Monday, May 29

Impunity Rides Again Through Killer Herdsmen By Wole Soyinka

It  is happening all over again. History is repeating itself and, alas,  within such an agonizingly short span of time. How often must we warn  against the enervating lure of appeasement in face of aggression and  will to dominate! I do not hesitate to draw attention to Volume III of  my INTERVENTION Series, and to the chapter on The Unappeasable Price of  Appeasement. There is little to add, but it does appear that even the  tragically fulfilled warnings of the past leave no impression on  leadership, not even when identical signs of impending cardiac arrest  loom over the nation. Boko Haram was still at that stage of putative  probes when cries of alarm emerged. Then the fashion ideologues of  society deployed their distancing turns of phrase to rationalize what  were so obviously discernable as an agenda of ruthless fundamentalism  and internal domination. Boko Haram was a product of social inequities,  they preached – one even chortled: We stand for justice, so we are all  Boko Haram!  We warned that – yes indeed – the inequities of society  were indeed part of the story, but why do you close your eyes against  other, and more critical malfunctions of the human mind, such as  theocratic lunacy? Now it is happening again. The nation is being  smothered in Vaseline when the diagnosis is so clearly – cancer! 

We have been here before – now, ‘before’ is back with a vengeance.  President Goodluck Jonathan refused to accept that marauders had carried  off the nation’s daughters; President Muhammed Buhari and his  government – including his Inspector-General of Police – in near  identical denial, appear to believe those killer herdsmen who strike  again and again at will from one corner of the nation to the other, are  merely hot-tempered citizens whose scraps occasionally degenerate into  “communal clashes” – I believe I have summarized him accurately. The  marauders are naughty children who can be admonished, paternalistically,  into good neighbourly conduct. Sometimes of course, the killers were  also said be non-Nigerians after all. The contradictions are  mind-boggling.
First the active policy of appeasement, then the language of  endorsement. El Rufai, governor of Kaduna state, proudly announced that,  on assuming office, he had raised a peace committee and successfully  traced the herdsmen to locations outside Nigerian borders. He then made  payments to them from state coffers to cure them of their homicidal urge  which, according to these herdsmen, were reprisals for some ancient  history and the loss of cattle through rustling. The public was up in  arms against this astonishing revelation. I could only call to mind a  statement by the same El Rufai after a prior election which led to a  rampage in parts of the nation, and cost even the lives of National  Youth Service corpers. They were hunted down by aggrieved mobs and even  states had to organize rescue missions for their citizens. Countering  protests that the nation owed a special duty of protection to her youth,  especially those who are co-opted to serve the nation in any capacity,  El Rufai’s comment then was: No life is more important than another.  Today, that statement needs to be adjusted, to read perhaps – apologies  to George Orwell: “All lives are equal, but a cow’s is more equal than  others.” 

This seems to be the government view, one that, overtly or by  implication, is being amplified through act and pronouncement, through  clamorous absence, by this administration. It appears to have infected  even my good friend and highly capable Minister, Audu Ogbeh, however  insidiously. What else does one make of his statements in an interview  where he generously lays the blame for ongoing killings everywhere but  at the feet of the actual perpetrators!  His words, as carried by The  Nation Newspapers: “The  inability of the government to pay attention to herdsmen and cow  farming, unlike other developed countries, contributed to the killings.”  The Minister continued: “Over  the years, we have not done much to look seriously into the issue of  livestock development in the country….we may have done enough for the  rice farmer, the cassava farmer, the maize farmer, the cocoa farmer, but  we haven’t done enough for herdsmen, and that inability and omission on  our part is resulting in the crisis we are witnessing today” 

