By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Nigerians must reinvent their collective sense of national outrage so we can know that we are actually a part of the comity of nations and same as the rest of the human race.
I am beginning this essay in the aforementioned format because it is abundantly evident that the killings of citizens by terrorists and other armed non- state actors have made millions of Nigerians to lose their sense of righteous indignation and collective outrage especially in the face of the affront to our common humanity by those who kill in small and large numbers.
Another sociological impact of the serial killings of citizens in Nigeria by terrorists is the erosion of the tested and trusted cultural value systems we once held so dear here. Those who are the conflicts entrepreneurs and are actively engaged in carrying out mass execution of innocent Nigerians are part of one community or the other in Nigeria and those who carry out these terrorist attacks in the North are from the northern communities. Terrorists are not ghosts or spirits. The other day some Northern Women were arrested for hiring their daughters to the terror gangs in the forests for sexual gratification. Many members of different Northern communities have been arrested but not charged after police parade of supplying logistics and foods to terrorists. A particular man in Kaduna got picked up by the police for allegedly being the one baking breads for terrorists in different forests in the North West. There have been lots of publicly announced arrests of women supplying guns and petrol to terrorists in the North. There are also informants who provide actionable intelligence to terrorists which are used by these agents of death to carry out mass killings of individuals in those same communities whereby these informants are born and bred. So terrorists have collaborators amongst their kits and kins. Terrorists do not fall from outer space. These communities have sets of social, cultural and religious values and norms and these communities are peopled by amongst others the elders who are the natural leaders.
Naturally, a typical African and a typical Nigerian is someone guided by religious convictions of the distinctive belief system that has the central focus on the supremacy of God who created life and therefore even by natural law, life is sacred, inviolable and sacrosanct.
Some notable cultural values of Africans are the view that life is sacred. Others are respect for elders, hospitality and honesty. But all these cultural values and norms are being systematically eroded and demystified by the actions of mass murderers responsible for some of the most outrageous and gruesome crimes against humanity happening in Nigeria.
In his book titled: “The Elder in African Society: The View from Folklore and Literature by Joseph Mbele, he clearly identified the import of the conceptual frame of the word Elder. He wrote thus: “Conventional wisdom presents the elder in African society as a wise, dignified and powerful figure, who keeps the culture alive and guides the young. This paper tries to demonstrate that this image of the elders in Africa is simplistic, using evidence from folklore and literature. Folklore, though a rarely used source for studies of this nature, is the most authentic expression of a people’s reality and experience. Since it springs from the remote past, folklore bears the evidence of where the Africans have come from. Together with folklore, there are some literary works which are also used, since they spring from and appropriate key aspects of the folklore heritage.”
Importantly, when cultural norms are eroded, we then have to find out the status of elders because it is true that: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”, (The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe).
My question as well as the reason for most people’s curiosity is where are the elders of the North of Nigeria where some of these worst cases of genocides have happened and are happening? Remember also that it was the systematically organised pogroms and mass killings of Igbos living in the North that caused Nigeria’s fratricidal civil war that led to deaths of over 3 million people in the mostly Igbo dominated Eastern region of the then Nigeria of the 1960’s. During those genocides in the North, the Elders backed the armed hoodlums carrying out the daredevil assignments that instigated the bloody civil war.
If we look at the claim by professor Chinua Achebe that the fundamental cause of much of the crises experienced in Nigeria has its origin in deficit of leadership, we will then be made to reinforce our question of where are Northern elders in the face of mass killings?
Aside institutionalized government, the elders in Africa should occupy a central leadership status and if a lot of things are going wrong, there is the need to ask what the elders are actually doing. Northern elders just like their counterparts in other regions of Nigeria, are basically concerned about partisan politics and have failed to put to work their supposed influences and authorities to rein in mass killers in the North. For instance, in Igboland, OHANAEZE has no structures or blueprints on how to revolutionise the economic base of the South East or do they find the presence of mind to proffer panacea to such social problems like Youths unemployment or youths’ involvement in drugs and crimes.
To use the thinking of the late military ruler General Sani Abacha who said that if terrorism and violence perjures in any society, it therefore means that government is aware of the source of the violence. So are Northern political establishments and the bulk of them that are holding commanding positions in the armed forces in the know of who these terrorists in the North are?
Why are the young armed terrorists in the North not respecting their elders or are the elders part of the cocktails of killings?
What is going on and are there elders in Northern Nigeria?
