By Femi Fani-Kayode
The Department of State Security (DSS) have claimed that five Fulani herdsmen were abducted, killed and buried in a mass grave by members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Abia State a few days ago. They have also claimed that there were up to 50 more bodies in that mass grave and that they are all Fulani.
The implications of this announcement are obvious. It will create more tension and fear in the land and it will lead to reprisal killings in the North. Violence is never the way out and I have always believed that it has no place in any civilised society. Yet what I find curious about this announcement is the fact that it is unique and historic.
I say this because thousands of Igbo, Yoruba, Niger-Deltans and Middle Belters have been killed by Fulani militants and herdsmen over the last 10 months since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power, yet the DSS has never announced it or told the country about the details and ethnic identities of the victims. When one thousand Shiite Muslims were slaughtered in Zaria and buried in mass graves the DSS did not speak. When 500 Idoma were massacred in Agatu by Fulani militants, the DSS did not speak.
When hundreds of southern and Middle Belt farms were raided by AK-47-wielding Fulani herdsmen, who murdered, raped, burnt down and took over the land of their victims, the DSS never gave us details of the victims or made any announcements. When our leaders in the South were kidnapped and when men witnessed their wives and children being raped and butchered by the Fulani militias before their very eyes, the DSS made no announcements.
When the elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae’s farm was raided by the Fulani militants for the third time in one year and his Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) guard was slaughtered, the DSS made no announcements. When the villagers and farmers in the South-East were murdered and their wives and daughters abducted by the Fulani militants, the DSS made no announcements. When traditional rulers, nuns and priests were abducted and killed by Fulani herdsmen in the South-South, the DSS made no announcements. When the farms of the South-West were attacked and ravaged and Yoruba farmers and their families were butchered by the Fulani militants, the DSS made no announcements. When the International Terror Index told the world that the Fulani militias in Nigeria are the “fourth most deadly terror organisation in the world,” the DSS said nothing and neither did they give us details about their activities or their victims. Worse of all is the fact that our government and our President, who himself happens to be a Fulani, has never deemed it fit or necessary to condemn the activities of the Fulani herdsmen and militants and neither have they expressed any sympathy or displayed any empathy for their many victims.
Let me be clear: The murder of anyone, regardless of ethnicity or faith, is unacceptable. I deplore murder and violence and in my view the killing of one innocent soul diminishes the humanity of every single one of us as a community and nation. However, it seems curious that the minute Fulani are killed, the DSS is quick to rise to the occasion and express concern about it while they do not express the same concern when Nigerians from other ethnic nationalities are killed by the Fulani in their own homes and land.
Therein lies the double standards and it is sad and unfortunate. Furthermore not only is it very dangerous but it also confirms the view that our government and security agencies are not only partial but that they are also attempting to implement an ethnic and religious agenda. Three questions must be answered: Firstly, who is funding the Fulani herdsmen and where do they get their weapons? Secondly, why does our government not only turn a blind eye to the mass murder and genocide that Fulani regularly indulge in but also go out of their way to protect them? And thirdly, why do the government and security agencies have so much hatred and contempt for those that the Fulani regularly target and their victims and why do they believe that those victims do not deserve to enjoy the full protection of the Nigerian Federal Government? Could it be because they are regarded as slaves and second class citizens? Is Fulani blood and are Fulani lives more important than others? Indeed, do non-Fulani lives matter in President Buhari’s Nigeria? Are we compelled to begin a “non-Fulani lives matter’’ movement, which is based and fashioned on the “Black Lives Matter’’ movement in the United States of America before we can draw the attention of the world to what is going on in our country?
Is it not obvious and logical that when the security agencies refuse to protect the citizens from the murderous hordes and herdsmen from hell those citizens will eventually seek to protect themselves and go on the offensive? That is human nature and it is to be expected. Is it not clear to those in power that when a people are convinced that their government is no longer impartial in any conflict and that the security agencies of that government have been directed to go out of their way to actively and openly support those that constantly and regularly slaughter their people, it will eventually lead to open war? Is it so difficult to accept the fact that no government and no force from hell or on earth can compel or intimidate a man into lying down passively and silently watch his family, loved ones and kinsmen being butchered and slaughtered morning, day and night without trying to protect them and without indulging in some form of retaliation?