No, no, not so, Audu! It is true that I called upon the government a  week ago to stop passing the buck over the petroleum situation. I assure  you however that I never intended that a reverse policy should lead to  exonerating – or appearing to exonerate – mass killers, rapists and  economic saboteurs – saboteurs, since their conduct subverts the efforts  of others to economically secure their own existence, drives other  producers off their land in fear and terror. This promises the same  plague of starvation that afflicts zones of conflict all over this  continent where liberally sown landmines prevent farmers from venturing  near their prime source, the farm, often their only source of  livelihood, and has created a whole population of amputees. At least,  those victims in Angola, Mozambique and other former war theatres,  mostly lived to tell the tale. These herdsmen, arrogant and  unconscionable, have adopted a scorched-earth policy, so that those  other producers – the cassava, cocoa, sorghum, rice etc farmers are  brutally expelled from farm and dwelling. Government neglect? You may  not have intended it, but you made it sound like the full story. I  applaud the plans of your ministry, I am in a position to know that much  thought – and practical steps – have gone into long-term plans for  bringing about the creation of ‘ranches’, ‘colonies’ – whatever the name  – including the special cultivation of fodder for animal feed and so on  and on. However, the present national outrage is over impunity. It  rejects the right of any set of people, for whatever reason, to take  arms against their fellow men and women, to acknowledge their exploits  in boastful and justifying accents and, in effect, promise more of the  same as long as their terms and demands are not met. In plain language,  they have declared war against the nation, and their weapon is an  undiluted terror. Why have they been permitted to become a menace to the  rest of us? That is the issue! 

Permit me to remind you that, early in 2016, an even more hideous  massacre was perpetrated by this same Murder Incorporated – that is, a  numerical climax to what had been a series across a number of Middle  Belt and neighbouring states, with Benue taking the brunt of the  butchery. A peace meeting was called, attended by the state government  and security agencies of the nation, including the Inspector General of  Police. This group attended – according to reports – with AK47s and  other weapons of mass intimidation visible under their garments. They  were neither disarmed nor turned back. They freely admitted the killings  but justified them by claims that they had lost their cattle to the  host community. It is important to emphasize that none of their  spokesmen referred to any government neglect, such as refusal to pay  subsidy for their cows or failure to accord them the same facilities  that had been extended to cassava or millet farmers. Such are the  monstrous beginnings of the culture of impunity. We are reaping, yet  again, the consequences of such tolerance of the intolerable. Yes, there  indeed the government is culpable, definitely guilty of “looking the  other way”. Indeed, it must be held complicit. 

This question is now current, and justified:  just when is terror? I am  not aware that IPOB came anywhere close to this homicidal propensity and  will to dominance before it was declared a terrorist organization. The  international community rightly refused to go along with such an  absurdity. For the avoidance of doubt, let me state right here, and yet  again, that IPOB leadership is its own worst enemy. It repels public  empathy, indeed, I suspect that it deliberately cultivates an obnoxious  image, especially among its internet mouthers who make rational  discourse impossible. However, as we pointed out at the time, the  conduct of that movement, even at its most extreme, could by no means be  reckoned as terrorism. By contrast, how do we categorize Myeti? How do  we assess a mental state that cannot distinguish between a stolen cow –  which is always recoverable – and human life, which is not. Villages  have been depopulated far wider than those outside their operational  zones can conceive. They swoop on sleeping settlements, kill and strut.  They glory in their seeming supremacy. Cocoa farmers do not kill when  there is a cocoa blight. Rice farmers, cassava and tomato farmers do not  burn. The herdsmen cynically dredge up decades-old affronts – they did  at the 2016  Benue “peace meeting” to justify the killings of innocents  in the present – These crimes are treated like the norm. Once again, the  nation is being massaged by specious rationalisations while the rampage  intensifies and the spread spirals out of control. When we open the  dailies tomorrow morning, there is certain to have been a new body  count, to be followed by the arrogant justification of the Myeti Allah. 

The warnings pile up, the distress signals have turned into a prolonged  howl of despair and rage. The answer is not to be found in pietistic  appeals to victims to avoid ‘hate language’ and divisive attributions.  The sustained, killing monologue of the herdsmen is what is at issue. It  must be curbed, decisively and without further evasiveness. 

Yes, Jonathan only saw ‘ghosts’ when Boko Haram was already excising  swathes of territory from the nation space and abducting school pupils.  The ghosts of Jonathan seem poised to haunt the tenure of Mohammed  Buhari. 

 © Sahara Reporters

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