Wike’s bounty and a safe nation
As we seek solutions to the mass killings that have wracked our nation’s peace in recent times, the N200 million bounty Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike placed on the killers of 17 people in the state on January 1, 2018, should specially interest us. So should the swift response of security operatives who liquidated the alleged culprits. “For desperate ills, desperate remedies,” goes a French saying.
Which captures the circumstances of Wike’s and the security operatives’ response, though the ideal is for such suspects to be punished as sentenced by the law. The interest should be in Wike’s response as a model of a desperate remedy for a desperate ill threatening our nation’s survival as a peaceful, safe and united entity; since, with similar killings by herdsmen taking place rather concurrently in other states, there is no apparent effort to bring the perpetrators to book. And this is despite their leader having virtually taken ownership of the killings, which claimed 73 lives in Benue State, including disembowelled women and children, by explaining them as a retaliation for the loss of their cattle in the victims’ territory.
Indeed, the summary execution of Osama bin Laden, as the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, by the United States’ Navy Seals who stormed his hideout in Pakistan on May 2, 2011 and the shooting by London Police of three of the suspected terrorists in the London Bridge attack of June 7, 2017, which claimed eight lives, for which neither those responsible nor their countries were apologetic, show that situations arise in which even the “best” democracies, generally believed to be scrupulously respectful of human life and the rule of law, can ignore the ideal in responding to such national security emergencies that can be foisted on countries through such recent killings witnessed in Rivers and Benue states. To the above examples of desperate remedies for desperate ills, we may add the killing by the French Police on October 1, 2017, of a knife attacker who had stabbed two young women to death. All these are examples of serious governments acting swiftly to assure their citizens of their commitment to combat such murderous threats against them.
However, the runner-up to the American case, which takes the palm for taking its campaign to the air as well as abroad, actually comes from Africa. It is the case of the Egyptian Army using an air raid to kill some of the suspects in the November 24, 2017, mosque attack in Bir al-Abed, which killed 305 people and wounded 120. This comes second for taking its onslaught to the air but not also abroad like the American one.
Following the attack, the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, talked tough. He vowed that it would “not go unpunished” and that the Egyptian “armed forces and the police will avenge” the country’s “martyrs and restore security and stability with the utmost force.” And there could hardly be a better expression of a country’s commitment to guaranteeing the safety of its citizens than the Egyptian Army spokesman Tamer Rifai stating that the Egyptian “air forces chased the terrorists and discovered and destroyed a number of vehicles that were involved in carrying out the brutal terrorist attack” while “those on board were also killed.” This was a case of chasing down the assailants from the air, “who … arrived in four 4WD vehicles.” And if you come from a country like ours where, weeks after someone had virtually owned up to the murder of scores of its citizens on behalf of his group of herdsmen in a supposedly lawful state, and yet no arrest has been made, then you will appreciate why some of our citizens applauded President Trump’s recent description of African countries, of which ours claims to be the giant, as “shit hole” countries.
And without such an intervention by Wike, our country could pass for a giant “shit hole” of insecurity where 90 citizens killed by cultists and herdsmen identified by our government as “foreigners”, “criminals”, or “fellow citizens” (by our President Muhammadu Buhari, while appealing to their victim state to accommodate them), could have been buried with no apparent effort to deal decisively with the culprits as in the cases of the countries cited above.
If they are foreigners, it contradicts our claim to being able to defend our territorial integrity against such serial and deadly breaches by such invaders. If criminals, which would apply whether they are foreigners or our “fellow citizens,” it shows our incapacity to combat such large-scale, repetitious, murderous criminality within our shores, even as a threat to our nation’s survival like many consider the herdsmen’s attacks, an incapacity some would attribute to a failed state. And if our fellow citizens, it raises a question, in the light of Mr. President’s said plea, of whether our ability to empathize as a people has so degenerated that we now think the right response to the killing of our citizens by their compatriots is to urge the accommodation of the killers by their victim communities without bringing the killers, whose identities may not be unknown, to justice.
Incidentally, President Buhari is a patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACABAN), under whose banner the herdsmen operate. This exposes him to the suspicion that his tepid response to the killings by the herdsmen is due to conflict of interest. And for those who think the killings by the herdsmen are cases of violent blackmail to force their victim communities to yield to their demand for grazing land for their cattle, emboldened by the tacit support of a President who is of Fulani ethnic stock like them, the President’s “I-ask-you-in-the-name-of-God-to-accommodate-your-countrymen” plea on behalf of the herdsman could seem an insensitive case of backing the violent blackmail with an emotional one, in a way that rubs salt on a fresh injury. And also puts the name of God to the perverse use of facilitating blackmail and the condonation of evil!
And talking of bounties, the U.S. had offered to pay $25 million to anyone who could volunteer information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden. So Wike’s bounty had an illustrious pedigree in its American predecessor. It also provides a model which, followed by other leaders in our country today, could eliminate such killings by incentivizing security agents to act swiftly to deal with the culprits, restoring ours as a safe nation.
But the ideal is to have such well-resourced and well-motivated security agencies which, like the Egyptians’, would not require such ad-hoc bounties to work effectively and patriotically.
• Oke is a poet, and the winner of 2017 Nigeria Prize for Literature.
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