By Tochukwu Okorie
A memo dated June 3, 2021, purportedly from a certain Coalition of Northern Groups addressed to His Highness the Emir of Kano Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero recently leaked into the public space.
The carefully crafted and perfectly wordsmithed document took aim at the Igbo nation with a view to inciting global hate against Igbos.
Fraught with spurious and ridiculous but damaging allegations and insinuations, the authors painted monstrous image of the Igbos portraying them with words like ungrateful, criminals, vile, tolerated.
In a similar polemic, the Secretary-General of Northern Elders Forum, Hakeem Baba Ahmed addressing a world press conference and in a bold brazen attempt at obfuscation of history, practically blamed Igbos for all human problems accusing Igbo leaders of complicity in a phantom pogrom purportedly being carried out against northern indigenes residing in South East. This was after the Arewa Consultative Forum had earlier issued a travel advisory to northerners requesting them to avoid South East, purporting that northerners are now targets of assassinations.
Prominent northern leaders have taken turns to demonize the Igbos thumping their chests for magnanimously accommodating Igbos in Nigeria for which Igbos ought to be grateful and are not.
In processing all of these, a bit of retrospection may help to either validate these wanton claims to justify their invectives on Igbos or regard them as a prelude to a pernicious plot being brewed by northern oligarchs against Igbos.
In the build-up to the 2011 general elections, political elites of the north, as if reading from the same playbook, promised fire and brimstone should Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw from Nigeria’s South-South, dared to run for, least of all, win the election into the office of president of Nigeria. Their claim was that there existed an unwritten agreement for the rotation of the office of president between the North and the South and the next four-year term belonged to the north following the unfortunate passing of the incumbent.
Jonathan was obstinate. Nigerians rallied around and gave him such unprecedented support so that he won that election effortlessly. General Muhammadu Buhari was the consensus candidate for the north in that election and was roundly defeated in spite of the cacophony of incendiary rhetoric promoted by northern leaders.
Among those who threatened to make the country ungovernable for Jonathan should he win the election were Professors Jubril Aminu and Ango Abdullahi, Junaid Mohammed (may his soul rest in peace), Arewa Consultative Forum with Col. Hameed Ali as arrowhead, Northern Elders Forum and a host of others.
Following his defeat in the 2011 elections acclaimed worldwide to be the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s political history, General Buhari instigated violence across the north in which scores were murdered in cold blood, victims being mostly NYSC members who constituted most of the INEC ad hoc staff. Not a single voice of condemnation was heard from the north. Not one.
It is on record that Jonathan’s presidency from outset was beset by the most irascible prejudices, attacks and betrayals of the worst kind from northern leaders culminating in heightened terrorism in the North East which all came to a head in the infamous abduction of Chibok school girls. True to their earlier promise, Northern leaders successfully made Nigeria ungovernable for President Jonathan.
They insidiously and vigorously pushed the narrative that insecurity in Nigeria had spiralled out of control as a result of the “cluelessness” of the Jonathan administration, a narrative that was quickly swallowed hook, line and sinker by Bola Tinubu’s political block whose electoral fortunes had dwindled miserably. With the help of the South West media, it was not long before the entire nation was engulfed in anti-Jonathan sloganeering followed by the most acutely divisive campaign ever seen in the history of electoral campaigns in Nigeria.
Yet the People’s Democratic Party was seen as the party that held the aces being the party in power at the centre. Not even the successful coalescence of disgruntled politicians from across all divides into the All Progressives Congress would assuage the discomfort of the north built around the tendency of Jonathan winning a second term in the 2015 presidential election.
It is a globally accepted truth that never has more divisive rhetoric been pushed in Nigeria than was done by the newly and hurriedly formed opposition APC. Never. The resulting acrimony is reminiscent of and only comparable in proportion to the infamous wild wild west of the first republic that snowballed into the first military coup. John Odigie Oyegun, then National Chairman of APC, had threatened that APC was going to form a parallel government should INEC fail to declare Buhari winner. This is on record.
Northern leaders rolled out drums of war. Nasir Elrufai was permanently out on the streets suffusing the atmosphere with revilements against President Jonathan. So terrifying was the unfolding melee that a US-based international think-tank published a doomsday prediction for Nigeria’s breakup in 2015.
When Goodluck Jonathan conceded the election to Buhari even before vote tallying was completed, it was received with mixed feelings. Nigerians who had faith in Jonathan felt he chickened out too soon wondering if someone had held a gun to his head. In fact, the rumour mill was churning out stories alleging that General Abdulsalami Abubakar who was in the precinct of the Presidential Villa at that time actually had a weapon.
Meanwhile, on the other side, there was mad jubilation by members and sympathizers of the APC. Buhari was now President-elect. Alhamdulilah.
