In the wake of the killing late last week of 30 farmers by bandits in Dankar and Tsauwa villages in Batsari Local Government Area of Kastina State, President Muhammadu Buhari issued a stern warning to the communities affected not to resort to revenge killings.
He said, as any leader desirous of peace would say, that revenge killings would result in more killings and a vicious circle of reprisal attacks and more deaths. He advised the people to hand over to the police any bandit caught because nobody has the right to take the law into his hands or to take another man’s life. He told the communities to give the authorities the chance to investigate all infractions and take appropriate action, not resorting to self-help of any kind.
The president sounded as pacifist as any clergy man would do in the face of unprovoked attacks, especially in an orgy of communal violence which seems to have become second nature to us. He sounded almost as pacifist as Bishop Mathew Kukah did a couple of weeks ago in his soul rending, heart-breaking homily at the funeral of the young Seminarian Michael Nnadi in Kaduna. Michael was kidnapped along with three others from their Seminary hostel. After the payment of ransom, three of his colleagues were released but he was brutally killed by his abductors.
On that sad occasion, Bishop Kukah delivered a funeral homily which, for the flow of its oratory, or the lessons embedded in it and its capacity for stirring emotion and deep reflection, would go down as, arguably, the most memorable of its kind in a long history. But instead of rousing the audience to action, he roused them into deep spiritual reflection.
He asked the mourners:
“Are we angry? Yes we are. Are we sad? Of course we are. Are we tempted to vengeance? Indeed, we are. Do we feel betrayed? You bet. Do we know what to do? Definitely. Do we know when to do it? Why not. Do we know how? Absolutely. Are we in a war? Yes. And what would Christ have us do? The only way he has pointed out to us is the non-violent way. It is the road less travelled, but it is the only way.”
And that, precisely, is the road President Buhari has enjoined the traumatized people of his home state of Katsina to travel, that of non-violence. The same road that he has enjoined the people of Borno to travel after the senseless massacre of 30 passengers by the Boko Haram terrorists in Auna close to Maiduguri a few days before the carnage in Katsina. In between the Auna tragedy and that of Kastina, Kaduna State also lost nearly 20 persons to gunmen. Not to mention the January 3 massacre of the people of Tawari, a sleepy, peaceful community in Kogi State, not known for any significant economic prosperity that would attract the envy of the enemy. Yet unknown gunmen sent a New Year gift of death and destruction to them. Government of Kogi State promised, not vengeance and retaliation, but to bring the culprits to book. The Tawari community is still waiting.
Though this road, in no time, may be clogged by the heavy traffic occasioned by those who are religiously or patriotically minded enough to hearken to the admonition of the president, but it does not diminish the divine connotation of the homily for peace. It has a scriptural value especially where all in the union have pledged faith and subscription to the lessons taught by the various religions. One tells its followers not to embark on revenge mission proclaiming that “vengeance is mine.” Pour your grief turn to Him, the Almighty and seek for your protection and salvation, the religiously inclined would be obliged to admonish and comfort the aggrieved. In another breadth, you are enjoined to turn the other cheek. Or where “blood for blood” is the option, you are advised, indeed, warned not to exceed the bounds or go beyond the degree of the original harm, if you must, like Shylock, insist on getting your pound of flesh. “An eye for an eye” is a popular option but even that option is wearing off in efficacy and logic. “An eye for eye,” as one popular actor in the African Magic Movie, has predicted, would eventually result in more blindness. Clearly, that is also not the road to travel.
The moral of all these, therefore, is that the president’s homily for peace is an alternative conflict resolution mechanism, especially where in the application of the stick and the carrot, the stick now seems to be weak. Waving the olive branch and throwing carrot into the bargain, therefore, may prove to be more efficacious. But only time will tell.
Buhari, a war time general who saw action both locally and internationally, the one who in moments of patriotic fury and anger, chased Chadian rebels out of
the North Eastern part of the Nigerian territory in the eighties and drove them into the Chadian territory and had to be persuaded and cajoled to pull back his forces, knows the value of peace and the price of war.
Reality, age, more wisdom and the pull and push of democracy may have informed Buhari’s decision to turn a brand new leaf, especially to be cautious in wielding the big stick. Probably that is why, in the alternative, he is not tired of assuring the nation that his administration would leave no stone unturned to end the state of insecurity. What is missing these days in the official or presidential rhetoric are stern warnings and directives. Warnings have become stale, gone largely unheeded. And directives are not readily forthcoming as before, especially so to save us the embarrassment of watching responsible officials of government blatantly disobeying presidential directive as a former Inspector General of Police was wont to do with arrogant impunity. In any case, you may ask, what is the value of directives and threats when they are not backed by action?
For the presidential homily to be credible and effective, I suggest that police and other responsible security organizations, without resorting to childish and futile propaganda, must do the following. They should publish routinely information of arrests and prosecution of culprits who have been fingered in killing and maiming the people. Such information, to be credible, must not be done peremptorily but with follow-up so that the people, who have become more cynical, can be assured that police are on top of the situation.
If this is not done and the people are merely asked to learn to live peacefully with their tormentors, or to be willing to turn the other cheek each time they are attacked, the security situation which is bad enough can only get worse.
It goes without saying that the more the people lose confidence in their governments the more they intensify their clamour for change, change in the security architecture, change in security personnel, all kinds of change, even change for the sake of change.
They either get that change or they resort to self-help and, invariably, instant justice. And instant justice, as we all know, is jungle justice, with violence as its trademark.
And when you talk of violence, we seem to be having more of it. Take a count. Between January this year and February, a short walk of seven weeks, at least 300 Nigerians have died a violent death – killed either by Boko Haram or armed bandits or some assorted but nondescript gun men and kidnappers.
But as the president has rightly observed, “there is no place for violence in a decent society.” To put a stop to this violence, therefore, requires new thinking in the Presidency because the buck stops at President Buhari’s desk.