A nation beyond shock
And so the wailings and the gnashing of the teeth arising from the sorrow and the utter anguish that are customarily attendant on the fate that is now beyond the control of the poor and the hopeless – a people who have, willy-nilly, given in to a strange kind of fatalism.
Plateau State, another theatre of such carnage whose level of bestiality is comparable only to that of Benue State, Zamfara, Kaduna South and Taraba State, has chalked up another round of massacre of horrendous proportions.
Newspaper reports of the horror on the Plateau just this weekend were grisly and blood-chilling.
According to Vanguard newspaper, heavily armed gunmen invaded Plateau State and killed at least 120 persons in several villages in Barkin Ladi, Mangu and Riyom local government areas of the state.
Those injured in the mayhem were more than 200. At least 50 houses were set on fire. As usual, the figures were disputed.
Commander of the Special Military Task Force, Major General Anthony Atolagbe, confirmed that 56 persons were killed. Police, however, said they counted 86 bodies before they were released to their relatives for burial.
The death toll may not be immediately known. What is sure is that human lives have been reduced to a matter of statistics.
One report said as many as 206 were killed by suspected herdsmen who came shooting sporadically at mourners who had come for burial.
According to one spokesman, not by any means intent on belittling the tragedy, said “only 86” persons were killed.
As a people, we now tend to react to such tragedies as if the figures are not those of human lives and as if the number matters.
Nigerians have simply become inured of these horrific killings; they seem to have been robbed of their sense of feeling and their nation tragically transformed into one that is truly beyond shock.
A video that went viral after the Jos killings shows men and women and little innocent kids running for dear lives. Some elders had to abandon the kids they could not carry.
They were simply abandoned to their cruel fate.
Someone was kind enough to warn that the video, possibly from the current Jos madness, was not meant for the faint hearted.
And truth be told, the pictures of the tragedy were so gory, they can only help to brutalise the mind.
It was not always like this. Nigerians, to a large extent, were known for their humanness and generosity as their brothers’ keepers – they were like that even before the advent of modern religions.
In the traditional setting, complete strangers who were walking past through any typical Nigerian village, would be invited to come and take a rest and to have something to eat and drink.
If it was close to night fall, the natives would insist the complete stranger, no matter whoever he was, should spend the night and continue on his journey the following day.
In the process of taking a rest and passing a night, the stranger – he could be an itinerant preacher or petty merchant hawking some domestic wares – would, in response to this wonderful hospitality, decide to stay longer and possibly make home in this totally strange community.
That was how some settlers mixed with the natives and even inter-married. They were given farmlands and other necessities of life to make them welcome and comfortable.
Nobody dared to nurse the idea of taking advantage of the other. That was the era of the innocent citizen, simple-minded God-fearing apostle of good neighbourliness.
When they came, the modern religions encouraged and even promoted this interaction until grim competition among their adherents for the insatiable and primitive acquisition of worldly things led to suspicion and a crude sense of isolationism.
Ethnic stereotyping mixed with religious bigotry, greed and avarice took root, and before you knew it, the spirit of being thy brothers’ keepers ceased to be a virtue.
But that was the spirit which the two great religions of Islam and Christianity preached. But that spirit was sacrificed in exchange for the rabid pursuit of mundane perishability.
Where there was peace, they now replaced it with rancour and bitterness. The spirit of brotherliness became an unacceptable anachronism not fit for the modern world of bigots.
Today these bigots of various hues and colours have taken over the social, economic and political space and have succeeded in fouling the atmosphere.
In pursuit of their selfish goals, they easily resort to the manipulation of religion to gain advantage.
When President Muhammadu Buhari visited the people of Benue State to sympathise with them after the New Year massacre by the herdsmen in which many lives were lost, he told the people to learn to live together in peace.
On the surface of it, he appeared to be insensitive to the feelings of the people who had lost their loved ones.
But if we look back to the traditional society, the type we grew up in, Buhari would be forgiven for his nostalgia for the good old days.
Unfortunately those days have gone, replaced by the modern era that is characterised by the vicious struggle to survive and in which only the fittest, the smartest, the crudest and, for that matter, the most corrupt and dishonest, can ever hope to survive.
It will not suffice for the president to merely admonish those who kill and those whose people are being killed to learn to live together. It will not work.
What will solve the problem today is for the president to take the bold step, the kind that only he can take, to stop the killings, bring the killers to book to teach others the bitter lesson of their lives – that crime does not pay and there is no reward for criminality.
The president is not being challenged to do this because any one thinks that he has a hand in this perfidy. No. The herdsmen and farmers crisis predated his coming.
But fate has put him in a position to stop these killings. He has all the security architecture to fight this fight and win it. That is the burden he must carry.
When he came into office in 2015, he did not become president to have an easy ride in office. He came to fix what was broken. Insecurity was one of the problems.
Unfortunately today, after being in the saddle for three years, insecurity is still waxing stronger, threatening even to become more vicious and more challenging.
I said it before, and it bears repeating, that it is pure happenstance that the majority of the cattle herdsmen, real or imaginary, local or foreign, are of the Fulani stock.
And that Buhari is also Fulani, also a matter of pure happenstance, should place a moral burden on him as a human being.
But as president, he took the oath of office to defend the territorial integrity of the country and to protect and defend the lives and the properties of ALL Nigerians irrespective of ethnicity and religion, no matter whose ox is gored.
And that, precisely, is what Nigerians will hold him accountable for.
On January 10, this year I said in my column on this page that “this is one issue that tasks (the president)’s sense of fairness and his capacity to uphold truth and justice no matter who is involved.”
To be fair to Mr. President, he has given directives to security operatives many times to pursue the killers and bring them to book.
Nigerians are waiting most eagerly to see how many of these criminals are brought to justice in accordance with the president’s numerous directives.
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