In a space of just two days last week, 23 travellers heading to Kaduna were burnt alive in a commercial bus at Sabon Birni, Sokoto State. No fewer than 15 worshipers killed as they prayed in a mosque at Ba’are village, Mashegu Local Government Area of Niger State. A Commissioner in the service of Katsina State, Dr Rabe Nasir was gruesomely murdered in his own house located at Fatima Shema Quarters in Katsina city, while a housewife identified only as Salamatu, was killed as bandits abducted six others during a raid at Piri community in Kwali Area Council of Abuja.
Welcome to northern Nigeria, circa 2021, where life has seemingly lost its value, under a President voted en masse five times by the same populace. The commissioner was stabbed several times until he died. A 30-year-old woman watched as her mother, four children, an uncle, a nephew, and a niece, all burnt to ashes. She died too a few days later. Their attackers, of course, watched in delight as they burn.
But the horror and barbarism of these killings is only one thing. The frequency with which these gruesome killings occur and recur is another. The Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, summed up the sorrow and grief-stricken mood of the region and the nation, when he said, shortly after these events, that, “if I continue talking about the insecurity in the North, we will not leave this room… There is no single day that passes without people being killed in the North especially in the North West now, but we don’t hear it,” even as bandits continued to kill and maim in part of Katsina State and elsewhere in the North.
But beyond the blood-thirstiness of the attackers, the unending recurrence of their gruesome attacks, and the helplessness and haplessness of the victims, it is the seeming unwillingness and disinterest of the highest authority in the land to even show some concern that grates the most. What more needs to happen before President Buhari would show that he cares? What more needs to happen before the President would genuinely demonstrate that he feels the silent anguish of hundreds of communities and thousands of citizens everywhere across the north and the country at large?
Only a few years ago President Buhari too bemoaned these very events, even when they occurred at a much lower scale than now, and that his bemoaning them was part of the very reason he was elected to the presidency to solve them. It is the very people who lined up under the rain and shine to cast their votes for him to become president—at the fourth time of asking—who are routinely killed, maimed or taxed by bandits and terrorists of all hue under his watch today.
Votes and elections are expressions of hope. When has mass death become the reward for voting a candidate or party to power? And yet, President Buhari has scarcely seen it fit to visit the families of the victims or the leaders of the communities affected, to at least demonstrate compassion and solidarity with them, if not to lead a counter-offensive against the terrorists as a Commander-in-Chief. True, the President dispatched a high-level delegation of military, police and intelligence chiefs to two of the states affected, but he himself was, of course, in attendance at a book launch of a party chieftain in Lagos.
We do not deem the delegation less worthy, but the President’s own priorities, at such a sad period for many Nigerian families, is not only of the poorest judgment imaginable, but amounts to a clear indication that he does not care enough about the lives of those killed or maimed. Yet, even the poor judgment itself and the logical conclusion it leaves in the minds of many are themselves merely part of a set pattern.
Whenever bandits strike with murderous fury at communities in Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Niger or Sokoto states, or elsewhere across mostly northern Nigeria, the president’s response is easily predicted. He would announce, usually on his Facebook page, that he has directed the police and military chiefs to do more, and then wait for the next attack to regurgitate the same comments. This sends only one clear message: the President is not responsive to tragedy of ordinary Nigerians, especially if those are from the north. And it is this flippant and dismissive attitude to the sufferings of people across the north that many find most grating and unacceptable.
That much has been said by many ordinary Nigerians, on social media as well any other channels available to them. Perhaps the only thing left to be said is that the president must recognize that this is not a problem that neither he nor his government can wish away. His reluctance to engage directly with it and with the communities affected in order to find a lasting solution would not make the problem go away.
As it has evolved in the past decade or so, what we call ‘banditry’ in northern Nigeria today is an amalgam of many complex issues, among them high levels of poverty and unemployment in the region, deeply entrenched feelings of past dispossession and exclusion, climate change, and above all, a near complete break-down of law and moral order in society. We are not oblivious of the difficulties to the problem.
Yet, we are aware, and wish to remind President Buhari today, that no one in Nigeria is better positioned than he is in helping to find a lasting solution to them; certainly no one has put himself forward—with tears in his eyes in one failed attempt to boot—more frequently and vigorously than he did. Therefore, the obligation is just as personal as official, or should be, to move the president to personally take charge of the counter-offensive against terrorists, in the north or elsewhere in the country.
Force alone will not be enough. But it is a truism that where there is the will there is a way. The President will find all the ways once he first musters the will to say ‘not under my watch would Nigerian life lose its value’. Otherwise, history will remember because that is already happening.