There is blood, blood everywhere. Sweats, the colour of blood as Nigerians scamper for unavailable fuel; blood from herdsmen who shoulder AK 47 guns like the Malacca; rivers of blood in Rivers State from felon who even security agencies have scarce understanding of their motives; blood from Boko Haram insurgents that flows as if a cistern had broken and blood flowing from heads Badoo cultists break with stones at dusk. Add these to the problem of hunger in the land. These blood flows remind this writer of Irish writer, Oscar Wilde’s evergreen quip in his letter to Sir Alfred Douglas, otherwise called De Profundis. Wilde, who had been engaged in an affair since 1891 with the Marquess of Queensberry, Sir John Sholto Douglas’ son – Bose, otherwise known as Sir Alfred Douglas, had been arrested on April 6, 1895, convicted on a charge of sodomy and sent to the Reading Gaol in London. He had had a feud with the elder Douglas who denounced him as a homosexual.Wilde had sued for libel and a trial ensued. The unfurled evidence therefrom forced him to drop his charges against the Marquess and subsequently led to his arrest and trial on charges of gross indecency and sodomy. Wilde was convicted in 1895 and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. While serving out his term in the Reading prison, he had written one of the most engaging epistolary in the history of mankind which he entitled above. Though it was a letter addressed to Douglas, his gay partner, it is a journey through man’s existential debacles on earth. Wilde, in a tear-provoking comment, had said that there were two defining moments in his life – when his father sent him to the University of Oxford and when society sent him to prison.
For Nigeria and its rivers of blood, these indeed are despondent times; they are the defining moments of our existence – just like Wilde’s. Never, except perhaps during the civil war, had unrestrained blood littered the national space as this. As the economy is facing its all-time low, existential woes are becoming ten a dime. The legs of trekkers on this journey are so heavy and strained. It is a very bitter pill to swallow that hopelessness is stalking the land like a pestilence and life is increasingly becoming unbearable. How can the Mohammadu Buhari government, in which Nigerians reposed so much hope as he came on board in May 2015, be a byline for hopelessness as this? While the economy is singeing the flesh like a hot iron, insecurity is the people’s companion, served in an a la carte of impunity.
If you need a major index of this hopelessness, check the soaring figure of consumption of alcohol by Nigerians. While many banks are recording receding profits, brewing companies are raking in billions in revenue. An unverified report claimed that a major Nigerian brewery recorded sales of almost N300 billion in 2015. One of the beer brands was expected to record sales of N275 billion, totaling almost N600 billion, approximating about 3 billion bottles of beer consumption. What it means is that the people put their reliance more on the temporary succor of liquor and less on a governmental remedy. In many mature democracies and societies, the alcohol consumption figure should alarm and alert the government to the need to make life more worthwhile for the people. The inexplicable rise in alcohol consumption may be a pointer to rise in existential woes.
Apart from the economic woes that are on the upswing, another major strand of hopelessness in the land is the ease with which blood is shed in Nigeria. One of such is the tragic invasion of some Nigerian communities by Fulani herdsmen recently. A few days ago, Benue, which has been a recurrent hotspot of these attacks, came in the news again. About 50 persons were said to have been killed in fresh attacks on its communities by people suspected to be Fulani herdsmen. They had invaded parts of the Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state on New Year’s Day. The state governor, Samuel Ortom, escaped being attacked by irate youths who were protesting the killing of their people. These all came on the heels of back and forth recriminations between herdsmen and the government on the implementation of the anti-open grazing law, which the Fulani herdsmen considered inimical to their means of livelihood. Scary pictures of the murdered litter the social media.
Aside pockets of murders committed by the herdsmen in several parts of the country, the Ukpabi-Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani area of Enugu State had also witnessed this mindless bloodshed a couple of years ago. Gory pictures of people hacked to death in a horrendous manner by herdsmen who invaded the lands of their victims with sophisticated weaponry has focused our minds on the fact that we share this geography with maniacs and carnivorous animals who disguise as human beings. How can we share our humanity with such cold-blooded animals? We are gradually being offered the other narrative of the Fulani man that is different from his time-worn profile as a sophisticated political machine; now he is one who is no better than the hyena and other beasts of the forest that tear the flesh of their hapless preys with clinical precision.
The massacres in the land which have been on the ascendancy since the Buhari government came into power are a gory dis-advertisement for all Fulanis, including President Buhari himself. They clearly indicate that the rest of Nigeria is living with animal-minded people who wouldn’t think twice to skewer the flesh of their fellow man. What that translates to mean is that, whenever a Fulani appears in a human ensemble, an alert signal akin to when a beast prowls in the neighbourhood, should flicker red in the minds of the people so gathered. That is the symbolism of these mindless massacres that we have to deal with.
Perhaps more mind-boggling is the silence and the occasional feeble, even if mere fulfilling-of-righteousness comments from the presidency since these massacres began. Yes, we know that reticence is one of Buhari’s low points but his mute unconcern about the rampaging prowls of his Fulani kinsmen is a cause for worry. Presidency’s response to the Uzor-Uwani massacre came 72 hours after the attack. Though the response by the presidency to the Benue attack was swifter though, till now, Buhari has not deemed it fit to personally verbalize his disdain for the bloodshed and his rampaging kinsmen. How good would it have been if the President had made the thrust of his so-called nationwide broadcast this national malaise, rather than his sickening attempt to differentiate between “process” and “restructuring”? Buhari as a person hasn’t shown enough hurt and anger against these animal kinsmen of his, making it easy to fit him into the profile of presidents who abet the tragic onslaught of their people.
The truth is that Fulani herdsmen are worse than Boko Haram insurgents and an untainted, unbiased leadership would treat them as such. When Buhari threatened to treat Niger Delta pipeline vandals as insurgents, he goofed big time as, in the order of their notoriety, Fulani herdsmen are worse. They had earlier been declared as one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). In a survey GTI said that the herdsmen, mainly of the Fula ethnic group, killed 80 people in total in 2013 but by 2014, had murdered at least 1,229 people. The group, according to the report, operates between Nigeria and parts of the Central African Republic (CAR) and had killed 847 people in 2015 across five states in Nigeria through several coordinated attacks, where they inflict varying degrees of attacks on local civilian populations. According to GTI, the attacks were unleashed on private citizens and that the Fulani terrorists’ primary and audacious contest is for the farmlands of their victims.
So when the grazing bill idea was mooted, supposedly as a panacea to these terrorists’ strike, it was akin to adding insult to the people’s injury. Why would states reserve their prime lands for pastoralists engaged in private businesses? The collective anger at such bunkum got kudos of the Nigerian people for Governor Ayodele Fayose who initiated the criminalization of grazing in Ekiti State. Since Fayose’s laudable action, the malady has ceased in the state. But reading the body language abetment of this tragedy by the President, state governors have chosen to play Nero while their states are burnt down by audacious herdsmen.
This is why President Buhari will need to convince Nigerians that he is not in any way abetting the animal tendencies of his kinsmen. The way to do this is by visiting the full wrath of the law on the bloodthirsty Fulani herdsmen. Otherwise, he will be making it inevitable for people to seek self-help in spite of the government. The animal nomads don’t have a monopoly of animalism. Since science says we are all descendants of ape, victims of the Fula tribe descendants may shuttle to their pre-historic ancestors and borrow some measure of villainy and violence to counter the animals from Fouta Djallon highland.
Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist