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The Zabarmari Massacre: Drawing the red line

On 18th June this year, President Muhammadu Buhari, reprimanded his Military Service Chiefs over their failure to curb worsening insecurity in the nation. In an…

On 18th June this year, President Muhammadu Buhari, reprimanded his Military Service Chiefs over their failure to curb worsening insecurity in the nation. In an unprecedented display of his disapproval of the situation, the President told the top military officers “that their best was not good enough” for the country.

Nigerians who had long called for their sack for dismal failure assumed that finally, the president had got the message and was ready to sanction the service chiefs for their failure. Nigerians were wrong, the president has persisted in his policy that the response to the failure of the service chiefs to improve security was longevity in their positions. I am yet to meet anyone who understands the logic so we can only classify it as one of the wonders of the modern world. In any case, the president’s message to Nigerians is clear, he is not ready to sanction his security chiefs for failure and thereby takes direct responsibility for the failure as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. No one should waste their time calling again and again for the removal of the service chiefs.

This week however, the Senate, once again, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately sack the current Service Chiefs and replace them with new ones with fresh ideas and solutions to the insecurity in the country. The Senate had made similar calls in January and July this year with no response from the president. They can continue making their demand till Kingdom come and will continue to get the same response – nothing. The House of Representatives for their part have summoned the president to come and explain to Nigerians his inadequate response to insecurity that has long since gone out of control. This makes more sense, he is the one with questions to answer.

These current concerns are in response to the massacre in Zabarmari in Borno State last Saturday. According to various reports, farmers at work – 43 says Borno State Government, 78 says Boko Haram who did the killings and 110 or thereabouts according to the United Nations were slaughtered and beheaded on their rice farms in Jere Local Government Area just 20 kilometres from Maiduguri, the State capital. The identified victims were buried on Sunday with brave Governor Zulum in attendance and a delegation of the federal government led by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, paid a condolence visit to the state on Monday.

Once again, Nigerians noted the lack of response by the President who did not make any specific policy response to the massacre, did not visit to condole the people, like the state governor did, and did not declare any national action to show empathy for the loss of lives. In any other country in the world, a massacre of this magnitude would have precipitated direct action by the Head of State to address the crisis and comfort and provide assurances to the people. In Nigeria, we are sadly now used to this type of cavalier non-response in which essentially the only response is for the president to issue the umpteenth directive to security agencies to address rising insecurity in the country.

The Saturday, 28th November 2020, massacre of Zabarmari farmers was gruesome as they were beheaded by Boko Haram terrorists and the corpses photographed for propaganda purposes. It drew a red line for millions of Nigerians because such senseless killings are taking place in so many parts of the country where Nigerians are attacked and killed, raped and kidnapped by armed bandits while their property is burnt. As the Sultan of Sokoto said on two occasions this week, no Nigerian is safe anywhere in the country. Many farmers were unable to farm this year due to insecurity and those that managed to farm are currently unable to harvest, except those who managed to pay protection taxes to terrorists and bandits. The new normal in the country is that communities are being taxed by terrorists and bandits to prevent mass killings. Everyone is asking, where is the State? Over 10 million Nigerians are in desperate need of emergency humanitarian support as they could not farm or their produce have been burnt. Nigerians are facing a real crisis of food insecurity.

What is painful about the Zabarmari massacre is that the villagers did what the Nigerian State told them to do. They had found a terrorist in their community, arrested him and handed him over to security forces. They sought protection from the military because they knew there was a risk of retaliation by the terrorists. They got no protection and Boko Haram released a message to the whole world claiming they carried out the massacre as a warning to all citizens who dare to cooperate with security agencies. The unfortunate response by Garba Shehu, the Presidential spokesperson was that the farmers killed by Boko Haram did not have military clearance to be on their rice farms. As the victims are subjected to blame by both the government and terrorists, one can understand their despair.

The same despair is noticeable from the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, who made a number of recommendations when he received a federal government delegation that visited the state to commiserate with the people of Borno over the massacre. One of his recommendations to end the insurgency is the immediate recruitment of local youth into military and paramilitary services to complement the efforts of the Nigerian forces. The second is to engage the services of our immediate neighbours, especially the government of Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic to come and help us in clearing the remnants of Boko Haram hiding in the shores of the Lake Chad. The third recommendation is to engage the services of the mercenaries to clear the entire Sambisa forest. These recommendations all indicate a fundamental truth, that our armed forces as currently organised and led, have totally failed in their mission to provide security for Nigerians, hence the search for complementary interventions from other sources to do what our armed forces have failed to do. It is essentially a call on the Nigerian State to abdicate its responsibility for security provisioning.

Comforted by the confidence the President bestows on his commanders, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, announced that terrorism may persist in Nigeria for another 20 years. This was on his verified Facebook page three days after Boko Haram terrorists killed scores of rice farmers in Borno State. It is shocking that he finds that message as the most appropriate to send to Nigerians who have been calling for his removal due to serial failure. It indicates a total lack of respect for the feelings and concerns of Nigerians. It is illustrative of this lack of respect that also this week, a military court in Abuja convicted a former Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Olusegun Adeniyi, who once led the country’s onslaught against Boko Haram, the report indicated that the tribunal found Mr Adeniyi, a Major General, guilty of violating some sections of the policy on the use of social media for divulging to the public inadequacies of supply to the military. The implication is clear, there must be total impunity for the military whose conduct in the war against insurgency and banditism cannot be question by anyone.

There is no way that Nigeria can continue to survive under the current level of mass insecurity. There has to be accountability and the president cannot continue to hide his head in the sand. Someone must be accountable and the president is the one with full responsibility. Nigerian CITIZENS are the victims of mass insecurity and must draw the red line on their sovereign rights to say enough is enough.