By Azuka Onwuka
There is a dangerous feeling one gets about Nigeria. That feeling is an air of resignation by Nigerians that insecurity has become a part of normal life in the country. Every week, there are several cases of killing those sleeping in their homes, a sign that these are not communal clashes. There are stories of kidnapping of those travelling from one point to another.
Then occasionally, there are stories of dozens of schoolchildren abducted from their schools. These exclude the stories of armed robbery, ritual kidnapping, and the like, which seem to have taken the back seat because they are not seen as threatening as the violence from Boko Haram, bandits and herdsmen. Armed robbers usually attack places where they are sure of a lot of cash.
One can avoid them by resorting to cashless transactions. Moreover, not many Nigerians engage in large-scale transactions that will attract armed robbers. Ritual killers are more subtle in their approach and usually target vulnerable people, especially individuals who are alone.
But the attacks by bandits and herdsmen are unpredictable. Nobody knows where the next attack will happen and who the victims will be. The camps for Internally Displaced Persons are swelling; orphans whose parents were wiped out are multiplying.
In all this, the most dangerous aspect is the increasing sense of detachment and disillusionment in Nigerians. It is no longer surprising these days to hear those who fervently believed in an indivisible Nigeria make contrary comments. These comments drip with a feeling of hopelessness and despondency over Nigeria’s future.
Many no longer want to be associated with what Nigeria has turned out to be. The new image of Nigeria as a land where people are slaughtered on a daily basis is repugnant to many. Nobody wants to be a citizen of a country where the news of 20 people slaughtered in their sleep is a regular occurrence that no longer evokes shock or anger.
As if that is not enough, the recent moves led by Sheikh Ahmed Gumi to portray these killers as “oppressed people fighting for justice” who should be granted amnesty is nauseating to many. Many have wondered what injustice was done to the perpetrators of these crimes that warranted them taking up arms to kidnap rape and kill citizens of Nigeria who are fellow victims of the Nigerian situation.
Were their resources taken away by government without any compensation? Was their land polluted by the exploitation of the resources in their land? Were they denied education while others were given? Were they excluded from political appointments which others were given? Were they denied projects and basic infrastructure which others got? None of these happened.
Their grouse is that they are not given the freedom to let their cows graze as they wish to, even if that endangers the farms of others. Just as these cows are the source of wealth and livelihood of the herdsmen, so are the crops planted by the farmers are their source of wealth and livelihood. This creates conflicts which lead to the killing of some of these cows or even attack on the herdsmen by communities whose farms have been destroyed by the grazing cows. The herdsmen also allege that their cows are stolen by people.
These are not strange. The more land reduces in size through construction and climate change creates more deforestation, nomadic grazing will continue to create conflicts between farmers and herders. The stealing of cows (which is called cattle rustling) is a crime which is regrettable. But cows are not pieces of diamonds that can be picked up by anyone and hidden in the pocket and taken away. Cows are large animals can be unruly and gore to death those trying to steal them. Only those who have the expertise to control them can steal them and take them away peacefully.
In addition, communities do not hold meetings to steal people’s cows. Only criminals steal cows. Car sellers sometimes have their cars stolen by thieves or even burnt to ashes by rioters. The cost of one of such cars may run into millions of naira. Yet, car sellers do not take up arms, go into the forests and start the crime of kidnapping for ransom, rape, killing and collection of protection money from communities as a way of registering their anger.
What worsens the situation is the tacit support these criminals get from the federal government. They talk publicly and claim responsibility for killings but no action is taken against them. They visit TV stations and meeting venues in the name of cow breeders and issue threats of what they will do if they are not allowed to graze openly as they wish, yet nothing is done to them. There is also the feeling the masses get that the bandits, herdsmen and Boko Haram have more power of coercion than the government. The government seems helpless before these three sets of outlaws.
Last week, there was news that trucks from the North loaded with foodstuffs were turned back from entering the South. The Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria said it took the action to protest the alleged killing of its members in parts of the country. But it is interpreted as the North’s response to the anti-open grazing stance of the South. Many southern states have passed laws banning open grazing of cows.
Many states have also created vigilante groups to help them protect their states. In the South-West, the rise in insecurity recently led to ethnic tension between the Fulani and their Yoruba hosts, propelling a man called Sunday Igboho to issue a threat for the Fulani to leave parts of the South-West. Even though the issue of threat has been resolved, the ethnic tension has not abated.
The perception among many Nigerians today is that the Fulani, with the tacit support of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), have a mission to exterminate other Nigerians and take over the control of their lands. Even though this is far-fetched, this perception has gained ground because of the kid gloves with which Buhari treats all issues concerning the Fulani. This perception has further made many Nigerians feel detached from Nigeria as a country incapable of protecting them and taking care of their welfare.
Nigeria is wobbling. There is an eerie feeling that something negative (to put it mildly) may happen. The nature of that is not clear, but many fear that it may shake Nigeria to its foundations. What started as insecurity in some parts of the North-East has snowballed into widespread insecurity in the North-West and North-Central.
People in the North are not safe at home and are not safe on the roads or even at worship places and schools. Heavy ransoms are collected by these criminals with which they buy more sophisticated weapons. The police are overwhelmed; the soldiers are overstretched. Government seems helpless or perhaps not adequately interested in solving the problem.
That insecurity has spilled over to the South, with the South-West being the hardest hit in recent times, speaks volumes. Efforts are being made by many Southerners to ensure that the South does not become as unsafe as the North. Sadly, the attitude of the Nigerian security agencies seems to be that of people chasing rats while their house is burning.
Nobody knows when this insecurity will end and the nature it will take in the days ahead. Stakeholders should not relent in ensuring that their communities are protected. No people can afford to be under the perpetual fear of not being able to sleep or travel or farm. That is living in bondage.