“The world will never respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world are looking up to Nigeria to be a source of pride and confidence. Every Nigerian should be made to understand this truth.” (Nelson Mandela).
In the midst of our cry and mourning of the latest victims of the Fulani herdsmen militant attacks and killings in Benue State which occurred two months ago, a friend just sent me the above quote of great Mandela. I know that my friend by posting that clip was trying to draw our attention also to the American President Donald Trump’s use of the dirty word, “shithole”, in characterization of the African race. Upon reflection, however, I feel that this is not time for us in Nigeria to pick hole with what Trump or indeed any white person would like to say about the black race backwardness. Nigeria as a nation state has today, a bigger problem than Trump to wrestle.
In other words, we have in Nigeria today a very serious problem, which we must fix first before confronting any racist Trump of the day. The white people’s disdain of black race has been part of our history as Africans from time immemorial and we have been handling it. Let’s talk of our own problems as African Nigerians and leave Trump and his racist ‘shithole’ alone.
The aim of the present article is to highlight Nigeria’s betrayal of its pan African posture and therefore, of the confidence of African people as Mandela’s words above confirms. This will help us to emphasize once more, the seriousness of the Nigerian situation today. In all, our aim is to challenge our collective conscience as a people, to defeat the apathy and indifference of most of us who are yet to acknowledge the depth of the ‘pit-hole’ in which our beloved country has already ‘sunk into.’
Thereafter, we shall appreciate the way the government and people of Benue State honored those 73 persons, victims of the latest attacks of the dreaded Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists in the state last week. Kudos to the government and people of Benue State for that singular act of honoring their dead in such a grand manner in spite of series of insensitive comments and insults from some groups and individuals whose ineptitude leadership and loss of sense of humanity contributed to the mayhem.
The government and people of Benue State, at least they have shown that we can organize things better and honor the victims of violence in our troubled nation with grandeur that commends world respect and admiration. They have demonstrated that something good can come from ‘Nazareth.’ This is in spite of the failure of the government at the center, our military and police in this regard to protect the lives of ordinary citizens when needed most. We shall come back to this.
Nigeria’s Betrayal of African Confidence
As our situation today shows, Mandela’s quote cited above came at the time when Nigeria manifested openly its betrayal of African confidence. In fact, Nigeria’s betrayal of Africa in recent times assumed a diametrical proportion from 1999, especially, when our own federal government, under Western pressures handed over Charles Taylor of Liberia to the Western powers to be prosecuted by foreign powers at The Hague International Criminal Court, ICC.
As a peace deal reached by African Union and ECOWAS to end the Civil War in Liberia, Charles Taylor was to live in exile in Nigeria. Taylor was enjoying his exile in Nigeria until suddenly, the Nigerian government handed him over to the Western powers who eventually through their tele-guided ICC at The Hague sentenced him to life imprisonment, which he is now serving in Britain.
In spite of all his shortcomings and accusations against him, Taylor’s major crime for which he was sent to the ICC at The Hague, was that he refused United States and other Western powers’ fully control of the exploitation of Liberian diamonds. This was why the country was plagued into civil war, made ungovernable for him and he had to pay the prize further by being sent to the ICC at The Hague.
Since Nigeria handed over Taylor to the Western powers, the country has lost its ‘Pan African’ posture and relevance. No other serious African country will ever trust Nigeria as peace-broker in time of crisis. This is because, after the Taylor debacle, Nigeria disappointed many other African countries in that regard.
Very pathetic, is the recent arrest of leaders of Southern Cameroun by Nigeria’s secret police, DSS some days ago in a hotel at Abuja, where they were holding a meeting. Nigeria, instead of playing a role of an impartial arbitrator and a ‘big’ African sister nation, in the conflict between Southern Cameroun and the Francophone-dominated government at Yaounde, chose to side with Paul Biya, a dictator who has been in power since 1982.
