Stoking the Embers of Discord, By Dele Agekameh
The failure of government is the major culprit in the ongoing distrust and mistrust that have gripped the country. Insecurity persists because criminal groups are allowed to survive and evolve. To separate criminality from the individual and rest it on a whole ethnic group is a recipe for genocide and Nigerians should know better.
If there is anything dominating major discussions in Nigeria today, it is the present widespread insecurity across the country. And there is little need for more warnings in the face of the obvious and constant threats that are faced every day in all parts of the country. But the real danger, and one for which we must warn and be warned about, may lie in the bye-products of the widespread insecurity. Insecurity makes people withdraw into their cocoons – which in Nigeria, unfortunately, is more likely to be one’s ethnic or religious community, and sometimes, even social class. Right now, these groups are binding closer together in reaction to national insecurity, and it is encouraging division, rather than the more necessary national unity that we need at this time. Thus, it is a time for caution.
While the apparatus of state has been deployed, without much success, in fighting the pervasive crime and violence that have almost enveloped the country, trust Nigerians, they have been seeking solace and a sense of security in their own ways. The truth is, people are starting to drift more towards the assumed safety of their tribal and religious communities. The direct consequence of this is that some form of ethno-religious tension is gradually building up around the country. What, with accusations flying about and old, negative stereotypes stirring to life in discussions. The government needs to get its act together fast and take responsibility.
The manifestation of ethno-religious sentimentalism has been fiercest on social media, whose ‘panic network’ has led to the intentional or unintentional spread of divisive messages. These messages and broadcasts have once again raised the spectre of ugly rumours, like the alleged “Fulanisation/Islamisation agenda” that has grown fresh teeth through recent utterances made by Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of the country. Since leaving office, Obasanjo has been known to be critical of successive administrations, including those he is credited for “installing” in power. It does not matter whether he is dubbed a mere rabble rouser or a reasoned voice in the current situation. For sure, his words are being taken very seriously by people already desperate for explanations and solutions to the myriad of security problems bedeviling the nation.
On one hand, many steps that have been taken by the government in the past few years have allowed these rumours to fester, and some may say, these justify the rumours. On the other hand, it can be considered indelicate for a statesman of former President Obasanjo’s stature to willfully make inflammatory statements of that nature, given the current situation of the country. However, Obasanjo is not alone. Theophilus Danjuma, the billionaire retired general, had made similar comments in the past. That was also greeted with uproar from certain quarters. Obasanjo and Danjuma’s comments may be dripping with tribal venom and ethnic sentimentalism, but they are not altogether crazy words.
From Sokoto to Borno, Niger to Adamawa, Oyo to Ebonyi, on expressways across the country and in rural communities everywhere, people are falling victim to common criminals who have no ideology or creed, and are driven solely by selfish interests and governmental neglect.
One thing is that the people in the corridors of power need to see the bigger picture of what is really going on, before we are all consumed in it. The set-up of the country at this time favours divisive speeches. Even Wole Soyinka, the renowned Nobel laureate, has come out to say that this is not a time to be too dismissive or even abrasive. When two retired generals are towing similar lines and ordinarily reasoned voices are asking the country to pay attention, it means that something is amiss. The danger, however, is that far from the selfish interest of the so-called bandits, terrorists and other criminally inclined tormentors that Nigerians have to endure in these times, it may be the panic set in motion by unbridled ethnic sentimentalism that will be the country’s undoing.
Today, one is seeing more content on social media with names of historical figures like Usman Dan Fodio, the 19th century Fulani muslim cleric and revolutionary; Queen Moremi; and Aare Ona Kakanfo Afonja, freedom fighter and warrior, both of Yoruba folklore. The aim of the messages is for nothing but to stir tribal sentiments against an alleged “Fulanisation” agenda in Nigeria. The leaders of the South-West are already echoing some of the tribal fears and concerns contained in these messages, while the accused on the other side (the Fulanis in this case) are forced to defend the accusations. It is instructive that the president’s perceived pattern of appointments, the criminality of some alleged herdsmen of no verifiable identity and the misguided comments of spokespersons for Miyetti Allah, the cattle herder’s association, are enough to raise resentment and suspicions against a whole ethnic group.
From Sokoto to Borno, Niger to Adamawa, Oyo to Ebonyi, on expressways across the country and in rural communities everywhere, people are falling victim to common criminals who have no ideology or creed, and are driven solely by selfish interests and governmental neglect. But the real issues are being relegated to the background. While the government may be accused of being docile towards its duties, the picture of a grand agenda by an ethnic faction to orchestrate a nationwide campaign of death to bring others to their knees before a “superior race” sounds incredibly farcical in the 21st century. We all need to be vigilant, but we have to be wary of divisive narratives, lest we go fighting imaginary enemies, while we inadvertently re-enact the Rwandan genocide out of panic.
The country is in a fight with bandits and their benefactors or partners, and if ethnic conflicts play into their agenda, we should not help feed it. Even if the captors in the recent kidnappings across the South-West are from a certain ethnic group, the uproar should be about the crime first.
For victims of kidnappings, especially in the South-West, who have returned to tell tales of Fulani captors in the forests of the region, one cannot fault the evidence of their eyes and ears. But one can fault the preconceived notions, the consumed and assumed stereotypes and likely ignorance that can influence those tales. The country is in a fight with bandits and their benefactors or partners, and if ethnic conflicts play into their agenda, we should not help feed it. Even if the captors in the recent kidnappings across the South-West are from a certain ethnic group, the uproar should be about the crime first. But these days, many are already waiting, and maybe even hoping, to hear that the captors are from a certain ethnic group in the country.
The mode of operation of known terrorists and criminals operating in the North is clear. For instance, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, who are themselves no more than bandits, abduct young men who are kept and brainwashed as foot soldiers for their murderous cause. Others are children of women slaves who have been raped repeatedly. Those children are born with no other knowledge of the world than what is taught by their ‘fathers’. In Africa, this is a common way of recruiting into criminal or immoral groups, because adults could be more rational and logical, even in criminality. The forest-dwelling bandits are much the same, and it is practically impossible to monitor these groups.
The problem on our hands is that of criminality gone out of control. It is now leading into areas that have devastated other countries in history. A presidential panel just released recommendations for state and local government police but there is a sense that these times may be dangerous to put that particular plan into motion. This is because the wrong sentiments are currently at play in the entire country. It will be unfortunate if it turns out to be a failed experiment after tribal leaders and others have abused such a right in the panic to fight assumed enemies.
The failure of government is the major culprit in the ongoing distrust and mistrust that have gripped the country. Insecurity persists because criminal groups are allowed to survive and evolve. To separate criminality from the individual and rest it on a whole ethnic group is a recipe for genocide and Nigerians should know better. The country is going through trying times, but we cannot give in to the machinations of criminals and become what we are attempting to preach against. We ought to be fighting crime and incompetent leadership, and not alienating each other on the altar of tribalism.
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