Odes for the nation
The mood of the country is foul and nasty. There is an ugly distemper abroad. There are just too many deaths and suffering for one to be sanguine and optimistic. The promise of 2015, of national rebirth and regeneration, now appears gravelly imperilled.
The enemy is within. As usual,we do not need to look very far. The deadly virus is locally sourced. Between the herdsmen and the hearse-men, the national obsequies are loud and clear. The person who wants to die has met the person who wants to kill. Anarchy looms.
Call them the horsemen or outriders of the imminent apocalypse, and you will not be wrong. The crude motorcade of national disintegration is manned not just by homicidal herdsmen but also by the hearse-men of ethical impunity. Once again we ask, where are our surviving statesmen?
For General Buhari, it never rains but pours. All the major contradictions of the nation are coming to a boil at once, and what a riotous mix! This is beginning to look like the second political crucifixion of the same man—a rare historical occurrence. When he is not dealing with an ethically challenged senate, he is grappling witha morally diseased political elite running rings around him.
When he is not dealing with crippling fuel shortage and severe power outage, he is contending with state larceny on a scale that beggars belief. While the enemies of progress and the redoubt of retrogression rally with surprising ease and ferocity, the man from Daura is left clutching at judicial and executive straws even as the ruling party decomposes before our very eyes.
From now on and for the foreseeable future, all the determined enemies of the retired general need to do is simply to latch on to the unresolved menace of the maniacal cattle rearers and their own crimes and infractions against the nation pale into utter insignificance. Killing is after all more deadly than stealing.We are setting the stage for an exchange of prisoners.
The nation is squeezed to death between the murderous hordes of primitive herdsmen on the rampage and the rallying hearse-men of social and economic cannibalism feasting on its entrails while screaming blue murder. There is genocide and there is genocide. Cry, the unbeloved colonial contraption.
Let anybody perish the thought that this is by any stretch a mitigating plea for the herdsmen and the genocidal malice and venom with which they have hacked and shot their way through large swathes of the country both north and south leaving a trail of gore and mayhem in their wake. It is an appeal to focus our eyes on the ball so that we do not confuse the symptoms with the real malady.
There can be no excuse whatsoever be it cultural, social, historical or economic for the merciless bloodletting of this murderous group. Indeed, let it be stated right away that if General Buhari were to suffer a second political martyrdom, much of the blame will be placed at the doorstep of his stubborn fixations, his indiscretions and lack of a firm and resolute approach to a grave national security crisis.
The herdsmen menace has been with us for some time. It predates Buhari’s second ascendancy, but it seems to have gone worse with his second coming. As a dedicated cattle rearer himself and a notable scion of the nomadic worldview, he has had enough time to study the phenomenon and how its arcane ritual of untrammelled roaming is locked in fatal contradiction with the sacred dictates of the modern nation-state, particularly a multi-nation country.
This is why the much expected response of the government leaves much to be desired in its vacuity and vacant non-sequiturs. It is not enough after so many lives have been lost to order the security forces to crack down on the herdsmen. This is nothing but officialese at its most uninspired and uninspiring.
As many others have noted, what the nation expected was a well-reasoned intellectual template for confronting the menace and a militarily coordinated programme of action for bringing the tragedy to heel and the offenders swiftly to book. There was nothing like this; neither was there official solace and succour for the injured of the land. At the very least, the president ought to have addressed the nation.
Contrary to the dangerous bogey being fed to the nation, the herdsmen are not a new mutation of Boko Haram. There might have been an influx of arms and munitions from the Libyan debacle and the open corridor of the Maghreb through Mali. There might have been a militarization of herd-protection as a result of organized cattle rustling and organized resistance to free roaming as the logic of settled and sedentary culture violently collides with the logic of nomadic free passage.
But while Boko Haram is ideologically driven and principally targeted at the state, the herdsmen are culturally propelled; a regnant residue of ancient customs and nomadic shuttling which targets entire communities and their people.
Yet because it is ideologically driven, the Boko Haram scourge eventuatedin anarmed uprising against the statewhereas if left untreated, the cultural chauvinism of the herdsmen may eventuate in an armed collision with other people and communities leading to the possibility of genocide and ethnic vacuuming.
