By Rotimi Fasan
What kind of social or political engineering can be executed in a country that has been set adrift by politically-motivated ethnic tension? Nigeria is today being pulled in different directions by forces that may seem beyond it but which are actually within manageable limits if only those invested with the authority to act will do just that.
It is little or no consolation to say that we’ve been here before. What is happening right now reminds one of those moments of our not-so-recent history when everyone seemed to be for themselves while God is for us all.
While Nigeria runs a rigid, centrally-controlled government, that centre seems not to be too concerned about the hullabaloo that surrounds it. Abuja, “the presidency” or the President appears more inclined to watch from the sidelines as things spiral out of control.
Again, it is not as if this is entirely new territory. We have been here before.
The present status, or that state in which Abuja looks on as a bystander while Nigerians from and of different constituents tackle one another, is the defining character of the APC-led administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Rather than it taking one decisive stance, making a conspicuously unambiguous statement on where it stands on the ongoing debate concerning cattle herders or some fringe groups among them that have found the business of kidnapping and rape more lucrative than the honest, but, no doubt, outmoded business of grazing cattle from one end of the country to another; the centre has decided to play the ostrich, either burying its head or averting its gaze as if by so doing the problem it fears would disappear.
Nigerians from different parts of the country are viewing the silence from the centre as complicity in acts of criminality.
While Nigerians poke their fingers in each other’s face and dance to the drumbeats of war, it is the state governors, themselves unbiased players in the smouldering war games, that are left to resolve things the way it seems good to them.
Rhetorically described as “chief security officers” of their states, the state governors can hardly secure their own places of residence.
When things come to a head, they can be placed under house arrest and prevented from leaving their homes by the same commissioners of police that sit as members of the state cabinets while executing orders from above. Again, that is not anything new.
We have seen it in different guises under the current dispensation of our political journey as a country under democratic rule.
The mounting challenges the governors are called upon to manage are mostly about security.
Yet beyond the security votes that many of them routinely collect and promptly put to other personal uses, where the less dishonest of them are spending them to equip and empower the police among other security agencies- where they are not spending their security votes to buy patrol vans and construct police stations, state governors are mere lame ducks condemned to wring their hands in pain, unable to act where the security of their states is concerned.
But they are, nevertheless, stepping up where Abuja, symbolised by President Buhari, has been stepping back, save issuing through “the presidency” periodically dire but ineffectual warnings that many more Nigerians are learning to ignore.
Of what uses are warnings that are not backed by or contradicted by action? What are Nigerians to learn from the empty threat of Abuja to deal with anyone stoking the embers of ethnic tension where the “body language” of Abuja is that of an ethnic champion?
Femi Adesina has told Nigerians that asking President Buhari to speak up, either way on the tense situation created by criminal herders and hysteric Nigerians who see themselves as victims of the herders, amounts to making a talkative out of the president.
This, for a president that has sealed off all other avenues of communicating with Nigerians that his predecessors exploited to their advantage.
Which kind of leader forgoes the opportunity to address and thereby allay the concerns of those over whom he rules?
What is being talkative about condemning the criminal acts of bandits and their overtly suspicious victims or adversaries?
What started among fringe groups that operate mainly in forests and lonely highways is now playing out in the heart of a city like Nigerians saw among the Hausa and Yoruba traders in Shasha Market, Eleyele Local Government Area of Oyo State, last week.
How could a little dispute over the disposal of waste or a fight between two people snowball into an ethnic battle between members of two erstwhile friendly groups?
The suspicion that some Nigerians have that the Fulani are out to lord things over them, buoyed by the idea, as some have argued, that there is a president of Fulani extraction that will protect them, is probably being extended to all Northerners and making some Nigerians less patient to tolerate certain behaviours, however ordinary but now invested with great significance, that could have been better ignored.
State governors have become key players on security issues that are well beyond their briefs. But since President Buhari has elected not to be talkative, all kinds of rascals are exploiting his silence to spread hate.
Simplistic as it may sound (even though it’s appearing more difficult to do), all that was needed for all this tension to have dissolved before now was for President Muhammadu Buhari to have spoken up in very loud and clear words condemning the criminal activities of rape, arson and murder by fringe elements who just happened to be Fulani.
By refusing to speak while individuals acting in the name of “the presidency” rise to explain or justify these criminal acts, the President has allowed a festering sore to metastasise into a cancerous wound that is now fraying the edges of the country’s tenuous unity.
Ethnic nationalists from the south of Nigeria are rising by the day and are riding the crest of public acclaim, no thanks to the uncontrolled vitriol and triumphant boasts of murderous revanchists spokespersons like Alhassan Saleh of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore with the active support of a Bala Muhammed who as governor of Bauchi makes an invidious case for the cattle herders to be allowed to bear arms, the same arms they have been accused of using to pacify farmers and others whose farms and communities are sacked with impunity.
Even the Nigerian Immigration Service like other security agencies taking their cue from Abuja now wants Nigerians to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes that cattle herders bear arms. Where there’s no justice, there can’t be peace.