Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stemming ethno-religious extremism in Nigeria

The growing religious and ethnic intolerance being displayed in Nigeria is both scary and heart-rending. Some clerics now openly call for jungle justice against Fulani cattle herders and Islamic jihadists. To justify his call for Christians to bear arms, one of the pastors quoted Luke 22:36 where Jesus told his disciples that “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Another said the fight between David and Goliath was not a fiction and as such Christians should be ready to fight. But doesn’t the Bible say in 2 Corinthians 10:4 that, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds”? If indeed Jesus’ speech in Luke 22:36 was to be taken literarily, why did he rebuke Peter at the  Garden of Gethsemane, when he slashed the  ear of Malchus, one of the priests’ servants with a sword? Jesus ordered Peter in Matthew 26:52 to “Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire and Albert Camus opined decades ago that “rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified.” The murder of hundreds of people in Southern Kaduna recently has brought about public outcry especially by many Christian groups and preachers. This is because of the predominance of Christians in that part of the country. News reports have it that some cattle herders are in the habit of invading communities in Southern Kaduna where they lead their cattle to graze on the farmlands of the indigenes and any attempt to resist this provocation leads to murder  of people in those communities and razing of their property. It will be recalled that similar gory tales have been told of many communities in Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau and Benue states particularly the Agatu people.  This act of aggression has even spread to southern states like Enugu, Delta and Edo. In many of these instances, Christian farmers are more at the receiving end from the predominantly Muslim cattle herders.
Two things are involved in this face-off. It has ethno-religious connotation. As noted in the preceding paragraph, the aggressors are usually the Fulani herdsmen while the victims are majorly Christian farmers. It also has an economic underpinning. The cattle herders want their animals to feed in lush and green pastures which are only available far from their homelands. Even at that, must they destroy others in order to live? There is a general belief and perception that President Muhammadu Buhari being a Fulani, cattle owner and Muslim is treating this burning issue with kid’s glove. Many aggrieved people feel the President has not brought his might to clamp down on these fiends who take delight in destroying other people’s means of livelihood and lives. Until the Boko Haram insurgents started to kill and maim fellow Muslims, there was an initial suspicion that the terrorist group was being sponsored by some Islamic groups within and outside Nigeria to destroy Christianity. It will be recalled that the insurgents started their attacks in 2009 by killing security agents and Christians as well as destroying churches. It was not until mosques and Muslims became their objects of attacks that it was clear to everybody that the Boko Haram jihadists were our common enemy.
Truth be told, Nigeria’s security agents have not demonstrated fairness and professionalism in the way and manner they have been handling the challenge posed by the marauding cattle herders against the farmers. Last April, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State broke down in tears after the attack on Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of the state where about 40 people were murdered by some cattle herders. According to him, he had held a security meeting with relevant heads of law enforcement agencies in the state when he got intelligence that the community would be attacked. Unfortunately, rather than ward off the invasion, the security agencies were caught napping while the aggressors had a field day. In spite of the deployment of military men and mobile policemen to Southern Kaduna, the killings of the indigenes by these aggressors are still being reported albeit on a lower scale.
The essence of governance is security and welfare of the citizens. It is because the government had not been able to take proactive measures to nip these attacks in the bud that has prompted many Christian groups and their leaders to call on Christians to defend themselves. Government and indeed security agencies need to hone their intelligence network to prevent or arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous acts against humanity. There have been many commissions of enquiries on this issue. Why have they not implemented the White Papers on such inquiries?  I abhor violence and do not see a lasting solution in preachers indulging in hate speeches and calling on their followers to bear arms either for self-defence or reprisals. As the saying goes, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will make everyone blind and toothless.  Usually, when we resort to self-help, it is the innocent that gets to pay for the sins of the perpetrators.
We need to know that Muslims are not the enemies of Christians in Nigeria. Cattle herders are not the enemies of farmers in this country. The Fulani are not the enemies of other ethnic groups neither are the Northerners up in arms against the Southerners. Our common enemies are the few extremists among all the groups. The bigots who are in the minority are our problem. They and their sponsors are the ones we must join hands to expose and deal with according to the laws of the land, not through resort to self-help and jungle justice. We must learn from the aftermath of the political cum religious war ravaging the Central African Republic as well as that of the genocidal war in Rwanda. With the country’s economy already in recession, the country can least afford a full-blown ethno-religious war. It therefore behooves the government at all levels to play their critical role of welfare and security.