The Hand of Esau and the Voice of Jacob
The governor of Ebonyi state and chairman of south-east governors’ forum, Chief David Umahi, is a very interesting public figure. A civil engineer by profession, he has been governor of his state since 2015. In that capacity, he recently made an equally very interesting statement. He advised Igbo business men and industrialists to mind their businesses and stop meddling in politics like their counterparts from the Northern and Western parts of the country.
On the one hand, that was very thoughtful of the governor. But on another hand, he raises poignant questions that border on the very essence of political life in Nigeria.
How, for instance, do Nigerian politicians actually conceptualize what they call politics in the country? What and what are important in the game of politics in Nigeria? Who and who should involve themselves in politics in the country? And assuming that those businessmen and industrialists were campaigning for votes for governor Umahi or his protégées, would he have spoken to them the same way, to steer clear of politics? What is the ultimate truth about Nigeria’s political class and the way they mostly see politics?
The bitter truth is that politics is not a profession. It is not even a career. You are in it at some point in time, and at another point, you are out. And no one holds a public office forever. The Nigerian society is patterned to be fluid in a democratic setting. Anyone can move from one class to another, from the business class to the political class and vice versa, and from the unemployed class to the working class and vice versa if you lose your job, and so on.
Therefore, a governor of Chief Umahi’s standing should have appreciated the fact that politics is not all about moneybags coming together to shove it down the throats of the hoi polloi of their society. That is the official Igbo standing on social issues like the ones we have on our hands right now.
Politics is all about citizens and their families, all about their concerns and welfare. It does not matter whether they are students, teachers, traders, business men and women or industrialists. As long as they are citizens of this country, they have a right not only to express their opinions about their concerns and anxiety, but more importantly to hold their elected public office holders to ransom on account of their public activities. They are the voters and those they vote into public offices must be held accountable to them. That is the democratic norm everywhere.
At a time no one really knows what is exactly going on in some parts of the country, Igbo governors must be careful not to play into the hands of those who wish the Igbo to keep slumbering, even as a people who matter in Nigeria, a people for whom the unity of the country means so much because they have investments in all manner of places in the country.
The recent seemingly trackless killings in Benue state should be an eye opener to all Igbo, wherever they are scattered across the universe, of the kind of challenges the people and the government of their country have to face. Today, the President met with senior citizens of Benue state. But what was the use? What was the outcome? As was expected, all that President Buhari could do was to admonish the people of Benue to accommodate their countrymen following incessant deadly clashes between their communities and suspected Fulani herdsmen.
“I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your countrymen. You can be assured that I am just as worried, and concerned with the situation,’’ the President said. President Buhari called on the government and people of Benue State to exercise restraint, assuring that all the perpetrators of violence in the state would be made to face the wrath of the law. He assured them that all those involved in the conflict that culminated in the loss of lives would not escape justice, including any “illegally armed militia” in the state.
The President commiserated with all the victims of the attacks, and the families who lost loved ones and property, noting that the government would make efforts to ameliorate the situation of all the victims. “Your Excellency, the governor, and all the leaders here” the President said, “I am appealing to you to try to restrain your people. I assure you that the Police, the Department of State Security and other security agencies have been directed to ensure that all those behind the mayhem get punished.”
The important fact, however, remains that ahead of that meeting with Mr President on Monday morning, either by design or coincidence, the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II foreshadowed the meeting when he spoke to journalists on the spate of killings in Benue and Taraba states during a weekend interaction.
Sanusi lamented that some months ago in Mambilla, in one weekend, over 800 Fulani were murdered by Mambilla militias. Local newspapers did not even go there to cover the story. Most of those wiped out were women, infants and the elderly. In one case, a pregnant woman was killed, her stomach ripped open and the baby brought out and slaughtered.
He said he personally handed over to the Federal Government a dossier with the names and pictures of the 800 or so people slaughtered as well as the names and addresses of persons known to have participated in the acts of ethnic cleansing. Nothing happened. Even when he ensured that the federal authorities received video and audio evidences of senior politicians in Taraba State, who were involved in the act of genocide, no one was arrested. Fulani were also murdered in Kajuru and Numan, according to the monarch. In many of the cases it was not about conflict but militias raiding settlements to kill women and children, and then later, attack and slaughter herdsmen and their cattle.