Nigeria arrested those leaders of Southern Cameroun at Abuja despite the fact that they are covered by the United Nations’ refugee and asylum status. Moreover, since Nigeria has no repatriation agreement with the Republic of Cameroun, it will be interesting to see how the whole drama and scenario will end. Already, the arrest of these leaders of Southern Cameroun has generated a lot of bad blood between Nigerians and citizens of Southern Cameroun, who are English-speaking like us and their region was part of Nigeria until 1963.
In fact, when Paul Biya assumed power in 1982, the central government under his control decided to throw away the confederation Constitution, which had granted regional autonomy to the English-speaking people of Southern Cameroun since the time of the unification of Francophone and Anglophone republics of the two Cameroun in 1963. The latest onslaught of Paul Biya government against the people of Southern Cameroun (Anglophone) was the imposition of French language and French-speaking Provincial Mayors and school teachers in their region.
Moreover, Southern Cameroun region is the least developed in infrastructure wise in the whole country since Biya came to power. The people there have no good roads, no Sea Ports, no Airports, etc. The regional capital Bamenda looks like a remote local government headquarters in Nigeria. Majority of citizens of Southern Cameron are today languishing in various prisons in Cameroun. A good number have been killed and wounded since the uprising started. Today, majority of the people are living as refugees in neighboring countries, including Nigeria.
In spite of all these, Nigerian government is yet to see reason to be an impartial arbitrator and side with the victims of violence instead of the dictator Biya at Yaounde.
In addition to the feelings of people of Southern Cameroun about Nigeria, what of other neighboring African countries? It suffices to meet ordinary Africans from Togo, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Zimbabwe, etc. You will be shocked of what they will tell you about their impression of Nigeria, especially, our so-called ‘revered’ former presidents, foreign ministers and representatives at the United Nations in New York, who still parade themselves as elder statesmen and fathers of the nation. Citizens of those other African countries where these our ‘revered’ heads of state and elder statesmen had severed as arbitrators for peace or political elections have very poor impression of Nigeria and its leaders.
Some of these Africans will recount to you of how a former head of state of Nigeria, in particular (who is very notorious in this game of bribery and corruption), disappointed them. The people had thought he would be an impartial arbitrator. Unfortunately, the man got bribed by those who control the corridors of power in that country. Because of that, he turned upside down the election results and rigged it in favor of the wrong candidate.
This is one of the reasons, a good number of citizens from other African countries hate to associate with Nigerians today. We are hated as Nigerians by our fellow Africans, principally, because of the ‘sins’ of our leaders who had been invited to broker peace in neighboring African nations but decided instead to mess it up.
All this means that the political ineptitude of our leaders which has crippled Nigeria is also their trade mark in dealing with other African countries as arbitrators in time of crisis. Unfortunately, these are leaders the United Nations and Western powers promote and prefer to deal with in projecting the future of Nigeria in the community of nations. When it comes to elections in the country, they are also the people, foreign powers project and install as our leaders through a tele-guided rigged elections.
However, as Nigerians who are ordinary citizens, we know that the salvation of our country and indeed the African continent will never come from those kind of self-styled and imposed leaders. The real leaders of the people are yet to be given opportunity to govern. This is the crux of the matter!
This is the background for appreciating the above quote from Mandela. It furnishes us the reasons why Trump’s ‘shithole’ racist remarks should also be appreciated as kind of a frustration of a leader of the world’s most powerful nation over the incompetence exhibited all these while by many African leaders, including those of our beloved country, Nigeria.
Therefore, instead of maligning Trump, we should really be grateful to him for telling us the truth of how frustrated the other people of the world are that African leaders are not doing anything significant to better the condition of their people and continent. This, for me, is the message of Trump’s ‘shithole’ racist insult to us, as black people. For Nigeria in particular, it is also the frustration of Mandela over the country, as the above quote indicates.
