Former US President Ronald Reagan once said that a government’s first duty is to protect its citizens. All around the world, citizens of different countries look up to their governments to ensure their security. In return, citizens obey societal norms and generally try to be good citizens, whatever that means in their country’s context. When the government fails to provide protection, the contract breaks down, and citizens resort to self-help, setting the stage for a descent into anarchy. That’s the road the Nigerian government seems resolute to take Nigerians through.
A video recently surfaced of a charge given by Apostle Johnson Suleman during one of his church services. In this video, the pastor was heard telling his members to kill any Fulani Herdsmen that comes near them. The video received excoriations from Nigerians across different political and religious divides. Then the State Security Services, now also known (lawfully?) as the Department of State Services (DSS) joined the fray with another midnight drama. Its attempt to arrest the pastor around midnight at a hotel in Ekiti State was rebuffed by the state governor, Ayo Fayose. Current reports indicate that the DSS finally checked its long-forgotten rulebook, and has asked Suleman to report to its headquarters in Abuja.
Before we go on, let’s have a little background information. After years of ravaging farmlands and killing entire communities, the notorious Fulani Herdsmen were duly recognised as the world’s fourth deadliest terrorist group. Since the inception of the President Buhari administration, the terrorists appear emboldened and have ramped up the frequency of their bloodbaths. While some Nigerians point to Buhari’s Fulani blood as a reason for the herdsmen appearing to be untouchable, the President and his government have not done enough to discredit such conspiracy theories. Instead, grieving Nigerians have been fed a series of alternative facts. First was Buhari claiming that the rampaging Fulani Herdsmen were from Libya. Thereafter, the Northern Governors Forum declared the terrorists to be citizens of Senegal and Mali. Even Kellyanne Conway would find these alternative facts despicable.
We return to Johnson Suleman’s speech. I watched the barely four-minute video, and while incitement of violence is wrong, in my opinion the uproar over the video is unnecessary. He began by saying he received repeated warnings that there were plans by some Fulani Herdsmen to attack him and his church. It was in the context of this threat that he said, “…and I told my people, any Fulani Herdsmen you see around you, kill him”. He went further to decry the apparent immunity enjoyed by the herdsmen and argued that while some may feel Christianity is incompatible with his charge to kill the herdsmen, Christians have the right not to become widows or widowers.
Many news sites and blogs in Nigeria carried the headline that Suleman ordered the killing of Fulanis. Some went as far as suggesting he ordered the killing of Muslims and was guilty of either genocide or treason, or even both. Everyone has his or her opinion, but even in the legal system, the phrase “extenuating circumstances” is sometimes used to analyse acts that would ordinarily be viewed as crimes. Arguably, most Nigerians commenting on this issue have not watched the video. In addition, most commentators asking for his head have not lost any loved one in the carnage in Southern Kaduna and other areas attacked by the Fulani Herdsmen. Otherwise, they would have a different view of this issue.
Thanks to the compulsory national service, I had the opportunity of spending almost a year in Fadan Karshi, a community in Southern Kaduna. This community had been attacked repeatedly in 2014 by the Fulani Herdsmen, and all through my time there, they lived in fear of being attacked despite the presence of a military contingent in the town. Some of them have forfeited their farmlands, preferring to stay alive rather than be killed for daring to step on their own ancestral farmlands. Maybe the video of Apostle Suleman saying “kill Fulani Herdsmen” should be shown to people in this community, and let’s see if they would feel any form of shock at his charge. To them the acclaimed terrorists deserve to die. Simple.
In the context described earlier, when Suleman said “kill Fulani Herdsmen”, he was referring to the terrorist group ravaging Nigeria. The view that his statement amounts to genocide is plain sensationalism. What he said is like saying, “kill ISIS operatives” or “kill Al Qaeda agents”, certainly not an incitement to attack the entire Fulani tribe, which effectively controls the government apparatus in Nigeria. His reference to the panel of enquiry set up to investigate the killings during the recent Rivers State elections, and the alleged escape of a Boko Haram agent from custody shows deep grievance at the inability of the government to demonstrate impartiality in handling security issues.
We would not be talking about Suleman if the Nigerian government had fulfilled its primary responsibility of keeping Nigerians safe. Instead, the Kaduna State governor publicly attested to paying a set of Fulani Herdsmen to refrain from further killings. Whereas some would hide under political correctness to attack Suleman, they may hold different views in the comfort of their rooms. A parallel can be drawn to the American election where Trump was attacked in the media, but when people had the safety of the polling booth, they voted for him. In case Buhari is not aware, Nigerians are tired of the killings by the bloodthirsty demons called Fulani Herdsmen. Since he and the northern oligarchy have said the killers are not Nigerians, why has the full weight of the Nigerian military not been directed at them?
Apostle Johnson Suleman would certainly have his date with the DSS. What cannot be guaranteed is what would happen after the date, especially if the government decides to prosecute him for inciting genocide and some Christians decide to brand this as an official attack on Christianity in Nigeria. If Suleman is guilty of incitement, then the spokesman of the herdsmen who boasted that his group killed hundreds of Agatu residents should be hanged. To avoid speeches like Suleman’s and a recourse to jungle justice, the government has to be seen defending its citizens so that people can have faith in it. Suleman may be taken down, but if the herdsmen aggression is not wisely curtailed, the nation called Nigeria may soon explode.
Image Credit: nigerianewsonline.com.ng