By Ikeogu Oke
Ours is a heartbreak nation,
A killer of elation,
Unmindful of its inclination
– Ikeogu Oke, “A Heartbreak Nation”
The recent killings in Rivers and Benue States and previous ones across our country, attributed to suspected cultists and Fulani herdsmen, should worry anyone genuinely interested in preserving its unity, security, peace and progress. If we have a sense of history, we should recognise the calls by some of the territorial victims to arm and defend themselves since government seems unwilling to defend them as a prognosis of crises that can threaten our nation’s corporate existence.
In fact, the killings should be of the greatest concern to our President, Muhammadu Buhari, who on assuming office in 2015 chose security as one of his major interests. That choice was clearly right for a President who took over the reins of government at a time when Boko Haram still ravaged the Northeast seemingly unchecked, and still held most of the Chibok girls as spoils war. And its leader, Abubakar Shekau, occasionally released videos taunting the entire nation and making it seem pathetic and helpless in the face of his haughty threats of more violence.
And it has reportedly released one more of its captives, another Chibok girl named Salomi Pogu, in the wake of the Benue killings that reportedly claimed scores of lives, for which some supposed leader of a group of herdsmen has reportedly claimed responsibility, explaining the carnage as a retaliation for the loss of some of their cattle during migration across the victims’ territory.
How does one describe a country in which human beings are killed to preserve the lives of cattle? A bovine state?
As some have pointed out, the latest unsolicited release of the Chibok girl comes with such special timing that perhaps calls for special gratitude to Boko Haram, and a louder celebration than we had mustered for its previously freed captives, one involving a presidential reception for the fortunate former captives.
Indeed, isn’t it cause for a greater celebration to have regained without asking what the giver would normally resist our having back, however hard we tried? I join in extending our gratitude to Boko Haram and of course will consent to any planned celebration of Ms. Pogu’s release, even though the gesture might strike some as a queasy act, like dropping a rose on a pool of innocent blood.
But with the lives of the Chibok girls meaning so much to us, as they should, that we celebrate or expect ourselves to celebrate every episode of their stingy release by their captors, how come we treat the lives of victims of such killings in Benue and elsewhere with seeming toleration, as shown by our having left them unchecked despite their repetitiveness in a country where the lives of all citizens are supposed to be equal and deserving of equal protection under the law?
It is somewhat comforting, however, that President Buhari has reportedly condemned the Benue killings. But needn’t he do more? Like assert himself as a leader genuinely interested in discharging his constitutional responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of all our citizens and guaranteeing peace and security in our country, by ensuring the arrest and prosecution of the culprits? Simply, a killer at large is a threat to everyone. Then think of the number behind this spreading carnage.
Sad as it is, we have to admit that these killings have left us where President Buhari met us, with a serious security crisis that we seem unable to resolve, and for which many felt justified to discredit his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
And it should worry him, I think, that, barely two years into his administration, comparisons are being made between him and the predecessor whose critics summed up as “clueless”.
Even those who insist that things would have been worse under Buhari’s predecessor would admit that they are merely indulging in speculation, like predicting the future which we all know is uncertain, if they have regard for intellectual honesty. Their gratuitous defence of President Buhari against such comparison shows how hard he needs to work to invalidate a troubling nostalgia and rein in what to many has become a heartbreak, unmindfully suicide-bound nation under his charge, by putting an end to these killings and restoring confidence in our country as a safe place governed by law and where the life of every citizen counts equally to the government of the day.
Just a brief trawl in social and other media would show how those behind the carnage have been killing the joys of many who believed in President Buhari’s ability to redeem our country and proved this by voting massively for him.
To put it simply, his popular support, general goodwill and integrity are haemorrhaging with every life lost to the gun shots or machete cuts of the culprits, so far as he is perceived as unwilling to check, let alone end, the attacks. They risk bleeding to death like many of the victims of these attacks, which may earn him the unpleasant verdict of history as a leader who could not learn from the past and the present despite being taught repeatedly by his and others’ experiences.
*Oke, a poet, is the winner of the 2017 Nigeria Prize for Literature.