By OLUBUNMI OKOGIE
Nigeria wobbles from one major crisis to another. She ended the year 2017 in excruciating fuel scarcity and began the year 2018 with the massacre of innocents. While Nigerians were still exchanging New Year greetings, from Benue State came gory pictures of pregnant women, children, adults and the aged cut to pieces like animals in an abattoir.
From Rivers State came pictures of Nigerians slaughtered on New Year’s Day. From Ilorin in Kwara State came pictures of Churches vandalized and innocent Nigerian Christians physically and sexually assaulted within their Churches on New Year’s Eve, with chants of another religion in the mouths of their assailants.
Nigerians are no longer abducted on the streets or highways. Abductors now invade the privacy of their homes, even violating the sacredness of their bedrooms, to pick them up, demanding millions of naira as ransom.
The Northeastern part of Nigeria remains an expanding theatre of war as we read of the killer instinct and atrocities of terrorist herdsmen in Adamawa and Taraba. Apart from Benue, other states in the Middle Belt like Kaduna and Plateau are regular targets of bloody herdsmen. Southern States of Delta and Enugu have also been visited by the same murderous herdsmen, who left traces of sorrow, tears and blood in their trail.
In the present situation, there are some questions to which a supposedly responsible and accountable government must provide clear answers: where is the government in all this? Where were the security agencies when innocent Nigerians were being assaulted and slaughtered?
Why is it that our policemen and soldiers, notorious for brutalizing innocent civilians, are conspicuously absent and impotent when those same civilians are being attacked? We read credible reports of herdsmen attacking police posts and killing policemen with their superior firepower. Who is providing herdsmen with arms?
Nigerian citizens living in states where herdsmen and kidnappers are operating have senators and governors representing them. In the case of Benue State, as at the time of writing this piece, apart from the governor, no word has been heard from any senator or Assemblyman or woman from Benue State. Why is it that, in a democracy, where every citizen is represented at the local, state and federal level, those who were voted into office to represent the citizens are completely ineffective?
It is the responsibility of government to protect the life of every citizen. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, despite its many dangerous flaws, stipulates that every Nigerian has a right to life. The life of every Nigerian citizen, whether that citizen comes from the south or the north, the east or the west, must be protected at all times and in all places within the borders of Nigeria. But, Nigerians look to this government for protection in vain.
A truly responsible government acts proactively. Treating matters of security with levity does not form part of the job description of a Commander-in-Chief. When Nigerian citizens are slaughtered like cows, as we saw recently in Benue State, in a recurrence of herdsmen’s butchery, those who lead us must be held accountable. For, when they took the oath of office, they promised to uphold the Constitution of our country.
But, a government that fails to protect the citizen cannot convince Nigerians that it is alive to its responsibility. There is an urgent and compelling need for the President and Commander-in-Chief to show leadership in this regard.
What obtains in Nigeria at this point in time is the unmitigated tragedy of spectacular failure of government. But, instead of a serious attempt on the part of the government to mend its ways, its spokespersons find a hobby in insulting Nigerians with dissenting voices, while preparations and propaganda for re-election have already begun.
It is reprehensible that while Nigerians are disturbed at the butchery in Benue, the President and his party are campaigning for votes in Abia State. We are thus being told in a rather crude and arrogant manner that the fortunes of the politician take precedence over security and welfare of citizens of Nigeria. Politicians who truly rely on the votes of the people to be in office respect the people because they know that the day of reckoning shall surely come.
Meanwhile, Nigerians have not forgotten President Buhari’s statement when he took the oath of office on May 29, 2015. Paraphrasing the nihilist subtitle of Friedrich Nietzsche work, Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for Everybody and for No One, our President said: “I belong to everybody, I belong to no one.” For the past three years, however, Nigerians have been waiting for these words to take a concrete expression in the way Nigerians are treated by his government. Shall they wait in vain?
The President of Nigeria must be for all Nigerians. He has a non-negotiable moral obligation to rally all the security agencies under his command to protect the life of every Nigerian. That obligation is to be assumed now, not later. Not to do so would amount to a betrayal of trust.
While we hear some arrests have been made, the insufficiency of the arrest of foot soldiers must not be overlooked. Those who mastermind the killings of innocent Nigerians—and the utterances of leaders of Miyetti Allah make them prime suspects—must be apprehended and diligently prosecuted, with the aim of securing their conviction, with appropriate sanctions imposed.
Days after some leaders of Miyetti Allah have spoken in support of the killings in Benue, none of them has been arrested, none invited by the police for interrogation.
This act of omission on the part of government lends credence to what many Nigerians have been suggesting: that those behind these killings are left to go untouched because of their ethnic and political affiliation. If that is the case, then we have another illustration of two Nigerias—the Nigeria of the rightly connected and the Nigeria of the wrongly connected.
President Buhari needs to demonstrate convincingly that there is only one Nigeria – a Nigeria of the law-abiding, a Nigeria where no one is above the law, a Nigeria where those who break the law are treated according to the law irrespective of their political affiliation.
His Eminence,Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, writes from Lagos.