There has been much outrage about the spate of killings by Fulani herdsmen in communities across Nigeria. The Agatu massacre in Benue state where more than 300 people were killed and the whole community razed down by Fulani herdsmen in strikingly similar fashion with the infamous Sudanese “Janjaweed” militants was particularly heinous and not surprisingly attracted a lot of public opprobrium. More worrisome was the fact that Buhari found it more convenient to ignore such murderous atrocity that borders on terrorism. The DSS that has been so active in arresting and detaining non-violent activists and critics of the government in the guise of upholding state security went to sleep while the Nigerian Police was busy either making excuses or strangely protecting the herdsmen.
While Nigerians were savouring these absurdities and the unholy abdication of the constitutional responsibility to protect lives and property by the president, something happened in Agwu Enugu state that made it clear the president and the security services are not only protecting the murderous herdsmen, they are also aiding and abetting them. Sometime in March, youths in Agwu local government area of Enugu state staged protests and mobilised to protect themselves following incessant destruction of their farmlands and abduction of two women by herdsmen. The refusal of the herdsmen to heed all pleas to stop destroying farmlands that constitute the only means of livelihood for people in the community and the failure of the security services to protect the community left them with no choice but to protect themselves.
But lo and behold, as soon as the herdsmen tipped of their kinsmen in the army, military personnel stormed the village, randomly arrested 76 people and carted them away in military trucks to neighbouring Abia state where they were accused of arson, possession of dangerous weapons— charged to court and dumped in prison. When news of the incident filtered out and questions were being asked; the army high command claimed the arrest of the Agwu 76 was done by fake soldiers but no explanation was provided as to how fake soldiers acquired military uniforms, standard issue FN 7.62mm military rifles, military trucks and then handed over the individuals to the police, opened case files and charged all of them to court for daring to protect themselves. This is a very dangerous precedent which not only suggests that the Nigerian army goes out of its way to aid, abet and protect the herdsmen on tribal grounds as they indulge in heinous crimes but that they will rather hound the victims of the herdsmen into prison and bandy lies to extricate themselves from guilt.
That the Nigerian army in the 21st century can regale us with fabricated tales of fake soldiers reminiscent of the saga of “unknown soldiers” who burnt down Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s home and clamped everyone in sight into prison during Obasanjo’s military junta in the 70’s in a supposed democracy does not bode well for Buhari’s administration. It only serves to indicate firstly that the army has not evolved along with democratic tenets and secondly to vindicate those who claim that Nigeria under Buhari has willy-nilly returned to the dark days of military tyranny and sundry injustices. These blatant double standards driven largely by partisanship and tribalism as demonstrated by the Nigerian army in choosing to protect the perpetrators while hounding the victims amply demonstrates how much Nigerian unity has been imperilled by Buhari’s sectional administration. For all intents and purposes, what the administration is telling Nigerians is that Fulani herdsmen like many of his corrupt political cronies in the selective corruption brouhaha are untouchable no matter their crime.
More tragic is the fact that communities are not even allowed to protect themselves when the partisan security services fail to protect them. As if the partisanship of the army was not enough, the DSS a few days ago issued a press release spuriously claiming the 5 Fulani herdsmen declared missing earlier in Abia state were murdered by IPOB members and dumped in a shallow grave. Now; this is the same DSS that kept mute when 300 people were murdered in Agatu Benue state by Fulani herdsmen. The DSS have also been mute as the herdsmen turned terrorists have been on rampage killing, raping, maiming and razing homes across the country. For the same DSS to now turn around when Fulani’s became the victims, purportedly investigated and issued a press release within two days confirms to all and sundry that Nigerian security services; the army, DSS and police have all become sectional organisations that serve only the interests of the Hausa Fulani courtesy of Buhari. It has also turned out that the claims made by the DSS was patently false having been debunked by the Abia state governor who revealed that neither him nor the DSS director in the state is aware of any such incident or shallow grave.
As is now obvious, the DSS in Abuja was dangerously playing the ethnic card and misleading the public. These dangerous double standards and abuse of public institutions in the service of narrow tribal interests that is being introduced by Buhari and his enablers is the height of infamy and the fastest route to Nigeria’s disintegration. If not immediately arrested, it will sooner lead to crisis that the nation will not survive. Security services all over the world are constitutionally bound to protect all citizens and residents but when those same security services begin to openly serve tribal interests and favour one group against others, it opens up a dangerous fissure that leads to state failure and anarchy. It must be clearly stated that the need for herdsmen to ply their trade cannot in any way justify acts of mass murder, rape and arson just as unemployment and poverty does not justify robbery.
The decision by the government to protect the offending herdsmen and the ultimate failure of the government to equally protect the lives and property of all citizens is an egregious breach of the constitution that should carry consequences up to and including impeachment. When decades ago Nigerians began the struggle for democracy, the idea was to free ourselves from the strangulating injustices, human rights violations, bad governance, extra judicial executions and detentions, double standards and ethno-religious divisions that characterised that era. It is a shame that 17 years into a supposed democracy, all the evils of military rule and other security services not only remain with us but are increasing in scale and scope. This is so because the national assembly that is the only organ empowered by the constitution to sanction the president and in so doing keep him in check has either remained mute or refused to act. But their silence and refusal to act constitutes a danger whose outcome no one can predict. It is the nature of leaders to seek to abuse power; this is why the concept of separation of powers as a system of checks and balances between the arms of government was introduced to prevent a slide into dictatorship.
Democracy thrives when all arms of government are active in their respective roles to prevent tyranny. In the 11 months that Buhari has been in power, the constitution has been violated at random while the national assembly has remained inactive thus permitting such breaches to continue. What then is the purpose of democracy and the separation of powers if the national assembly in the face of breaches some of which are impeachable remain mute? Just some weeks back, the South African president Jacob Zuma escaped sanction on corruption charges by the country’s national assembly on a few votes. Though the sanction was ultimately not carried, but the willingness of the national assembly to initiate action and act will help to keep the president in check and nurture their democracy. Buhari has repeatedly violated court orders and publicly admitted doing so. He appointed himself the substantive minister of petroleum against the express dictates of the constitution, allowed and justified the mass killing of peaceful protesters, holds scores of people including Ekiti state assembly members in detention without charge, turned state institutions such as the army, police and DSS into organisations serving his personal and tribal interests, refused to do anything to protect lives and property of those facing onslaught from herdsmen and protects rather than prosecute the offending herdsmen.
These are all grave constitutional breaches and the national assembly has failed in its constitutional role by ignoring these fundamental breaches. A president who violates the constitution that brought him to power risks rendering himself unfit for that office, but it takes the national assembly to act before such checks and balances can be actualised. Nigeria cannot prosper and our democracy can neither grow nor make any difference until each arm of government fulfils its constitutional role. Then and only then can a responsible government that serves the public good will become a reality. It’s time for the national assembly to do their job and institute sanctions against Buhari for constitutional breaches.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu
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