On the recent killings in Benue state, he said they were perpetrated by both the herdsmen and the locals, pointing out that the murder of the herdsmen was not accurately reported and that the press presented to the world, “a false narrative of one-sided killings.”
Sanusi sympathised with the Benue state government over the recent killing of over 70 citizens in the state, but rubbished reports that the attacks were part of a ploy by the Fulani to take over parts of Nigeria. He attributed the killings and reprisals to the failure of government and security agencies. “We live in a country that has failed to protect the lives of people on all sides and bring culprits to book. In the case of the Fulani, there is a deliberate attempt to ‘ethnicise’ criminality, and politicians who are total failures have found the anti-Fulani rhetoric the way to popularity,” he asserted.
The monarch said that as far as perpetrators continued to get away with their dastardly acts, they would remain emboldened to continue to kill.
On the anti-grazing law in Benue State, the monarch said he shared the view of Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State that the law was divisive and unfair to Fulani herdsmen. Sanusi said the law deepened the indigene-settler dichotomy and made the herdsmen feel isolated. “I fully support all efforts to attract investment into cattle rearing. This is global best practice. As capital is put into development of ranches and grazing areas, herdsmen settle. Their cattle are healthier and fatter, they sell milk and milk products and beef, their children go to school and they are economically much better off. This is what we all want. But in Benue and Taraba, the approach has not been one of including and supporting and regulating herdsmen but of isolation and hate. I am happy Governor Lalong of Plateau has publicly stated that he advised Governor Ortom of Benue to tread carefully. What we see is the failure of political authority, the cynical manipulation of ethnic identity by failed governments and the impotence of our security machinery. Instead of being dragged into a debate on whether Fulani are trying to take over peoples land – which is a daft argument – let us try and bring some intelligence into this discussion on weak governance rather than emotions.”
Governor Ishaku of Taraba State denied Sanusi’s allegation that there was genocide against Fulani herdsmen by some political leaders, especially in Taraba. The governor advised Sanusi to emulate the leadership style of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar. Admitting that the Sultan had been preaching peace across the country, he called on the Kano emir to stop aggravating security situations in the country by his inflammatory comments which were capable of causing tension. “The truth of the matter is that there has never been genocide against Fulani in Taraba. What the emir is talking about was a communal clash between the Fulani and the Mambilla in the Sarduana Local Government Area of the state in June last year. In that communal clash, both sides suffered casualties and the figure of deaths from both sides put together was nothing close to genocide. Before now, there had been reported cases of killings by herdsmen in Taraba and currently, we have Internally Displaced Persons in camps as a result of herdsmen invading communities in Lau and Wukari LGAs of the state. Sanusi has not said a word about these killings. So, for him to level such allegation against the governor is most unfortunate.” According to him, the Fulani elite in Mambilla might have given the emir wrong information about the crisis in Mambilla and called on all to support the governor’s initiative, aimed at promoting peace in the state.
The governor explained that after the crisis in Mambilla, the Fulani accused the chairman of the local government, Mr. John Yep, of taking sides with his Mambilla kinsmen and requested the governor to remove him. As a peace loving governor, His Excellency asked him to step aside to give way for investigation and he has not been given any appointment anywhere. Just recently, the investigative panel submitted its report which did not indict the suspended chairman, yet the governor has not recalled him. Sanusi wields a lot of influence and he should be careful about things he says so as not to send wrong signals out there. There is no single element of truth in his allegations,” the governor said
And while Sanusi and Ishaku were trading accusations and counter-accusations, what should have concerned people like Chief Umahi as chairman of the south-east governors’ forum would have been where the Igbo feature in all of this. What is the Igbo stake, knowing that they have investments practically everywhere in the country? That could have been part of what was deliberated at the Handshake across the Niger rally in Enugu to which Umahi refused to even send a delegate, giving what is probably the wrong signal out there about his commitment to the unity of Ndigbo in Nigeria.
How would the likes of Governor David Umahi expect Igbo businessmen and industrialists to keep quiet and watch Nigeria destroy itself? But luckily, there is always something in a name. Another David, Bishop Oyedepo of Living Faith Church (alias Winners Chapel) may have spoken on behalf of Yoruba and Igbo leaders like his name-sake when he observed that despotism was actually spreading across the Nigeria nation under the guise of Fulani herdsmen. Danger is looming. The Bishop noted that none of the killers have been brought to book since their campaign of carnage, death and destruction began. Could it be because they had the backing of some invincible powers? The Bishop, like most concerned Igbo and Yoruba, was anxious to know.
