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Ghosts of plunder

By   /  July 23, 2018  /  No Comments

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We cannot live a lie and expect the truth not to hunt us down. We are living one now, and it refers to the haunting barbarism of the herdsman. We make them seem like supermen and so we go supine. They brandish weapons we cannot match. They move around like spirits, spectral entities that we cannot see.

We make them ghosts of plunder. They slaughter men, women and children and we only mourn afterwards with rhetoric of surrender. They throw flames that raze thatched houses, and our IDP camps swell and swirl. Their animals gorge on our farms, and we become spectators of our own misery.

They growl about our homesteads and our voices are stuck in our throats. They rape our women and we are impotent. And some say the system as it is works for Nigerians, and they expect us to accept.

That is the tragedy that the herdsman has foisted on us. Yet the irony lies in the line that the federal government has projected. That we should not restructure the country. The argument is that the Nigeria will work as it is. It means the centre remains pampered and cash-rich to the detriment of the states. The geographical physiognomy of Nigeria will be out of joint. The states, the towns, the villages, the hamlets should be run as it is. But the herdsman has even changed that very structure that President Buhari, Vice president Osinbajo and others have glorified so naively.

For the past three years at least, the herdsman has skewed what is left of the so-called federal arrangement. They have been attacking and displacing people from their towns and villages. The herdsmen are taking over people’s lands and occupying them. We have seen this, especially in the marauders’ hotspots: Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Kaduna, Adamawa, Zamfara, et al. We saw it even in Sokoto State as the new terrain of prey.

They are not acting like the Jukuns of old, the war-like tribe that launched forays into fragile kingdoms, plundered but returned home with spoils. These men conquer and occupy. Those who do not occupy, return to the forests. So, if they have elections today, the IDPs become new blots on our electoral maps. Who votes in their villages and hamlets? The herdsmen? If the herdsmen don’t vote, at least the territories have been lost in the electoral equation.

If people who occupy 10 villages converge on an IDP camp, shall we re-register them for elections? What of the leverage of their abandoned homes in the geo-political calculus in state and national polls? Of course, it is virtually obliterated. Ten villages will become one IDP camp, one unit. Gradually, the herdsmen will become accepted as owners of those displaced villages, and they could rename them and own them as their own property.

So, they begin as thieves and murderers. They are accepted as legitimate owners of other peoples’ towns and villages. Eventually, INEC enfranchises them. They will elect officers to national assembly, and their bigwigs stake their rights as governors. This is restructuring in reverse, or de-structuring. The ghosts materialise as landowners. They will own the crops, turn the churches into homes, knock out the pews, pulpits and vestries, overthrow the languages and customs and impose their own. A new cartography is born. So, is the federal structure sustainable as it is?

This is the implication, and no one should expect that the owners of the land will not rage and plot their return. It is a different matter if they arrive as legitimate migrants and occupy a tract of territory legitimately allotted to them by the local authority. Yet we know that the indigene-settler crisis takes its roots from the Babangida years when he turned a settler colony in Plateau into an autonomous local government area with concomitant political powers. The elevation from settler to proprietary rights has lit the tinder of unrest since then. The verdant peace of Jos yielded to the ominous clouds of fear and loathing in that temperate city. This can only be traced to this crisis of legitimacy.

In a stern and unrelenting voice, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State has warned Buhari of the implication of a skewed federal system and its implication for Nigerian security. Hear him: “It is very clear that Nigeria’s lopsided federal system and over-centralisation of security powers and the politicisation of security by several agencies are a major cause of instability and poses a threat to national stability.” He waxed poetic when he spoke of “the politics of insecurity and the insecurity of politics.”

With the herdsmen, the lopsided structure Governor Dickson assailed is getting more so and turning Nigeria into a bonfire in waiting. We hope not.

When Buhari and Osinbajo visited Jos recently, the Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong spoke fervently against the land grabbers, and the vice president gave his official assurance. But he used the language of a dove instead of a mother hen. A dove yields. A mother hen shields. She yields no territory in protecting her own. Osinbajo said those who have been displaced shall be returned home. He should have waxed martial.

A mother hen would have said, those marauders will be flushed out and arrested. Weeks later, we have seen no sign that the marauders are even threatened. The governors have no powers to flush them out. Hence Governor Yari symbolically vacated his powers as chief security officer and Governor Fayose, in acerbic humour, called on hunters to hold the forte.

“When you correct this abuse of the federal system, the governor of Benue and Taraba will be in the position to mobilise the security resources of their states…,” noted Dickson.

So, what is stopping the security forces from deploying our soldiers to not only displace these criminals but also arrest them. Is that not a better solution than the verbal diarrhoea of some of the officers of Buhari’s government like the defence minister and inspector general of police who inspire division in the land.

Kaduna State Governor Nasir El Rufai has said that these men’s hiding places are the forests in the north. So, we have two major places where these people hide: either in the displaced villages and towns or in the forests. If we know that, why are we dithering? There are quite a number of forests around the areas they operate. They are not what the anonymous poet described when he wrote: “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” But these men have no soul to find. Why not conduct reconnaissance, deploy drones and soldiers and level the goons? If the goons are mobile, we know the forests are not like the forests in Macbeth moved to the impostor king. That’s why I asserted recently that it is either the government is not serious or it is incompetent, or both.

We are in a state of war, and as Governor Dickson noted, this is the worst we have been since the civil war. Yet, we are acting like Gowon did in the early days of the Nigerian civil war when he dismissed the rumbling of Biafra as mere “police action,” until Ojukwu bared the Igbo fangs. Or in the early days of the Second World War when the Allies still trusted in Hitler’s humanity and some people called it the “phony war.” They learned the hard way when blitzkrieg growled to town with blood trails, pockmarks and fallen soldiers.

Some churches have begun a seven-day prayer and fasting to stop this. We sometimes disturb God with our folly. The Bible says “to obey is better than sacrifice.” This sacrifice of the churches would be gratuitous if the government obeyed the constitution and did the right things, which are within its powers. If the soldiers comb out these goons, arrest and quickly prosecute them in nimble courts, no prayer will be invoked. Dickson said, “if the people are under attack by gunmen, that is the more reason why the security forces and the President as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces should lead… to repel the attacks.” The fire next time would be an illusion. But we vex our spirits.

The prayer and fasting call reminds me of my encounter with a young man in Rhodes Island, United States when I attended one of Chinua Achebe’s colloquiums at Brown University. The young man, an undergraduate then, said when he was in Nigeria, his mother always urged him to pray over everything he did. He always followed her advice. However, since his American sojourn, he had never prayed and he had never had any problems.

The U.S. leaders made such prayers unnecessary because they did the basic things. Apostle Peter said God has given us the things that “pertains to life and godliness.” If we do well they will redound in our “glory and virtue.” Because our government has not manifested the virtue, glory is eluding us.

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