By Francis Damina
Though the newspapers had reported that 18 persons were killed by gunmen (not the usual herdsmen) in Zamfara state, other sources said, no fewer than 41 persons got killed. And it doesn’t matters whether it was 18 or 41. What is rather important is that human lives were wasted; lives of ordinary people whose worry in life is only to have food on their tables. Yes, food on their tables. But with all these misnomers, is it true that the world has finally come to an end as a Jehovah’s Witness preached to us last Sunday? Before yesterday, it was Southern Kaduna, yesterday Benue, and today, Zamfara, among many villages and cities in almost all parts of our country. The killings which appear to be the only national cake that ordinary citizens share, are always available in large quantities. May God save us.
For all I know, the Zamfara killings ought to be the table that should attract all kinds of people together into sipping from the same chalice in understanding the need to unite in fighting terror. Contrary to the many interpretations and half truths in the land, it clearly shows that the killings are not limited to any state, ethnicity or religion. Yet, the most unfortunate thing is not that the killings have continued: it is our insular thoughts on the reasons behind them. And unless a proper diagnosis is done, putting an end to the carnage might just be a pie in the sky.
Rather than looking at the killers as simply murderers who are enemies of the state that must be dealt with, we tend to see them from our various locations as southerners, westerners, Christians, middlbelters, Fulanis, Biafrans, etc. While I join other well meaning Nigerians to pray for the departed souls, i think, the most unfortunate thing for the People of Zamfara at this moment, might be the fact that they have no scapegoat to blame for the killings. Yes, because they belong to a religion that has been cast as being responsible. And yet, they have been victims themselves.
Only last year or so, my friend Chief Femi Fani Kayode, while on a discussion, asked if I came across his piece entitled: “The Sons of Futa Jallon” in reference to a point he made that there is a plan to Islamize this country. In the piece, Kayode referred to The Tribune in a series of recalls to a statement allegedly made by Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto Caliphate and Premier of Northern Nigeria as saying:” The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Uthman Danfodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the North as willing tools and the south as a conquered territory and never allow them to have control over their future”.
“To add to the Sardauna’s contribution and to buttress his point”, Fani Kayode said, “in August 2001, president Muhammad Buhari, a proud and ascetic Fulani man, whose appeal , popularity and following has reached cult-like proportions amongst the working class Fulani population in Nigeria said the following:” ‘God willing, we will not stop the total implementation of Sharia throughout the Federation’. Since then, the religious narrative about the killings became the most acceptable and best selling stock in the market place of opinions. This is why I sympathize with the good people of Zamfara for the fact that they have no one to blame for the killings. It is the case of a scapegoat; more so that Zamfara is the first to attempt the ‘Islamization’ of Nigeria via the ‘introduction’ of Sharia. A sort of implementation of the dreams of the late Sardauna, I believe proponents of this narrative led by Fani Kayode, would say. What is now puzzling, which I anxiously await, is the explanation students of this school will tender as the reason why Zamfara- the take off point of Sharia, is also a victim?
And this has been my argument; rather than seeing the calamity befalling us as the result of lack of commitment on the part of our leaders to punish criminals not withstanding their identity, we tend to cast a dice on the narrow prisms of religion, ethnicity, region, political party, etc. When these criminals strike outside the north, they are called Fulani herdsmen. And within the north, gunmen. Is it not time that we dust up these labels and work together to fight these killings? Yes, it seems to me that these killers have no religion. Their mission is to kill defenseless citizens whether they are Hausas, Gwong, Christians, Muslims, etc.
I am pained about these narratives because, in the last five or more years, I have seen people across ethnicities and religions that are also the victims. I had watched how a Fulani man Alhaji Tukur Audu in Kachia paid a million naira to kidnappers. And another, Hussaini Kachia from Gidan Bussa, who apart from the one million naira he paid, eventually had his hand cut off. While i also had witnessed how Alhaji Mando paid two million naira as ransom, Alhaji Ahmad Tanko had his wife killed. Is it Alhaji Shede at my backyard who’s children were severally kidnapped and gunmen invaded his house, or Abdullahi Baraje’s wife who got killed? These are all Fulanis and Muslims, and yet, were not spared.
My worry is that the implications of these erroneous and self -serving narratives on especially teenagers is tragic. I am equally afraid that the recycling of revenge might not stop even in decades to come unless these narratives are corrected and healing of memory, invoqued. This is exactly what other climes and institutions whose citizens underwent trauma did. Apart from The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that was set up in an effort to rescue the country from denial and lies about the past, dialogue on ‘Healing of Memories: Overcoming the Wounds of History’ was facilitated by the Institute for Healing of Memories. The South African based Institute is a response to the emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds that are inflicted on nations, communities and individuals by wars, repressive regimes, human rights abuses and other traumatic events or circumstances. “Emotional scars”, the Institute says in a statement, “are often carried for very long, hindering the individual’s emotional, psychological and spiritual development. Attitudes and prejudices that have developed out of anger and hatred between groups can lead to ongoing conflict and spiraling violence”.
Speaking on the Purification of Memory, the then Pope John Paul11 in a letter titled ” Incarnationis Mysterium”(the Mystery of Incarnation), said:” The process have a significant effect on the present, precisely because the consequences of past faults still make themselves felt and can persist as tensions in the present “. Indeed, this is at par with what a saint- John of the Cross had posited when he said:” Many people suffer ongoing pain due to lingering bad memories that sometimes reach back even into childhood “.
This is why I have a feeling that the Kaduna State Peace Commission led by the revered Archbishop Idowu-Fearon must first find a way of correcting these erroneous and damaging narratives, and then, secondly, begin the process of healing the memories of especially the young who may have seen many traumatic things including the killings of their parents. ” This children”, as Archbishop Matthew Ndangoso told me the other day, “especially those who either have watched how their parents were killed, or told that a particular set of people are responsible for their death and other calamities they suffer, will remain ever disposed to vengeance as they grow up”. This is why a post violence society like the North East, Southern Kaduna, Plateau, etc, should be talking about reconstruction not in terms of physical structures but as a project that is aimed at healing memories. And while all hands must be on deck: religious leaders, government agencies like the National Orientation Agency and National Emergency Management Agency, the media, Non- Governmental Organizations, etc, our first task is to correct these insular and harmful narratives constructed by politicians and and other greedy fellows in service of their selfishness.
Our politicians and other conflict entrepreneurs who invented these narratives must now be identified and seen as enemies of humanity. They should hide their faces in shame for the tragedy they have brought upon us by deploying their personal interests when it should have been the common good of society. The acceptability of these narratives among our people is an evidence of our collective gullibility. Hence, the need for massive enlightenment whatever it may cost us. The ongoing mass killings of innocent citizens whatever religion or name they answer to, is unacceptable. In enlightened societies, one life deliberately killed is a national emergency let alone the scores that are daily killed in our land.
It is therefore my submission that, while the Zamfara killings should serve as a confluence for the take -off of our activities in defense of our collective humanity, we must remind ourselves that we would one day appear before God to account for our actions and inactions. “Humanity First”, as Samuel Kukah continually implores.