This looming Rwandanizationof Nigeria is a threat that cannot be taken lightly. There are two pressing reasons why violence-happy herdsmen constitute a threat to the survival of the nation even more than the Boko Haram. First unlike Boko Haram, the herdsmen, or their sedentary segments, are already firmly embedded in many communities from the north of the nation to the southernmost tip.
Second, nobody knows when an apocalyptic massacre of the host community will trigger a reprisal on a scale that will tip the entire country into ethnocidal mayhem and anarchy. The herdsmen may then be able to call upon the travelling Taliban and equal opportunity jihadists that might have infiltrated the country through its porous borders in a war of all against all.
Let it not be forgotten that there is a historical and spiritual factor in all this which unites both the Boko Haram and the herdsmen. Whether ideological or cultural, both groups are driven by contempt and disdain for the norms of the secular modern state which finds resonance in a primitive and pre-modern strain of Islam dominant in the northern part of the nation.
As we have seen with al-Qaeda and ISIS, this type of Islam has no truck with the modern nation-state which it believes is an imposition of western civilization. Yet it partakes of the gain of western civilization, particularly the western modernity imposed on the world through the Industrial Revolution and the onslaught of two waves of globalization.
While the northern master-class send their children to the best schools in the world and enjoy the luxury of the latest western consumer goods, the under-class are the herdsmen who are armed to roam the length and breadth of the nation tending their cattle. Who knows whether their current genocidal restiveness is a form of social rebellion?
Whereas the two other ethnic majorities in the country have largely transcended this feudal contradiction by cocking a snook at their old ruling classes, in the north the master class remains solid and impregnable, an ironic tribute to political wizardry and power of cohesion and organizational acumen.
But no one can stall or arrest the relentless march of history. The Boko Haram phenomenon has demystified the northern ruling class and made nonsense of their hallowed aura by deposing and assassinating the rulers at will. It will amount to double jeopardy if they were to allow the unruly herdsmen to put them in terminal contradictions with other sections of the country where they do not hold sway.
Hence once again, the historic centrality of General Buhari to the resolution of the Northern Question and Nigeria’s crisis of modernization. When the politically chaste and tactically fumbling general allowed BukolaSaraki to nick the senate presidency from his divided and disloyal party, this column noted that the retired general had committed the equivalent of a “self-coup”or what the Latin Americans call autogolpe which would haunt him for a long time and stymie his second coming. Recent events are bearing this out.
Once again, we must wager that if the retired general allows the herdsmen palaver to get out of hand, it will spell terminal doom for his presidency and the nation at large. As this column noted once, the historical providence behind a Buhari presidency at this point in time stems from the fact that he is the only one with the integrity, the mass appeal and the moral charisma to carry out the painful cultural, political and spiritual reform needed to bring the north at par with the dictates of a modern nation state.
If Buhari fails in this venture, there is every possibility that the nation will disappear or dissolve into a confederalist arrangement under the supervision of the international community. The idea of herdsmen roaming freely all over the country, particularly in areas where they are not domiciled, is a cultural anachronism which clashes with the precepts of a modernizing nation-state and can only be sustained by violence.
Cattle-rearing has since undergone several Copernican revolutions in other parts of the world that have transcended fetishes and primordial superstitions. In any case, there is not much economic value to the business except a fondness for a past that is divorced from pressing material reality.
Research has shown that cattle force-marched for thousands of miles through hostile and inhospitable territories would have lost much of their fat and muscles by the time they arrived at their destination. Despite the protective affection of their minders, they have become an example of man’s inhumanity to animals.
Despite its stupendous riches and promise, this country is hobbled by ethnic, religious, regional and cultural polarities at the horizontal level and by a sharp and accelerating division between the master class and the underclass at the vertical level. It is a miraculous wonder that it has survived so far.
The Nigerian political elite has shown that it lacks the visionary impetus to come up with core values binding all elite factions of the nation and the will to pursue a programme of shared wealth and integrative prosperity that leads to social harmony. Beyond fighting corruption, it is now imperative for the Buhari government to come up with a coherent programme about how to overcome these crippling divisions, starting with the menace of the murderous herdsmen.