By Professor Moses Ochonu
I made a post yesterday about Governor Simon Lalong’s rank incompetence, stating that while we have rightly critiqued Buhari for his “ethno-religiously selective approach to national security issues” we should criticize the Governor for his cluless indifference.
One of my Facebook interlocutors, NM Manga, disagreed that Buhari has been ethno-religiously selective in his approach to the crisis in Jos and other places. Here, below, is my response to him and others like him who may have been living in a cave to have missed the overwhelming evidence of Buhari’s audaciously selective and biased approach to the current security calamity in Nigeria:
1.For months, armed Fulani militia massacred the Irigwe people, who are Christians, in their ancestral homes, burning, maiming, destroying, and displacing thousands who became IDP’s in their own land. The most horrific of these killings occurred three weeks ago, with 70 killed in three days of murderous rampage. There was not a single statement from the presidency of Muhammdu Buhari condemning these killings or even acknowledging them. But the moment the Irigwe youth misguidedly killed the 20 Muslim travelers in retaliation, Buhari’s presidency issued a terse, strongly worded condemnation and even called the killings “carefully planned” even though no investigations had been done at the time. We were even told by the terrorism-preaching minister, Isa Pantami, (who is still inexplicably serving in a regime embroiled in the fight against Islamist terrorists) that the president could not eat for three days after hearing of the killings. The IGP immediately deployed mobile policemen with a helicopter and a special IGP IRT team, which promptly arrested more than thirty Irigwe youth. Soldiers were also deployed. Is this not a blatantly selective and biased approach to security issues that reinforce the well-established truth that Buhari is committed to “Fulanization” and the agenda of chasing the farming ethnicities of the Middle Belt from their land and replacing them with his nomadic Fulani kinsfolk? Do you not see the selective outrage and selective intervention here? If you don’t consider this injustice and selectivity on primordial ethnic and religious grounds then you too may be blinded by what drives Buhari.
2.Yesterday, amidst the curfew imposed by the government, armed Fulani militia murdered 30 Christians in Zangama village in Jos North Local Government. The presidency did not even bother to make a statement acknowledging or condemning the massacre, let alone responding in practical terms against the perpetrators in the manner it did with the killing of the Muslim travelers. Does this look fair to you?
3.Since the almost weekly armed Fulani herdsmen killings started in Plateau, how many people have been apprehended? How many military or police operations have you seen launched against the perpetrators? These forces are under the ultimate control of Buhari, the commander-in-chief, and his appointee, the IGP.
4.Did you not read the widely reported and yet to be refuted story in which, as the Irigwe people were being killed for three days (three days!!), soldiers stationed in the area refused to intervene even after the Chief of the community cried out to them several times because, as they told the chief, they had no order from above to intervene against the Fulani attackers? Is this not evidence of Buhari’s pro-Fulani or the “Fulanization” Obasanjo spoke about? Is this not evidence of the cooptation of the armed forces and their subsequent complicity in the murderous campaigns of armed herdsmen in the Middle Belt, which former Chief of Army Staff and Defense Minister, Gen. T.Y Danjuma spoke about?
5.A video is circulating online as we speak of a certain Islamic cleric, Alkali Abubakar Salihu Zaria, who threatened Christians in the Northern states with mass killings. As of today, the presidency has not condemned this incitement. Nor has the DSS invited the cleric for a chat. Contrast this with the invitation and detention of Rev. El-Buba, Apostle Suleiman, and Obadiah Mailafiya, who made incendiary but much less inciting statements and were promptly invited by the DSS.
6.Have you forgotten the statement from the presidency that the people of Plateau, Southern Kaduna, and Benue who are being massacred by armed Fulani herdsmen would be better off surrendering their lands to the killers and live than to resist and die? Is that not more evidence of Buhari’s selective and biased handling of the security problems of the areas under discussion?
7.The Buhari administration’s strong opposition to the Southern Governors’ resolution banning open grazing, even while awarding billions to the Katsina state government to establish ranches, a brazen double-standard emblematic of his presidency.
8.The determination of the Buhari regime to forcefully take land from communities in the Middle Belt and Southern States and award same to his Fulani nomadic kinsfolk under the guise of cattle colony, ruga program, and the latest incarnation called grazing reserves recovery.
9.The Buhari regime’s mollycoddling of bandits/terrorists/kidnappers—most of them Fulani—in the Northwest; his sheepish appeals to them to surrender and be rehabilitated, while unleashing the full military arsenal of the FG on IPOB and Yoruba separatists.
10.Refusing to authorize full military action against the Fulani bandits/terrorists of the Northwest because, according to the presidency and military authorities, lunching a full military assault on the terrorists in their forest enclaves will endanger civilians. The regime of courses does not have the same concern in other places and has authorized Crocodile Smile, Python Dance, and other code-named military operations in much less violent areas of the country with much less threatening groups of criminals.
11.The forceful response of the presidency to folks like Gov. Ortom when they urge self-defense against armed Fulani marauders and the same regime’s curious silence when Governor Masari recently asked Katsina people to acquire weapons and fight back against bandits.
12.Let’s not even over-flog the familiar matter of the unprecedented and complete Arewanization of the country’s security institutions.
13.Have you not heard Buhari and his former defense minister say repeatedly that the problem stems from communities in the Middle Belt and other parts of the country “blocking” the “grazing routes” of Fulani herders and that the solution is for these communities to allow the herder free roam? Is this not scandalously biased on the part of the president of a country with many contending ethno-religious communities?
14.Have you ever head Buhari blame his armed Fulani herdsmen kinsfolk for any of the killings they perpetrate in the Middle Belt and the South?
15.Have you not instead heard Buhari deflect blame from his kinsmen by blaming gunmen from Libya, weapons from Libya, foreigners, and other phantom entities for the mass murders committed by his armed marauding kinsmen?
There are many more examples I could provide, but do these ones above look to you like the actions, inactions, utterances, and silences of an impartial arbiter? Buhari is president of Nigeria, not of Arewa Republic. He is president for Muslims, Christians, traditional worshippers, atheists, and others. He is not president for Muslims alone. His job is to be even-handed, neutral, and impartial in his handling of national security issues. If he fails that basic test, which he demonstrably has, he deepens and exacerbates the problem, which he has. Buhari has divided Nigeria probably beyond repair. He has fueled the sense of injustice that is the raw material for crisis and hate. Under him, ethno-religious grievances, suspicions, and mistrust have proliferated, provoking new crises and worsening existing ones. Please step away from your primordial identity for a second and you will see the dangers, both present and future, of Buhari’s ethno-religiously biased and selective attitude to security issues.
Moses Ebe Ochonu is a Nigerian academic, historian, author and professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. He has been the Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in History since 2017.