Nigerian poet, John Pepper Clark’s timeless poem The Casualties recalls the gory incidents of the Nigeria/Biafra war which witnessed the worst carnage in the history of Nigeria. In the poem, Clark maintains that while the dead, those slaughtered in the civil inferno are the casualties, those who fanned the embers of strife and benefited from the searing crucibles of the war are also casualties.
These are the people who supplied ammunition to both Nigeria and Biafra, those who stoked the fire of war and smiled to the banks while the blood and body parts of fellow citizens, women and children littered the streets. These people, according to Clark, are also casualties. Today, some of them are alive, aging and experiencing inexplicable agony.
Indeed, the cosmic law of retributive justice cannot be faulted.
It takes a measure of will power and emotional steel to recount the spate of wanton killings and death in Nigeria today without courting a feeling of nausea and revulsion. How would one cope with such agonizing memory of bloodshed which assaults the sensibilities in torrents? Perhaps by invoking the inner confidence of one’s mental capacity or by taking confidence in the existence of the Almighty Being in whose bosom resides ultimate vengeance and recompense. Every morning, some Nigerians stir from their beds, head out for daily engagements but unknown to them, to destinations of guaranteed peril.
In the past few years, Nigerians have witnessed the emergence of killer demons that derive pleasure from wasting the lives of fellow citizens. Distressingly, our country is sliding into anarchy and chaos where life has totally lost its sanctity. While we were grappling with Boko Haram and their gospel of butchery, in fact while we were almost singing a swan song for the group, there emerged another of its kind, killer demons masquerading as herdsmen that operate with brazen impudence and bravado. While Boko Haram have the timidity to operate from the bushes, using a guerrilla tactics to destroy lives and property, the herdsmen operate with a repulsive sense of entitlement and courage killing Nigerians on a daily basis, showing no fear or remorse thus turning Nigeria into a killing field. Recently, it was reported that in far away Benue State, killer demons suspected to be herdsmen invaded Ayar Mbalom community in Gwer-East Local Government Area of Benue State and killed a total 19 persons, among them two priests of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi. It was reported that the hoodlums entered the village around 5;30 am and set ablaze over 80 houses, destroyed farmlands and food items worth millions of naira.
This came at the heels of an attack, four days earlier, where 10 persons were murdered in Guma Local Government Area and 300 houses burnt to the ground. Some observers have argued that the attacks are remotely connected with the Jihadists whose aim is to conquer the Tiv people who resisted their advance into the Middle Belt and the Eastern part of Nigeria in 1804. Meanwhile, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, has urged President Buhari to immediately resign his membership of the Myetti Allah group or forfeit his position as president of the country. Afenifere has noted that President Buhari’s roles as the patron of Myetti Allah is at cross-purposes with his position as the president and commander-in-chief of Nigeria.
Disturbingly, the Buhari administration appears helpless in the raging tragedy. Some people have opined that the federal government, by refusing to take drastic measures to curb these killings is complicit in the matter. This line of argument is underlined by the maxim, ‘silence is acquiescence’. It has also been argued in some quarters that the dire security situation in the country is part of a global phenomenon ravaging the world and Nigeria is a part of the global community.
The later argument seeks to exonerate the government of the day and absolve the power machinery of any blame in the matter. In saner climes, there is always a response by the authorities to isolated cases of terrorism when human lives are lost. Given the grave security situation in the country, some citizens have called on fellow citizens to defend themselves in the face of unprovoked attack and threat to their lives. It is unfortunate that the police, the army and other security agencies have woefully failed to defend ordinary people who in addition to economic hardship must contend with daily menace to their lives.
The tragedy orchestrated by the killer demons in the country have two categories of casualties in the same way J.P Clark identified two sets of casualties of the Nigeria/Biafra war. The first casualties are the ordinary people, those who are directly butchered in their homes, in their farms and on the road. Those who have lost their lives in this way, children made orphans, women made widows and all those who in one way or another feel the pain of these wanton killings are all in the first category of casualties. For those who have died in this way, may their souls rest in eternal peace. Their only sin is that they were born into a country that wallows in triumphalism and feeds with gusto from a common vessel of subjugation.
The second categories of casualties are those who benefit directly from these killings across Nigeria in one way or another. The killer demons didn’t fall from the sky. They are the devious machinations of a self-indulgent and inordinate group who are bent on securing their political fortunes riding at the back of bloodshed and its harrowing provenance. Those that belong to the second category of casualties have unconscionable ambition to conquer and perpetuate a legacy of subservience and domination across Nigeria. Of course they are not alone; they operate with cronies who also make money from the supply of arms and ammunition with which Nigerians are gradually vanquished.
However, as the late literary sage, Ola Rotimi, submits in his play The Gods Are Not to Blame, “to resign oneself to fate is to be crippled fast”. I do not believe that Nigerians are totally helpless in the prevailing circumstances. I do not believe that Nigerians will become a tree that remained rooted to the ground after it was decided that it would be cut down the next day. We must react in some way, but I do not subscribe to the notion that violence should respond to violence. The primary responsibility of every Nigerian citizen right now is to take a decision to dismantle the mechanism of terror and death through the ballot boxes.
Although a damning vote of no confidence has been passed on Nigerians as indolent and uneducated people, let us bestir from our inertia, conquer laziness and immediately procure, everybody his or her own PVC. It is this magical PVC, not guns or cudgels that will deliver Nigerians from further anguish and banish the constant dirge in our souls. Let us regain our lost glory, our safety and our future through the peaceful instrumentality of the ballot box. If we fail to do so, we will all become casualties sooner than later.
Adiele writes from Department of English, University of Lagos, via [email protected]m