By Leo Igwe
Nigeria is a deeply divided country and a nation that is polarized along ethnic and religious lines. Even though the various ethnic and religious constituents have coexisted for a long time, there is no love lost among them. Many Nigerians consider ethnicity, and religion before the humanity of their fellow countrymen and women. Nigeria is a nation that is on the edge and prone to ethnoreligious convulsion. The country easily descends into ethnoreligious bloodletting. The creation of the trans-ethnic and trans-religious entity called Nigeria has not helped matters. Instead, it has complicated the situation. The Nigeria project has not diminished or minimized the divisive impact of these centrifugal currents. It has not weaned Nigerians from ethnoreligious hatred and bias. And this is unfortunate because Nigeria cannot make any meaningful progress if the various ethnic and religious components cannot cooperate and coexist in peace.
Part of the problem is that Nigerian state actors are hypocrites, and mischievous political opportunists. Nigerian politicians pretend to be statesmen but they are tribesmen. They claim to be democrats but they are theocrats and ethnocrats. They present themselves as detribalized and dereligionized steerers of the Nigerian polity. But the state pretensions are mainly to acquire power, win elections, or lay claim to resources that belong to the people. Many politicians don this garb of one Nigeria so that they would be allowed to champion their ethnoreligious agenda. That is why, once elected to govern, many Nigerian politicians lapse into forgetfulness of the One Nigeria project and promise. They make decisions based on primordial sentiments and parochial loyalties. They use their policies to wage an ethnoreligious vendetta.
It must be noted that even in cases where such pursuits are not intended or orchestrated, decisions and policies of state actors are closely scrutinized and are likely to be given such ethnoreligious interpretations. That is why those who are saddled with the responsibility of governing Nigeria must be careful, mindful, and thoughtful in the decisions that they make and in the way that they go about the business of running the Nigerian state. Sadly, this is not the case with President Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari’s ethnoreligious agenda is glaring. It is no longer an issue of debate. The bias is so obvious. Look, it is either that this man does not care, or he does not know or want to know. Or better, he does not get it.
Buhari has succeeded in weaponizing the Nigerian state and turning state agencies into devices to settle ethnoreligious scores. Put simply, Buhari has turned the Nigerian state against Nigerian citizens. This is evident in his mis/handling of the security challenges in the country and his obstinate refusal to change course despite worsening insecurities and glaring inequities and unevenness in dealing with the crisis.
Before he was elected president, Buhari was largely seen as an Islamic fanatic who opposed his predecessor’s handling of the crisis. Some people warned that he would not be a president for all Nigerians. That has become a self-fulfilled prophecy. Other people expected him to tackle and eventually resolve the ‘insurgency’ and other security challenges in a fair manner. But he has not. And from all indications, he will not. Instead, the security problem has worsened because Buhari is more interested in using state structures to settle ethnic, religious, and regional scores than building a nation where all citizens are treated equally.
The approach of his government to the security challenges drips with incompetence, bias, and unfairness. Buhari has compromised the security of Nigerians. He has sown the seeds of mistrust of state agents including the army and the police. In the northern part of the country, his government is rehabilitating Boko Haram militants, and enrolling ‘repentant ones’ in the army and police. Let us say by any stretch of imagination that this is a sound policy. Where else in Nigeria is Buhari using the same measure to address insecurity? Where else in Nigeria is Buhari using government appointments to reward and rehabilitate terrorists? Boko Haram attacks have morphed into banditry in many parts of the North. What has the government of Buhari done to address the metastasized insecurity and criminality in the north?
His government negotiates with bandits, pays them money and other benefits at the expense of the state. Where else in Nigeria is the Buhari government treating bandits and criminals this way? In the southeast? In the South-South or southwest? Where else in this country do government officials sit and negotiate side by side with those who have kidnapped and murdered Nigerians? Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong in using dialogic means to resolve the complicated crisis and insecurity challenges that Nigeria faces. But Buhari has been unfair in his approach. For instance, Buhari proscribed IPOB and sent the army after real and imagined members and other Biafra agitators. What was their crime? Soldiers tortured and killed many that they identified or linked to the Biafra separatist campaign including innocent civilians. Now let us face it, no president would stand by and allow some people to work and campaign to break up a country. Buhari’s government did not explore or use dialogue or negotiations in dealing with suspected IPOB members who have largely waged a nonviolent separatist campaign in response to misgovernance and mismanagement of state resources. Instead, he deployed the soldiers and security agents, some of them are ethnoreligious bigots and ex Boko Haram members who carried out – and are still perpetrating extrajudicial killings of real and imagined IPOB members in the South-east.
Nothing has demonstrated Buhari’s ethnoreligious prejudice more than his handling of the killings by Fulani herdsmen. The conflict between Fulani herders and farmers predates the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. In fact on one occasion some years ago, after some clash between herders and farmers in Oyo, Buhari reportedly traveled down to warn the then governor, Lam Adesina “to stop killing my people”. Since Buhari became the president, the attack by Fulani herdsmen has taken a more vicious dimension. Fulani herdsmen have engaged in savage attacks and bloodletting of persons in different parts of the country. In Benue, suspected herdsmen attacked and killed over 70 persons. Meanwhile, the Buhari government has not sent the army and police to attack or kill the herdsmen. Buhari government has not proscribed Myetti Allah and other Fulani herdsmen associations that threaten to kill and carry out revenge attacks. Instead, the government deploys the army and police to protect the herdsmen and look the other way while the herdsmen engage in a killing spree of locals. The state agencies take sides with the killer herdsmen while leaving local communities to their fate. Now imagine if these herdsmen were Yorubas or Igbos killing farming Fulani communities in the Katsina and Kano, would the Buhari government respond this way? Just look at how Buhari deployed soldiers who shot, killed and wounded END SARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate. What was the offence of the protesters? The Buhari government has refused to arrest and prosecute killer herdsmen in Benue, Oyo, Ondo, etc The Buhari presidency ordered the arrest of Sunday Igboho but has not ordered the arrest of the leaders of Myetti Allah. Buhari sent the army/police to protect the Fulani community in Oyo and Ogun. Is the government of Buhari for the protection of Fulanis or the protection of lives and property of all Nigerians?
I mean, the Buhari government should rethink its mis/management of insecurities in the country. It should desist from using security agencies and the state apparatus to settle scores and wage a vendetta against other ethnoreligious constituencies in Nigeria. Enough is enough!