The immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, is a very lucky man. And so are the ex-Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonishakin; ex-Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar; and ex-Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok Ete-Ibas. Soon after they left their exalted positions in the military, these men grabbed another one in diplomatic circles. President Muhammadu Buhari has just nominated them as non-career ambassadors. I don’t envy them at all.
My little worry is the motive behind Buhari’s action. Here are service chiefs who recorded a harvest of sorrow, tears and blood during their reign. The spate of insecurity became so unbearable that many Nigerians clamoured for their removal. And when they all resigned last month, many people breathed a sigh of relief.
So, nominating them as ambassadors meant that the President didn’t believe they were incompetent. He probably urged and accepted their resignation just to pander to the wishes of Nigerians and give the impression that he was a listening President. What he has done is to reward their loyalty to him even when their tenure was turbulent for Nigeria.
Anyway, I can hazard a guess as to where these future diplomats may be posted to. It could be Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen or Myanmar. Recall that Myanmar’s military overthrew the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi recently. They slammed her with ridiculous charges, including illegally importing 10 walkie-talkies. Our ex-military diplomats are likely to be at home in a country like this. I doubt if any advanced democracy will accept them as ambassadors.
A school of thought has it that Buhari gave them this appointment to give them immunity and shield them from prosecution in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged crimes against humanity. Article 29 of the Vienna Convention grants diplomats immunity from civil or criminal prosecution. Already, the Concerned Nigerians Group, led by Deji Adeyanju, has asked the ICC to investigate and prosecute Buratai for human rights violations and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the army during the his tenure as army chief. The ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had also noted last year that the court had sufficient information against the service chiefs for alleged war crimes in the war against insurgents.
I don’t know how far the ex-service chiefs will go in escaping justice. But the fact remains that many Nigerians will not forget in a hurry the vultures that hovered over Nigeria during their tenure. Under them, kidnapping blossomed. Extrajudicial killings became rampant. Ethnic and communal tension rose to fever pitch.
Buratai took the lion’s share of the blame. Under his watch in December 2015, soldiers in his convoy reportedly killed over 300 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) in Zaria, Kaduna State. The army took the action to dislodge Shiites who had barricaded a road in the city. They claimed their action was a response to an attempt on Buratai’s life.
The most recent actions of the army under Buratai were the Lekki and Oyigbo killings in Lagos and Rivers States, respectively. On October 20, 2020, during the #EndSARS protests that rocked the nation, soldiers stormed Lekki Toll Gate and allegedly opened fire on peaceful protesters. Though the army denied killing anyone in the incident, eyewitnesses alleged that some people were killed.
A similar thing happened in Oyigbo in Rivers State shortly after the Lekki incident. Soldiers from the 6th Division in Port Harcourt stormed the mainly Igbo-inhabited locality and reportedly killed scores of unarmed civilians. Many others were severely wounded. The soldiers were said to be avenging the alleged killing of some of their colleagues by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
We have not forgotten the mindless slaughter of over 70 farm workers in a village in Borno State late last year by Boko Haram nor have we forgotten the kidnap of over 300 schoolboys from Kankara in Katsina State last December. Besides, the incessant herders/farmers’ clashes in different parts of the country appear to have defied solutions. Nobody would have blamed the soldiers, if they had done their best to tackle these clashes professionally. But there were allegations that they often sided with the herdsmen against farmers.
In 2018, a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), pointedly accused the Nigerian Army of aiding Fulani herdsmen in their murderous activities in the country. He urged other Nigerians to defend themselves, as the army, as presently constituted, would not defend them.
Last January, some monarchs in Ketu communities of Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State made similar allegations against the army. They cited an instance when soldiers gathered some villagers to inform them that Fulani herdsmen would be coming to graze cows in their communities. When one Mr. Seye Mulero called their attention to the challenges inherent in the operations of the herdsmen, the soldiers allegedly beat him mercilessly.
So far, there is no serious attempt to curb the activities of criminal herdsmen that have constituted a serious threat to the corporate existence of the country. Consequently, there are threats and counter-threats by different ethnic champions. Northern Elders Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan-Niger Delta Forum and some others have thrown tantrums either for or against the herdsmen’s menace.
Meanwhile, Yoruba activist, Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, has been talking tough. He has asked the Fulani to leave the South-West. He and his men stormed Igangan in Ibarapa North Local Government Area of Oyo State the other day to take some action against the Fulani after the expiration of his quit order to them. The chairman of the Kano Elders Forum, Bashir Tofa, warned last week that, if the North decided to engage in revenge attacks on the southerners in the North, it would be difficult to control. In Abia, Imo, Plateau, Benue, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and different parts of the country, tension is palpable.
Hate speech has become the order of the day. As it happened in Nigeria in the 1960s when the Igbo were singled out and massacred in the North, as it happened in Rwanda in 1994 when the Hutu majority massacred thousands of Tutsi minorities whom they called cockroaches, it is happening again in Nigeria. The vultures have continued to circle overhead.
Little wonder, in the 2019 Fragile States Index, the Washington-based Fund For Peace ranked Nigeria as the 14th most unstable country in the world. This is out of 178 countries assessed. Crisis-ravaged countries such as Cameroon, Burundi and Niger Republic are said to have scored better than Nigeria.
Yet, the Federal Government and its agents have done little to restore peace and sanity in the country. Many Nigerians have called for a ban on open grazing. Except for the states in the South-West, South-East and some states in the South-South and North-Central, that call has fallen on deaf ears. We have called for restructuring that will entrench equity and justice in the country, but it has been ignored. We have demanded checkmating the influx of criminal herdsmen from neighbouring countries through our porous borders, yet, no dice. The best we have seen so far are the warning alerts by the Department of State Services (DSS) about some state actors bent on exploiting the country’s fault lines to cause ethno-religious violence in some parts of Nigeria.
This is the time Nigeria needs detribalised and forthright leaders. But what we have currently as leaders are disasters. They appear deaf to the serious challenges confronting us. Most of their moves are coloured by sectional sentiments. May the vultures wheeling over Nigeria go blind henceforth and never see any corpse to devour. Say amen, if you believe.