By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 4 April, 2022)
A nation goes irretrievably bad when bad things happen and the powerful decree against mentioning or discussing them, or, even, accepting that they are happening at all. Every worthy news manager in Nigeria today is very familiar with the strains and stresses of reporting the attacks and killings in north west Nigeria, especially since May 29, 2015. There are both a conspiracy of silence and a conspiracy to enforce silence there. Users of the English language say there is ‘a conspiracy of silence’ when there is “an agreement to say nothing about an issue that should be generally known.” You know an Imam was sacked in Abuja just last week for speaking out against official irresponsibility that has rendered all of us insecure and made last Monday’s deadly attack on a train possible. The northern establishment appears disdainful of some truths because they make them ugly. They are more interested in the gangrenous beauties of self deception and societal manipulation. They hold on to their lies while preserving their illusions of regional peace and sanity. And that is why the world around them has literally collapsed. Even while reeling under the rubble of the total social slump, they still say the house stands.
But everything under the sun has costs and values, and this includes silence – complete absence of sound. The cost of silence becomes very high when it is allowed to thrive in the face of evil. They do this every second in the north because one of their own is in power. I am almost very sure that if the Chibok tragedy had occurred not under a Goodluck Jonathan but under a Muhammadu Buhari, rambling creepers would have covered the mass abduction; potent silence would have said it never happened. The world would have seen neither a hashtag nor heard the faint cries of bereaved parents. When the southern Kaduna problem became very incessant a few years ago, a senior journalist from the Nigerian Tribune went there as part of a team of journalists to seek answers to what was really going on there and why. There was a very bad call from the Kaduna State Government warning against “stoking the fires” there with unregulated news reports. Where is that ‘peaceful’ Kaduna today? There is a price to pay for condoning evil. Last month, bandits attacked the convoy of the deputy governor of Kebbi State, Samaila Yombe Dabai in Kanya, Dangu Wasaga Local Government area of the state; the felons reportedly killed 18 soldiers and six policemen. There was a scramble to still the report and the associated outrage. A trending video of grieving widows became more criminal than the murder of the gallant soldiers. The world must see the north as peaceful.
Until last week, Sheikh Nuru Khalid was the Chief Imam of Apo Friday Mosque in Abuja. But everything changed for him a few days ago after terrorists from hell bombed, killed, maimed and abducted passengers of a train in Nigeria’s north west. The sheikh did not know how to keep quiet and maintain the piety of praising or ignoring the bad. He was loud in condemning that act of terrorism and strident in abusing the bumbling government for not securing the people. He asked Nigerians to express their anger at government’s failure by not voting henceforth unless there was security: “We will not come out to vote” he said while adding that such a tough decision was the only language the regime understood. Then the mosque’s steering committee moved against the Imam; they suspended him for “inciting public outrage” – whatever that means. Senator Shehu Sani is from Kaduna State. His tweet on this Imam’s ordeal speaks better than a million placards against the self destructive hypocrisy that rules northern Nigeria: “Sheikh Nuru Khalid dusted the mirror (which) the clergy used to show GEJ (Goodluck Jonathan), and his colleagues couldn’t stand it. Khalid has demonstrated fidelity to his faith, to his conscience and to his conviction.” Sani noted with satisfaction that this man and very few others have been vocal “when other Islamic clerics have taken to the path of silence, cowardice or complicity in the face of indifference of Nigeria’s leaders to the plight of the people.”
The country sits still like a poisoned, dirty, silted lake; it quietly carries on as if no human being is missed or missing in that train attack. An 840-seat capacity train with 362 passengers left Abuja last Monday evening; it was attacked by terrorists who killed eight of the passengers. Nigerian Railways authorities on Saturday issued a statement and said 170 passengers were confirmed safe; and 21 reported missing by their family members. The authorities are silent on the remaining 163 passengers. Nigeria’s shock absorbers are incredible.
What is the colour of grief? What is the taste of mourning and what is the sound of death? How should a wife stop mourning a husband? She was on phone with him, then a gunshot sounded and the next second he was dead? His favourite meal was ready but he had been taken as meal by the eagles of Nigeria’s terror. There is a young woman in Kaduna who suffered the above. She has refused to eat since Nigeria happened to her husband in that ill-fated train. There is another young woman in Ilorin, her TUC husband was shot in the head, point blank in that ill-starred train. She keeps asking why; asking how that fate had to be her husband’s; asking why her children had to be fatherless simply because their father boarded a train from a part of his country to another part. But is Nigeria mourning anyone? After the initial elegiac visits for electoral relevance, what else have you heard from the owners of Nigeria on this matter?
