Mr President.
Not only that.
Muslim soldiers may also feel obliged to sabotage the non-Muslims in their efforts to plot the routing of Islamic insurgents by divulging vital tactical information to the outlaws that are Muslims, thus thwarting the plans by President Buhari to wipe out the scourge of insecurity that has put majority of Nigerians in harm’s way thereby blighting his reign in office with severe consequential dent to his legacy.
It is quite relieving that Sheikh Gumi has repudiated the claim by explaining that what transpired was twisted by taking his dialogue with the insurgents out of context.
His rebuttal appears to be plausible because as a self-appointed peace broker, how would he be pitching the outlaws who are predominantly Muslims against non-Muslims in the military to help his mission or cause of gaining amnesty from the government for them? Based on the logic above, l would like to give the respected Sheikh the benefit of doubt.
More so these days of application of sophisticated information technology software to amplify, twist and superimpose voices and videos. In my reckoning, it is not beyond those who are intent on setting our beloved country ablaze to adopt or employ all evil means to ignite or stoke the firestorm of ethnic conflicts that could result in conflagrations around the country.
Given the sensitivity of the issue of religion which is underpinned and validated by the German sociologist and economic theorist, Karl Marx’s description of religion as the Opium of the People: the potential or likely lack of unity of purpose in the military driven by loyalty to religion would clearly endanger the lives of soldiers (most likely non-Muslims) who may be put in harm’s way when the enemy (bandits) knows of attack plans ahead of their execution through tip-offs by fellow Muslims in the military that may be susceptible to being swayed by the pandering to religious sentiments than the order given by the (C-in-C) President Muhammadu Buhari.
So the wrong notion of non-Muslims being the ones killing the Muslim insurgents must be nipped in the bud before it assumes or takes on a life of its own.
That’s perhaps why the military has in a press release by the director of army public relations, Brigadier General Mohamed Yerima strongly rejected the notion that the military has been infected by the virus of sectarianism.
It may be recalled that it is the lack of integrity in the sharing of critical and coded information about troop movements, tactics and strategy that was given as the reason for the disengagement by the United States Army contingent that was offering military assistance to the Nigerian troops combating the insurgents.
The decision to discontinue the relationship followed their accusation of members of Nigerian military of the crime of leaking strategic information to Boko Haram and ISWAP.
Generally, disunity and disharmony stemming from lack of trust amongst military service men and women, especially those in the frontline negatively impact ability to be at their optimum performance levels. It is in the bid to avoid such compromises that could lead to unnecessary loss of lives in the battle field, that the military in the Western world-USA, UK – instituted a rule against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) members of the force fighting alongside straight men and women in uniform. That is because of the suspicion that both the LGBT and straight officers and men may not be on the same page most of the time which is a necessity in the war front.
It is from a similar prism that in Nigeria, the risk inherent in the fanning of the embers of religion in the military could have fatal effects in its ability to defeat insurgents, flush out bandits disguised as genuine herdsmen and keep the peace.
Also, with a plethora of state or regional security outfits such as Civilian JTF in the north and AMOTEKUN in the south west, as well as Eastern Security Network, springing up in the south east to fill the gap or void left by the lack of state police (which is overdue) the religious and ethnic cleavages in the military can work at cross purposes by deliberately or mistakenly shooting-at-sight of members of the aforementioned informal security or vigilante outfits in what may later be described as friendly fire with calamitous aftermath.
Worse of all, although the dreaded SARS – the police formation that our youths recently protested against for their crookedness has been disbanded, the President’s shoot-at-sight directive would be a good cover to set up their victims, after extortion, then shoot them to death and then plant firearms in their cars or homes as evidence against the victims and alibi for the crooked security operative. And it would be in compliance with Mr President’s order.
Against the backdrop of the scenarios painted above, President Buhari is clearly in a no-win situation as the solution he is proffering (shoot-at-sight of anyone bearing arms illegally in the forests) may indeed further inflame and deepen the crisis. That’s if the unscrupulous elements in the armed forces take the laws into their hands by jettisoning the military or police ethos of respecting human rights and exercising restraint of shooting only if threatened.
My suspicion is that President Buhari might have been pressured to give the directive of shoot- at-sight any Ak47 bearing person in the forest following the deluge of references to the deft moves which ex -president Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ had made at the inception of his administration in 1999. To scupper the potentials of Yoruba ethnic supremacy before it could degenerate to the current Hausa/Fulani supremacy on parade, OBJ had directed security forces to shoot-at-sight any Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) members breaching the peace. That harsh decision was informed by the fact that OPC was similarly trying to foist on the nation the type of brigandage currently being perpetuated by criminals in herdsmen garb.
To avoid a situation whereby the country could be thrown into a state of anarchy of the sort that we are currently experiencing with killer herdsmen, the president who was new in the job at that time, took the drastic measure to stamp out such impunity, definitively any convincingly.
Unlike the present dispensation whereby it appears as if the outlaws are being pampered after about five years of seemingly chasing the shadows by cavorting with them, as soon as the threat was detected during OBJ’s watch, he did not waste time before he wielded the big stick by ordering the security agencies to shoot-to-kill any OPC members taking the laws into their hands, which prompted the extremists to scamper for safety.
