LET us be honest with ourselves, this government has shown time and again its failure to live up to its primary responsibility as enshrined in Section 14:2b of the 1999 constitution which clearly states that:
“The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
The government seems overwhelmed and lost, but for reasons beyond my understanding, it has refused to make any meaningful strategic changes or widen its scope of consultations or engage the citizenry in finding a way out of the current security quagmire engulfing the nation.
Nigeria is at a crossroads, it is bedeviled by the worst insecurity of our lifetime that is threatening its fragile democracy and the very foundation of its existence as a nation.
People are facing excruciating poverty, inflation and hardship. There is fear and hopelessness in the land. Education in the North has never been more imperiled than now due to banditry and insurgency. Over 400 of our school children, some as young as four years, are still in captivity in the hands of these criminals in the forests all across the region.
The threat of famine in Nigeria is real and almost certain if the federal government does not take urgent and serious security measures that will protect our people to go back to their farms.
As critical stakeholders, all citiz.ens, particularly our elders, traditional leaders, Clerics, Community leaders, the Press, Organised Labour and Civil Society Organisations must not allow the status quo to continue on account of our silence.
On Saturday 14th August 2021, the nation was shaken by the sad news of the gruesome cold blooded massacre of twenty eight (28) people (twenty five (25) died on the spot and were buried in a mass grave according to Islamic rites while 3 died of their injuries two days later in hospital). These were Muslim Pilgrims traveling back to their homes in Ikare, Ondo state from a Muslim New Year programme (Zikr) held in Bauchi on Friday 13th August 2021. This event is held annually to usher in the new Islamic year by adherents of Tijaniyya sect which is the largest Muslim sect in Nigeria.
There were a total of 92 Muslim Pilgrims (87 Fulanis and 5 Yorubas who were the drivers) traveling in five 18 seater buses. These are Fulanis that have been living in Ikare Ondo State for generations. Many of them speak only Fulfulde and Yoruba languages, only a few of them understand the Hausa language.
Many would ask why did their drivers follow this road with all the known dangers? People that know the neighborhood well say that a few years ago, the road was the shortest distance out of Jos to either Abuja or Kaduna State because it bypasses the traffic gridlock of Jos metropolis bursting out at Vom through Miango in Bassa LGA.
Unfortunately, long standing conflicts between farmers and herders in Bassa LGA has over the years made traveling on this road hazardous. Unaware of this danger, the convoy of 5 buses conveying these pilgrims ran into the procession of their killers.
The procession was coming from the mortuary of Plateau hospital in Jos city center where they went to pick up the corpses of victims of previous reprisal attacks in Bassa LGA. They were matching on foot in their hundreds all clad in black from Jos to Miango for the burial.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was a security lapse for Security Agencies to have allowed such a procession in a volatile area without the cover of any security personnel presence that could have prevented what happened in Rukuba.
This unspeakable act of evil and cruelty was committed by a gang of rampaging Irigwe militia youths in Rukuba at the outskirts of Jos the Plateau State capital. They stopped the five buses these pilgrims were traveling in, forcefully disembarked the passengers, selected the victims based on their faith and ethnicity and gruesomely hacked and crushed them to death using machetes and stone boulders. Several of them sustained varying degrees of injuries, some are still in critical condition. Ten (10) people are still missing and presumed killed and buried in the surrounding hills by their assailants.
These murderers had the audacity and the heartlessness to film their orgy of killings and post the videos online for the whole world to see. Images of the massacre are too gruesome to watch and the stories from survivors too heartbreaking to hear but, hearing and watching we must, because it reminds us of how we as a people have lost our common humanity.
I am old enough to know that this is not who we were but who we have become as a people and a nation. Anyone with a beating heart would be moved to tears watching these images. It was eerily reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
To call these evil murderers Christians or associate them in any way with Christianity would be an insult to this great religion because there is no Scripture that teaches or condones these acts of senseless violence.
I can not claim to have full knowledge or understanding of the reasons why the never-ending circle of ethno-religious strife bedeviling the Plateau for the past two decades has defied solutions. This is not the beautiful Plateau I knew and loved growing up, what happened?
This is the question that needs to be asked and answered sincerely. But, this much is clear, elders have lost control of their youths not only in the Plateau but all across the nation. Our youths are now brought up on a poisonous cocktail of ethno-religious hatred mostly by politicians who have failed them.
Of all the daunting security challenges facing this nation, a religious war will be the most devastating and unwinnable war that must be avoided at all cost.
Response of Plateau State Government:
The state government paid the hospital bills of the injured, hired the bus that transported the 52 survivors back to Ikare, Ondo state and provided security for their safe passage home. Each of the survivors was also given the sum of ten thousand Naira as a present from the Governor as they boarded the bus. There is however no mention of any compensation to the families of the 28 that were killed or any word on the 10 missing and presumed killed and buried by their killers.
Politicians: Nigerians are fast losing faith in our democracy, political leaders are seen as uncaring, out of touch with the sufferings of the people and in complete denial of the mortal danger that insecurity poses to the survival of this nation. Instead of addressing these challenges with any degree of seriousness or urgency, our insensitive elected leaders are preoccupied with scrambles for offices in 2023 and flaunting wealth in the midst of extreme poverty and deprivation.
Traditional leaders: Traditional rulers who are closer to the people are literally the ones holding down the top valve of the potential volcanic eruptions of their people’s anger and frustrations. Traditional rulers should be the conscience of the people by tirelessly working for peace among their people and admonishing elected leaders to live up to their oath of office.
Religious leaders: In difficult times like these, people turn to their faith for comfort. While calling for patience and peaceful coexistence among our people, Clerics of all faiths must raise their voices against injustices and failures of leaders.
Patience: All well meaning Nigerians regardless of faith, political affiliations, ethnicity or geographic origin must join in the call for peace and patience for the law to take its course.
The media: In these volatile times, the Press has a moral duty to report responsibly.
Mischivious interlopers: We must resist the mischievous meddling of interlopers oftentimes from distant lands who are always quick to jump at tragic moments like this using religion whose teachings they themselves do not live by just to stoke religious hatred between our people.
Full investigation: The nation awaits and expects full investigation into this massacre.
Prosecute the guilty: One of the main reasons why these crimes keep recurring all across the country is that no one is held accountable. Prosecution of the guilty is the only way to stop these recurring violence.
Account for the missing: Authorities should spare no efforts in accounting for the 10 people that are still missing and presumed killed seven days after the event.
Reach out to families of each victim: The Plateau state government should reach out to the families of the victims and their leaders in Ikare, Ondo state. This will be a very important gesture that can prevent reprisals.
Payment of compensation: While commending Governor Solomon B. Lalong for his leadership during this crisis, I call on him to:
(a). Adequately compensate all the survivors
(b). Pay full compensation to the families of those killed (c). Compensate the drivers and owners of the buses.
Protection of highways: The Federal Government should protect and guarantee safe passage for motorists particularly in known trouble spots.
Legislation: The National Assembly should enact Laws prohibiting the blocking of any highway and impeding the flow of traffic or inflicting any harm, mental or physical on motorists.
Lasting solutions: The state and federal governments must look for a lasting solution to this incessant ethno-religious crisis in the Plateau by involving all critical stakeholders. I know this has been done many times before but, that is all the more reason why it needs to be done again because it has not worked. All past incidents should be revisited with a view to ensuring justice, fair play and peace in the Plateau.
May God Almighty Bring Peace to Our Land, Amin.
Usman Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation
Opinion of writer does not represent the viewpoint of The ICIR.