Former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon is on a nationwide prayer tour. Last week his caravan made a brief stop-over in Owerri, Imo State, where the man met with Governor Rochas Okorocha. Gowon said he was consumed by grief over mass murders of innocent citizens carried out by Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, and armed groups across the country.
There is something unsettling and cowardly about what Gowon said when he met Okorocha. He said massacres of innocent people by herdsmen and Boko Haram militants could only be solved through prayers. It is through prayers, he said, that God could touch the hearts of perpetrators of crime against humanity. That was the kind of remark you would expect to hear from a certified deserter and a man who lacks strong character rather than a man who made a name as a former army strongman.He argued that no human problem was too much for God to overcome.
Gowon said we should pray to God to end the killings in the country. He said: “God can touch one’s heart and change the person into becoming a vessel of peace… That is why we seek for God’s intervention.” I don’t think Gowon understands the mindset of the criminals parading as herdsmen. Prayer will not soften or overwhelm them. In any case, they don’t believe in prayers.
When Gowon referred to God as the final arbiter in the despicable killings going on in the Middle Belt and other parts of the country, he brought into the front burner Olusegun Obasanjo’s classic response when he was asked a question about how to solve Nigeria’s intractable electricity problem.
Obasanjo said anything the country could not get (such as stable electricity supply) should be left for God to solve.
Gowon’s insight into how Nigeria should tackle the bloody herdsmen roving across the country must be seen as a tragedy. If prayers were to be the magic solution to national problems, many countries would have since secured their seats in heaven rather than engage in science and technology development. Nigeria has been praying for decades and yet crimes have remained on the rise. The number of pastors and Pentecostal churches in Nigeria has grown exponentially and yet the police and other security agencies have been overwhelmed by criminal groups. There are innumerable cases of pastors who committed cardinal sins even against members of their congregation. Prayers alone will not solve any country’s problems.
It is paradoxical that Gowon, a former army general and a former Head of State, was touched to grieve over growing insecurity in the country and yet he could not muster the courage to condemn the killings and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari that has allowed the slaughter to fester. Gowon knows that Nigeria has become a killing field but he is not courageous enough to say so in the public sphere. Gown knows that herdsmen have engaged in unprovoked attacks of villagers and have been destroying farmers and farmlands indiscriminately but he continues to deceive the public into thinking that prayer sessions would solve the problem.
Right before his eyes, Gowon has seen atrocities committed in Benue State and other parts of the north and southwest and southeast. But Gowon, who was hailed in 1970 as the face of national unity because he declared there was no victor and no vanquished after the civil war, has become so spineless that he could not look Buhari in the face and say “stop” these killings or the people would have to defend themselves, as Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma advised the nation weeks ago.
Former Chief of Army Staff and former Defence Minister Danjuma called a spade a space some weeks ago when he advised Nigerians to defend themselves because he felt the government and the security forces could no longer defend everyone. Compare Danjuma’s bold and brave call to Gowon’s lily-livered and timorous expression of sadness over rampant atrocities committed by herdsmen.
As evidence of growing public concern over the government’s refusal to restrain the herdsmen, several newspapers have condemned the activities of the herdsmen and even more profoundly have criticised the silence of the Buhari government to stop the massacre of Nigerian citizens by Fulani herdsmen. In an editorial published on 11 April 2018, Vanguard noted that: “For a long time, and to the dismay of most Nigerians, the Federal Government paid little attention to the killings. It took the public burial of 73 victims of the 2018 New Year Day massacre in Benue State, broadcast live on television, for the military to launch its Exercise Cat Race (Ayem Akpatuma) to flush out the bandits from the Middle Belt area. Yet the killings have continued.”
The Sun editorial of 4 April 2018 was more critical of the Federal Government’s nonchalance and unwillingness to stop widespread killings by herdsmen. The Sun observed, as other Nigerians have done, that Buhari’s “government has made numerous promises to end these killings without backing its promises with any visible action.”
This is the tragedy of the situation in the country. The government has remained apathetic to public criticisms of the activities of the herdsmen. For how long would the government continue to play the Ostrich and refuse to acknowledge that the herdsmen are indeed a threat to the country? In a recent address to the Senate, Senator Shehu Sani alluded to the lawlessness manifesting across the country and the repercussions that would evolve if the government failed to end human rights abuses and rein in the herdsmen. Sani advised government officials who might be deluded into thinking they would be in power everlastingly to reflect on the transient nature of life.
To reinforce his argument, Sani asked: “Where was Gowon who ruled Nigeria for nine years? Where was Obasanjo who ruled Nigeria for over 11 years? Where is Babangida who ruled Nigeria for eight years? Where is Abacha for five years? Where is Jonathan for five years? Where is Umaru Musa Yar’Adua?”
Senator Sani observed quite correctly that Nigeria was increasingly edging toward a totalitarian state. He noted sadly that peaceful protesters were being crushed with vigour while court orders were being dishonoured flagrantly. These are the hallmarks of an authoritarian state. Sani said holding public office was an opportunity for politicians to serve society, and to make positive impact on the lives of ordinary people.
Sani’s speech was absorbing. It was delivered with aplomb, with the composure of a confident man, and with the tempo and temperament that the theme of his address required. Nigerians who have been oppressed and dehumanised by the government, including those whose socioeconomic conditions have worsened further owing to the mediocre economic policies of the government, might like to play and replay the video of Sani’s speech for as long as they have electricity to power their mobile phones or whatever device they are using to listen to that speech.