Thereafter the OPC got reformed into a proper regional vigilante group.
The significant difference between OBJ’s directives to the security forces to shoot-at-sight any OPC members that were acting as if they were above the law at that time is that the current incipient religious factor gnawing at the fabric of the military was not in existence at that time. But with religion becoming a significant negative factor in the armed forces as being widely alleged, the shoot-at-sight order by president Buhari may have far wider implications on the society that he is seeking to protect. In my reckoning the C-in-C might have made the decision in good faith and in furtherance of his philosophy of -l belong to no one, l belong to everyone-emphasized in his 2015 inaugural speech.
But it may also be in breach of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria that mandates the C-in-C of the Armed Forces to first of all seek the mandate of the congress before making such a declaration that abrogates the duty of security agencies to exercise due restraint and observe the rules of human rights which is that the alleged bandits are deemed to be innocent until proven guilty.
I’m not a constitutional lawyer, so l stand to be corrected.
But to the credit of the civil society organisations in our country, a plethora of them have questioned the rationale behind the dangerous and omnibus directive by spelling out the negative implications and ramifications.
The bottom line is that President Buhari would do well to rescind the directive to the security agencies to shoot-at-sight any unauthorized person wielding an AK47 weapon in the forests.
In his position as president, he must maintain the sanctity of due process and respect the rule of law as well as uphold human rights of citizens. As such he must review the declaration made earlier with a view to replacing it with a more appropriate measure that is without the military diktat that the current directive is tainted with.
The existential reality is that every regime faces its own challenges and it is dependent on the leadership style of the person on the saddle in Aso Rock presidential seat of power to determine how to deal with or handle the situation as they arise. President Buhari’s apparent slow response is reflective of his taciturn nature.
The late President Umar Yar’Adua had the Niger Delta militants to contend with when he took office in 2007 and he dexterously managed the crisis.
He managed the situation so amazingly well that it was difficult to believe that it is the same environmental and ethnic rights agitators that the late General Sani Abacha mismanaged by executing Ogoni leaders including the poet activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and earned our country a pariah status.
It is quite commendable that the late president Yar’Adua negotiated with and offered amnesty to the agitators which brought peace back to the Niger Delta.
Just as it is noteworthy that being the treasure trove of the country, when the Niger Delta was under siege by militants, the economy was in doldrums hence the late Yar’Adua made a peaceful settlement a priority.
Goodluck Jonathan, an indigene of Niger Delta faced his own moments of truth with the militants when he was the No. 1 in Aso Rock Villa. An event that he was to attend in Abuja was bombed by Niger Delta agitators at the inception of his administration in the manner that bandits kidnapped Kankara School boys in Katsina State on the eve of President Buhari’s official visit to his home state, Katsina. These are strange ways that terrorists, bandits or outlaws make their point.
So insurrectionists or militants are not in the habit of respecting leaders, irrespective of whether they are their kinsmen or not.
After all is said and done, what the current crisis reveals is the vulnerability of our society where policing is still being centrally controlled as opposed to being locally managed.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, Rotimi Akeredolu and a host of other prominent politicians have been making the case for state police as well as community police, without succeeding in convincing Mr President.
Now, more than ever before, the need to yield to superior argument has become more stark. After all, naira devaluation, increase in petrol pump price and removal of fuel subsidies were not on President Buhari’s agenda when he assumed office in 2015. In fact, he was vehemently opposed to the introduction of the aforementioned policies.
Today, he has accepted those realities.
So the time to create state police without further delay is now.
In the past 21 years of return to party democracy in our country, the state governments have been funding the police force in their respective states. In most states, the only exception to the financial support of governors to the police is in the salaries of the personnel which come from Abuja. As we all know, operating expenses are usually higher than salaries in our country.
By that logic the state governments invariably invest heavily in the federal police in their states. Without exception most of the infamous security votes (as the name implies) are invested in the security of the lives and properties of inhabitants of the state. So any state government giving the excuse of its inability to fund police as the reason for not endorsing it would have the citizens of the state that are currently bearing the brunt of the siege by criminal elements to answer to during the next balloting round.
Although state governors invest heavily in the security of their states, it defies logic that they don’t have control of the police in their domains which is in defiance of the conventional wisdom ‘He who pays the piper dictates the tunes’.
By being members of the federal police command (often poorly funded) the police commissioners take directives only from the inspector general of police (IGP) in Abuja.
The weird arrangement exposes the lie that the governor of a state in Nigeria is the chief security officer, which ideally should be the situation, but it is not.
The case against state police by some states that are inherently tied to insolvency because they were not viable (but only got created due to political exigency) is that they would be unable to fund local state police due to other pressing social needs requiring funding such as paying School teachers’ salaries etc.
But that’s untenable because state governments already do a lot of funding of policing from the much talked about and opaque Security Vote managed by governors.
Admittedly, not all states are as economically viable as the others and this is evidenced by the fact that some have fewer local government areas, Kano (44) and Bayelsa has (15), less land mass (Lagos State has the smallest landmass- 3,345 sq. kilometers) and lack of natural resources/endowments (Jigawa has only one -Butytes) which are the three criteria for revenue allocation from the federation account to states.