Trump and his characterization of black people as “shithole” is only his nemesis of what our present leaders and their cohorts have brought upon our beloved country, Nigeria and indeed, Africa as a whole. How do we get a new crop of leaders for new Nigeria to emerge, is now the question? Corollary, we must ask also how do we get rid of all those leaders responsible for inflicting the country and its citizens with the Fulani herdsmen terrorism bloodbath. These are challenges that should concern us now as a nation and people over and above ‘Trump’s shithole’ lapses.
This is because we cannot be throwing stones on Trump’s racist brain, while our own federal government is laughing off after the horrible mayhem of massacre of innocent citizens of Benue State some days ago by the Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists. How can we be after Trump’s “shithole” dirty mess, when our own leaders at the center in Nigeria are busy telling us to erect ‘colonies’ in our states to accommodate the same herdsmen terrorists and live with them in our neighborhood?
Who would ever imagine President Trump telling Americans that the US government is going to establish ‘colonies’ in all the federating states of the nation to accommodate Osama bin Laden with his Al Qaeda terrorists organization and the Taliban fundamentalists? That is, can the President of America in spite of his ‘shithole’ lapses, dream of asking people of New York State, after the September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attack at the Twin Towers, ‘to please accommodate in their community and neighborhood those terrorists who caused such an unimaginable havoc to their sense of being and humanity?’
Again, can you imagine the American President staying put at the White House on hearing that such calamity that claimed human lives as in Benue State mayhem had happened anywhere in the United States? The American President will be there at the spot to see with his own eye what had happened and commiserate personally, face-to-face with the victims and survivors of the terror attacks. The whole weight of the American state will be at deck to address the problem in defense of human lives and security.
Have we ever heard in the present dispensation that the Nigerian President visited any of the scenes of the Fulani herdsmen Terrorist attacks or even Military brutality and killings of civilians to commiserate with the community and victims? We are yet to witness that kind of gesture from our President.
In this case, whom do you choose: A president of a foreign nation like United States of America, who tells you his misgivings about you as a black race in blunt language, or, your own president who prefers that you cede your land and life to Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists? The Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists, who in the name of cattle rustling have been destroying your farmlands, killing, and raping your women and children, and your federal government has not made any arrest of these criminals? Can such a thing be tolerated by the President of America in his domain? Not at all. Neither could it be tolerated by president of any civilized country for that matter?
The Root of the Problem
All this means that as things are now Nigeria we have a very big problem to resolve! As one author puts it: ‘Nigeria, since 1999 has lost its 100 years of anti-colonial gains.’
Nigerian government and leadership until 1999 has been in the fore-front of African renaissance. But the nation began to lose its prime role to its citizens and African people in general in a very dramatic manner from 1999, with the infamous ‘Third-term’ imbroglio.’ This was actually, what prompted Mandela to make the statement we cited earlier on.
Unfortunately, a ‘democratic’ elected government, after the 1999 elections, decided on its own to enthrone ‘Sharia legal system’ in Northern Nigeria, thereby dividing Nigerians into two classes of citizens, ‘born-to-rule’ and conquered ‘infidels.’ The federal government remained mute while all these things were going on. The government did not stand on its ground to defend the secularity of the Nigerian state. The government failed to insist that our Constitution and common law system must reign supreme, and that religion should remain a private matter and therefore, shouldn’t be brought into our legal system and manner of running government both at the federal and state levels.
It is because the federal government at the time was too weak to defend the secularity of the Nigerian state, common law system and constitution, that is why we have degenerated to where we are today as a nation state, where the lives of ordinary citizens have lost their value and government protection is non-existent any more. This is the ‘original sin’ of those, who presided over the country immediately we returned to democracy in 1999.
It is the beginning in recent time of the escalation of what we are witnessing today in Nigeria. The consequences include the present rise of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen terrorism, which have already reached an uncontrollable proportion. Have we ever asked why these terror groups have their stronghold in the ‘Sharia’ States region of Northern Nigeria?