With the sort of things that are going on in our country today, it is time to tell ourselves some home-truths. No one wishes to accept it, let alone say it, but things are getting out of hand in the country. Our country is gradually risking the tragedy in Yugoslavia some years ago. Now, we have crumbling economy, an inept, weak, failing and paranoid government; a hungry, angry and increasingly desperate civilian population; an ignorant, obsessive, arrogant, insensitive, corrupt and self-absorbed political class, who are out of touch with reality. The ruthless implementation of an ethnic and religious agenda by a reckless and irresponsible government that refuses to consider the implications of taking such a course of action and that have an early-1960s mindset. The growing unrest, ethnic killings and sectarian murders; an ethnic and religious division within the Armed Forces and security agencies; a relentless clamp-down on and persecution of the opposition and all dissenting voices by the government and the use of fear, as a tool of governance and control; the constant and open abuse of power; the impunity and insensitivity of the Buhari administration to the plight of the masses; the hunger, hardship, poverty and suffering in the land; the failure of the government to get rid of the fuel queues and supply electrical power; the demonisation of peaceful and law-abiding self-determination groups and the unlawful incarceration of their leaders; the breach of the constitutional rights of the citizens and the ignoring of court orders and judicial processes by the government; the attempt to intimidate and control the judiciary and legislature by the government and so much more. The list goes on and on and history proves that such a mixture of circumstances is dangerous. The country is badly divided today and the people are suffering as never before. The division and hatred among some of our ethnic groups has reached all time high.
I mentioned the Yugoslavia tragedy earlier. Yes, when the centre could no longer hold in the country, trouble started and Bosnia-Herzogovina suffered from in the late 1980s right up until 1992.
They were the only ethnic group in Yugoslavia that was not prepared for what eventually happened in the country. They had no arms, no plan, no allies and no fall back position. When the fighting started they were caught unawares and for two years they suffered immeasurably for their stupidity and naivety while their people were killed like flies and their women and children were raped and enslaved. God forbid this should happen to any ethnic group or ANY of our people in Nigeria
Plagued by a cowardly and weak-minded ruling elite and a naive, self-serving, servile, ignorant and intellectually-challenged middle class, the Bosnians just kept talking, writing newspaper articles, appeasing the aggressors and their tormentors, praying and hoping for peace whilst all the other ethnic and religious groups and warring parties were quietly preparing for war. Sounds familiar? They suffered immensely for their lack of understanding, insight and foresight and their civilian population paid a heavy price. For two years, the Bosnians could not defend themselves. Their towns were besieged and blown up while their women and children were raped, enslaved and butchered. Their men were rounded up into Second World War-like Nazi concentration camps and starved and tortured to death and their dignity and self-respect was taken from them. They were turned into an internally displaced people and their land was transformed into a sea of desperate and suffering refugees.
It was a nightmare from hell and suffering on this scale had not been seen on European soil since World Wars 1 and 11. It was after the international community silently watched them being slaughtered by their Serbian and Croatian compatriots for two long years that they were compelled, as a consequence of pressure from the people of the world and on moral and humanitarian grounds, to lift the arms embargo on them so that they could buy arms to defend themselves. It took the intervention of NATO, the bombing of Belgrade by the international community led by the Americans and the eventual break-up of the entire country into five pieces to stop the carnage and barbarity of the Serbs and eventually bring the civil war to an end.
It was during that war that the term “ethnic cleansing” was first used by CNN to describe what was being done by the Serbs to the Bosnians, the Croats, the Slovenians, the Kosovars, the Macedonians and the Monte Negrans, all of whom represented the other ethnic groups that made up the old Yugoslavia. Eventually, the country broke up and each of them got their independence from the dominant Serbs and from one another. If such a thing could have happened in the heart of Europe in the early 1990s, why on earth would any reasonably intelligent person dismiss the notion that it can happen here? The only difference would be that if such a thing were to ever unfold in our country, it would be far worse than what happened in Yugoslavia due to the sheer size of our population. We must do all we can to avoid this. We must reach out to one another in love and understanding in this country in an attempt to secure the peace.
• Fani-Kayode is former Minister of Aviation.