I like to think we are in a dream, and waking is not permitted. For barely a month, I have hardly heard of a herdsman rampage. Or is it that no dying man is crying, no daggers flying, no widows have found funeral clothes, or are the predators acting by stealth?
No Miyetti Allah caper. No smokes signalling a barbarian bonfire in a remote hamlet. Or are we witnessing a recess, a holiday from the familiar rhythms of slaughter? I like to know. We have not seen what in proper conflict is called an armistice, an agreement to lay down arms, to renegotiate brotherhood.
We hear of a skirmish here and there. But even journalists, now immune to fire and fury, will admit to a lack of primitive excitement to write about. Such little fights are called low-intensity conflict. I heard this phrase for the first time in a literature class at the University of Toronto, and the professor said it referred to fights of relatively fewer casualties. I asked further, is it low-intensity conflict to the families whose hamlet is washed into oblivion? He chuckled and said it would be their holocaust. I also wondered when a history class at Ife was designated the “far east.” Is it far to those who live there? Many Nigerian families have witnessed private holocausts.
Such designation was condemned by French philosopher Michel Foucault, who wondered why humans use language to oppress others. Yet, we cannot but say that even in Zamfara, the conflict is no longer high-intensity. Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Plateau et al. This is a bout of good fortune, it seems. If it is an armistice, let’s keep all arms at ease.
It is clear though that no negotiation happened. No summit cooled the landscape. It was the power of arms. It is hard to simplify why a horde of barbarians go down in silence. But it is easy to say, we have used a modern-day answer to the human beast: the air force. The answer is a massive machine from the Russian deadly bouquet: it is called Mi 35.
We have had this when many were crying for he federal government to stop the killings. We had this when they rammed into Benue and led to a mass burial and a venal outcry. We had it when Mambila wept. It was a quiet monster when Zamfara governor symbolically dropped his position as chief security officer. When Plateau crawled with blood. We had it as IDP camps swirled. We did nothing. We had it when the police chief disobeyed the president and got away with it, or when the president asked his visitors to abide with its neighbours.
We had it when we were complaining about the failure of intelligence when Daura was more interested in settling political scores. Edmund Burke, an arch philosopher of conservatism who resisted the French Revolution, shunned inaction and said “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Even conservatives want change, if it brings peace. The government did nothing. It dithered. But Buhari started to deploy the Russian air machine, the landscape of horror fell silent. The landscape, with its trees and bare stretches, with ponds and huts and rolling and undulating menaces, were tapestries of swagger for the so-called herdsman. Now, they can hardly ride on their motorcycles because of a bird of prey. The military aircraft is the metaphor for the bird of prey. It is the greatest fighting machine in the modern era. The so-called marauder, or what we call herdsman, has no answer to them. No matter what AK 47 they wield or if they run like a rat, they cannot escape the revanchist rat-tat-tat of the gunship. The Mi 35 is one of the world deadliest war helicopters. Not as nimble as the American Apache, but the Mi 35 is an upgrade of the forbear, the Mi 24, and Russian soldiers call it the flying tank, or the crocodile because of its camouflage quality. If the killer squads want to attack either under the benevolent light of day or the night blanket, the Mi 35 has eyes like the owl and swoop into play. Like the eagle that kills even the earthbound predator like the cheetah, the Mi 35 sees the Nigerian killer squad as mincemeat. Like the Ted Hughes’ poem Hawk Roosting, the M1 35 can boast like the hawk that “I kill where I please because all is mine/there is no sophistry in my body.” It is equipped to vanquish army tanks and formations. If a horde of two hundred killers on motorcycles or on foot go after a village, it is little pickings for the machine. As a proverb says, “an eagle does not catch flies.”
The aircraft does not romanticise its missions. Like Hughes’ hawk, it does not spare. It has precision capacity to kill a single foe or pulverise a squad with its unrelenting cannonade. As the writer James Richardson noted, “birds of prey don’t sing.” Rather they sting. The Mi 35 is meant for bigger conflict than what has ruffled the polity for over a year now. The helicopter can take off from anywhere in the north or middle belt and its speed is over 300 miles per hour. What marauder can match that on foot, in a van or motorcycle?
That is why governance is not only about taking the right decision, but also about taking them on time. We would have saved so many lives if we had acted on time, rather than allow the defence minister, in his tendentious ignorance, to argue over trade routes, or Audu Ogbeh to snort over what we have not done for the herdsman, or Buhari bellyaching over the neighbours accommodating each other.
The machines have come to our rescue because we have decided to use what we have. They are no longer our birds of prey. They are doing well, so we can call them birds of praise. This column had earlier suggested that if these hoodlums were hiding in the forests, the aircraft could wipe them out with ruthless sorties.
But it is not enough. What we need now is to use intelligence to pick them out, and make them face the full intention of the law. Without that, we have done nothing. They will seek other ways to revive their barbaric schemes, an antediluvian renaissance of the blood. An armistice does not guarantee everlasting peace.
I said in this column that the goons are no spirit. We just decided not to see. We who were blind seem now to see. If Buhari was able to take that action and send his generals to battle, he should learn that a stitch in time saves nine. So many wounds to stitch still. But do we know how many lives we have saved in the past few weeks, thanks to the Russian gunship?
It is no time for complacency, but vigilance. Whether Buhari can sustain the dividends of peace, we shall know. For now, his critics have little say. It is up to him whether to arm his critics or harm the predators.