Again, have we ever wondered why the present federal government, state governors from the ‘Sharia’ States as well as other political actors, elites and traditional rulers of that region have never seen Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militants as terrorists? They have not also condemned in strong terms their terrorist acts and address it with determination. For the political leaders and elites from that region, the activities of these terror groups are in order of things and nobody should brand them as terrorists? This is why federal government chose dialogue with Boko Haram and is granting amnesty to their members who were captured by the previous administration.
In other words, Nigerian government instead of insisting on the secular nature of our federation under one constitution and legal system, allowed some individuals, guided by lust for power, religious bigotry and fanaticism to introduce ethnic supremacy in our national psychic and body polity, which we have been struggling to overcome since after the Civil War in 1970. Today that action of a weak leadership of 1999 and thereafter, has resulted in giving Nigeria a lopsided government under the control of religious fanatics and people imbued with ethnic chauvinism. Today, all of us are living witnesses and victims of that choice of our weak leadership and government at the center.
Those at the corridors of power at the center today in Nigeria have turned themselves into clog in the wheel of nation’s progress and growth into greatness. They have refused to act responsibly or listen to the voice of reason. They have kept deafening ear to the genuine calls of eminent Nigerians for restructuring of our political system that could usher in true fiscal federalism anchored on regional autonomy for peaceful co-existence of federating regions of diverse people of Nigeria.
Again, because of the deafening ear of the government to the cry and needs of the masses, Nigerian state with 1999 Constitution and Northern states imposition of Sharia law in their region, has continued to practice two legal systems that are completely opposed to each other. The constitution of Nigeria which in principle, follows common law runs concurrently with Sharia (Islamic) legal system which favors classification of citizens into ‘masters and vessels’, or rather ‘born-to-rule’ and ‘infidels.’
Under this system, those who regard themselves as ‘masters’ are today invading the territory of the ‘vessels’ (slaves) with their foot-soldiers and caravans – Fulani herdsmen militants, maiming and killing anybody that stands on their way. Nigeria is now infested with the blood of innocent people because of free hands given to these Fulani herdsmen militants by their brothers at the corridors of power, who have arrogated to themselves the status of ‘born-to-rule’ and ‘masters’ of indigenous ethnic Africans of Nigeria.
You can now see why the present Nigerian leadership is reluctant to react to Trump’s characterization of the black race as ‘shithole.’ And why they did not challenge David Cameron, former British Prime Minister for describing Nigeria as the ‘most corrupt’ country in the world. In the psychic of those at the corridors of power in Nigeria today, as far as they and people of their own ethno-religious group are concerned, they are not part of African race Trump or David Cameron insulted. They came from a superior race to dominate and rule Nigeria for eternity.
This is the mindset of the people we have entrusted with the leadership of Nigeria at the center today. They have been the problem with Nigeria even before our political independence in 1960. It was for the same reason that the Biafran pogroms happened and are yet to be acknowledged by the Nigerian state and their sponsors during the genocidal war. It is the reason for all the military coups, counter coups and power domination by the same people since independence to date.
This the reason why they branded Nnamdi Knau and his IPOB non-violent youth movement calling for Biafran referendum, a terrorist group. The military was sent Nnamdi Kanu. They killed his IPOB members extrajudicial in hundreds, invaded his ancestral home at Umuahia last year. Since then they have not told us the whereabouts of Kanu.
Anything that stands in their way of domination and lust for power must be crushed by all means. Nnamdi Kanu became their headache because he challenged the status quo from inside-out, sought to negotiate a fair-deal for his Igbo people, but the presumed ‘gate-keeper and guardians’ of Nigerian state are not prepared for such a language. So, they used all means available and made sure that Kanu was eliminated or taken away from the public scene.
But the real terrorist groups, Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen militants are left untouched or treated as ‘sacred cows’, having a field day in different parts of Nigeria. Today Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists, in particular, are ravaging the country unchecked and federal government is not prepared to acknowledge their atrocities or declare them terrorists.
