By Lasisi Olagunju
Northern leaders are an intriguing lot. They are looking for shortcuts to the top of the palm tree by befriending their nemesis, the bandits. They want peace, yet they express open sympathy for killers. They speak volubly for bandits and have no word of empathy for their own people, daily killed, daily abducted by the marauders. Now they are angry with Yoruba governors for asking northern terrorists to leave south west forest reserves. What the northern cripple is saying is ‘da bi mo ti da’ (become as I am). But the Yoruba have long mastered how to deal with bovine sticks aiming at their eyes. You heard Senate President Ahmed Lawan and his open rebuke of Yoruba governors. He said they enabled violence in the region. You heard Bauchi State governor and his stern warning to the south west to stop rumbling their forest reserves against the cows from the north. No one owns the forests, he declared on national television. You also heard former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his declaration that no one has any right to any state and that any Nigerian can claim any state as his own. It was a bumper harvest of wild shots and dirty slaps from the north- all in one week.
We saw Sheikh Ahmad Gumi’s bandits with their belt-fed General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs) laughing, high-fiving one another. I looked at their monster weapons and shouted; what are these? I consulted books on guns and bullets. The books said each of the bullet belts you saw wrapped round the bandits comes standard with 200 rounds – and the belts can be joined to infinity. The books told me that the guns “have a rate-of-fire spanning 650 to 950 rounds per minute” and can effectively pick targets 1.83 kilometers (2,000 yards) away. These are obvious weapons of war, they are not for kidnapping. So, what war are these people fighting or preparing to fight? The senate president has told us about the criminals of the south west, he should tell us too what and who is emboldening and kitting north’s pampered killers and for what purpose.
I do not envy the south west governors. They are suspected home and abroad. The Yoruba people are a peculiar breed; some would say they are difficult to rule, to enslave; and others would say the problem is how to understand them. Even they find it impossible to understand themselves. The north-versus-west tension is historical. The wily north sees the Yoruba people as very troublesome. The north could see that in the way south west governors forced the Amotekun project on Nigeria. Now, the west is resisting murderous herdsmen at a time the north says we should appease bandits with cash and kisses. Education and their long trek from a treacherous past are to blame for whatever is ‘difficult’ about the Yoruba. Listen to their stories and their songs and you will have an idea of what shapes their ways. Outsiders who do not like the poet and his poetry, can’t they just look away or compose theirs? It is characteristic of the Yoruba to shrill his solemn affirmation of faith and pride. It is not about party or politics, the responsibility is to the homeland, the land of his birth.
If you haven’t, please go and read what Lawan told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on the south west at the weekend. The Yobe senator, whose road home has been long lost to Boko Haram terrorists, took a deep look at the Western region and declared that it is suffering from “failure of leadership.” I feel like asking him what he has to say about his blood-soaked north? The senate president spoke the language of the master. He said: “Leadership failures in the south west region caused what happened in Oyo State and other things that kept happening in the southwestern states.” He added for effect that “some utterances by some governors also went a long way in inciting the citizens to take up arms against other ethnic groups settling in their states.” The governors’ utterances, he said, “emboldened the criminals to unleash violence against the northerners.” It was a blanket condemnation of the governors; a barrel bomb. I wish the governors give him back measure for measure. But, let me ask Nigeria’s number three man: if the ‘utterances’ of the Yoruba governors “emboldened the criminals” of the south west, what is emboldening the bandits of the north?
Lawan and his angry north should not blame the south west governors. You cannot turn their ancestral groves to jungles of crimes and say they must not shout and act. In any case, the governors are not independent of the street. The Yoruba mass are the drivers of the public train. Governors know that no leader drives against the traffic on the rail lines of his people and escapes home to sleep with his wife. The people did not create the system; they met it and will pass it on. You do not inherit a goodly heritage like this and use it to build a shrine for beef. To the Yoruba, cow is meat, it is never an object of reverence. That is what Senate President Lawan could not understand.
Before Lawan, we read Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s take and I said it is finished. Atiku Abubakar, ex-vice president, ex-presidential candidate, future presidential candidate, billionaire Fulani husband of Titi (Yoruba) and of Jennifer (Igbo) and of others from other places said no Nigerian should claim any state as his own. It was his defence of the north and its people down south. His words: “The state of origin of every Nigerian is Nigeria. Nigeria gave birth to the states. The states did not give birth to Nigeria. Every Nigerian state must be 100% for 100% of all Nigerians, 100% of the time. No exception.” He wanted the “bloodletting… in Shasha” and “in every other locality” to stop. That was the reason he cancelled history (and logic) and said Nigeria gave birth to its parents, the constituent parts. Did Atiku write those lines with his nimble fingers or a paid agent wrote them for him? If an agent did, he should run away from the person. A nation is a forest, it may be dense when viewed from outside, but every insider knows that each tree in the forest has its place. The Nigerian forest owes its existence to the trees and the shrubs and the creepers, it is not the other way round. It is not logical to say the Nigerian house birthed its building blocks.
If you don’t have all the facts, don’t judge. If our politicians do not know how to navigate the darkness of this Nigerian night, they should learn to stay at home. I remember the former vice president joined the chorus for restructuring of the Nigerian federation a few years ago. He did tell us that he understood everything connected with it. And he was quite lucid in espousing the fine details of true federalism. So, sir, is the market over so soon? When he wanted to be governor in 1999, why did Atiku not come down south to pick one of the 17 states as his own? When he wanted to site his American University, what informed his choice of far-flung Yola as the host? Why did he not take it to Aba or to Ilesa, his in-laws’ place in Osun State or even to Abuja, the nation’s capital?
Governor Bello Mattawale of Zamfara State also said his own; he spoke clearly about where he belonged in the current debate on how to treat the bandits kidnapping and killing the young and the old across the north. He said: “If you investigate what is happening, and what made them take the law into their hands, some of them, sometimes were cheated by so-called vigilante groups. They normally go to their settlements and destroy property and take their animals. They did not have anyone to speak with, so sometimes, they go for revenge. When the vigilante group attacks them, they go for reprisals.” This governor rammed his conclusion in. He said leaders should get to the genesis of the problem and not conclude that all bandits are criminals. I heard him and shouted that he was right – after all, in Nigeria, “not all robbers are thieves.”
Nigeria’s needle of peace has fallen into a deep well. We could see many from everywhere looking into the well and chanting all sorts of madness. So, what is the way out of the mass death, mass abduction and mass misery which the north has imported and distributed to all of Nigeria? With those weapons displayed by the northern bandits in photos and videos, is it not clear that the bad situation may get worse? Who will retrieve the lost needle? Definitely not the specialists who are in photoshoots with bandits, murderers and kidnappers. Who else? The president? He is not talking, he is not moving and I understand. Is it not said that he who is being carried does not realize how far the town is? Anyone who is not part of the solution is obviously part of the problem. A heart patient once suffered a blockage like our nation suffers. Surgeons did a bypass and got blood into the heart again. What we need, going forward, are people of wisdom who would go down the well and retrieve peace for us. We need to know who is picking the bills for the bandits; we need to know who is supplying them weapons of war and for what purpose. We need to know why terrorists get sympathy from the elites of the north and why no northern leader fights for the northern victims of banditry. We need people who will say ‘enough is enough’ and speak for the long suffering villagers of the north – and of the south. We need people who would say ‘these poor people deserve peace,’ and that we all do and that even the mightiest eagle comes down to the tree top to rest. May the north learn to clear its forests of bandits. May the south know how to bolt its doors. May God chase war away – far from this land.