The Chinese say blessings rarely come in pairs; misfortunes never come singly. In one single day last week, a lot happened to our country: Nigeria was again named the third most terrorized country in the whole world; Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar said his north is the worst place to live in Nigeria; bandits left villages for cities and universities to abduct for ransoms; gunmen murdered an Oba in Ondo State; armed robbers attacked a bank in broad daylight in Ondo State; Nigeria to lose $493 million we paid for Tucano Fighter jets because our Air Force’s runway can’t carry the planes. Our Abuja-Kaduna train, bought with loans less than three years ago, broke down and will be shipped back to its maker in China for repairs. Since that very bad day, worse calamities have befallen Nigeria. The latest, as I write, was the mass murder of, according to the United Nations, over 110 farmers in Borno on Saturday. If you live in Nigeria and you are not tired, as in TIRED, you must be an extra-terrestrial being.
Nigeria presents a curious case in the study of violence, repetition of violence and violence of repetitive tragedy. It is a conundrum. Like COVID-19, it is a different, novel kind of tragedy. You can’t find it in philosophy books or in history or in literature. We record mass murder without mass outrage. The fatalist in our corridor of death say the dead had to die because it was their destiny to so die. The murder of over 110 poor rice farmers in Borno happened on Saturday; dust simply went to dust on Sunday morning and life went on. But we know it wasn’t the worst that has happened to the north. Very many like that go unreported because the north lives in pretense that all is well. The Sultan said something like that: “A few weeks ago, over 76 persons were killed in a community in Sokoto in one day. I was there alongside the governor to commiserate with the affected community.” That is what the sultan said. You would want to ask that after visiting the community, what else then happened apart from the living burying the dead and moving on, waiting for the next massacre. The sultan also accused the (southern) media of not reporting the horrific events happening daily in the north. But is the north itself wailing over the killings? He said: “Unfortunately, you don’t hear these stories in the media because it’s in the north. We have accepted the fact that the north doesn’t have strong media to report the atrocities of these bandits.” That accusation itself is a tragedy; it does violence to truth – and science in this age of ‘democratic’ social media. Even then, the allegation is not true. What is true is that the media report the north’s illnesses and routinely get abused, harangued and accused of being anti-Buhari and his government of performers. It takes courage to weep in the north or to report the ripping-apart of humanity there. The Northern Elders Forum weekend celebrated the sultan for “summoning courage” to speak on the insecurity in his north. Wherever truth is despised, and telling it suicidal, there is no more hope. I hope that by crying out, the Sultan himself won’t soon be accused of hysteria – or of even working against the government. I hope he has not crossed the redline.
Where I come from, we say if you keep quiet, the disease in your body will lay quiet with you. Until the Sultan spoke on Thursday, it was a taboo to speak ill of the north as the insecurity capital of Nigeria. Any attack on bandits and kidnappers was an attack on the north and its government of angels. The Sultan’s statement was a confession, an admission of unwellness, a surrender, an SOS, a call for help. President Buhari posted a reaction to the murder of the Borno farmers. His last line was that he had “given all the needed support to the armed forces to take all necessary steps to protect the country’s population and its territory.” The commander-in-chief’s last word on our security simply passed the buck to the armed forces. If the armed forces can’t also help, then let the north draft their super-effective Hisbah to the war front. Amidst all the horrible, horrific occurrences ravaging the north, we hear Hisbah (sharia police) now move house to house, door to door in search of beer-drinking sinners. Fortunately, terrorism, banditry, murder and kidnapping are all crimes under sharia law. So, draft them to Borno to police the place against Boko Haram. Or is Hisbah’s mandate just about breaking beer bottles and threatening radio stations over programmes and their choice of words?
Sultan Abubakar’s speech deserves more than a passing reading. He said pointedly that “the north is the worst place to be in this country.” It is a place where “bandits go around in the villages, households and markets with their AK 47 and nobody is challenging them. They stop at the market, buy things, pay and collect change, with their weapons openly displayed.” This coming from the sultan is enough to conclude that the north has become a colony of bandits. In fact, the wise in the north, according to the sultan, now “keep provisions at home,” day and night, to pay off and appease kidnappers whenever they come. This last part interests me. It reminds me of an old narrative that the elite in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital are immune against all the attacks because they have long understood the protective powers of appeasement. Or apart from General Muhammed Shuwa who was murdered in Maiduguri on November 2, 2012, has Boko Haram ever tinkered with another big man or with a hut in the GRA in that city? It is the poor who get killed.
Sultan Abubakar has a lot to do beyond the alarm. His north is classic egbinrin ote; as you strike down a shoot, it sprouts ten. The south cannot help him. The government, which itself needs help, cannot help anyone. The sultan should deploy his education, his exposure and his experiences as a battle-tested, well-trained General of the Nigerian army to mobilize the North to root out the problem, starting from its anti-education, Boko Haram culture. It is not only the APC and the PDP that are conjoined at heart; illiteracy and fanatic banditry are also Siamese twins. Frightening illiteracy and poverty in the north will keep breeding many whose way of life manifests in violent colours. Scholars who doubt direct, causal impact of poverty on terrorism, banditry and violent crimes generally should come to Nigeria to get wisdom. It is starkly gutting to see generational poverty wedding terrorism in the north. There are about fourteen million children out of school in Nigeria; about 10 million of them are from the far northern states. The more uneducated you are, the more unlikely for you to escape poverty. This should explain why as Nigeria sinks deeper in misery, its profile on the terrorism table keeps rising. In 2006, our country was 22nd on the Failed State Index ranking; that same year, it was 12th on the Global Terrorism Ranking; ten years later in 2016, Nigeria had fallen to number 13 on the Failed State ranking and had become the third most terrorized nation on earth. Since that year, we have proudly held on to that position, with Iraq and Afghanistan stubbornly refusing to yield the first or the second position to us. That dubious position we occupy is principally courtesy of the north and its very bad ways.
The choices we make determine our fate. A recent survey result showed that if your household size is just one person, the chance of you being in poverty is 3 percent; if you have 2-4 persons, the chance of poverty is 18 percent; if 5-9, chance of poverty is 41 percent and if the size of your family is 10-19 persons, your chance of being mired in poverty is 67 percent. Yet, mass procreation and mass weddings are wantonly celebrated and financed by the governments of the poor north. Who will convince ‘our people’ that the old Yoruba logic of omo beere, osi beere (many children, much misery) is an eternal truth? The poignancy of the problem is in a recent survey report published by StatiSense on Nigerian women of between the ages of 15 and 49 years who are in polygamy. Our North West has 24.5 percent; North East, 19.2 percent; North Central, 14.6 percent; South West, 5.4 percent; South South, 1.8 percent and South East, 1.6 percent. A similar trend was reported for men of same age bracket with at least two wives in the six zones. Experiences like these teach us new things about the true meaning of tragedy.
Our challenges of state fragility, terrorism and violent crimes generally will worsen unless illiteracy-induced poverty is tackled frontally. The poorer the north gets, the more it puts security pressure on the entire country. The heat is on; it may get worse. Boko Haram and kidnapping have become thriving businesses for their operators. A total of 1,570 persons were kidnapped between January and last week Friday, according to a Daily Trust report. The report said these victims, majority of them from the north, paid over N311 million as ransom. That is the state of the nation. I do not know how much of the details the government has. Whatever government has done with the power we gave it has tragically not helped anyone. Five years ago, General Buhari promised to buy fighter jets for the military to prevent the kind of mass murder that happened in Borno on Saturday. The president, in fact, announced later that he had paid for the jets with borrowed funds and asked us, including the terrorists, to wait for the delivery. Now we are being told that the delivery may never happen. Why? Our runway can’t take the big planes we paid for. This fighter jets’ case with the threat of forfeiture because of inadequate runway is particularly galling. It tells the story of our tragedy and of our mental impotence. Did we not read the contract papers, the terms and the conditions before we signed them? Even primary school children read instructions before putting pen to paper in exam halls.
– Olagunju is a respected journalist with Nigerian Tribune