After taking an assessment tour of Agatu communities where an estimated 500 lives were lost following an attack by Fulani herdsmen, former Senate President, David Mark, lamented that genocide was committed against his people and that the federal government of Nigeria kept quiet.
“I am shocked beyond words at the extent of destruction I have seen here in Agatu today,” David Mark lamented in a statement to the press. “This is unbelievable. It is unimaginable… Nothing whatsoever justifies this brazen act of destruction meted out on the people of Agatu. My heart bleeds.”
On several levels, that statement issued by David Mark is packed with ironies. And coming from David Mark, the ironies are further squared.
For all of David Mark’s adult life, he has either been part of the security apparatus of Nigeria or part of the people who have determined or directed the security apparatus of Nigeria. In the last 16 years of democracy in Nigeria, David Mark has been a member of the Nigerian upper legislative chamber, the Senate. In the last eight years, he was the Senate President, which made him the number three man in Nigeria.
The conflict between the herdsmen and various communities where they herd their cattle has been on for decades. Not as army commander, not as governor, not as minister and definitely not as a lawmaker has David Mark paused from his favorite pastime of acquiring wealth to pursue the cause of finding solutions to this perennial problem. If not for the whole of the country, especially those along the corridor used by these herdsmen, at least, for his people.
Instead David Mark spent the last 16 years frolicking with power and ignoring the responsibilities that come with it. Instead of building bridges across communities, he built helicopter pad on top of his house so that he would travel without passing through the dirty paths of his people’s communities and be confronted with their challenges and pains. After all, these are the poor people he didn’t believe have any need for a phone when as a minister he was in position to give them phones. Instead of strengthening Nigerian citizenship for every Nigerian, he was more interested in preserving his citizenship of Belize, his 6 million British pounds sterling interest in the 18-hole St Margaret’s Golf Club in Ireland, his homes all over Europe and America, and his millions of pound sterling in trust funds for his wives, ex-wives and children just in case Nigeria becomes uninhabitable.
In all his years as Nigeria’s number three man, David Mark did not for one day fight one injustice, just one out of a dozen that happens every day in Nigeria, especially those committed by military men. He did not fight for one to be investigated and for the perpetrators to be punished. Why would he when he believes that a sergeant in the army is better than a university graduate? It was in David Mark’s time as Senate President that dozens of dead bodies were found floating in Anambra River. It was on David Mark’s watch that Apo 12 were murdered by the police right in Abuja where Mark was the Superman. David Mark cannot tell you what he did in those instances and how he insisted that the perpetrators be brought to book. Or were those instances, unlike the ones that took place in Agatu believable and imaginable in David Mark’s eyes?
While our hearts bleed for the people of Agatu, the likes of David Mark should be told to shove their lamentations. David Mark is the epitome of Nigeria’s petulant politician. They spend their time in power pursuing personal interests and as soon as they are out of power or when it is election time, they remember their people. When they see injustice being inflicted in other parts of Nigeria that they do not consider “their” side, they feign ignorance. The moment the wave of injustice hits the people they consider “their people” they spring into action.
Nigeria is full of men who suffer from the same aliment as David Mark. Remember Victor Malu. When he was the Chief of Army Staff during Obasanjo’s administration, he found nothing wrong in sending soldiers to level Odi on November 20, 1999, killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children because a gang of disgruntled youths murdered 12 policemen. But when the military leveled the town of Zaki Biam in October of 2001, killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children because 19 soldiers were killed in a local conflict, Citizen Victor Malu, now retired from the military, cried out on the injustice meted out to his people.
Beyond David Mark’s crocodile tears is a nation that has become desensitized to death. At every level, human lives are worthless in Nigeria. It is worthless to Nigerian people and it is worthless to those constitutionally charged to protect human lives in Nigeria. By omission or commission, the government of Nigeria wastes human lives the same way citizens themselves waste human lives. From the hands of traditional healers to the pastors and armed robbers, it has become an orgy of violence and bloodshed in Nigeria.
No week passes without the media reporting that a man, often called a ritualist, is caught with decapitated body of a baby or a woman or another man. It has become part of our weekly diet of news to read how a gang of cultists killed other rivals in open war fronts right inside our cities; how the Nigerian military responded to one conflict or another by wiping out any moving object in front of them; how a mob cornered a suspected thief and set him or her on fire. A week that a pastor is not caught burying a dead body on the grounds of his church, a native doctor is caught harvesting human parts for a pastor to buy. Children are murdering their parents to fulfill the demands of medicine men who declared it a condition for the children to be wealthy. With death all around us, the armed robbers, the kidnappers and the hired assassins are more vicious than ever and are fighting hard to distinguish themselves from regular Nigerians who are also escalating their own killings.
Since newspapers only cover a tiny fraction of what is happening in any society, the degree of killings perpetrated by Nigerians on fellow Nigerians may surpass what Boko Haram has done since 2009. The more Nigeria descends into these depths of barbarism, the more religious institutions, churches, mosques and societies multiply. The louder these religious institutions’ loudspeakers spew messages of prosperity, the tighter the ears of Nigerians close to the basic instruction of most religious orders: thou shall not kill. There is a symbiotic relationship between the religious institutions and the killing machine across Nigeria.
All these loss of lives starts with misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that is left untreated turns into a conflict. A conflict that is left untreated turns into genocide. Genocide that is left untreated turns into a war. A war that is left untreated turns the warriors into extinct species.
We all can do something now to forestall tomorrow’s injustice in any part of our country. We must not wait, like David Mark, until the injustice is meted to “our” people. Only a mad man waits for his head to be cut off before he does something about a man brandishing a sharp knife behind his back.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo’s latest work is “This American Life Sef”. You can get a copy on Amazon.com.