OPINION: Camouflage Of Carnage, By Sam Omatseye
We saw truth and reconciliation in Rwanda, after daggers flew and a bleeding. In South Africa, it served as a rebuke of a monument to prejudice, the worst since Jim Crow in the United States and the era of slavery and slave trade.
Truth happened to fling the door open for reconciliation. In Nigeria, we have never reconciled because we have never come to terms with the truth. We are cousins in perpetual contention, ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth, apology to Apostle Paul.
Anytime a controversy engulfs our country, the first casualty is truth. When truth is buried, solution stands afar off, watching us in the impotence of disbelief. The herdsmen are one such tinderbox, and it is biting the nation’s fabric while we bicker.
The reason is easy. While it is spinning mourning clothes in many homes, it is bringing bread to the table of others. Some feast but others see them as beasts. The feud festers. No one wants to take responsibility for the bloodshed.
The herdsmen have become a source of great confusion. Some say the herdsmen are doing the killings. Some say it is not the herdsmen doing the killings but the Bororo Fulani, who are now jobless. Some say the same Fulani who have fled drought and famine from Mali and Niger and Chad have lost cattle and livelihood. So they roam our lands to steal cattle and herd them to Lagos, sell them and buy arms.
The question is, why do they buy arms? Why are they angry? What did the locals do to them that they have worked up such wrath in their breasts? Why are they so blood happy, so appetized for other’s flesh and innocence?
Some others say the herdsmen are angry because locals steal their cattle? But it has been proved more often that the cattle rustlers are more Fulani than locals. If that is the truth, why did 73 caskets of Tivs and Idomas cascade into the earth the other day?
Is there some sort of misunderstanding between the killers and the victims? When the president, in his invidious naivety, ask the Tiv elders to embrace their neighbours, was it because he was out of tandem with the reports of his security officers in the DSS? If so, why has he not called for a comprehensive report?
Even the DSS did not help the confusion when it asserted that it was the terror exports of the Islamic State working their furnace of faith in our communities. The Inspector General of Police, authoring an imbecile and wild tale of fiction, said it was mere communal misunderstanding?
The minister of defence came out fuming the other day, and reeled off what many saw as an act of fanatical umbrage. Speaking without wisdom or knowledge and certainly without respect for his position, he sanctified the killings. He spoke with the hysteria of a hyena who eyed raw meat and blood dripping, and drooled for the prize. It still astounds me that such a human could say such barbarous inanity and be retained in office. He may be echoing the serene and vengeful piety of his fellow travellers. Otherwise, he ought to be arrested and questioned if he was in on the slaughter. After all, a Benue State DPO was arrested when seven Fulani were killed in cold blood. If Mansur Dan-Ali says modernity has blocked the grazing routes, and so we expect the herdsmen to rebel in rage and rapine, so what does he know? Yet this is the minister of defence, acting with a footloose tongue and bloodthirsty register as though his job is not defence but offence against the people.
If the people doing the killings are actually the foreigners, why did we hear the Emir of Kano and the Miyetti Allah explode in the defence of the herdsmen? Why did the mourners of Benue not receive the sort of condolence and sympathy they deserve, except meaningless routines of “sorry” that few accepted as genuine?
If we send soldiers to keep the peace, it will work. But what we shall see is not peace but pacification. That was the favourite word of the British when they mowed down local resistance to their colonial rule. They imposed silence, but peace never thrived until they left.
It is interesting that some of the Middle Belt leaders do not blame the “normal” Fulani herdsmen for the slaughter about the country. In my interview with the President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Bala Takaya, a few points came out. He does not blame the herdsmen for the assaults but two culprits. One, what I will call the “shadow herdsmen.” This refers to the nomads from outside the country who steal cows and herd them as camouflage for carnage. In the interview that will air on TVC next Saturday morning, he contends that they pretend to be herders while they bear both arms and cows.
Two, he blames the security forces in the country. He says they know the truth and wonders why the president continues to preserve them in their offices. What he has said contradicts what the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has filled the air with. Ortom is wagging the dog’s tail. He has been an abysmal failure as governor, owing about a year in salaries and presiding over Makurdi that still looks only a little better than a village in the 1980’s. The herdsmen crisis is an opportunity to ride to a second term. It is a boon for him from the enemy.
All these stories tell us that the public has no clear truth to consume on the crisis. Hence we may not reconcile. We can never love each other so long as we doubt each other. Shakespeare wrote in his famous play Hamlet: “Doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.”
We are not in a place of truth as yet. So, we cannot love, and without it reconciliation will elude us. So what is the truth? Is it Bororo in nomadic bloodthirst? Is it the real herdsmen but a few bad eggs? Is it some powerful forces up north in animal rage in defence of their cows? Is it ISL? The truth does not have to be simple, but we should know the facts. As Oscar Wilde noted: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” We have closet truths. The south truth, the north truth, the Christian truth, the Islamic truth, the middle belt truth, the DSS truth, etc. The deaf walls reign. We are hiding in camouflages.
We have read reports of not a few herdsmen arrests. Why not prosecute them in public, get their confessions, trace their roots and lineages? I believe the security forces and their leaders owe us this much for the peace and concord of this nation. If they don’t, then Buhari should follow Takaya’s suggestion and fire them. The nation of over 100 million people is bigger than a menagerie of men inspired by a fringe ideology.