Cockroach is a household pest. With its size, it can easily crush an army of ants. But whenever it falls on its back, tiny ants make mincemeat of it. In his play, Fate of a Cockroach, Egyptian playwright, Tewfik al-Hakim, equates human foibles and existential struggles with that of this unfortunate insect. In the play, Adil, the principal character, is captivated by the continuous struggle of the king cockroach to climb up the slippery walls of a bathtub.
Currently, Nigeria is struggling to climb out of the slippery walls of chronic corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, poverty and, above all, insecurity. And if it makes the mistake of falling on its back, Rwanda and Somalia would be child’s play.
Already, the signs are ominous. Last week, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), stirred up a hornets’ nest when he pointedly accused the Nigerian Army of aiding Fulani herdsmen in their killing spree across the country. He urged other Nigerians to defend themselves because the military, as presently constituted, would not defend them.
In July last year, this same Danjuma, together with retired Generals Zamani Lekwot, Joshua Dogonyaro, and some other Christian elders, launched a similar acerbic attack on the leadership of the country. They expressed sadness that Nigeria was drifting dangerously towards another war, judging from the many regional agitations in the country.
In a statement issued under the auspices of the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), Danjuma and Co. said the real problem with the country “is that jihad has been launched in Nigeria and Islamists that have been interfering in the governance of the country using ‘Taqiyya’ (approved deception) as ‘Stealth/Civilisation Jihad’ and Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen as violent jihad, are relentless in their pursuit of eradicating democracy in Nigeria.”
Different political actors in Benue, Plateau and elsewhere have also accused the military, nay the Federal Government, of not doing enough to curtail the murderous activities of herdsmen.
For instance, during the mass burial of the 73 people that herdsmen killed in Benue earlier in the year, the chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, said enough was enough.
“If the government can’t protect us,” he threatened, “we will mobilise and train our people into an army to defend us.”
A former military governor of Plateau and Katsina states, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Onoja (retd.), said he wouldn’t mind commanding such an army despite his age, should the Federal Government refuse to address the killings in Benue.
To worsen matters, President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t deem it fit to visit these killing fields. It was when the drums of critics started sounding louder than usual that he recently made a shuttle visit to some of the areas.
The point is, there is mutual suspicion among the various ethnic groups in the country. This worsened when the President consciously or unconsciously appointed almost all northerners as heads of security agencies in the country. This is a breach of the federal character principle as enshrined in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Consequently, almost every move the security agencies make now is seen as another attempt to further expand the alleged hidden agenda of a certain part of the country. This is also why a lot of people believed it when a certain Sergeant David Bako surfaced on the social media to claim that the military stage-managed the abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls in Yobe State. Although the military has debunked the claim and described the so-called Sergeant Bako as fake, the suspicion still lingers.
Regrettably, the Federal Government appears to be unserious in stopping the killings in the country. What we have seen so far is a President who keeps feigning ignorance of the tragedy that has befallen his subjects. The height of it was when he said he was not aware that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, flouted his order to be in Benue and take charge of the security situation in that state. So far, the IGP is still on his desk dishing out orders.
We can no longer continue to pretend that all is well. I had expected that northern leaders should have reined in the herdsmen alleged to be carrying out these killings in the country. The cattle breeders have an association called Miyetti Allah. Their leaders are well known. But rather than intervening to put a stop to the crises, the northern leaders, especially the governors, busied themselves asking for cattle colonies for the herdsmen.
However, some northern stakeholders appear to be waking up now because they no longer find the situation in the country palatable. Recently, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Northern Elders’ Forum and 16 other leading groups in the northern region, held a summit in Kaduna and passed a vote of no confidence in politicians of northern extraction including President Buhari, saying most of them have failed.
The groups felt betrayed that their leaders who have been in power since 2015 have not been able to reverse the abuse and neglect of the northern region in the previous decade. They accused the leaders of poor management of conflicts between and among northern communities.
In many other parts of the North, they said, “communities are routinely exposed to attacks from shadowy killers, while suspicion and anger against the suspected killers is pitching northerners against one another.”
Their anger is such that the convener of the summit, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, even called on the North to search for a credible presidential candidate to replace President Buhari.
Northern governors appear to have heard the lamentations of these stakeholders. Hence, they have taken some bold initiatives to engender peace. At a recent meeting with the national leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) in Sokoto, the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) sought to find lasting solutions to herders/farmers’ clashes across the country.
The NSGF chairman, Gov. Kashim Shettima of Borno State, said they had seen enough crises in the North-East with Boko Haram and could not afford to let any other conflict linger without a solution. The governors hope to hear from all sides and finally come up with a workable plan that will restore confidence and entrench lasting peace in the region.
It is better late than never. What happened in Rwanda in 1994 should teach us some lessons. That country is made up of two main ethnic groups – the Hutu and the Tutsi. The Hutu is the majority tribe and constitutes about 85 per cent of the population. Ethnic tensions in that tiny African country worsened when, on the night of April 6, 1994, some gunmen shot down the plane carrying the then President Juvenal Habyarimana, and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi. Everyone on board, including the two Presidents, who were Hutu, died in the incident.
Hutu extremists blamed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) a rebel group formed by Tutsi exiles. They set up radio stations and newspapers, which urged people to “weed out the cockroaches,” meaning kill the Tutsi. Even priests and nuns reportedly joined in killing people, including some who sought shelter in churches. And in just 100 days, Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800,000 minority Tutsi and their political opponents. The situation stopped only when the well-organised RPF, backed by Uganda’s army, gradually marched into the capital, Kigali, and took over power.
Today, Rwanda has bounced back. Things appear to be moving more smoothly there than in Nigeria. If in doubt, travel with the country’s national airline, RwandAir, and see efficiency at work. President Paul Kagame, who sees Singapore and South Korea as models, believes that the key to reconciliation is continued economic development. Though his critics accuse him of suppressing the opposition, Kagame has transformed the economy of the tiny country. Rwanda’s economy now grows at 7 per cent a year. And to prevent a recurrence of the genocide, it has become illegal to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda.
Buhari can take a cue from Kagame. I guess he is a patron of Miyetti Allah and they hold him in high esteem. He should invite them and extract a commitment from them to maintain peace.
Besides, as a patriot and statesman, the President owes this country a duty to weed out the cockroaches flying around to poison us in our common kitchen. His first major step towards our redemption, and the best campaign strategy for his re-election next year, is to adhere strictly to the clamour of many Nigerians to restructure the country. That is what will guarantee that we will never fall on our backs in this huge bathtub called Nigeria.
First published in The Sun of Monday, April 2, 2018.