The wise continue to die daily on our lazy man’s farm, and there has been no explanation. Everyday, someone must die – and he dies violently – while we play ludo. Or we go on voyages of political discoveries; or we busy ourselves inaugurating wooden carts (omolanke) as dividend of democracy for children of the poor. People die daily at the hands of mystery gunmen, and we are yet to move all our leaders, like Dino Melaye, to the field of recall. All that matters to us are 2019 election matters.
A Catholic morning mass became a scene of mass murder in Benue. We gave it a glance and continued with our 2019 inanities. Big, small, rich, poor persons may be falling to avoidable deaths daily. We do not care because we are not the victims. We say we reject it; we won’t be among the dead. We have a destiny to contest elections next year. We will even contest in the year 2023. We won’t answer dark questions on how many of us will be around to be part of the 2019 elections. Killing is the new sport of northern Nigeria. The solution won’t come until the leech kills the dog, or the dog owner takes out the leech.
The bird of shrillness calls repeatedly and blood drips from its beak. It insists that even if its mouth tears to the occiput, it won’t stop calling for justice. What was the offence of those murdered Benue priests and church members? One of the priests cried out on January 3 this year. He said he was “living in fear” of murderous herdsmen.
“The Fulanis are still around us here,” he wrote. “They refuse to go…They still go grazing around. No weapon to defend ourselves.” That Reverend Father, Gor Joseph, lost faith in the Nigerian state long before he was murdered. He lost his life last week to the very thing he feared in January. “No weapon to defend ourselves” was a clear vote of no confidence in the Nigerian state. He did not know he was writing the foreword of his own obituary.
Father Gor Joseph is lying cold in one overwhelmed morgue, somewhere in Benue. For him, the beat has stopped; he no longer has fears for herdsmen and the powers behind them. His lamentations over the lack of weapons to defend his people have expired. Lamentations and fears are for the living. President Muhammadu Buhari has paid billions for 12 Tuscano helicopters to fight the murderers.
The helicopters will arrive in 2020. When these weapons arrive, they tell us old things shall pass away. There will be no more murders in the cathedral. No more hiding place for killers of men, women and children. But that will be in the year 2020 – seven hundred and thirty days from today.
People are dying because cows are dying. What, really, is not dying in Nigeria? Our president said so in Bauchi last week. Muhammadu Buhari, in an unusual depth, told his crowd of peasant farmers and cattle men: “Now there is desertification everywhere; there are no longer bushes around. We have gone to the bushes and cut down the trees. In doing so, we have destroyed the farmlands. Even then, the rains are no longer promising.”
In those few words, he captured the tragedy of the North and, even, of the South. For the cow Fulani, the grass has disappeared; the grazing field is no more. He now turns on his neighbours, killing, maiming, displacing. I wish he knew that killing farmers and priests won’t give him grass to feed his cow. He should sit and think; things have changed. He must learn quickly and change his ways and business model too.
Buhari said so in Bauchi. But for luck that gave him education, the president said he would have been a herdsman also fighting for grazing field on other people’s land. Hear him: “Now, look at the farmers/herdsmen’s clashes in the northern part of this country. I have been telling people that if I had not gone to school, I would not have gone into the military. Where I come from, I would have been involved in this fight since my cows must be fed and the grazing grounds are finished now.”
Everything is finished and we think the way out is for fish to eat fish. Soon, very soon, the biggest fish will eat the last fish and the ocean will expire.
What is the way out? Buhari proffered education as the solution. “It is only sound education that will benefit you and the society,” he told his people. I wish they listened. I wish he took this campaign round his people in all the far northern states. I wish they knew too that education for its own sake is not the messiah. It won’t be enough to save them in this age of dearth and death of everything. The South has education in excess, but everything that we grew up to cherish has disappeared or is disappearing.
The jobs are dying: the civil service is dead; the private sector is gasping for breath. Banks in the 1970s and 1980s and 1990 – even up till the turn of the century – never engaged casual workers. Now, jobs there are outsourced. Graduates from Ivy League universities are now casualised in banks. They get paid the salary of OND holders. That outsourced worker is an outsider. He is not an insider with rights. His rights died the moment he stepped into that job. If armed robbers kill him on the job, his family has no claim on the bank. His widow or widower can only weep at the door of the outsourcing company, not at the bank’s. The bank didn’t know him.
Everything that is not dead is dying. Because today’s teachers have jobs without pay, they now work without teaching. Medical doctors beg to work so that they can at least feed themselves. Even the media that weeps everyday more than the bereaved, where is its life? Every year, universities and polytechnics produce media men and women.
They say they are well trained and therefore must work. But how many new newspapers have been established anywhere in the world in the last 10 years? How many existing ones are not getting choked by the economy and that encroacher called the internet? Just like Northern Nigeria, the space is shrinking and the population is exploding.
What is not dying here? I can think of one: the phenomenon we call ‘social party’. It is reinventing itself. ‘Good’ education is rebranding it. The lawyer who can’t get briefs is now a wedding planner. Media people whose jobs have left them now bake cakes; they call it designer cakes. Aso Ofi which Lagosians renamed Aso Oke is no longer from Oke. It is dead at Ilu Oke where it was born. We are now importing Aso Oke from China. Fashion houses owned by graduates and ex-workers who have brains are living on all sorts of Aso.
The formal sector of the economy may be dying; the social sector is thriving. The Owanbe has become a vital sector of our economy with everyone subscribing to it. Before, the amala you ate at burials came wrapped in leaves or cellophane bags; now it comes hot, straight from the hearth. That is Southern Nigeria. Let the North think too and reinvent its life. It cannot continue to make others suffer for its leadership failure.
So much digression from the killing and dying in Benue.
But was it really a digression? The dead and the missing will meet one day – soon. The affliction called desertification may have eaten the fertility of the land of Northern Nigeria. It has had no effect on the virility of men and women there. They are ever fertile and producing. As their rich politicians think of the next elections, the poor there think of the next erection without thinking condom.
The Middle Belt and the South now feel the heat. The push and the pull factors get pronounced: drought, crop failure and ‘unemployment’ up North; enough rains and great yields in the south; insecurity at home, security down south. Sometimes the pull factors are mere myths – like the ones dragging the youths of the south to Europe. It is the same pushing the ‘arid’ north to the ‘fertile’ South.
Our ancestors warned us: When you see your neighbour eat all sorts of poisonous insects, cry out. If you keep quiet, you won’t have any sleep at night. Ask Benue, Plateau, Taraba people. The movement of blood is now looking south. Or is there any southern town that is not experiencing increased northern immigration?
And the numbers move up every day with all the unpleasant potential. To restore the beauty of the land, the lump and the boil must be put to shame. You don’t do that with inadequate prescription. The Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) may protest forever; it won’t stop the killings coming from the far North. Let us restructure Nigeria. Let the leaders of the North accept first that Nigeria is sick. Let them know too that no medicine works from its gourdlet. Let them know that a medicine works when it is administered in the right dosage.
Right education for the young of the north is the solution. Fortunately, Buhari, the leader they trust, appears to have abandoned his love for grazing routes and cattle colonies. He has finally seen education as the way out. Let us hope they listen to him.
Let the south assist them to listen to their idol on this education thing. That is the route to a future of peace between the north and the south. Except we help the north sort itself out, the situation will soon boil over. And Benue will be remembered as a mere prelude to Armageddon.