Sunday, 3rd March 2024

Genocide is not an option in Nigeria – Part 2

By Segun Jegede
06 July 2021   |   2:40 am
As things stand today, the socio-political health of the country is a legitimate cause for grave concern because unlike previous crises that we had somehow managed to circumnavigate, the unprecedented insecurity....


As things stand today, the socio-political health of the country is a legitimate cause for grave concern because unlike previous crises that we had somehow managed to circumnavigate, the unprecedented insecurity that has already cost thousands of lives and the rumoured attempt to Fulanize the country have grown from mere problems to veritable behemoths threatening Nigeria’s very existence. Of all the gnawing issues, the one that could easily snowball into genocide is the so-called “Fulanisation” currently evolving in the South of the country. Many versions of the motive for this insidious scheme are currently in circulation, but the one that most accords with reality is that the Fulani ethnic group are bent on completing Uthman Dan Fodio’s unrealized wish to “dip the Quran into the Atlantic ocean” – a euphemism for the Islamization and eventual political domination of Southern Nigeria for the purposes of creating a Caliphate and home for stranded itinerant Fulanis in many parts of West Africa.

While the realization of such an agenda in contemporary times might seem overly ambitious and unrealizable to many, echoes of it in the highest Fulani circles indicate otherwise. For example, Sir Ahmadu Bello is often quoted to have stated on the 12th October 1960, less than a fortnight after Nigeria’s independence, that” The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather, Uthman Danfodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities in the North as willing tools and the South as conquered territories and never allow them to rule over us or have control over their future” In 1957, SirAhmadu had reportedly remarked that, “We the people of the North will continue our stated intention to conquer the South and to dip the Koran in the Atlantic Ocean after the British leave our shores.”

Whether the Fulani have the capacity to execute this agenda is not the main issue here, but the immediate cause for concern is the incontrovertible evidence that something sinister is afoot in Southern Nigeria’s forests and bushes lending credence to the alarming belief that the Fulani may well be dead serious about carrying out a jihad in the south in harmony with the dying wish of Uthman Dan Fodio who had himself launched a jihad in 1804 to establish an Islamic state over the 14 Hausa kingdoms he regarded as dens of infidels. So far, hundreds, if not thousands of people in the South of Nigeria have fallen victim to kidnapping, rape and murder at the hands of Fulani herdsmen in the last couple of years while millions of naira have been paid in ransom. What befuddles the mind is not only the unprecedented scale of these attacks, but their systematic and coordinated execution, leaving no ounce of doubt that they bear official imprimatur.

Verifiable accounts of victims abducted in their farms or vehicles while traveling in many parts of the South establish that young Fulani herders openly carry automatic weapons and even more sophisticated arms stockpiled in camps located in the bushes and forests of Southern Nigeria. From all indications, particularly given the frequency and widespread nature of these violent crimes, there is no shred of doubt that they are perpetrated with the full knowledge of the nation’s law enforcement agents and condoned by them. Conclusive proof of this assertion is that cases reported to the police are rarely investigated and when investigated, not seriously prosecuted.

Initially, the attacks against travelers on Southern roads and farms were thought to be random acts of banditry by misguided herdsmen, but selective silence on the part of the authorities as the criminal acts became more widespread indicate otherwise. Until recently, the president’s deafening silence on the atrocities of the herdsmen had merely led to speculation as to whether or not he was aware of the sustained attacks carried out by his kinsmen, but there is now significant anecdotal evidence to suggest that the government is aware of the gruesome attacks of the militarized herdsmen against innocent Southerners, but had merely chosen to ignore the clamour to call the rampaging herdsmen to order.

Having briefly put the ongoing disturbing events in context, a more critical objective of this piece is to put sponsors of the Jihad project on notice and warn them that any attempt at replicating an Usman Dan Fodio-type jihad will trigger the full wrath of extant international criminal justice mechanism. One of the founding principles of the ICC, as stated in the preamble to the Rome Statute, is the prevention of mass atrocities by punishing those most responsible for them. Thus, by criminalizing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the international community has, through the Rome Statute and other international human rights instruments established that violent acts precipitated by jihadists, insurgents and insurrectionists are outside the scope of accepted behaviour in the international realm.

Nigeria was one of the earliest states to ratify the Rome Statute in 2001 thus placing the country and its citizens under the authority of the ICC for investigation and prosecution of international criminal offences from 1 July 2002 onwards. Having voluntarily opted to become a state party, the rule of customary international law – pacta sunt servanda – which requires all States to honour their treaties, makes the Rome Statute binding on Nigeria.

It is, therefore, important to forewarn those pushing the Jihad project or mass violence that the Statute of the ICC has adequate in-built measures to ensure that those responsible for the commission of genocide and other crimes against humanity do not escape the noose of International criminal justice. So, in addition to individual criminal responsibility for perpetrating the crimes covered by the ICC Statute, the Statute also criminalises acts carried out by anyone “for the purpose of facilitating the commission of such a crime, aids, abets, or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission, including providing the means for its commission.” In practical terms, therefore, criminal responsibility is not limited to the direct perpetrator of murder or rape, it also extends to accomplices of the machete or assault-rifle-wielding herdsmen.

It is also worth restating that S.27 of the Rome Statute specifies that the perpetrator’s position as head of state or government of a State Party to the Rome Statute does not provide immunity from prosecution for the most serious international crimes before the ICC. Thus, immunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person, whether under domestic or international law, will not bar the ICC from exercising jurisdiction over such a person. The conviction of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, the indictment of Bashir of Sudan, and trial of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Cote d’Ivoire’s former president Laurent Gbagbo, all demonstrate that even national leaders who would otherwise have been immune from international criminal prosecution for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity would lose such privilege before the ICC.

Nigerian politicians and senior government officials are well advised that though there is largely domestic inaction against hate speech and incitement to genocide, the Rome Statute, enacted to end impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern views direct and public incitement to genocide as a mode of participation attracting serious penal consequences for offenders. Moreover, Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil Political Rights while protecting freedom of expression, also prohibits “propaganda for war” and states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

Before concluding, it is fitting to entreat the chief law officer of the Federation, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to take more responsibility at a time like this to keep members of the current administration in line by letting them know that hate speech and incitement to genocide are prohibited in international law because of the grave danger it poses to society and that incitement remains dangerous even if it does not lead to actual genocide, i.e., the destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part. It is also a no-brainer that Fulanisation of Nigeria by means of a jihad, successful or not, would entail unspeakable acts of violence constituting the elements of genocide and crimes against humanity. For all of these, there will be consequences – for the arms-bearing foot soldiers and the masterminds remotely directing the carnage from the comfort of their homes.

Finally, as we remember the over 800,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide who paid the supreme price for the unbridled hatred nurtured by a false ethnic distinction initiated and promoted by the colonialists, let all politicians, senior government officials and other stakeholders reflect on the catastrophic effect a genocide inducing jihad or another civil war would have on present and future generations of Nigerians.
Jegede is a legal practitioner and former prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.