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Herdsmen killings: Soyinka blasts Buhari

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has warned President Muhammadu Buhari to learn from history and stop treating killer herdsmen with kid gloves.

Soyinka also described incessant attacks by killer herdsmen, in many parts of the country, as a declaration of war on Nigeria.

The Nobel laureate made this known in a statement yesterday.

Soyinka specifically warned Buhari not to fall into the same trap former President Goodluck Jonathan fell into with Boko Haram insurgency when the sect kidnapped 267 girls on April 14, 2014.

“We have been here before – now, ‘before’ is back with a vengeance.

“President Goodluck Jonathan refused to accept that marauders had carried off the nation’s daughters; President Muhammadu Buhari and his government – including his Inspector-General of Police – in near identical denial, appear to believe that killer herdsmen who strike again and again at will from one corner of the nation to the other, are merely hot-tempered citizens whose scraps occasionally degenerate into ‘communal clashes’– I believe I have summarised him accurately.

“The Marauders are naughty children who can be admonished, paternalistically, into good neighbourly conduct. Sometimes, of course, the killers were also said be non-Nigerians after all. The contradictions are mind-boggling.

“First, the active policy of appeasement, then the language of endorsement. El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, proudly announced that, on assuming office, he had raised a peace committee and successfully traced the herdsmen to locations outside Nigerian borders. He, then, made payments to them from state coffers, to cure them of their homicidal urge which, according to these herdsmen, were reprisals for some ancient history and the loss of cattle through rustling.

“The public was up in arms against this astonishing revelation. I could only call to mind a statement by the same El-Rufai, after a prior election, which led to a rampage in parts of the nation, and cost even the lives of National Youth Service Corps members. They were hunted down by aggrieved mobs and even states had to organise rescue missions for their citizens. Countering protests that the nation owed a special duty of protection to her youth, especially those who are co-opted to serve the nation in any capacity, El-Rufai’s comment then was: ‘No life is more important than another. That statement needs to be adjusted, to read perhaps –apologies to George Orwell: ‘All lives are equal, but a cow’s is more equal than others.’

“This seems to be the government view, one that, overtly or by implication, is being amplified through act and pronouncement, through clamorous absence, by this administration. It appears to have infected even my good friend and highly capable Minister, Audu Ogbeh, however insidiously. What else does one make of his statements in an interview where he generously lays the blame for ongoing killings everywhere but at the feet of the actual perpetrators!”

Reacting to comments credited to the herdsmen that the killings were in defence of their stolen cows, Soyinka asked: “How do we assess a mental state that cannot distinguish between a stolen cow – which is always recoverable – and human life, which is not? Villages have been de-populated far wider than those outside their operational zones can conceive. They swoop on sleeping settlements, kill and strut. They glory in their seeming supremacy.”

Still on the Agriculture ministry, Soyinka also recalled that there had been steps taken to quell the attacks but none had been successful, yet.

“I applaud the plans of your ministry, I am in a position to know that much thought–and practical steps – have gone into long-term plans for bringing about the creation of ‘ranches’, ‘colonies’–whatever the name – including the special cultivation of fodder for animal feed and so on and on.

“However, the present national outrage is over-impunity. It rejects the right of any set of people, for whatever reason, to take arms against their fellow men and women, to acknowledge their exploits in boastful and justifying accents and, in effect, promise more of the same as long as their terms and demands are not met. In plain language, they have declared war against the nation and their weapon is undiluted terror. Why have they been permitted to become a menace to the rest of us? That is the issue!

“Permit me to remind you that, early in 2016, an even more hideous massacre was perpetrated by this same Murder Incorporated – that is, a numerical climax to what had been a series across a number of Middle Belt and neighbouring states, with Benue taking the brunt of the butchery.

“A peace meeting was called, attended by the state government and security agencies of the nation, including the Inspector General of Police. This group attended – according to reports- with AK47s and other weapons of mass intimidation visible under their garments. They were neither disarmed nor turned back.

“They freely admitted the killings but justified them by claims that they had lost their cattle to the host community. It is important to emphasise that none of their spokesmen referred to any government neglect, such as refusal to pay subsidy for their cows or failure to accord them the same facilities that had been extended to cassava or millet farmers.

“Such are the monstrous beginnings of the culture of impunity. We are reaping, yet again, the consequences of such tolerance of the intolerable. Yes, there, indeed, the government is culpable, definitely guilty of ‘looking the other way.’ Indeed, it must be held complicit.”

Soyinka drew an analogy between activities of killer herdsmen and those of the IPOB

“This question is now current, and justified: just when is terror? I am not aware that IPOB came anywhere close to this homicidal propensity and will to dominance before it was declared a terrorist organization. The international community rightly refused to go along with such an absurdity.

“For the avoidance of doubt, let me state right here, and yet again, that IPOB leadership is its own worst enemy. It repels public empathy, indeed, I suspect that it deliberately cultivates an obnoxious image, especially among its internet mouthers who make rational discourse impossible. However, as we pointed out at the time, the conduct of that movement, even at its most extreme, could by no means be reckoned as terrorism. By contrast, how do we categorize Myeti? How do we assess a mental state that cannot distinguish between a stolen cow – which is always recoverable – and human life, which is not. Villages have been depopulated far wider than those outside their operational zones can conceive. They swoop on sleeping settlements, kill and strut. They glory in their seeming supremacy. Cocoa farmers do not kill when there is a cocoa blight. Rice farmers, cassava and tomato farmers do not burn. The herdsmen cynically dredge up decades-old affronts – they did at the 2016 Benue“peace meeting” to justify the killings of innocents in the present – These crimes are treated like the norm. Once again, the nation is being massaged by specious rationalisations while the rampage intensifies and the spread spirals out of control. When we open the dailies tomorrow morning, there is certain to have been a new body count, to be followed by the arrogant justification of the Myeti Allah.

The warnings pile up, the distress signals have turned into a prolonged howl of despair and rage. The answer is not to be found in pietistic appeals to victims to avoid ‘hate language’ and divisive attributions. The sustained, killing monologue of the herdsmen is what is at issue. It must be curbed, decisively and without further evasiveness.

Yes, Jonathan only saw ‘ghosts’ when Boko Haram was already excising swathes of territory from the nation space and abducting school pupils. The ghosts of Jonathan seem poised to haunt the tenure of Muhammadu Buhari.

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