What many Nigerians did not and perhaps still do not know is that President Jonathan was said to have had intel about what had been planned by the opposition but decided to allow it slip since his ambition, in his own words, should not cost any Nigerian his or her life. The veracity or otherwise of this claim can only be confirmed by Goodluck Jonathan himself.
May 29, 2015, Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as the 6th elected president of independent Nigeria. The euphoria of APC’s election victory lasted only weeks. By December 2015, Southern Kaduna had turned into a killing field. Rampaging Fulani militia ripped babies out of wombs and butchered them. Dead bodies littered the streets in Kafanchan and all of Southern Kaduna. Every morning started with news of hundreds, not tens, not scores, hundreds killed in fresh violent attacks on Southern Kaduna peoples. It was not any different in the Plateau. Whole communities were wiped away overnight.
It was in the wake of all these that Nasir Elrufai, newly elected governor of Kaduna State stole away to Mali, Central African Republic or Mauritania perhaps, to some group of Fulani marauders who he paid hundreds of millions of dollars. Wait. Do not take my word for it. Sometime in 2016, the secret deal leaked to the public and the whole country went haywire. After months of denial, Governor Elrufai knowing his lid had been blown had to come clean.
Daily Trust of December 3, 2016, wrote, “Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State has revealed how his administration traced some violent and aggrieved Fulani herdsmen to their countries and paid them to stop the killings in Southern Kaduna.
Speaking with select reporters in his office in Kaduna, the governor disclosed that the crisis in Southern Kaduna dates back to the 2011 elections. He revealed that the herdsmen, who were affected by the post-election violence at the time, demanded compensation for loss of their cattle which his government paid.”
How much exactly Elrufai paid to these foreigners who would later be christened bandits, nobody knows, till date.
February 9, 2017, Governor Elrufai was live on Channels Television where he admitted to paying an undisclosed amount to bandits as “compensation” for their cattle which had been either stolen or killed, in order for them to halt the killing spree. The country rumbled as Nigerians across the country wailed and cried. Killings went on unabated.
The one question that resonated continuously like a Christmas chime was, how the hell did ordinary herders come by AK-47 rifles with which they committed such heinous atrocities? Till today, that question has remained largely unanswered.
Nigerians should now recall and put in perspective the fact that this was the beginning of the destabilization of the North West with Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara States as the hotbed of banditry.
Amidst tumultuous cries for justice, President Buhari was so ominously silent that speculations that he might have died in a London hospital became rife, a narrative earlier concocted by Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Igbo self-determination group IPOB.
Dr Obadiah Mailafia, former Deputy Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, was perhaps the first to give Nigerians a snippet of an insight into what may be the real reason why Southern Kaduna and Plateau were pillaged, targeted in the bloodbath immediately following the advent of the Buhari-APC administration. His position would later be corroborated by Dr Usman Bugaje and Alhaji Buba Galadima both of whom played key roles in the flawed election of 2015 which “toppled” the Jonathan administration.
APC, according to the testimonies of Mailafia, Bugaje and Galadima, had hired foreign Fulani militia apparently from Central African Republic, Mali and perhaps Mauritania to immediately start a war on Nigeria should Buhari fail to win the election. They were stationed strategically in Southern Kaduna and Plateau, two regions where the Fulanis have had an age-long battle with the indigenes.
To their own disappointment, Jonathan in a rather deft move conceded the election even though he was probably aware Attahiru Jega had capitulated last minute to the scheme to make Buhari President at all cost. He chose the path of averting the impending bloodshed. Many of his admirers who hoped he would, at least, contest the election outcome in court, were disappointed. They had no inkling about the real reason Jonathan took the decision he took.
Having won the election, APC developed a flat foot about paying the humongous sums they had pledged to the mercenaries. The hired Fulani militia was told they did not do the job for which they were hired and did not deserve all that money. So after waiting in vain for payment, they decided to go ahead and do the job they were hired to do if that was what the paymaster wanted. They killed thousands. The country went up in uproar. The outrage was both intense and overwhelming. They quickly got together and dispatched Nasir to go and meet with their Chiefs in Mali (or wherever). For any discerning mind, that is the most veritable explanation to Governor Elrufai’s later position of defiance about paying “ransom” to bandits.
Call it a conspiracy theory and you will not be wrong. But then one would want to ask, is it normal for a governor to pay compensation from our taxes to foreign herders who in the first place should be considered illegal and undocumented immigrants? Is it sheer oversight that Governor Elrufai, to date, has not spoken about compensation for the people who were massacred in their thousands in Southern Kaduna?
If the testimonies of Mailafia and others were to be believed, then it would be safe to conclude that Elrufai triggered the blackmail instinct in the Fulani mercenaries. They apparently suddenly discovered Elrufai and APC’s mumu button. Bit by bit, Aminu Masari and Bello Matawalle ate the humble pie and started paying “compensation”. Whenever these “foreign herders” wanted more “compensation” they knew exactly the right buttons to press. Blood began to flow non-stop. Till today.
