Murder in Northern Nigeria

President Muhammadu Buhari’s best friend among Christians is one white man called Justin Welby. He is the Archbishop of Canterbury. For the first time since Buhari’s presidency, Welby saw something unpleasant about his friend’s Nigeria. At the weekend, he tweeted: “The murder by terrorists of 12 Christian hostages in Nigeria has been much ignored over Christmas. With deep sorrow, let us pray for them and those close to them, and for God’s judgement on their killers. They are martyrs to Christ.”

Online reactions and comments to that tweet are not pleasant, because the messenger is Buhari’s friend. I wonder how he feels reading those who asked if prayers alone would be the reaction of Britain, his country, to such horrendous act of terrorism. “While praying for God’s judgement on their killers, call your friend, the Major General, to bring their killers to justice on earth. Your country would not simply pray, but (it would) take tangible actions,” one commenter said.

I am also waiting to hear the spokesmen of this government call out Welby, tell him that he was wrong; that it is not true that 12 Christians were killed; that only 11 captives were executed; and that, significantly, the executed were not all Christians –only ten of them were “martyrs to Christ.”

“One captive in the middle is shot dead while the other 10 are pushed to the ground and beheaded.” That is how the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported the execution of the 11 captives last week by a faction of Boko Haram in Borno State, Nigeria. It was not the first execution which that strand of our homegrown extremists had carried out. There had been summary killings of aid workers which were swiftly forgotten. There is a huge problem where a government is worried more by news reports of terrorism than by the gory act itself. The governor of Borno State recently urged the military to help flush Boko Haram out of a part of his state where he said they held ground. But our military authorities responded swiftly that the governor was wrong; that there was no inch of Nigeria under terrorist occupation. So, amidst the angst and anger that followed these latest killings came these questions: Didn’t this government say that Boko Haram had been defeated? On whose territory were those executions carried out?

At his inauguration on May 29, 2015, President Buhari said his predecessor’s war against terror failed because of “official bungling, negligence, complacency or collusion.” He then raised hopes with a rush of hard decisions. Service chiefs and their powerful offices were to move immediately to Maiduguri. That was the announcement – and all eyes focused on the epicenter of the deadly insurgency. The world showed not just interest, it started counting and comparing battles and casualties. A report quoted data from the Nigeria Social Violence Project as saying that between April 29, 2015 and Buhari’s inauguration on May 29 of that year, Boko Haram launched 24 attacks claiming 679 lives. A month after, it said there were 27 attacks with 616 casualties. Then Buhari’s men worked really hard and reclaimed much of the North-East from the terrorists to the relief of the country. The government’s town criers walked harder and farther and announced that their owner had defeated Boko Haram, technically. Since then, a spiral of silence has been forced on reportage of that war –which is why the current global attention on that corridor must be very painful to those who profit from the deaf-and-dumb business in Nigeria.

Denial is a coping mechanism for the hopeless. Only fools take it as a cure. Official lies, no matter how effective, have never saved any beleaguered people just as living in denial won’t cure anyone of cancer. The Jonathan government denied the existence of so many threats and tragedies. That strategy did not save it just as barefaced lies of victory in a raging war will not save this Buhari government. Two weeks ago, Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, listed Marte, Kukawa, and Abadam as local governments still under the control of Boko Haram. He belongs to Buhari’s party and cannot therefore be said to be playing politics with truth. Boko Haram with its many variants across the North won’t be Nigeria’s terminal ailment only if we agree that it is a malignancy that must be taken out.

Buhari wants history to be kind to him. He said so while receiving residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who paid him homage in the Villa on Christmas Day. Hear him: “I swore to hold this office in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and, God willing, I will follow the system diligently to the end of my term and I hope history will be kind to me and Nigerians.” I do not understand what he meant by history being kind to him “and Nigerians.” He should have limited the wish to himself and leave ‘Nigerians’ out of his fate. Women and bards of old Oyo empire had songs that defined each era of their kings. The one who worked for peace lives forever in popular culture as the benchmark for measuring success; the king in whose time old Oyo people became refugees are remembered too with dirges – songs of death, movements and readied loads for unplanned migrations. Every leader writes his history.

Adolf Hitler built so many great monuments, including the never-seen-before autobahn – a turnaround, 14-mile expressway between Frankfurt and Darmstadt. But because peace and security are man’s first and most valuable need, history remembers Hitler only for the years of war and repression he unleashed on the world. Ibrahim Babangida built the Third Mainland Bridge, established and built all the Federal Universities of Technology and of Agriculture you see in Nigeria today. But it looks like the only thing history may acknowledge resoundingly for him is the annulment of the June 12 election. The Buhari years will be remembered not with (and for) any brick and mortar planted somewhere between Lagos and Daura or from the Atlantic to the Sahara. Horrific killings by ISIS/Boko Haram plus all the horrid acts of herdsmen and bandits and how they were ‘tolerated’ or ‘enabled’ by the state under the Daura statesman will be used as the measuring rod.

As government continues to tarry with trifles, fighting the wind of truth, people get killed daily in that corner of Nigeria. Officers and men of our armed forces bear the greatest brunt in a war they did not provoke and which is entirely senseless. Soldiers fall almost daily leaving their loved ones to face the harsh weather of life forever. And official reaction continues to be a celebration of victory in masturbatory mode. He who feels it knows it. The United States-based Council for Foreign Relations’ security tracker credits 37,500 deaths to Boko Haram from May 2011 to date. It also estimates, 2.4 million persons displaced in the Lake Chad area, in the same period, by the same group. The tragedy will remain unending as long as 80 per cent of extremely poor people live in the North of Nigeria, and procreate in multiples.

Last week, Saudi authorities reportedly outlawed child marriage, and reactions online from obviously northern commenters were condemnation of Saudi authorities. When people continue making children they cannot cater for, those deprived kids will grow to become not just thugs and heartless extremists but parents and grandparents of their likes. The Emir of Kano said so last week:  “We have been talking about Almajiri for over 30 years. Why are people having families they cannot maintain? Why are people marrying wives that they cannot maintain? The condition is that you are able to provide for your family. Instead of having many children, why not have the ones you can cater for? …Most of these children roaming about the streets will be adult in the next twenty years and they will be the ones recruited as political thugs by politicians in the next twenty years, if we don’t take good care of them now.”

This kind of statement should be a quote from President Buhari if he wants history to be kind to him. He should not just see the North’s hoi polloi as mere tools for politics. He should take an interest in their education and in their future. Even if he does nothing for the South with his presidency, he should save that part from the horrors of having an Afghanistan as their country.

And, back to the execution of the 11 captives. Buhari’s reaction to their tragic end was uncharacteristically prompt. But it wasn’t a statement of action; it was one of appeal for unity. “Don’t let terrorists divide us,” he pleaded with Nigerians apparently with his wish for the kindness of history at the background. But winners, not dreamers, write history and earn its epaulets. Second World War British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, felt so and said so too – but he was clever about it; he did not express a hope for success and sit laid back, toothpick in mouth. Churchill affirmed what he wanted and took control of his situation; he never passed the buck. Hear him: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Churchill knew that history is neither frivolous nor careless with its milk of kindness. It embraces only that side that directly works for and holds the trophy handles. History gives no succor to hungry proxies and their lifeless enablers. It is like equity; it favours only the diligent, not power abdicators and/or enablers of evil.

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