When news broke last week of the massacre of more than 150 women, children, and men in remote communities of Plateau State, everyone turned their attention to president Muhammadu Buhari for his explanation of how the mass murder of citizens on such a scale could take place in a country that is not at war. Buhari is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. In that context, he is also the country’s chief security officer. The buck, we are reminded, always stops at the president’s desk.
When atrocities of extraordinary magnitude occur in any country, the president has an obligation to furnish the citizens with clear, unambiguous, and unexpurgated account of what happened, who was complicit in the murders, and what the security forces did or did not do right to prevent the disaster or to apprehend the criminals.
Unfortunately, following the disaster in Plateau State, the president chose to sing a different song. Rather than present an unvarnished account of what happened in Plateau communities that were sacked and incinerated by evil herdsmen, Buhari turned around to argue he should not be held blameworthy for what happened in Plateau villages. Buhari’s explanations, presented in a combative tone, appeared to attack a nation already befuddled by the government’s continuing failure to entrench law and order, and to protect life and property of citizens. Rather than take responsibility for the disaster in Plateau, rather than admit that the mass murders signified failure of intelligence and inability of security forces to prevent the disaster, Buhari came out firing from both hips.
First, the president expressed irritation at public allegations that he was apathetic to the killings around the country, that he did not do enough to prevent the massacres in Plateau State, something that some people have described as part of a scripted agenda to wipe out citizens in parts of Plateau in an attempt by the invading lawbreakers to grab other people’s land and property.
In a statement released by Garba Shehu who is the president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Buhari expressed his frustration and indignation at claims that his government did nothing to protect the lives and property of the villagers who were slaughtered by the marauding herdsmen. In the statement, Buhari noted that he was being blamed for the killings in Plateau State because of his failure to speak with the herdsmen.
Buhari said he had appealed to community leaders to support the government’s peace initiatives by convincing and influencing their people to promote peaceful coexistence of all Nigerians regardless of their ethnic origins, religious orientations, and language differences. In what is seen as the president’s evasion of responsibility for the security, safety, welfare, and wellbeing of citizens, Buhari told leaders in Jos when he visited Plateau State: “I will always appeal to the leadership of the communities and the law enforcement agencies, to always have control over their constituencies.”
This is clearly a president’s prevarication for the collapse of law and order in the country. A president does not evade responsibility. When things go wrong in a country, it is the president who takes responsibility and tries to fix the problems.
Perhaps the strangest remark made by Buhari in regard to the massacres in Plateau State was his call for national prayers to solve the breakdown of law and order. The Sun newspaper reported on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, that Buhari’s call for national prayers to deal with the collapse of law and order suggested the president has given up on the ability of security forces to uphold law and order in the country.
According to The Sun, Buhari said in a rather despondent tone: “There is nothing I can do to help the situation except to pray to God to help us out of the security challenges. What has happened is a very bad thing … Fulani herdsmen are used to carrying sticks during grazing but the herders of these days carry AK47. Anybody caught with weapon should be arrested.”
That was a pathetic response to a national disaster. People in Plateau State would have been immensely disappointed by Buhari’s unwillingness to guarantee greater security for citizens.
We now know that when a president says ‘Let us pray’, we must drop everything and run for our lives. When a president says ‘Let us pray’, it must be taken as a codeword by the president to convey the message that he has been overwhelmed by security challenges, that he can no longer guarantee the safety of citizens, and that he is soliciting God’s intervention to save the country from terrorist groups.
When a president says ‘Let us pray’, he leaves everyone with two options – to laugh uproariously in derision or to bow their heads in shock. When a president says ‘Let us pray’, we don’t need anyone to remind us that the country has finally yielded to evil forces cloaked in the outfit of herders. When a president says ‘Let us pray’, we must be justified to wonder whether the president has been elevated to the rank of the general overseer of a new religious movement.
Incessant shedding of blood across the country points to the irony of our society. We claim to live in a united nation but events within the country, the policies of the government, and the pronouncements of political leaders show quite clearly the large chasm that separates us all. Whether the government believes it or not, endless killings of people in certain parts of the country will draw the nation perilously close to disintegration. We
cannot claim to be a united country when herdsmen operate audaciously and destroy lives on the understanding that their cattle are more important than human beings, that their cattle have the right to feed freely on people’s farms, and that they have the divine right to appropriate other people’s land and property. That belief is so wrong.
If you don’t know what the president’s call for prayers implies, let me tell you what it means. The call means Nigeria has surrendered to dangerous rule by herdsmen. When did a ragtag itinerant group of herdsmen become more powerful than a well-trained and well-equipped army?
When people say Nigeria is on fire, they use slaughters in Plateau and other parts as one practical example to strengthen their viewpoint. The continuing massacres of innocent citizens suggest that Nigeria is indeed on fire. We cannot continue to live in a country in which people who commit mass atrocities are treated as special citizens with special rights while the victims are treated as scoundrels who are less human.
Buhari must start to use his power as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to deal vigorously with all threats to the peaceful coexistence of citizens and our collective national interests. There is a limit to which ordinary citizens would continue to allow herdsmen to kill and get away free. In essence, there is a limit to tolerance.