Even when others can also generate revenue internally via sundry taxes on industries located within their domain, most states are bereft of industries.
There is unverified statistics suggesting that the whole 19 states of northern Nigeria have only about 54 industrial concerns while the state of Anambra alone has about 64. As I stated earlier, the data above need to be fact checked. But nevertheless, we all know that the textile industry which was thriving in Kaduna is now comatose due to cheap foreign imports.
Even tourism which African countries like Kenya, Egypt and South Africa depend on for huge foreign exchange income, remains untapped here because all eyes are on oil and gas revenue from the Niger Delta.
Whereas there is so much arable land in the north, religious insurgency and ideological differences resulting in religious conflicts have been stifling farming. And where deserts encircle the state, windmills and solar farms are not being set up to generate alternative energy in the manner that Moroccans, Egyptians, Kenyans and South Africans are doing. Every winter, Europeans and Americans move in droves to their alternative homes in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (a purpose built city on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula for tourists) to escape the winter cold.
Strikingly, the climate in Egypt is similar to the one in Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and most parts of northern Nigeria. Why are European tourists not coming to Nigeria? Insecurity driven by religious extremism.
Can Nigeria be more Islamic than Egypt, Dubai and even Saudi Arabia the home base of Islam, where despite their stupendous oil wealth, tourism still constitutes a major factor of their income stream?
If poverty and neglect are the propellers of the insurrections in Nigeria, the faith leaders need to enlighten the Nigerian masses on why they have to embrace tourism as a pathway to poverty alleviation. That’s one of the productive endeavors that it would take to lift them out of poverty. What is key to unlocking the wealth is to be organized as the Egyptians have been, and as dynamic and smart as the United Arab Emirates (UAE, as a country) has also been by shielding or separating traditional cities from those that can be visited, if you like violated by tourists.
When that is allowed to happen, then the masses can be assured that tourism related businesses would provide decent work and income, thus becoming an assured route to prosperity and a panacea to poverty for them.
The growth path or trajectory, (that some would say I’m waxing lyrical about) may appear like an Eldorado to a lot of people in the zones earlier listed. That’s because the leaders out there are politicking instead of making plans to harness the values that are endemic to their locations which are lying fallow while we are all making bee lines for oil/gas business in the Niger Delta, instead of farming and promoting tourism or engaging in nomadic cattle rearing as opposed to ranching which is the ideal way to go.
By the way, while oil/gas would become less valuable in the next one to two decades when fossil fuel powered engines give way to electric cars as the main stream mode of transportation, farming will continue to be on the ascendancy and with Africa’s global comparative advantage in the business of farming buoyed by her vast virgin land, the future of agriculture remains very bright.
After the reforming or reorganizing of the archaic public sector by our leaders, the next task would be the reorientation of the mindset of the masses so that they can key into the emergent prosperity movement.
And who is best suited to do the reorientation than the likes of the respected Sheik Ahmad Gumi that’s investing so much energy into trying to secure amnesty for the insurgents by engaging in the risky venture of engaging with them in the forests while negotiating with them to accept laying down their weapons in order to be reintegrated into society. Other influential imams across the spectrum of mosques, and the emirs in their respective palaces as well as village and clan heads can also try to sell the new initiative to the critical masses that are under their sphere of influence in their domains and spaces.
The same applies to church leaders and traditional rulers in the southern parts of our country who need to look beyond oil/gas revenue for sustenance.
There is no more time for blame games.
If our leaders past did not fight the civil war to keep Nigeria as one, and if the ones that came after them did not engage in critical thinking that birthed the unifying policies such as federal character principle that’s embedded in the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, so that all ethnic nationalities that make up the Nigerian union can have a sense of belonging, there would not have been a country.
So we owe our offspring the commitment of bequeathing this present country- Nigeria in one piece to them, much the same way that our forebears bequeathed it to us.
To achieve that objective or mission, we must play politics, run the government and practice our various religions differently from the way that we have been carrying on in the past two decades which has brought us to the current sorry and sordid condition in our beloved country today.
Isn’t it such a paradox that countries all over the world recognize and extol Nigerians abroad for our exceptional qualities and our high intelligence quotients hence several Nigerian men and women are in global leadership positions ranging from Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala , Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Akinwunmi Adewunmi, president of African Development Bank (AfDB), Bernard Oramah, president of African Export -Import Bank, Afri-Exim to Amina Mohammed, Under Secretary of the United Nations (UN) and the very accomplished five number of Nigerian born Americans recently appointed into high level government positions in the United States of America (USA), yet our homestead remains mired in decadence?
If we believe that we can be to Africa what China has become in Asia, so it shall be.
And I’m convinced that we can be what we want to be if we shorn ourselves of the tendency of clinging to ethnic cleavages that are creating stunting and debilitating effects on the growth potentials of our country; and divorce ourselves from religious biases that can get us stuck in the quicksand of hate; by resolving today to build our country back better through cooperation and unity of purpose.
-Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos. The conversation continues @ www.magnum.ng