The Unfortunate And Unthinkable Ides Of March By Iyorwuese Hagher
It is my Ides of March! And the resurgence of Fulani herdsmen attacks in Benue State in the month of March after a brief moment of respite is reprehensible and ominous. I vicariously feel the sharp knives that stabbed Julius Ceasar in the March of 44 BC equally in my back. I spellbound, behold the graphic pictures of the Buruku massacre on the Internet. They are too horrendous to behold and too pathetic to ignore. I have asked myself how much longer Nigeria can bear this awesome evil of hate crimes perpetrated by the world’s 4th most dreaded terrorist group before the country collapses, keels over and plunges into the abyss; a totally failed state ruled by warlords! Failed states are unable to provide the cardinal responsibility of the state to protect life and property of citizens. According to the Failed States Index of the Fund for Peace, Nigeria is perilously hanging there as number 14 alongside Somalia, Chad, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, etc.
We live in a fast-changing world, which needs leaders to pull their necks out of the sands of the past and make sense of the privilege God has given them today to nourish and nurture our vulnerable peoples. I had on 30th July 2016, written a private letter to President Buhari intimating him of the existence of an ongoing incremental genocide taking place in the Benue-Plateau axis since he came to power. I warned the president in the letter of a greater and imminent genocide through most of Benue valley and southern Kaduna, which I designated as the genocide belt. I received assurances and acknowledgement from Aso Rock! But recent events convinced me that the uber-genocide of catastrophic proportion is imminent unless the nation wakes up from slumber and regress from denial. I needed to again contact Mr. President, who thankfully has been healed by God to resume his command.
But just as I was getting ready to write a polite reminder to Mr. President that his assurances might just be a little too late and way too little, the Unfortunate happened. A cowardly militia viciously and brutally attacked Zaki-Biam town, the resilient icon of genocide committed by a government against its people. Scores of people were left dead and others bleeding in the center of the World’s biggest yam market. That was it for me- the unfortunate! Zaki-Biam is the core of Nigeria’s food security. The terrorists have now struck at Nigeria’s jugular vein. I contacted the Governor of Benue State and the Tor Tiv and prayed with them for God’s wisdom to resolve this new local and national threat!
On the March 24, 2017 my ancestral home, Kasar City, Shitile in Katsina-ala local Government was attacked and homes burnt down. The pogrom started about 8pm Nigeria time and 2pm US time where I live. I received a call from Kasar that my home was under attack! I could hear cries and gunshots as the caller, Ierkwagh Gbuusu Kajo, himself was scampering to safety. I ran with my people and in the night we did not care to know where we were going except that we wanted as far away from Kasar City as possible. From their frightened voices I beheld the flames raze down my kinsmen’s only roofs over their heads. They did not know what had happened or why Kasar City was under attack. I was equally perplexed because Kasar City is not known for having a resident militia nor known for belligerence. Yet by the time of the attack the whole city was evacuated leaving two die hard spiritual leaders. Rev. Dr. Paul Akaa; of the NKST and the Catholic; Priest Father Elijah Tarhe. These two are in my mind, two of the very best of the Church leadership. They still wield sufficient moral authority to be the conscience of the community when many others have acquiesced to compromise their faith and calling for power and wealth.
Both Zaki-Biam and Kasar City are deeply etched in my soul. They were there in my infancy and while Kasar provided me the deep grounding in Tiv consciousness and culture, Zaki-Biam provided me a new breeding in the Christian faith and an introduction to American elementary and primary school education. Kasar was my autocratic father but Zaki-Biam my nourishing mother. How could my mother so brutally attack my father? I have tried to gather pieces of information from my kinsmen who are bracing themselves for further attacks. They refuse to be consoled nor be persuaded to leave the bush tracks where they are hiding with the aged, women and children. My nephew Akpoo and his wife with their one-week-old baby twins are not left behind. They are roaming the bush with the remnants of cows and cowherds. When I assured them that the army was coming for their protection they reminded me that the same army had driven to Kasar four months ago and headed to my cousin Andy Kpurkpur a retired academic, a veritable man of peace and burnt and totally destroyed his home where his aged 90 year mother lives. The destitute citizens of Kasar City are persevering under heart-breaking conditions with nothing! For the past nine months or so, the Nigerian Army, the Police, and all the security services have been looking for “Ghana” a local bandit who has become a legend and folk hero, an enigmatic version of Dedan Kimathi. The Shitile are mortally Afraid of him, as he ruthlessly kills whomsoever he wishes and disappears without a trace. Many at risk youth call him their Commander and bear arms for him. The Shitile on the other hand are stigmatized and vilified by unstable minds in Benue State who blame the Shitile for Ghana’s invincibility. This is a story for another day!
At the meeting called by Governor Ortom at Zaki-Biam after the attack, a newly minted 1st class chief without seeking for any proof told my Ukum people that it was my Shitile people that attacked the yam market and they shouldn’t behave like women, their youth should swiftly retaliate. Hence the double jeopardy I am in. He didn’t stop there he sang the Tiv war song urging the Ukum to an inevitable war. This is my Ides of March. It feels bad that the leaders are stoking an alarming level of fear and anxiety among the poor who are victims of violence and hate. I ponder at the shocking level of ignorance and angst of the traditional leader whose notorious hate speeches and rhetoric only recycle wars. We are creating a savage orbiting cycle of violence that seems to permanently turn on its axis. But all is well. Indeed very well! For in the end the oppressors like the victims are ultimately vanquished by their own mortality.
The lessons I have learnt from my Ides of March experience are many. I have learnt that we the leadership must cast aside political differences and save Nigeria from total collapse. Without an enduring ideology, our politicians sleep dressed in the pajamas of one party and wake up in another party’s pajamas. We the elite must protect our people from the evils of blind hatred and bigotry. These wars and conflicts cannot be justified under any metric because everyone loses. We are all defeated for our failure to learn to live with each other without the need of killing each other’s children and burning down their homes and foodstuff.
I have learnt that recycled politicians make bad traditional leaders. This type believes that it is unmanly to be reasonable and seek for the truth. They give in to contagion rather than the dangers of preventing further attacks, and give vent to political perversity and demagoguery. They import from politics recrudesces of vile temper and violence. They are emotionally unhealthy and lack the courage to own up to their mistakes. Instead of critical thinking, ethical reasoning and effective participation they relish injustice, are excessive in revenge seeking, are audacious and successful liars and become increasingly self-important and pompous. A traditional leader who cannot solve conflicts without instigating combatants to greater combat lacks basic wisdom. He is like a bird without wings. He is useless as a traditional leader. Such toxic leaders degenerate into Ad hominem attacks on others instead of working through challenges on why things happen and why certain individuals choose to follow certain courses.
I have learnt by study, practice, and experience that without peace we can do nothing. Ronald Reagan said, “ peace is not the absence of conflict rather it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” This is the point I seek to make too. We need leaders who are slow to judge and slow to anger to manage our problems in a world where change is swirling events faster than we can imagine.
I commend Governor Ortom who discountenanced the aberrant 1st class chief’s Shitile degradation and his irritable sneering at the Shitile and goading the Ukum to strike! The Governor is sensitive to know that bad practices are eradicated only when they come in conflict with honor. He knows that a state dedicated to the grace of God cannot function properly when the sons of the devil predominate leadership. This is the import of Romans: 8vs. 19 that “The earnest expectations of the creature is for the manifestations of the sons of men,” to heal a hurting and conflicted world.
While I nurse the wounds on my back from the Ides of March, I have the confidence that Nigeria will rise up a great country and draw energy from the heavy reserves of good people who are spectators now but who must now rise up from their stupor and lend a hand to build peace in Nigeria so that we can face our challenges of nation building with greater confidence. If I have failed to arouse you, then I have no doubt Pope Francis’ words will inspire you to work for peace in your community. He said, “ Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil which is injustice tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly undermines any political and social system no matter how solid it may appear.” Let us all get rid of the Unfortunate and the Unthinkable from Nigeria!
Let us search for peace and shun violence in whatever form.
Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher.
African Leadership Institute USA