The northern bandits are behaving like the Yoruba witch. With arrogant impunity, the witch demands utmost respect from her victim-world. Teresa Washington gives that Aje a voice in her dissertation: “When I go on outings/Give me my proper respect/ (because) I have a bird at home/ I have a bird outside (Mo l’ẹyẹ nílé/ Mo l’ẹyẹ níta/ Bí mo bá lo s’óde / Ẹ f’ọwọ mi wò mí).” The northern bandit is licenced to commit crime; he has fathers at home; he has mothers outside. That is why the disrespectful Imam who spoke against deadly banditry and the unresponsive regime had to go. Nigeria and its government will keep wringing their hands before bands of felons strewn across the landscape. There is nothing we can do about it. Fifteen million Nigerians professed the tragedy that reigns presently. They were tired of their old dog because it squatted too frequently. They sold the dog and used the proceeds to purchase a monkey. Now, this one squats even in its sleep. We have a lion that yawns in unceasing rounds when its roars are what the forest needs for protection. It is no longer a lion. It is a fat rat wearing the golden, tawny fur of the king of the jungle. A lion that yawns more than it roars is a tired, sleepy, giant panda. That is the embarrassing picture which Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State painted last week of our Federal Government and of its forces. He said right on the grounds of the Villa in Abuja that he would go and rent mercenaries to fight terrorists in his state. That sounds very much like a vote of no confidence in someone. You may also say it was classic grandstanding. Did he express a positive opinion when south west governors set up Amotekun two years ago to fight off creepy banditry in their region? What did he say that time, what is he saying now? Besides, he is just a governor, a political eunuch with no legal balls to do what he threatened. He had earlier uttered more troubling words which in sane climes would make a governor say “enough, I am quitting.” El-Rufai said: “We know where their (terrorists’) camps are. We know their camps, we have the maps; we know everything. We have their phone numbers and listen to their conversation sometimes… This is war. We know what they (terrorists) are planning. We get the reports. The problem is for the agencies to take action. Don’t wait until they attack before you respond. The Army should go after their enclaves to wipe them out. Let the Air Force bomb them.” That was El-Rufai’s tough reaction to the bandit attack on the train in his Kaduna.
The entire north east and north west and parts of the north central are a vast insidious nursery for terrorists. One dies today, ten replaces the dead almost immediately. “Those ones keep coming like locusts. You cut their fingers, they are even wearing rings,” our exasperated presidency lamented in a statement late last week. El-Rufai has a solution: “the army should go after their enclaves to wipe them out. Let the air force bomb them.” Wiping out the bad is truly a solution. But how many terrorists are we talking about here? You would understand the enormous job if you go back to read what the army said last week on terrorists who surrendered. In one week last month, our military said 7,000 terrorists surrendered. It said that between September 2021 and March 2022, about 40,000 terrorists surrendered to Nigeria’s forces. That is about 18 percent of the entire 223,000 active troops of the Nigeria Army. Now, if forty thousand gunmen dropped their weapons in six months and still, a cauldron of unremitting terror reigns, you can imagine how many more tens of thousands of murderers are still in the bloodstained forests of northern Nigeria. So, “wipe them out” as canvassed by El-Rufai, is easier said than done. Where do we start; where and when is the end?
It is not getting better soon for the Ajẹ́ (witch) of Nigeria; she has continued to give birth to females; birds and more birds of death strut the skies. The enemy is fully in charge in their predatory exploits. We have a failed drowsy government which does everything the tired does at work: yawning, body stretching, tongue protrusion, pandiculation. Excuse and buck passing are its operational strategy. The questions on the lips of the victims are exactly what their government too is asking: Who were those terrorists behind last week’s attack? Was it ISWAP or Boko Haram or ransom-seeking bandits? There was a report in Daily Trust last week quoting ‘security reports.’ The report tried to answer the question of who the culprits were. One paragraph said it was the work of notorious Zamfara bandit, Bello Turji. Another said no; it was the handiwork of another kingpin named Halilu Sububu. Yet, there were also words that a Kaduna-based lord of banditry, Boderi and his gang did the deadly attack for Boko Haram. The bottom line is that everyone up north appears to know a name or two of these bad guys but no one would dare bell the cat. Not the emirs, not the powerful Islamic leaders, not the power elite. Meanwhile, as the spiral of silence reigns, people die daily and those in government vigorously trade blames. Transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi, blames the enemies who blocked his multi billion naira contract for security of the rail lines. El-Rufai blames railway authorities who did not heed his government’s call for a stop to late evening train operations. The presidency blames the bandits for dying and coming back in repeated times. The chain of idle blames lengthens per second while evil stamps the nation with death and destruction. The house has fallen.
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