By Ikechukwu Amaechi
ANYONE who watches the trending video of heavily armed bandits taunting Nigeria and its doddering leadership and emotionally assaulting passengers of the Niger State Transport Authority, NSTA, bus without feeling sorry for the country must be subhuman. The victims were abducted in the Yakila district of the Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State on February 15. I had goosebumps watching babies crying, women frantically pleading, men humiliated and resigned to fate, and of course, their tormentors, having the fun of their lives, celebrating their successful haul of human cargo that will soon translate into millions of naira.
The Niger State governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, has confirmed the video and the N500 million ransom already demanded by the bandits. The video graphically illustrates how low the country has sunk under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch. It depicts the helplessness of Nigerians in the face of the existential threat they collectively face. Under Buhari’s watch, it is sorrow, tears and blood, as the Afrobeat legend, Fela, would say. But the consolation is that Nigerians, South of the Niger, have also resolved never to roll over for the hoodlums from the North ever again.
I had resolved last week to stay off the tomfoolery of the Nigerian elite, having come to the inevitable conclusion that they are dyed-in-the-wool hypocrites, set in their adulterous ways. They have no fidelity to the common good. But it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stay aloof when an issue is existential threat – Nigerians are at that dreadful moment when many are increasingly questioning whether their lives have meaning, purpose, or value in their own country.
We are at that scary juncture where though bandits have become existential threat, yet the Northern elite, like the ostrich, are burying their heads in the sand, pretending that by so doing the country’s woes will be wished away. On Tuesday, Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmad Gumi, the chief ideologue of the Fulani supremacist agenda, was on the Africa Independent Television, AIT, where he made the bold-faced claim that bandits learnt kidnapping from Niger Delta militants. That is a lie.
To dissuade terrorists from maiming and killing fellow citizens, he doubled down on his vexatious demand that they be granted amnesty and handsomely compensated if they magnanimously agree to be persuaded to lay down their arms. To them, we, the lesser mortals, don’t have the right to live peacefully or otherwise. It is a privilege at their whims and caprices.
The hubris is suffocating. Rather than address the issue of insecurity, what you hear from the Northern elite is this condescending admonition to the rest of the country not to provoke their wrath. Rather than telling their brothers to stop the kidnappings and senseless bloodletting, they are angry that Nigerians have the audacity to call them out. They are enraged that other Nigerians have the guts to push back on their brazen expansionist agenda.
Why would a governor from the South demand that Fulani herdsmen be flushed out of the forests in his state? They are enraged that non-state actors like Sunday Igboho would dare challenge the suzerainty of the Fulani and defend their people in the face of government’s shameful abdication of its primary responsibility which is the protection of lives and property of the citizens.
They are deploying every trick in the book to deflect the blame from themselves. In all their posturing, they do everything to shield President Buhari, the man on whose watch the country is going to the dogs, from any blame. Curiously, a people that long ago elevated to an art the tendency of blaming the group for the sins of a few are today crying foul that Nigerians are blaming herdsmen for the mayhem across the country. They are now saying that crime has no ethnicity, which is true. But remember the egregious lie of branding the January 15, 1966 coup an Igbo coup?
Yes, that is the hypocrisy that rules the land. They pretend not to know what happened on that fateful day – a group of army officers, the majority of who were Igbo, on their own planned a coup without consulting ordinary Igbo people in the street. Yet, they conveniently branded it for the singular purpose of exacting maximum revenge on the Igbo. Over 55 years after, that lie has persisted and it is at the root of all the injustices meted out to the Igbo in Nigeria. Yet, these same people are protesting loudly that Nigerians are calling out those who have turned Nigeria into a huge killing field.
Why shouldn’t those terrorising Nigerians be identified ethnically? If they are Igbo, will the Sheikh Gumis of this country do otherwise? Now that it has been established beyond doubt that Fulani bandits are behind the mayhem, why should we shy away from saying so? Gumi acknowledges that those he met with in the Zamfara forests are Fulani and those who Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State went to West African countries to pay ransom after they killed his people in Kaduna were Fulani.
Any country that chooses to pamper bandits and reward, rather than punish criminality, pays a very stiff price. Criminals are emboldened when they are treated with kid gloves. So, while Sheikh Gumi is busy demanding amnesty for people, most of them non-citizens, who have made Nigeria a hell for citizens, the bandits struck again on Wednesday. This time, it was at the Government Science College, Kagara in Rafi local government of Niger State. The bandits who struck at about 2.00 a.m., killing one student, Benjamin Doma, whisked away 27 others, three teachers and 12 family members.
The Kagara abduction is coming less than three months after gunmen abducted hundreds of students of Government Secondary School, Kankara in Katsina State. Though the number of abductees as confirmed by Governor Bello are fewer, this is the first time that a student will be killed at the crime scene and teachers taken hostage. Of course, the governor has not only shut down the school with about 650 students, he has also ordered that all boarding schools in Rafi, Mariga, Munya and Shiroro local government areas of the state be shut until further notice.
With this incessant pillaging of schools, how can parents yield to persuasion to enroll their wards? Yet, this is a region that has the highest number of out-of-school children globally and the few that agreed to go to school are being kidnapped, killed and dehumanised by bandits. What a tragedy! The reactions are the same. It is all déjàvu. Governor Bello, pretending to be the tough cookie that he is obviously not, told journalists on Wednesday his government will not pay ransom to the bandits. But he is prepared to support and assist repentant bandits. Who is fooling who?
Senators making their usual noise, called on Buhari to declare a state of emergency and implement their various recommendations on how to tackle the escalating insecurity across the nation. Buhari described the kidnapping as brazen and cowardly even as he dispatched a team of security chiefs to Minna, the Niger State capital, to coordinate the “rescue” operation.
Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the president assured the security chieftains of the support of his administration and urged them to do all that can be done to bring an end to the saga and “avoid such cowardly attacks on schools in the future”. Wasn’t that exactly what he said after the Kankara kidnap saga?
The Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi, assured that the Kagara abductees will be rescued with the same strategy used in Kankara. Put simply, they will negotiate with the bandits, pay hefty ransom to secure the release of the victims. That was the Kankara strategy. Magashi said Nigerians have a responsibility to ensure adequate security, insisting it is not the responsibility of the military alone.
“We shouldn’t be cowards. Sometimes the bandits come with about three rounds of ammunition and when they fire shots everybody will run. In our younger days, we stood to fight any form of aggression,” he said. Isn’t that interesting coming from the same government that will shoot down anyone who tries to stand up to the impunity of bandits? Hypocrisy truly defines this government.