There is a sense in which the murderous rampage of the so-called Fulani herdsmen and the other recent killings in our country – particularly of the members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement and the Shiite Muslims – can be said to be anti-Buhari.
I have to point this out because in a country where self-interest seems to trump everything else, especially in leadership, it may be an effective way to get President Muhammadu Buhari to use every means available to him to arrest this murderous march of anarchy being viewed by some as a devious manifestation of the 2015 post-election triumphalism of his Fulani people, and its nationwide and decidedly southward spread that threatens our very existence as a nation. For we are witnessing a pattern of seemingly well-orchestrated violence whose legacy of death and hate may likely pit the South of the country against the North, with predictable consequences for our nation’s peace, unity and stability should it be allowed to fester any longer.
In the unlikely case that President Buhari’s initial reticence about the carnage is the result of his having asked himself, “What’s in stopping it for me?” and having not seen what, drawing his attention to how stopping it might benefit him personally may prove advantageous to the effort to end the menace, with he leading the charge as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces and the person ultimately responsible for securing our country and the lives and property of its citizens from being destroyed by the herdsmen.
Now, as an agent of change, Buhari promised to put a stop to the reign of impunity in the land, with emphasis, it would seem, on the way some of our public office holders allegedly helped themselves to the contents of the public till, looting it without facing sanction and without consideration for our country’s future.
But the change that replaces a situation in which we had our treasury plundered with impunity with one in which we are having our lives destroyed with impunity, in our country, in peace time, under the rule of law, cannot be deemed as an improvement. In fact, it is a worse situation in so far as we humans generally regard the loss of life as the greatest of all losses. Who would rather not have their money stolen than be robbed of their life?
And it is this metamorphosis of impunity into a greater evil that President Buhari seems to have ignored, maintaining a curious silence until he spoke by proxy following the most recent killings by the herdsmen in Enugu State that reportedly left scores dead, as the previous one in Agatu, Benue State, had done.
How many such attacks, and deaths, should it take a sensitive and responsible leader to personally reassure his people that their lives matter to him regardless of their ethnicity, especially one who, before he became president, reportedly interceded with the then Governor Lam Adesina of Oyo State to stop the killing of his Fulani people in his State during an ethnic clash with their hosts? And didn’t another of our leaders, former Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State, boast that the Fulani herdsman can now dismantle and reassemble an AK47? Could his words have anticipated the recent killings by people believed to be Fulani herdsmen?
In sum, these killings are anti-Buhari because they put the president at risk of being judged by history as a leader who promised to make things better but left them worse; and not because he didn’t know what to do or lacked the capacity to do it, as his said intercession with former Governor Lam Adesina suggests. And it is in his interest to stop the killings to avoid such a permanent stain on his reputation, besides justifying those who portray him as a sectional leader ruled by primordial impulses. Also, having designated security as one of his major concerns in his inauguration speech, the rising insecurity reflected in the attacks portrays him as a failing president. And stopping the attacks would nip this negative portrayal in the bud, in his interest.
Incidentally, the Fulani herdsman used to be a romantic figure, gentle and charming in his rusticity, the type whose life inspired pastoral poetry. And I have had occasion to celebrate him in a prose poem entitled “Yola,” thus: “…Have you seen the cows returning from pasture? A mere lad herds them; he wears a straw hat daubed with bright colours, and holds his goad aslant behind his back, and whistles a jaunty tune, and leads them from behind. At his finger even the wildest licks itself to submission, and will stay subdued unto death: everything bends at the kind wand of love, even these huge beasts of the Yola grasslands.”
But Nigeria, with its extraordinary capacity to pervert, has corrupted the person and idea of the Fulani herdsman. Under her negative influence, he has traded his harmless stick for an AK47, arguably the deadliest weapon on the planet, and in place of his charming rusticity we now have a wild being whose presence evokes dread, a personification of mindless terror that creeps in by night to unleash death on innocent people in their sleep. And this gory transformation is happening under the leadership of President Buhari, giving a cynical twist to his change agenda! And as some of his supporters in the 2015 election might say, “This perversion of the Fulani herdsman is not the change we voted for.” And I might add a prayer to Mr. President: Please restore him to his original state of innocence.
There is an impression in certain parts of our country that the attacks by the herdsmen are backed by a hidden jihadist and hegemonistic agenda backed in turn by the president and some of his allies who, like the herdsmen, are Fulani. And it would be worthwhile to convince those who hold this view that it is not an evidence of complicity in high places that herdsmen could execute such seemingly well-coordinated killings repeatedly in parts of our country where they are supposed to be strangers and succeed in escaping without trace by the same security agencies that have hunted down the Shiites and members of Boko Haram and IPOB, sometimes killing people who, unlike the herdsmen, posed no lethal threat to anyone.
In Abuja, I have recently sighted the oddity of herds of cattle and their drovers moving around the metropolis with a swagger that suggests their awareness that someone who especially has their interest at heart is in power, under whose charge they can get away with mass murder, let alone obstructing traffic. And I think a system that seems to value cattle above humans calls for our critical attention, if we are human enough.
*Ikeogu Oke, a poet and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja