By Rotimi Fasan
It is just January of the year 2021 and a few more days to the end of the month but Nigeria appears to be sinking under the dead weight of its many challenges that have been foundational to her existence as a sovereign nation. From political to economic and health issues, Nigeria has far more to grapple with than its leadership seems able to cope with.
All these problems appear to coalesce under one broad heading: security. Being a Nigerian is increasingly a precarious situation. Life is as insecure as ever and there does not appear to be a solution in sight. The Boko Haram and ISWAP spearheaded insurgency is still ravaging the North. Stretched beyond its utmost limit, the Nigerian military is at its wit’s end as more Nigerians reconcile to the idea of outsourcing the protection of the homeland to foreigners.
Baba Gana Zulum, the Borno State governor, who recently ruffled already frayed nerves with his allegation that many Christians are among the militants leading the insurgency in the Northern parts of the country, was for long the lone voice in the wilderness, calling for the use of paid soldiers to help prosecute the war against insurgency. Recently, Prof. Wole Soyinka joined his voice to the call for foreign assistance of whatever form in the fight to defeat the insurgency.
Perhaps more than the activities of insurgents, banditry is now the economic mainstay of many parts of the North and is being exported to the South. Everywhere one turns bandits are in operation. They attack and sack villages, towns and cities and send the security agencies running with their tails between their legs. The country’s military and paramilitary forces are recording gains but not enough to stem the triumphant tide of the bandits’ attacks.
No day passes without reports of Nigerians in different parts of the North being taken hostage in their tens and hundreds. Huge sums of money are paid for their release despite false and misleading claims by the security agencies that they are on top of the situation and that no ransom is paid for the release of kidnap victims.
While the situation in the North is well known and is fast becoming the norm, the unacceptable predation of criminals in the form of bandits and armed robbers masquerading as herdsmen are leading to a breakdown of national cohesion down South. The so-called herdsmen have been causing mayhem in different parts of the South West, from Ondo to Oyo, Osun and Ogun states. Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State, in exasperation, ordered the herdsmen, said to be operating illegally from within forest reserves which they use as hideout for their criminal activities, to vacate these places.
The ink in the pen with which Akeredolu signed his vacation order was yet to go dry on the document before Garba Shehu, speaking in the name of the “Presidency”, responded that the governor had no right to prevent Nigerians of whatever ethnicity from operating from any part of the country. What Garba Shehu mischievously chose to sidestep is the fact that Akeredolu’s order was to illegal occupants of the forest reserves in Ondo State. While Akeredolu’s ultimatum would seem in order the one from Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, a Yoruba nationalist agitator, was a blanket order that the Fulani, some of whom it is said know no other place as home, should leave the Ibarapa area of Oyo State within seven days.
Again, this was an act of frustration that followed the reckless antisocial behaviour of some people who have been identified as herdsmen who randomly destroy properties, abduct, rape and murder the Yoruba indigenes of Ibarapa.
While it is clear that these criminal activities couldn’t be more than the handiwork of a few Fulani outlaws, the activities are well-coordinated operations that also seem to enjoy the tacit support or protection of the larger Fulani community.
This is made worse by the eager readiness of the likes of Garba Shehu to oppose and stonewall any action meant to address the herdsmen menace even as he pretends to speak in the name of a reticent President Muhammadu Buhari that many Nigerians accuse of promoting Northern, or particularly, Fulani hegemony in an increasingly fractured Nigerian state.
Since the resurgent attacks of the so-called herdsmen under the Buhari government, not many of them have been brought to justice. Many Nigerians in fact see the government of the day as offering tacit protection to the rampaging criminals who just happen to be Fulani given the President’s lukewarm response to the many reports of attacks by the herdsmen and silence over the incendiary utterances and activities of the umbrella body of the cattle breeders.
What is more, the security agencies that often appear lost for an appropriate response when incidents of herdsmen attacks are reported suddenly get hyperactive in moving against and effecting the arrest of other Nigerians who take on the Fulani. This just played out in the recent incidents involving Rotimi Akeredolu and Sunday Adeyemo on one hand and the Fulani in the Ondo forest reserves and Ibarapa, on the other hand.
The picture is no less bleak on the economic front where Abuja has been struggling to raise money to fund the 2021 budget. Where government is not looking to dip into pensioners’ savings, or selling its own assets, it is casting around for loans from all and every willing sources.
The horizon is made bleaker by the COVID-19 pandemic claiming lives in its destructive wake. While businesses, groups, and individuals rose up to support the government with billions of naira as the country went into lockdown last March, there is hardly anyone raising a finger to offer support of any kind this time around.
Could this be the result of the lack of transparency that dogged the management of the funds raised to palliate Nigerians or the general mismanagement of the response to the pandemic? The news is everywhere of acute shortage of oxygen in hospitals. Many of the isolation centres that were established less than a year ago have simply ceased to exist and testing and contact tracing of infected persons are no longer prioritised.
But the pandemic is not in abeyance and the country cannot afford another lockdown despite the government’s threats. Schools and offices willy-nilly have to open for business. While the Buhari government is hoping to stem the tide of the pandemic, the likes of Yahaya Bello, governor of Kogi, remain not only in denial but are actively promoting baseless conspiracy theories about COVID-19 or condemning the vaccines meant to prevent it as killer drugs.
It is evident even to the blind that Nigeria is overripe for a national referendum, soul-searching, and stocktaking to consider the appropriate terms for the existence of its constituent parts.