You can now see why the present Nigerian leadership has refused to call to order their kinsmen – Fulani herdsmen and women who are committing all these atrocities of bloodbath of violence and terrorism across the country. They are sacred cows. They are above the law and are free to settle anywhere, destroy farmlands, and at will kill human beings from other ethnic groups in Nigeria without fear of reprisal or being brought to justice.
How long shall we as a people and nation continue to endure this? This is the question that all of us must try to find an answer.
Honoring the Dead: Kudos to Benue State
I wish to conclude this piece with a word of sympathy to the people of Benue State over the recent dastardly and gruesomely massacre of their people by the Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists. It is painful that this is the way Nigeria had started the New Year 2018. Painfully, too, is the fact that most of the victims were women and children, innocent people massacred in such barbaric and heartless manner for no just reason. Moreover, the victims were innocent Christian women, men and children who were celebrating the end of year feasts of Christmas and New Year when the mayhem happened.
Let me also commend the people and government of Benue State for the magnificent way they honored those recent victims of the Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists in their state. You made us all very proud of being Nigerians. You honored the dead and cleansed your land and hands from the barbaric culture of bloodletting terrorist group who disguised themselves as herdsmen. You respected the African culture of honoring the dead and appeasing the ancestors and God, the giver-of-life.
This is what is expected of any responsible nation state to do when there is an incident of this kind, especially, when it concerns innocent people who lost their lives through violence or man’s inhumanity to man. I think this is the first time such a thing – a kind of ‘regional state burial’ of victims of violence is happening in Nigeria. This is what Nigeria as a nation state was expected to do. But since the country is not yet ready for such a culture, the people and government of Benue State decided to take the horse by the horn. Kudos!
This is commendable and may its’ kind be multiplied in our land. This is because we have other such incidents of Fulani herdsmen terrorists’ attacks as well as military brutality, recklessness and impunity in recent times not yet attended to in some parts of Nigeria, for example, in the South East after the infamous Python Dance killings last year in Abia State. The blood of victims of those acts of terrorism and military brutality are still crying for justice and befitting burial, the type we witnessed in Benue state last week.
Once more, my prayer goes to all those victims buried last week in Benue State, as well as to those others killed in recent past in other parts of Nigeria in the same barbaric and heartless manner by the same Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists and military brutality. May Almighty God accept in His Kingdom the souls of all these victims of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, and bless with strength and courage all those that mourn them! May Nigeria never experience such mayhem again! Amen.
May God also bless Nigeria with good leaders, leaders devoid of religious bigotry and ethnic-hate. May there emerge a new Nigeria blessed with selfless leaders endowed with sense of humanity and respect for human life of every individual irrespective of differences in religion, ethnicity, philosophical and political inclinations.
This is my prayer. That there may arise in Nigeria today a culture of inclusive leadership. That Nigeria may be blessed with leaders who will have the courage to free us from all these cycles of bloodletting culture. Today, more than ever before, Nigeria needs leaders who are blessed with the principles of the nation’s founding Fathers who left us with the political system and structure of true fiscal federalism anchored on regional autonomy at political independence in 1960.
In fact, to stop all these bloodshed in the land, Nigeria needs a leader who could lead us all to our founding story: true fiscal federalism and regional autonomy – with states as federating units of theirs regions, and regions as the federating units of the Nigerian state. This is the only structure or political system for the moment that can save Nigeria as a nation-state from the looming danger. We ignore it to our own peril.
May the blood of these innocent Nigerian martyrs, killed by the Fulani herdsmen militant terrorists at Benue state and other parts of the country, as well as the blood of past victims of terrorism, violence, military impunity and recklessness in the nation’s leadership style, not be in vain. May their innocent blood be the seed for the emergence of a new Nigeria of our dream! Amen.
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.