By Owei Lakemfa
WHENEVER I go to Rwanda, I visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial. A monument to the bestial level, human beings can descend, and a reminder that we must do everything possible to ensure that the massacre of over 850,000 people in 1994 in a hate rage, is never repeated. Apart from the display of skulls, many of them babies and children with brains blown or knocked out, there is the ‘Burial Place’ in the memorial where the remains of 250,000 individual victims of the genocide are interred.
This tragedy is the harvest of hate speech and actions, where Hutu elite saw their Tutsi fellow citizens, not as human beings, but “cockroaches”. What do you do to cockroaches but to eliminate them. In so doing, the perpetrators did not feel or think that they were killing humans.
To be sure, it did not just happen overnight, it took years of brainwashing. In 1990, the Hutu elite had produced what was called “The Hutu Ten Commandments.” It forbid Hutus inter marrying, employing, doing business or being friends with Tutsis declaring anyone who violated same, a traitor. Therefore, when the massacres were carried out, ‘moderate’ Hutus with any affiliation with Tutsis were also eliminated.
You can then imagine my horror when I read an article “The Herdsmen from hell” by former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode. This was his reaction to the abduction of Chief Olu Falae. He concluded that the abduction was by Fulani herdsmen who are working with the Boko Haram.
He showed no proof whatsoever. Even if the perpetrators of this heinous crime were some herdsmen, how could this have amounted to a collective guilt of all Fulani herdsmen in the country? Also, he ought to know that only courts can pronounce guilt.
To compound my horror, contrary to the Fundamental Human Rights Charter and the Nigerian constitution, he argued that millions of Fulani herdsmen should be denied their fundamental right of movement by being banned from the southern part of the country.
But the most disturbing for me was his characterisation of all Fulani herdsmen “These herdsmen have become the pests of our nation. They are like the East African tsetse fly: wherever they go they suck the life blood out of their hosts and, like the locust, they destroy everything in their path. They are like leeches: they indulge in a parasitic mode of nutrition and they suck the blood of the carcass until their victim is left for dead. Like the Arab Janjaweed, they are only known for the most hideous of things. This includes terror, intimidation, theft, murder, rape, abduction, mutilation, the violation of the rights of others, the destruction of the land and crops of farmers and the destruction of property”
As we know, the tsetse fly is about two or three dozen species of an African bloodsucking fly which feast on humans and animals, and transmits the sleeping sickness disease and nagana, the disease that weakens and kills animals. What are humans expected to do with tsetse flies, but to eliminate them? So what does the former Minister intend to achieve, invoking such powerful imagery to describe fellow citizens?
All over history, those who carry out genocide, first convince themselves that their victims are not human beings. When the Adolf Hitler administration decided to eliminate blacks and Jews, it first claimed a sense of superiority by the Aryan race; the same sense of ethnic superiority Fani-Kayode is claiming. Secondly, it categorised the victims as sub human beings. So gassing and eliminating them was not killing humans. Same was the case when Germans carried out genocide against Namibians, Turks against Armenians, British against indigenous Australians, Americans against indigenous Indians, whites against South African blacks, and of course, the on-going genocide by Israel against Palestinians.
To me, the ex-minister misfired, and I thought he ought to be forgiven for his slip. The vigilant chair of the National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu did the nation some good by calling attention to the implications of Fani-Kayode’s piece. He argued logically and intelligently that “Chief Olu Falae’s abduction is a crime, but to make that the basis of a campaign against a race as Femi Fani-Kayode did is hate speech. It is hate speech to leave individual responsibility and describe a race as tse-tse fly, locust, leeches, etc.”
The ex-minister ought to have apologised, rather, he flew into a rage: “I have no regrets for describing those murderous Fulani herdsmen as tsetse flies. Actually they are worse than that because, like Satan, they only come to kill, steal and destroy.” Such comments are outrageous. The Fulani of whatever class; herdsmen, milk ladies, politicians or middle class are an integral part of our country and continent. No Nigerian has a greater stake or say than the other. We are all born free and equal.
The scourge of kidnapping has been with us for some years, and going by reportage, criminals from the southern part dominate this crime. The fact is that Chief Falae was kidnapped. Whether the kidnappers were Fulani herdsmen, Yoruba cocoa farmers, Igbo traders, Berom miners or Ijaw fishermen is immaterial. To then find millions of people guilty of a crime that might have been committed by three or four persons, is extreme.
Rather than continue digging into the quicksand he has chosen to walk, Fani-Kayode needs to get out fast. Also, given his education and exposure, he ought to know that words can be like a broken egg which cannot be retrieved.
Ordinarily, Fani-Kayode writes and speaks well, so what is responsible for the ellipsis in his thought process which suffers such seizures and makes him as unpredictable as the British weather?
The greater challenge we face are not the herdsmen who have been left in the state of nature by an uncaring system, but our nomadic elite who like herds, roam through various political parties, crushing ministerial gardens and eating or destroying our national harvests. The political elite ought to have basic code of conduct under which they can call to order, members of their class whose messages or actions endanger the very existence of the people.