By Simon Kolawole
Plateau state is back in the news again — and for the usual tragic reasons: maiming and killing in the name of God. In the last eight weeks, over 100 lives have been wasted in the state. Not by bandits or kidnappers, but by ethnic and religious warlords. On July 1, attacks left 34 people dead in Dogon Gaba. Between July 31 and August 1 in Bassa and Riyom LGAs, 17 people were killed. On August 14, travellers were attacked along Rukuba Road, Jos north, with the final death toll given as 35. Less than a fortnight later, 44 people were killed. It has become impossible to know the aggressor, so every incident has to be treated as an attack or reprisal. Whatever, the bleeding is non-stop.
Alhaji Muhammad Sa’adu Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, made a sobering statement on Thursday but I would not be surprised if the message did not hit home. Speaking at the meeting of the intra-religious council in Abuja, Abubakar III lamented that the level of insecurity in the country has worsened such that a lot of the killings are no longer captured by the media. “In eastern Sokoto alone, there was a day we buried 76 persons who were killed in cold blood by criminals who came from nowhere. People didn’t hear about that one. There was another day we buried 48 persons in the same Sokoto, but you didn’t hear about it,” Abubakar said. For emphasis, these are human lives.
There are several messages contained in that statement if we take a critical look at the unending bloodbath in the land. One, life has become so cheap that 76 persons killed in a day may not even be considered newsworthy again, much less given a front-page or premium treatment in the media. Someone calls it the “fatigue factor”. Every day, you are reporting 40 killed, 60 killed, 100 killed. It gets to a point there needs to be an extra dimension for you to give it any serious treatment again. I was editor of THISDAY when the Boko Haram insurgency began. A bomb attack without any casualties was news back then. These days, the casualty figure needs to be high to be newsworthy.
Two, some killings are seen as more important than the other. I have studied the Nigerian media closely in the last few years and I can say our ethnic and religious divides have played a key role in the treatment of news. Things have degenerated to such a level that those killed have to be identified as Muslims or Christians, northerners or southerners before the story gets prominence, and the bias is very clear right from the headlines. When travellers were killed in Plateau state and there seemed to be a reprisal less than two weeks later, most newspapers treated the stories with regional bias. That is the state of the country we live in, the country we call our home. So it goes.
Three, where are the security agencies? What happened to intelligence gathering? The sultan asked: “How can people who do these things be unknown? Where are our intelligence agencies? Don’t we have a proactive intelligence agency that will think ahead of the bandits?” Abubakar III is a retired general, so he knows one or two things about security more than I do. He retired as a brigadier general in 2006 to ascend the throne of his forefathers. There was a time I used to defend President Goodluck Jonathan that he needed time to rebuild the security architecture to achieve results. President Muhammadu Buhari has been in office for over six years. I cannot honestly defend him.
Four — and this is linked to three — if intelligence gathering has failed us so woefully, what is the federal government doing to clear the mess? The impression I get from talking to contacts in government is that the Department of State Services (DSS) does an awful lot in gathering intelligence and feeding it into the system but action is what is always lacking. I am not in a position to confirm or deny. But something is certainly not working: either intelligence gathering is poor or action is inadequate. Maybe both are poor and inadequate. I know that a single successful attack can belie a dozen aborted plots, but I am not even sure this is the case. The attacks are too easy and frequent.
Five, the presidential media team says the attack on the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) — in which a major was killed — was “deliberately orchestrated” to make the government look bad. I need some help here. I thought part of the job description of bandit-terrorists is to embarrass the government? Or are they in business to make the government look good? Is presidency stylishly begging the bandits, or terrorists, or whatever they are called, to stop the embarrassment? “Please, guys, stop allowing yourselves to be used to embarrass our government.” This is so low and an assault on our intelligence. When you think some things are bad enough, they get worse.
I remember when Jonathan used to blame Boko Haram attacks on political forces who wanted to embarrass his government. My response was always a one-liner: please go after them if you have concrete evidence. I don’t know how much confidence any government can inspire in citizens by appearing to be helpless. It is Nigerians that should be sounding helpless and the government would be inspiring confidence in them, not gallantly and gleefully displaying vulnerability on the pages of newspapers. This is the kind of lack of professionalism and seriousness that the sultan was hinting at in his lamentations at the meeting. These things appear to percolate in government perennially.
The bloodbath in Nigeria today, unfortunately, is flowing from multiple directions, not just Boko Haram. While it would appear the Boko Haram threat is not what it used to be since the death of Abubakar Shekau — even though the terrorism has not been extinguished — the bandits and kidnappers are not relenting by any chance. But while we can hope to overcome banditry and kidnapping through the might of the security agencies, the same tactics cannot be effective in tackling the kind of killings in Plateau, Kaduna and Benue states, or the Modakeke crisis that almost resurfaced recently. We are dealing with crimes that are built on historical ethnic hate.
