By Muyiwa Adetiba
Anybody with a heart should be bleeding for what is happening in Benue State in particular and the entire North-Central in general. Hardly a day goes by without reports of someone being killed in a most gruesome manner. Or people being displaced from their ancestral land. Or houses being burnt and farms destroyed in a most wanton manner. Or women being gang raped and slaughtered like cattle. The one thing that a rural community has, the one thing going for it is serenity.
That has been shattered in the Benue trough and environs. Here, a man’s home is no longer his place of refuge, his castle. A rural life doesn’t ask for too much. A place to sleep, a means of livelihood and family and friends to share special times with. He doesn’t much care what happens in Makurdi talk less of Abuja. He wants his space. He wants his peace. Unfortunately, these have been denied him by the politics of the people in Makurdi and Abuja.
Conspiracy theories abound on what is happening in the north-central part of the country. Some claim it is ethnic cleansing. Some claim it is simply economic. Some see it as an outward manifestation of a deep seated animosity. Some whisper that it is the standing army of a top politician who had vowed to destabilise the country if he didn’t win the last election. It may be a bit of all of these or it might not even be connected to any of them.
What is clear is that politicians, elected and selected, have failed that zone. Security officials however appointed—through merit or ethno-politics—have also failed. And they are fast turning that zone into a failed zone.
I grew up believing the myth of a monolithic North. This myth was nurtured and sustained by the early northern politicians who tried to be as inclusive as they could to different components and constituencies of the north. The result is that even the Yoruba speaking areas in the north were not left out of scholarships and appointments.
I grew up believing that Hausa was the language for the north as every northerner I knew then could speak it. Just as I grew up with the myth of a Christian south and a Muslim north even when I had Muslims as my primary school mates. It’s instructive to note that fears of ethnic and religious marginalisation had always been there in the north but they were largely contained in the wider interests of the region.
It is to the credit of their founding fathers therefore that it was not until I became a practicing journalist that I realised how deep these cleavages were. It is on the other hand, to the discredit of the current crop of politicians that these divisions have become so exacerbated that nobody fools himself about a monolithic north anymore. So if what is happening in the central part of the north is because of ethnic or religious cleansing, then the northern politicians should look at themselves in the mirror.
They should be ashamed that despite better education and exposure over their fore-fathers, they are thoughtlessly destroying the legacy they inherited. Education and exposure should teach tolerance and accommodation. These are in short supply. What has been exposed instead are the shallowness and short-sightedness of the northern elite. It might still come back to haunt them when the future of this country is to be decided.
And if what is happening is economic as some believe, the blame still goes to the northern politicians. The north had been the poorer cousin to the south for years in terms of education, skills acquisition and modernisation. Rather than be embarrassed by this fact, the northern elite has exploited it to blackmail the rest of the country while doing nothing to lighten the poverty in his region. He has not encouraged mass education; he has not encouraged acquisition of skills; he has not exposed them to newer and better ways of doing things. He has instead, used religion and culture to deepen their poverty. Basic family planning he has not encouraged.
Every unflattering index of underdevelopment—poverty, unemployment, infant mortality, class inequality, out of school children, population growth—is accentuated in the north. Juxtapose it with the volume of Federal Government largess—to individuals in terms of oil blocs and appointments, and to the region in allocation—over the years and you wonder where all the money has gone. I often wonder if their wealth embarrasses them when they leave their mansions in Abuja, Dubai and London to visit their places of birth and see the stagnation and obvious poverty in these places. Especially when they know they can do something about it. The northern politicians should look at the mirror again.
As to the standing army, it seems to be the unwholesome tendency of our politicians to have thugs at their beck and call these days. The more violent the thugs, the more the politicians are feared and the more they are feared, the more their chances of winning elections. Election in Nigeria is about rigging and rigging is about money and coercion.
A large proportion of arms and ammunition in the system were brought in by politicians not to fight external aggressors but to fight political opposition. And what happens when you arm miscreants, embolden them, and give them immunity from law enforcement officers? What happens to the guns in between elections? Ray Charles gave us an answer in his song which said ‘heaven help the man who won’t reach 21 (an age of maturity). Heaven help the man who gives that boy a gun. Heaven help us all’.
We had been told that the thugs and guns of some politicians formed the core of the Niger-Delta militants. We had been told that the guns and thugs of some politicians formed the core of the Boko Haram terrorists. We are now being told that the guns and thugs of some politicians formed the core of the Offa robbers. Should we also believe that the core of the Fulani Herdsmen comes from the thugs and guns of some politicians as well? If these, including kidnaps, are just examples of what happens in between elections to the guns and thugs politicians use to fight and win elections then our politicians should look at themselves in the mirror. And stop shedding crocodile tears.
I honestly hope that our politicians in their myopic quest for power and wealth will not end up blowing this country up.