In January, President Barack Obama addressed a press conference on the epidemic of gun violence in America. The figures are as staggering as they are sobering. In 2015 alone, an estimated 13,000 people were killed as a result of this scourge. Obama, within the limits of the constitution, has made several moves to check the spate of violence but his efforts have been stonewalled by a recalcitrant legislature – lawmakers remote-controlled by their gun-obsessed constituency, gun merchants, and gun lobbyists. In the course of his January address, Obama referred to the Sandy Hook mass shooting that claimed the lives of 20 schoolchildren in 2012, an incident he already referred to as the saddest day of his presidency.
Then, tears trickled down Obama’s face. Three years after that disaster, Obama wept.
In the past years, since gun violence spiked in the US, he has tried to push gun control legislation; held town hall meetings with community activists; attended funerals and held crying mothers close letting them wet his presidential shoulders with their grief. By standing with victims of gun violence in their grief, he humanises the political power he embodies. In times of grave emotional torment, Obama’s action shows that the body language of a leader must communicate to every citizen that democracy and all its legitimating instruments can be mobilised on their behalf for the ends of providing them with physical and emotional succour.
I am not about to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to go on TV and cry for the many victims of Fulani herdsmen violence. That will make him a mere parody. Having been exposed to leaders like Obama who have no qualms staging their grief and vulnerability before their citizen-audience, Nigerians will be quick to spot the difference between genuine tears and crocodile ones.
What I ask is for Buhari to examine if his stoic response, read as silence by many a Nigerian, to the increasing incidence of violence is not symptomatic of an underlying indifference to life in itself?
President Buhari takes great pride in his unflagging pursuit of the Nigerian corrupt class; his much-vaunted zeal to stabilise the failing economy; his desires to cleanse the judiciary; his frequent promises to alleviate the sufferings of the most vulnerable class among us; his overall pledge to turn Nigeria’s fortunes around.
Yet, his (non)action on sectarian violence necessitates this question: To what end is he pursuing these ideals?
If he understands that life – as an inviolable right – is the core principle of the social contract that binds the state and its peoples, then, he simply cannot be aloof. If Buhari’s end goal is about life and its worth, all his actions would be geared towards inscribing a social civility that will guarantee the continuous protection of individual members of the society enabling them live, thrive, and maximise their potential.
If the overall motivation of providing Nigerians with infrastructure, for instance, is about improving the quality of our lives, there has to be a concomitant demonstration of such dedication to this ideal through his regarding life as sacrosanct.
The end goal of the activities of the government should be about life – as it is reposed in an individual as much as in a larger collective. The state that will let me die because, well, I am considered just one person out of a population of millions of people, cannot – logically or truthfully – claim it is pursuing any form of social justice or institutional redress on my behalf. That is why none of Buhari’s lofty goals count for anything unless they are accompanied by a regard for material lives.
Several times this year, I have written to condemn the seeming detachedness of our leaders to the various acts of violence in the country.
The herdsmen attack is not a simple matter; the solution cannot be easy either. The crisis entails delving into complex legal and national questions of citizenship, and fundamental rights. However, it seems that the official strategy being employed here is nonchalance, and a stance so lethargic that it can burn out every megawatt of outrage Nigerians manage to passionately generate in the heat of the moment.
From the Biafran protesters who were killed last year while protesting, to the Shi’ites’ mass murder that saw an entire 347 bodies buried clandestinely in Kaduna, to the Agatu farmers of Benue State whose entire villages were sacked by herdsmen, to the latest one that took place in Enugu in broad daylight and involving 20-50 (depends on which account) victims, the scale of these unconscionable acts of violence is stupefying.
The latest Enugu attacks, we were told, was a war that was foretold but unfortunately, the citizens of the affected communities were not forearmed. Instead, they were forsaken. They claimed they knew the herdsmen would attack; as a result, they alerted the security agencies but nothing happened. Until the Monday attack occurred, the people in these communities had complained that they were under siege by these murderous maniacs who self-label “herdsmen.” They had complained of being sexually assaulted, beaten, and had their crops trampled by the herdsmen impudence. Yet, they have not received either help or reprieve from the state. If Nigerians do not push this case to some point of resolution, one can guarantee that the state will sit this one out as usual.
The seedbed of ethnic and religious resentment in Nigeria is daily watered by the pools of blood of the victims of these massacres. Our leaders, pitiably, do not seem compelled by any sense of urgency to face the nation and address the frequent bloodbath dousing all of us, deducting our sense of self-worth and depreciating our collective humanity. When asked about the tepid response of President Buhari to the Agatu killings, his media aide, Femi Adesina, responded with one of the most uncompassionate lines ever, dispensed from the height of hubristic nonchalance. He actually referred to the disastrous incident as the “Agatu thing” as if it was just an incident that claimed the lives of a few laboratory rats.
What Adesina and his fellow travellers have yet to grasp is this: nothing the President claims to be doing on our collective behalf – whether he is attending a meeting on nuclear security or he is in China negotiating a loan on the nation’s behalf – that trumps life.
This “simple” logic regularly eludes our leaders and that is why they take us for granted with a swish of let-them-eat-cake kind of benevolence.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once went to a bombsite at the Ikeja Military Cantonment where corpses were still piled up after the unfortunate incident. Obasanjo managed to yell at the grieving crowd of people that he was more or less doing them a favour by showing up at the site of their grief. He missed a valuable moment to rally people under a national banner. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was just as notorious, done in finally by the Boko Haram scourge. After the Chibok girls had been kidnapped following a bomb attack, he jumped on a plane and headed for Kano where he still managed to dance in full public glare. Like Obasanjo, he lacked the necessary reflectivity to weigh the times and respond accordingly.
Buhari’s silence over the Fulani herdsmen attacks is speaking louder than words. He cannot be quiet. Neither can he simply continue to respond to these issues with tepid press releases and/or a deafening silence. He owes it to us to speak up and elaborate a line of action that will put this matter to rest once and for all.