He observed that a nation-wide crisis could in the offing and it could be worse than anyone known around the world. “What is the morality behind some passersby who are doing their business of cattle-rearing over-running other citizens’ farmlands with their labour of planting, cultivating and nurturing their plants, and they graze their cattle over the farmers’ crops, and when they are challenged, they kill the farmers? Where are the leaders of thought in Nigeria? Where is the government as all this continues unabated?” he queried.
“We are sitting on the keg of gunpowder. The destiny of our nation has never been under any threat of survival as it is today. People may soon be forced to take laws into their hands. The security apparatus of the nation has obviously failed to defend the lives and properties of poor farmers across the nation. Where we are claiming to curtail the Boko Haram onslaught, we are on the other hand sponsoring and abetting Fulani herdsmen and their murderous acts. Nigeria is a nation at war with herself. With no external aggressions or aggressors, no natural disaster, yet we are doing mass-burials. Our nation is in a state of slumber” the Bishop observed.
With a voice quivering with emotion, the Bishop said: “Let me ask these pertinent questions that bother on the conscience of this nation and her leaders. Is cattle rearing government business? Should local farmers be killed for Fulani herdsmen to live? Should all the farmers leave their farms today for fear of Fulani herdsmen? Nigeria still produces less than 20% of what she consumes. What is the contribution of these herdsmen and their cattle business to the GDP of Nigeria? There is more to this slow response of government to address this sensitive issue which is obviously a time bomb. Are Fulani herdsmen the owners of Nigeria? Does Nigerian land belong to the Fulani herdsmen? There has never been this kind of assault on the intelligence of the people like we have it now.”
The Bishop went on to ask: “can Nigerians still trust the security agencies of this nation for their protection? Where citizens cannot trust government for security, a state of anarchy is in view. Insurrection may as well be on the way. This largely unchecked aggression of Fulani herdsmen may eventually choke the soul of Nigeria to death. Yet we need to know. Is the Nigerian project still working? Without justice there cannot be peace. No one steps on another’s toes and says ‘let’s have peace’. The one would say ‘remove your leg, you are on my toes,’ and the other says ‘no.’ There will be no peace but exchange of blows! Let politicians be warned! They will have no reason to sell off the destinies of their fellow Nigerians for their selfish ambitions.”
In the same vein, he asked: “is our sense of human value as a nation still alive today? I don’t think so. I think it’s not alive. Today human beings are slaughtered like goats and there is simply no intervention whatsoever from relevant security agents. Should Nigerian men, women and children continue to lay down their lives for no justifiable cause? There is no nation on the earth where the defence of cattle is more valued than the defence of human lives except perhaps in this country. It is abomination.”
The irate Bishop asked: “How are these killers making away with their murderous acts? They must have the backings of the powers that be, to be able to do what they are doing and get away with it all. Any right thinking Nigerian will speculate same.”
“Today Boko Haram is spreading strategically across the nation” he observed. “How many cows will a Fulani herdsman sell to buy an AK47 riffle which now stands at about N3 million per piece? The fattest cow could cost N180, 000 – N200,000. To buy five rifles you would be thinking of N15million. All their cattle put together is not half of that in cost! So, how come they possess these weapons? You don’t hire security guards in a room-and-parlour apartment. Some fellows are supplying these arms and you cannot tell how much stockpile of arms they have. Nigeria is becoming an endangered nation where any group of people could attempt to overrun the nation overnight!” he stressed.
The cleric noted: “The reason why prophets speak is so that God does not require the blood of the people from them. God has sent me to warn this nation; a flood of evil is at the door. But for the sake of the elect, God will spare this nation. The wickedness of the wicked will fall on their head! Wake Up Nigeria, Wake Up! Nigeria should wake up from its slumber and defend the unity of our great nation, or “to your tents O Israel” will be the last resort.”
In what seems to be a final onslaught on the current political trend in the country, which Governor David believes should not concern Igbo businessmen and industrialists, Bishop David said: “God has prophetically unmasked this masquerade so that the fear of who and what may be behind the mask does not exist anymore. These killers are not just Fulani herdsmen. There are fingers behind the scene, abetting, promoting, empowering them and supplying the arms.” Yes, David. Reading between the lines, what we are seeing today on the political horizon is the clear case of the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob.