I know people who don’t bother with news. They don’t read newspapers. They are not on social media platforms. And when they turn on their television, be sure they are either going to watch Netflix or sports. I envy such people. Sometimes I wish I could just switch off from the reality of our existence and pretend things are normal. It’s worse when you are expected to proffer weekly opinions on the madness around you. But there are times when you decide to just let things pass, as I intend to do this week.
Let’s begin in Ebonyi. Governor David Umahi on Monday met with stakeholders from two warring communities (Uffiom and Ezza) in Ohaukwu local government of the state following a battle for supremacy between two factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) which degenerated into a communal clash. At the meeting, Umahi made a shocking disclosure, even though as I am now finding out, the situation is actually worse. “Officially, we have recorded about 25 deaths, 26 arms recovered from the hoodlums, about 125 houses burnt, fuel and gas stations burnt” said Umahi who blamed the Ohaukwu council chairman, Clement Odah and the member representing Ohaukwu North constituency in the House of Assembly, Chinedu Awo for the violence.
According to the governor, the crisis could have been averted if Odah and Awo had listened to him. “When the problem started, I called them (Odah and Awo) severally one-on-one, three of us. We sat and I pleaded with them. In fact, at a time, one of them walked out on me. It took my begging to the Speaker for the House not to sack the person on this same issue. I just took it that there is nothing a father will not see; there is nothing leadership will not see. Two of them are in supremacy battle for 2023 that they do not know whether they will see,” Umahi told his audience.
That 25 people would be killed within a period of one month over a dispute by two politicians shows just how cheap life has become in Nigeria. The gory photographs being circulated also reveal a level of carnage that is mind boggling, with reports that more than 60 fatalities have actually been recorded. Hundreds of houses have also been razed in Agugwu, Ibenda, Akparata, Azuogbee, Ugoeze, Agugba, Ebeta and Ameka communities where rampaging young people reportedly move from house to house to kill.
With the dress rehearsal in Obalende, Lagos between supporters of MC Oluomo and Kunle Poly who recently brandished dangerous weapons in broad daylight, it is obvious that the NURTW (whose members are known as ‘agbero’) will play a critical role in the politics of 2023. We have evidently moved from democracy to banditrocracy but let us come back to Ebonyi. After alleging that money was contributed for the purchase of arms by the two warring parties, Umahi waxed Ecclesiastic: “The moment you contribute to spilling of blood, it means that you and your generation to the 5th generation will be cursed…If you are here or you know anybody contributing money to buy arms to spill innocent blood, you have to go home and begin prayers because come rain come sunshine, the word of God must come to pass, whether you like it or not.”
Offering curses and prayers in the settlement of disputes is not a bad idea. But it would be better if politicians making cold (and violent) calculations about elections that are still two years away were held accountable and justice availed the victims. You wonder where the Police are amid all this bloodletting. Well, they apparently have more pressing assignments to deal with in Ondo State where the people of Ifon in Ose local government area are still mourning their traditional ruler, Oba Israel Adeusi who was murdered on Ifon-Owo highway on 26th November 2020. According to reports, community leaders were summoned to Abuja by the police to account for the loss of a cow. The Aremo of Ifon, Adegoke Adeusi, asked, “Who is to be arrested? Is it the killers of our Oba or those alleged to have killed a cow? It is shameful. It is disgraceful. I was shocked when I heard that four of our leaders have been invited to come and answer for the killing of a cow. An Oba was killed and they are now talking about a cow.”
The Ifon chiefs need some lessons in civics. In the Nigeria of today, the fear of cow is the beginning of wisdom. But talking about misplaced priorities, Interior Minister, Rauf Aregbesola, whose responsibility it is to secure the homeland, said his party is now recruiting killers in the name of revalidation of membership. Addressing his supporters in Ilesha, Osun State last weekend, Aregbesola lamented: “We have registered killers and murderers in our party. Our party’s law cannot reject a killer when the court has not pronounced such a person as a killer. But we know killer, thief and rascal in our midst.”
Given Aregbesola’s declaration, must we begin to run from APC members since there is no way of knowing who might wield dangerous weapons (including AK-47) when you deal with them? And talking about violence, two deaths were reportedly recorded in Owerri, Imo State, on Sunday following attempts by former Governor (now Senator) Rochas Okorocha to forcefully reclaim his property that the state government had seized. Hope Uzodinma, whose route to power was paved by a curious supreme court judgement, “is now pursuing shadows” and “may not end well as governor,” according to Okorocha who was arrested and briefly detained. Although the apostle of ‘Iberiberism’ claims that his release was at the instance of the presidency, Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba has countered that Okorocha was released by the police on medical grounds because he was “purging and stooling consistently.”
While we hope Okorocha’s bowel movement will soon stabilise so that the police can do their job, today marks the ninth day that bandits entered the premises of Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State where they killed a student before taking away 27 others as well as three staff and 12 family members. We can only pray for the safe return of the 42 persons still being held by the bandits. Sadly, images from the Kagara school have shown clearly that the Niger State government does not place a priority on education. All the facilities, including hostels and classrooms are so dilapidated that you wonder whether the school was actually built to produce bandits. In a related development, one of the 53 passengers of a Niger State Mass Transit bus kidnapped on 14th February but released at the weekend said the bandits brandished sophisticated weapons that she had only seen in movies. “Their weapons, I have never seen the type before in real life. They have rockets, guns, AK 47, and other weapons. The bandits were more than 1,000 in that bush,” she said while recounting their ordeal.
Nobody should be surprised by the kinds of weapons available to criminal cartels in the country or about their numbers. Banditry is now a most lucrative enterprise and it is also becoming risk-free since emissaries are being sent to beg them with a sinister claim by Sheik Ahmad Gumi that it’s only ‘Christian soldiers’ that have been killing them. I also have it on WhatsApp authority that discussions are ongoing in many states and Abuja regarding the necessity of creating an entire ministry, with hefty budget subheads for kidnappings and other ‘departments’. Meanwhile, Benue State Governor, Sam Ortom and his Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed, have been trading abusive words and damaging allegations. In the latest of the vitriol, Ortom accused Mohammed of harbouring terrorist inclinations.
It is interesting that both governors are members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but in these days when ‘blood is thicker than water’ with alliances and counter-alliances being forged, those little details don’t matter. After speaking for the herdsmen to whom he alleged the Nigerian State “has not been fair”, former Bauchi Governor Isa Yuguda wondered why the clamour by incumbent Governor Mohammed that herdsmen be allowed to carry AK-47 is different from that of a ‘senior citizen’. Yuguda also has a word for the media: “Let us stop being sentimental for goodness sake, otherwise this country will crumble. It’s crumbling in your hands and I’m afraid that you as the press are creating this problem.”
Since Nigeria is ‘crumbling’ in the hands of the press (and not the politicians running the show), we should join Yuguda in appealing to journalists to drop their pens and computers and embrace the ‘non-lethal’ AK-47 that we are told should be readily available for every roving herdsman in the country. On the ‘senior citizen’ calling on Nigerians to defend themselves, Yuguda refused to mention the name but I can help him. It is the Defence Minister, Bashir Magashi, who said Nigerians should stop being ‘cowards’ at the sight of criminals. “At times, the bandits will only come with about three rounds of ammunition, when they fire shots everybody runs. In our younger days, we stand to fight any aggression coming for us. I don’t know why people are running from minor things like that. They should stand and let these people know that even the villagers have the competency and capabilities to defend themselves,” Magashi declared last week.
To be fair, Magashi is not alone in this thinking. Following the armed robbery attack on my house last December, I went to the police station to file the routine report. What transpired is an interesting story on its own but not for today. When I was finally brought before the DPO, she looked at me from head to toe and asked, “How many were they?” to which I replied, “I don’t know how many were outside but only one operated inside with a gun”. She retorted sharply: “And you could not wrestle him to the ground?” She asked the question with so much contempt that I couldn’t tell my wife when I got back home lest she deemed me to be one of those Magashi ‘cowards’ who could not take three bullets. I simply comforted myself with the thesis of Chinua Achebe in ‘Things Fall Apart’ that “It is sometimes good to be brave and courageous, but sometimes it is better to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of the fool and point at the ruins where a brave man used to live.”
I am now pondering several questions. How did Magashi know the number of rounds of ammunition bandits carry during their operations? Is it no longer the responsibility of the state to protect citizens? Is it really cowardly not to duel with a man wielding a gun? I honestly do not know what to make of Magashi’s declaration. But I take comfort in a contribution from the Senate floor on Tuesday and the riposte from Abia State that most of the pubic officials who superintend our affairs in Nigeria are either ‘drunkards’ or ‘village idiots’.
By the special grace of God, I will write this column next week!