Nigeria’s core problem is the license to kill at will without accountability, the license to kidnap for ransom and increasingly the kidnappers are paid for their crimes and sometimes still kill their captives before or after collecting the ransom. The tragedy is that we are building up a vast number of killers without activating judicial accountability mechanisms. With license to kill, ideological terrorists such as Boko Haram, bandits, armed robbers, professional kidnappers and separatists are expanding their activities.
Sadly, the killers include bona fide members of the armed forces, (I know what I am talking about as I served on the Presidential Judicial Panel that investigated human rights abuses by the armed forces), and the police. Nigerians of all ethnic, religious, professional and occupational groups are targeted and are victims of mass killings, kidnapping, theft, ransom payments, rape and other forms of sexual assault.
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On Wednesday, one student of Government College Kagara, was shot dead, 27 of his colleagues as well 15 teachers and parents were abducted. It had been happening for long, in Kankara, some weeks ago, in Dapchi, in Chibok and in many other schools. The premium on children is high. Parents and governments are ready to pay huge amounts as ransom so incidents can only multiply as it is so lucrative. The Presidential response on the Kagara students falls in line with the tradition, the Commander-in-Chief directed the police and armed forces to go and recover them from the kidnappers as if they are supposed to do nothing if they are not so directed, what is their day job? The most likely outcome is that the ransom will be paid, the terrorists will be comforted in their belief that they have finally found a profession that is making them multi-millionaires and will engage in more action. Our collective future is bleak if we remain on this trajectory.
Meanwhile, as insecurity spreads, the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi tells Nigerians to defend themselves against bandits and kidnappers. I wonder what happened to the contract between citizens and the State. We are not allowed to procure and use arms because we have a contract with the State to use our money to recruit and arm security agents to defend us. If the contract has been cancelled, let us have the clarification so that we know what to do. Nigerians, however, need to know the path to salvation cannot be that we civilians procure weapons and kill ourselves on the basis of ethnicity, religion and region.
The recent events in Sasha, Ibadan, reminds me that we should be careful that we do not all become shashasha, Hausa language for fools. The way the event led to a major threat to the territorial integrity of Nigeria should make us all pause and think. From numerous accounts, what happened in that market was that two men had a misunderstanding last week – one a cart pusher, said to be a Hausa man, and the other a cobbler, said to be a Yoruba man. The “core” problem was that tomatoes were spilled, there was a demand for cleaning up the mess, it degenerated into a fight and one person was killed – a silly and tragic outcome. The response was mob attacks to kill other members of the community from which the killer emerged. Some reports even alleged that the man that spilled the tomatoes was not even from Nigeria but he speaks the Hausa language, which made the speakers of the language responsible. Within hours, the conflict spread beyond the market, as the Hausa and Yoruba communities in Akinyele Local Government Area, where the market is located, went after each other. As Premium Times reported roads were blocked and Hausa people were being dragged out of vehicles and killed.
The tragedy of the situation was that people had been primed to act against the Fulani, who the Governor of Ondo State had given directives should be marched out of the state for allegedly all being killers. As there had indeed been killings all over the country and many of the actors have been identified as Fulani, the Hausa have been associated with the Fulani in popular imagination so if the Fulani are not found, kill the Hausa that can be found, whether or not they are guilty of the crime.
Some of us issued a statement yesterday expressing our concerns on the current happenings across the country, especially as it relates to the deliberately engineered ethnic disharmony currently exploding on the basis of negative ethnic profiling. As Nigerians, we must always be ready to resist the profiling of any group as evil or the sole source of any crisis. The on-going profiling of the Fulani and the Hausa as the causal factors of the current challenges facing the country must be condemned by all not just because other groups had been so profiled previously and it had done harm to the entire country. The words and action of certain individuals and a section of the media reducing criminality to a particular ethnic group is a serious threat to national cohesion. In spite of the current propaganda, emerging evidence is clearly showing that kidnapping and banditry is neither restricted to one particular ethnic group or one region in Nigeria. Ritual killings, armed robbery and kidnappings for ransom have become an equal opportunity activity for all sections of the country and as they are being arrested and prosecuted around the country, the profiling of groups is limited to Northerners. We Nigerians are suffering insecurity collectively and fighting ourselves rather than the killers and criminals is simply doing more harm to ourselves.
There have been some commendable attempts by some national leaders to douse rising tensions, but the silence of the Federal Government, whose constitutional role it is to protect lives and property, is extremely worrisome. We find ourselves in a situation in which the criminalisation and the negative profiling of an ethnic group as bandits and kidnappers by both the conventional and social media has now taken a dangerous dimension. Incendiary speeches criminalising the Fulani by some political and religious leaders and inciting articles by a section of the Nigerian press, has assumed dangerous dimensions. They have radicalised and transformed their youths not only into eviction mobs but also into killing machines. Quit notices and violent attacks by irate youths upon the expiry of eviction dates have become common.
History has clearly shown that ethnic and religious profiling have grave consequences for the stability of a nation. They breed intolerance and fanatical hatred as typified by the break-up of India, where millions of lives were lost as it disintegrated, and in Rwanda of recent, where one million people, mainly Tutsi, were murdered in cold blood due to the bigotry of some power-hungry politicians, who are oblivious of global trends. We shudder at the thought that the killings of Northerners in the South are calculated to incite retaliation in the North thereby plunging the country into needless bloody conflagration.
The federal government must rise to its Constitutional responsibility of guaranteeing the lives, safety and property of law-abiding citizens across the country. We as citizens must rise above ambient propaganda to condemn in no uncertain terms, the wanton destruction of lives and property from ALL, not just our part of the country. It is unacceptable that any Nigerian should receive an ultimatum to relocate. Those engaged in criminal activity should be arrested and prosecuted according to our laws.