Buhari’s government’s reluctance to roll out the tanks against the bandits of the northeast states the way he has done in the South East is seen in many quarters as further lending credence to the mercenaries conspiracy theory. It is also believed that President Buhari’s silence was what emboldened indigenous Fulani herders who now saw the opportunity to take their territorial campaign to the next level. Plateau and Benue were easy targets.
Nigerians were jolted when, on June 25, 2018, the leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore came on live Television and brazenly claimed responsibility for the atrocious killing of mothers and their children in Plateau stating clearly that it was a retaliation for some 300 of their cows stolen in the Plateau. A similar claim was also made in January 2020 following renewed aggression by the Fulanis in Plateau state.
The atrocities of Fulani herders in Benue State are well documented. From Agatu to Gboko, all across Benue State, Fulanis unleashed mayhem without inhibition.
Despite the outrage and calls for the arrest of Miyetti Allah leaders by well-meaning Nigerians including no less a person than the Governor of Benue State Samuel Ortom, not a single Fulani has been arrested or arraigned for these atrocities. Instead, and shockingly, Presidential spokespersons Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu were readily available to make excuses for the killer herdsmen. In fact, Adesina repeatedly said that anyone who wanted to stay alive anywhere in Nigeria must be ready to give up his land. He was speaking for president Buhari.
Meanwhile, the deliberate exclusion of Igbo from strategic positions in government side by side the nepotistic disposition of the president in his appointments is not lost on even his most fanatical supporters. If anyone had any doubts, Buhari’s recent interview with Arise TV wiped out those doubts. We are now learning that the best-qualified individuals for every federal appointment could only be found in Northern Nigeria. That much came from no other than Buhari himself.
The import is that since May 29, 2015, there has been an acute dearth of qualified manpower in the South East and to a reasonable extent, in the South West and South-South too. In the Armed Forces and the Police, Civil Service, MDAs and the judiciary, the top jobs belong to the north where there is suddenly a concentration of genius.
The cries for justice in respect of the atrocities of Fulani herdsmen as well as pleas for inclusion in governance have persistently fallen on deaf ears as the president of Nigeria slithers down the dishonourable path of reducing the exalted office to the pursuit of ethnic and religious preconceived agenda.
Buhari has made no pretences about his disdain for Igbos, nor has he concealed his ethnic bigotry as he continues to insist on forceful eviction of those he says have encroached on cattle routes and grazing reserves across the country. Calls by governors and opinion leaders across Nigeria for a ban on open grazing makes absolutely no sense to an apparently convoluted Chief Executive of the Nigerian enterprise.
On another front, Nigerian Police has become more brutal. Police brutality in Nigeria has been an unfortunate constant for as far as one can remember. It did not start with the Buhari administration one must admit. However, the tech revolution of the last ten years while exposing youths to incredible opportunities has seen a meteoric rise in cybercrimes.
Following this development, operatives of the tactical arm of the Nigerian Police known as SARS, (Special Anti Robbery Squad), which have always constituted a menace to civil order and liberties since inception, turned the unit into a tool for extortion, extra-judicial killings and outright robbery. Young people who constitute the pool of tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs remained victims of brutal police intimidation, harassment and extortion, torture and gruesome deaths. The clamour to have the notorious police arm disbanded, like the calls for justice and inclusion, again fell on deaf ears.
Online campaign with the hashtag #EndSars swept through the entire country. And rather than pay attention to the complaint of young people who constitute 75 per cent of Nigeria’s population, the government began moves to stifle free speech by social media censorship.
Again and again, bills for an Act to that effect in the National Assembly failed to scale first reading. Yet, no one did anything significant about such monumental societal malaise. Not the president, not the legislators. No one.
But this was until October 2020 when the #EndSars campaign coalesced into a massive protest the kind of which had scarcely been seen in Nigeria. Government’s response? You guessed it! Scores of innocent protester were killed while waving the Nigerian flag by a combined team of soldiers and policemen sent to “quell” a peaceful protest. It was barbaric.
So who is destabilizing the polity?
As Fulanis, supposed to be herders but clearly on a land-grabbing campaign, continued the armed invasion of southern states, and Buhari and the federal forces turning a blind eye. Agitation for state police and restructuring became widespread culminating in the unified response by the governors of southwestern states who then set up a counter-invasion force, the Amotekun Security outfit.
Since Muhammadu Buhari assumed office as the president of Nigeria in 2015, Nigeria has teetered on the edge of a precipice driven by unwholesome divisive rhetoric, acute sense and avid pursuit of Fulani nationalism and a heavily flawed sense of justice all on the part of the President himself.
Inferentially, therefore, the demonization of Igbos, sponsored destabilization and consequent militarization of Nigeria’s South East, as it is today, has been a deliberately diversionary tactic of northern oligarchs meant to promote the anti-Igbo narrative in order to sustain the exclusion of Igbos from governance and national politics.