Plateau, in particular, has been a killing field for decades. In September 2001, over 1,000 people were killed in six days. In November 2008, a dispute over local government elections led to the death of at least 700 people. In January 2010, another crisis erupted, leading to 400 deaths. Two months later, 300 were hacked to death in Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Ratsat, south of Jos. In December of the same year, 80 people were killed within two days as clashes erupted in Jos yet again. The following month, more than 200 were hacked to death or burnt alive in Jos for the umpteenth time. Permit me to stop the gory list here. The common factor in all cases: deep-seated ethno-religious hate.
Why am I so worried by the resurgence of ethnic violence in Plateau state? It may end up with knock-on effects on the volatile areas in the middle belt and we may be in for a protracted bloodbath. I hope, and pray, that we are not about to enter into another season of attacks and counterattacks as we have witnessed in the past. No kind of killing is good or acceptable, but the Plateau variant is borne out of pure hate and intolerance dating back decades. I am afraid the security agencies can only do so much. We can all see that since the deadly crisis between herders and farmers started in Benue in 2015, the state has not known peace. That is how hate works.
What is the way out? I don’t have a clue. For whatever it is worth, though, we still have to beef up security as a first line of action. Like the sultan suggested, security has to be intelligence-led and proactive. After the killing of travellers along Rukuba Road on August 14, I was so sure another round of carnage was just waiting to happen. You didn’t need to be a genius to predict it. What the government needed to do was de-escalate tensions and prevent another outbreak of violence. But here we are. Also, you would expect some basic conflict-management measures to be in place all along, including alternative dispute resolution and early warning system. But here we are.
Ultimately, I would suggest that the leaders of these communities have a conversation with their consciences. How much bloodshed before enough is enough? How long will ethnic hate control our lives? What will we gain from all these killings? What have we gained from the thousands upon thousands of lives that have been hacked to death in the past? How has it made our lives better? If we truly believe we were created by the same God, why should we be shedding the blood of fellow creatures? As I have said, the security agencies can only do their best but cannot tackle this hate at its roots. The leaders have to become peace builders. Guns cannot conquer hate. Only love can.
I am aware that some people think the best way is to break up the country, but a little look at the Nigerian map shows that this is practically impossible, not with Plateau state at least. I have pointed this out a number of times: there is no neat way of breaking up Nigeria. Even if we have to do it, we still need to learn to live in love and tolerance while we work out the break-up details. The government must also be seen to be fair and just. When people no longer trust the system to protect them and administer justice, anarchy is a natural consequence. If we eventually manage to contain banditry, kidnapping and terrorism with guns, we can never defeat ethnic hate with bullets.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
In a country where health care delivery is so pathetic, the exodus of doctors is double jeopardy. We spend so much money training these doctors, compared to what private institutions charge, home and abroad. We must try harder to keep them. I know we cannot compete with Saudi Arabia salary-wise. Someone said a professor of medicine earns N6m/month in Saudi Arabia, compared to N420,000 here. It’s like expecting Kano Pillars to compete with Man United salary-wise. But we can incentivise our doctors and make their working conditions more conducive. They save lives. Not every doctor is desperate to leave but we are not making things easy for them. Contraindication.
The attack on the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Nigeria’s premier military training institution, in which an officer was killed and two others kidnapped, should rank as one of the lowest points in our history. That the bandits could be so confident to plan and execute such an attack, and do it so successfully and with precision, tells us more about the state of our security than the headlines can suggest. Come to think of it, military barracks have been bombed or overrun by Boko Haram terrorists in the past, so maybe I am the one that has been in denial over the safety of military installations. To think civilians used to run to the barracks for safety in times of trouble! Shame.
The latest query from the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to Channels Television would tend to suggest that the regulator wants every broadcast station to be modelled after NTA, which is just an extension of government. I am not a fan of Benue Governor Samuel Ortom because I know he is playing to the gallery most of the time, but, for goodness sake, there are people on the government side who say worse things on TV and NBC pretends not to be aware. At this rate, NBC will start appointing anchors for Channels TV. If the Nigerian media survived the ruthless and murderous military regimes, this intimidation by NBC is nothing but bread for us. Resilience.
At what stage will the National Judicial Council (NJC) step in to stop the Nigerian judiciary from further ridiculing itself, especially as the 2023 elections draw nearer and nearer? The rate at which orders and injunctions are being procured across the federation should worry anyone who knows our jumbled way of doing things in Nigeria. The governorship primaries in Anambra state were more in the news for court injunctions than anything else, and now members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are getting an average of one court order per day over the chairmanship. This is not just a thing of shame to the judiciary, but also a big threat to the progress of our democracy. Rubbish.