In the North today, there are some organized form of elders who often are heard and seen in the popular mass media claiming to be Northern elders. Why are they unable to expose their children committing atrocities?
Commentators used to cite the North as being homogenous in terms of leadership but with these persistent killings of the poorest citizens in the North in their large numbers by terrorists, it is now evident that claim of homogeneity in political hierarchical order in the North of Nigeria is a ruse. I ask again –where are elders of the North?
We will give just a tip of the ice berg regarding the hundreds of incidents of terrorism- related killings in the North which have graphically projected Nigeria as a killing field.
Around January 19th 2022 three hundred people were killed in more than 50 attacks by terrorists across communities in Niger State in the first two weeks of this year, Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello, lamented yesterday
The governor in a chat with State House reporters after a closed-doors meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, also said that about 200 persons were kidnapped by the terrorists within the same period.
Sani-Bello was in Abuja to brief the President on developments in his state, gave a breakdown of the attacks and their impacts on residents.
He blamed delayed response to distress calls on the lack of access roads to the communities.
However, he expressed optimism that with the new measures being put in place, the security situation in his state should improve soon.
The governor stressed the need for the contiguous states to work together to stop the terrorists from moving from one to another .
“This afternoon, I came to visit Mr President to give him an update on the security situation in Niger State with regard to banditry activities, kidnapping, and cattle rustling among others.
“We had a very fruitful discussion. We were able to review some of the invasions in the state. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you all.
“In the last few days, there have seen a lot of activities in Niger State. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we see some relief with regard to banditry.
“I also gave a highlight on some of the challenges. Of course, our size is a disadvantage, almost nine million hectares. We lost some forests.
“In January this year alone, we suffered not less than 50 reported attacks and loss of lives, between 1st and 17th January. Within the same period, not less than 300 communities have been invaded by bandits.
“The number of people kidnapped is 200, including three Chinese nationals. We also lost some security personnel. Their number is 25. Unfortunately, we lost about 165 civilians and 30 local vigilantes.
“So, it’s a very dire situation that we have been battling in the last few weeks since the beginning of this year.
“But I’m very optimistic with the kind of zeal I have seen from our security agencies and all services. I’m very optimistic that the situation will be addressed. And hopefully, we should get a very peaceful state within the shortest possible time.
“But there is still a lot of work to do. We share borders with Kaduna, Zamfara, and Kebbi States. And these bandits have the habit of hibernating between forests, moving from Zamfara to Kebbi and Kebbi to Niger.
“They take advantage of the cattle routes which they already know. They move on motorcycles. And most of the areas and communities they attack have no access roads. So, you cannot drive there. So, our response time is slow.
“But going forward, there will be new strategies which I earlier mentioned. It will help us. But I can’t disclose some of those strategies. But basically, the States of Kaduna, Niger, Kebbi would have to work together to address the situation.”
“What I realized is that they have been taking us on a merry-go-round. When we deal with them in Niger, they move to Kaduna. When Kaduna deals with them, they move to Katsina. They have been hibernating in the forest. Some of these operations need to be handled simultaneously so that we get the result.
“We are not happy and we are sad with the developments in these states. We are doing whatever we can, using kinetic and non-kinetic efforts to see that we address the present situation.
As we go on, we will try to update you from time to time on progress being made in this fight.”
Earlier around 8th January 2022, Survivors of terrorists’ attack on Rafin Danya, Barayar Zaki, Rafin Gero and Kurfa villages in Zamfara State recounted their ordeal.
The bandits, in their large numbers, were said to be fleeing from Zamfara State as a result of ongoing military operations, when they invaded the villages in the Anka and Bukkuyum local government areas of the state.
According to survivors of the attacks, the terrorists killed over 200 villagers and set many houses ablaze, forcing scores of villagers, who managed to escape, to flee and remain missing.
A survivor, who gave his name as Mohammed Kurfa, said trouble started when vigilantes in the villages tried to confront the terrorists, who have been designated terrorists who were fleeing Zamfara State with cattle numbering not less than 3,000.
Where are the Northern elders and why are the youths finding commercial pleasure in waging a war of attrition against everybody else in the North? Why are there no elders providing actionable intelligence on those gangs importing sophisticated weapons from some fringes in their communities that are geographical neighbours of Niger, Chad and Cameroon from where some of these weapons of mass destruction are imported into Nigeria? The North has lost its soul and this is very dangerous to the wellbeing of all Nigerians. The North needs to heal now.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was federal commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.