It was Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century English philosopher, who in his seminal work, Leviathan, put a magnifying lens on what he termed “the natural condition of mankind.”
All humans are by nature equal in faculties of body and mind, he argued, and therefore, “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called warre … of every man against every man,” a natural condition he elucidates with the Latin phrase bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all).
“The life of man” in the state of nature, Hobbes famously wrote, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
In the state of nature, security was impossible for anyone, and the fear of death dominated every aspect of life. Being rational, man sought to reverse this nihilistic status quo.
Therefore, since in the state of nature “all men have a natural right to all things,” to assure peace, men must give up their right to some things, and Hobbes went further to assert an individual’s transfer of some of his rights to another is offset by certain gains for himself.
At the societal level, the mutual transfer of individual rights to a body called government becomes a social contract and Hobbes argues further that this contract is the basis for all collective moral order.
Right to self-preservation
Yet, it does not detract from the natural right to self-preservation, which in any case is the basis for any contract. When a government, by omission or commission, defaults in safeguarding lives, man’s survival instinct comes to the rescue.
Hobbes who lived between 1588 and 1679 made these observations long ago when there was no country called Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the 21st century Nigeria epitomizes Hobbes’ state of nature because of the government’s miserable failure to live up to its contractual obligation of ensuring the safety of lives and property of the people.
Apologists of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government will, typically, dismiss this position at best as hyperbolic, an exaggeration, or worse, the ranting of the nay-Sayers. But those holding the wrong end of government’s abdication stick know what it means to live in a state of nature painted graphically by Thomas Hobbes.
The unlucky ones are buried in mass graves, mere numbers without identity. Many of those who count themselves lucky simply because they are still alive are in camps for internally displaced people in their own country. They can neither go back to their ancestral homes nor access their farmlands. They live in perpetual fear. The Benue villages that were attacked on New Year day remain inaccessible to both the police deployed there and residents who fled.
For those who live in the frontlines of this asymmetric war waged by Fulani herdsmen, life in 21st century Nigeria has become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
As Nigerians, we must be worried, more so when government’s counter narrative is added as an extra ingredient into the already deadly brew. It is frightening that the government is not only doing nothing to stop the bloodbath but also deliberately pushing out a narrative that is patently false with the sole purpose of wheedling the unwary.
The brazen attempt by government officials to make villains out of victims while beatifying scoundrels who have made life hellish for fellow citizens is beyond comprehension.
For instance, why would President Buhari admonish Benue leaders in the wake of the bloodbath in the state orchestrated by herdsmen to try and restrain their people (the victims) by accommodating fellow countrymen (the villains) “in the name of God.”
The implication of this plea is that the president believes herdsmen are victims in this war of attrition.
Taking a cue from his principal, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, on Thursday, January 25, pointedly blamed the passage of anti-open grazing law in some states as the cause of the killings by the herdsmen.
Briefing journalists at the end of a meeting of security chiefs chaired by President Buhari, the minister urged Nigerians to learn to accept foreigners.
“Whatever crisis that happened at any time, there has to be remote and immediate causes,” he said.
“What are the remote causes of this farmers/herders crisis? Since independence, we know there used to be a route whereby these cattle rearers use.
“Cattle rearers are all over the nation, you go to Bayelsa, you see them, you go to Ogun, and you see them. If those routes are blocked, what happens? These people are Nigerians, it’s just like you going to block river or shoreline, does that make sense to you?
“These are the remote causes. But what are the immediate causes? It is the grazing law. These people are Nigerians, we must learn to live together with each other; that is basic.
“Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave, finish!”
Saying this after attending a security meeting presided over by the president, that couldn’t have been his personal opinion. It was the opinion of the security apparatchik and their commander-in-chief.
Is it then any surprise that none of these murderers has been arrested? Rather than disarming the herdsmen who are openly brandishing their lethal weapons, the defence minister would want vigilante groups and forest guards disarmed.
Is the minister of defence saying that in the 21st century in a country supposedly governed by law, rather than going to the court to enforce abridged rights, the herdsmen have the right to murder anyone who stands in their way?
Then, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who last month described the Benue killings as “a communal clash,” on Friday, February 2, told Nigerian senators who launched an inquiry into the attacks, that anti-open grazing law enacted by Ekiti, Benue and Taraba states was the reason for the killings. To him, therefore, the only solution to the crisis is the suspension of a law legitimately enacted.
But the government is being economical with the truth. For instance, the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of Benue State in particular was an attempt by Benue people who felt abandoned by the government in Abuja at finding a solution to the herdsmen rampage. The carnage preceded the law, which only came into effect in November 2017.
Since 2013, more than 50 attacks linked to herdsmen were reported in states as far flung as Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Adamawa, Enugu, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Ondo, Zamfara, Kaduna, Edo, Plateau, among others.
More than 500 residents killed in Agatu
In February 2016, more than 500 residents were killed in Agatu, Benue State. Government officials claim that more than 100,000 villagers are currently living in several IDP camps across the state.
In any case, if the bloodbath is punishment for the anti-open crazing law, what is the justification for the killings in states that don’t have the law?
Yet, the presidency blames the media for its self-induced murky perception miasma.
On Friday, February 2, the same day ICP Idris amplified Buhari’s mindset at the Senate, Garba Shehu, the president’s media aide launched a broadside at the media accusing journalists of “sinking deeper and deeper into the mesh of hate speech.”
As a Nigerian, it is extremely difficult to rationalise federal government’s position on the carnage.
As Hobbes rightly observed, the fact that a people went into a social contract, renouncing the right to kill another in exchange for not being killed, in no way negates their natural right to self-preservation, which in any case is the first law of nature. It is even more so where the government wilfully repudiates its own obligation as it is evident in the extant case.
When Garba says President Buhari has the primary duty of protecting life and property of all Nigerians, he is stating the obvious.
But when he adds “and that is what he has been doing in Benue and across the country,” many Nigerians will beg to disagree. The blood of the innocent flowing like a river across the country bears witness that the president is not up to scratch in discharging that responsibility.
Ikechukwu Amaechi, is MD/Editor-in-Chief, TheNiche on Sunday newspaper, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.