The frequency of ethnic violence in Nigeria, especially northern Nigeria, which has now become the hotbed of bloody strife, is embarrassing. More embarrassing is the easy way life can be snuffed out with impunity. During the 1987 Kafanchan crisis and the 1992 Zangon Kataf communal violence, high profile public figures were judicially indicted and convicted. But because the indictment affected members of the elite, the government of the day didn’t have the political will or moral courage to implement the convictions passed on the instigators and perpetrators of violence in Kaduna State. Since November 2008, Plateau State has achieved notoriety for repeated violence, leading to needless death and destruction. Before the 2008 ethnic/religious crisis over the Jos North Local Government election, Plateau State had witnessed repeated orgy of violence and those found culpable in those incidents were never brought to justice. Just like Kaduna State, whenever members of the elite were found culpable in the Plateau crises, governments of the day were too timid to punish them. The law is not just for the weak and poor. Once regarded as a centre of serenity and peace, Plateau State is today a ghost of its former self. Travellers passing through Jos to neighbouring states now have to occasionally divert to safer routes to avoid being waylaid by mobs.
Such is the extent ethnic and religious bigotry has deteriorated in northern Nigeria. As violence overtakes other states, most people perceive Abuja as a safe haven because it is officially designated a no-man’s land. In fact, such relative stability gives Abuja a unique attraction to other Nigerians.
However, such confidence is being shaken by the recent violent clashes between the Fulani and Gwari aborigines over farm and grazing lands. A simmering cauldron, if ignored, can burn and burst out of control. A police report on the violence between Gwari and Fulani at Gwagwalada identified poor leadership, lack of cooperation and harmonious coexistence among the various groups and youth restiveness.
The FCT Police Commissioner, Mr. Adenrele Shinaba, who submitted the report of his fact-finding committee set up by the FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, disclosed that leaders of the Fulani socio-cultural organisation, Miyetti Allah, had declined offers of assistance from other states and the Republic of Cameroon. He said the Fulani leaders rejected outside intervention or assistance on the grounds that it was a local problem which could be resolved by those involved.
The incipient spread of violence to Abuja is a disturbing development and is capable of sending a wrong message to foreign investors and other good friends of Nigeria abroad. Just like a cancer, if not checked in the early stages, violence can grow out of control. Although normalcy has returned to Gwagwalada after the violent clashes between Fulani herdsmen and the Gwari, it is important to highlight key factors that make violence apparently intractable.
The purpose of the law is punishment, deterrence and reformation. You cannot put a figure on the number of culprits arrested in connection with ethnic/religious violence in northern Nigeria. States such as Kaduna, Plateau, Bauchi and Gombe have witnessed clashes of this nature. It is, however, difficult to cite any reliable evidence of any culprits ever severely punished. Nobody is too big in the eyes of the law and, once impunity prevails anywhere, it is impossible to enforce the law. When you clip the wings of the law by impunity, outlaws become heroes!
One can safely argue that there is a direct relationship between impunity and repetition of criminal conduct. In most cases, eruptions of violence are instigated by leaders and the ordinary people are mostly their cannon fodder for these dangerous manipulations of our differences to achieve political objectives.
Divide-and-rule has been the tactic of politicians, especially of the present generation who are desperate to achieve and maintain power at all cost. In fact, some of them don’t care riding to power on the ladder of corpses. They exploit our differences to divert our attention from their failures, incompetence, greed and corruption. Poverty does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or religion. While the ordinary people are kept busy killing one another, the leaders also busy themselves stealing public funds without accountability.
It is on record that various committees and commissions were set up in Kaduna, Plateau and other states. Curiously, however, none of those indicted for their roles in violence has been brought to justice. Therein lies the problem. Impunity feeds the incitement to more criminal behaviour. As long as the culprits are not decisively punished, they will become more emboldened to commit further atrocities.
As CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi once observed, Nigeria is the only country where you need courage to punish a crook or an offender no matter his status. Why should that be the case? If the ordinary people see the big men going to the gallows for inciting criminal violence, they may automatically refuse to participate in death and destruction. The absence of punishment is an incentive to further commission of crime.
Decisive action on the arrest of culprits connected with ethnic violence is the only way the government can send a strong message that nobody can get away with the destruction of lives. Paying lip service to the issue will not help. Tougher action is needed through speedy trial and stiffer punishments for culprits of violence founded on ethnic and religious intolerance.
If culprits get away with murder or criminality, they may feel they are above the law and consequently, endanger the well-being of society. Enough blood has been shed and the lamentation of violence without action to deal with the offenders is like shedding crocodile tears. The proximity of the FCT to violence-prone states like Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi increases the urgency of dealing decisively with those behind previous incidents of brutal violence. With the recent violent clashes between Gwari farmers and Fulani herdsmen at Gwagwalada, there is real concern that the FCT may be in danger. Proactive measures through punishment and effective leadership at all levels can however stem the threat.
– Mr Ekanem Okon writes from Gwagwalada, FCT.
.This article originally appeared in TheNEWS magazine of 04 February 2013