Igboho, Kanu, bandits and Nigeria’s future

Igboho, Kanu, bandits and Nigeria’s future

Nigerians woke up to the news of the arrest of Sunday Adeyemo, a leading campaigner for Yoruba self-determination on Tuesday. This was three weeks after Adeyemo, more popularly known as Sunday Igboho was declared wanted by the Department of State Services.

That declaration itself followed a midnight invasion of his home where two people were said to have been killed, property worth millions of naira destroyed and anything and everything in sight was arrested by the DSS. Igboho himself took to flight and while declaring him a person of interest, the DSS displayed arms, ammunition and passports said to have been found on his premises.  The fugitive denied ownership of those weapons and a cat and mouse game ensued until his arrest on Tuesday.

Although the Buhari regime has not made any official statement about his arrest, reports indicate that he was picked up in Cotonou in neighbouring Benin Republic while on what was meant to be some asylum-seeking flight to Germany! Readers should note that the DSS attack on this man’s home did not stop hundreds of enthusiasts from participating in an already-planned rally in Lagos to advocate a Yoruba Nation earlier this month.

News of Igboho’s arrest filtered in pretty much the same way the arrest of Indigenious People of Biafra’s leader,  Nnamdi Kanu did. Like Igboho, Kanu was picked up on the soil of another African country, Kenya, while trying to leave the country on June 27. That put an end to his close to two years status as a fugitive and an opportunity for the regime to continue his prosecution for alleged treason and terrorism-related offences.

All said and done, the arrest of the two men shows two very important things. The first is that the regime and its agencies can be very efficient when they choose to be. About the middle of June, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), promised  that troublers of Nigeria were going to be spoken to “in the language they understand.” Kanu’s arrest was affected a fortnight later while Igboho was caught by the expansive dragnet of government after five weeks.

When they desire to show the limitless capacity of government, the Yoruba say government is the one who arrests the charm-owner and his charm without consequence. While government had watched Kanu for close to two years, it got him in custody exactly 15 days after Buhari said enough was enough!

Despite its capacity though, government only spits this venom when it chooses.For years, low key bandits terrorised the North-West, without arrests until they became a terror now with the capacity to shoot down fighter jets. It is the same way the initial occasional incursions of marauding herdsmen started in the North-Central states of Benue and Plateau were ignored, even denied until they became a national dilemma traversing virtually every part of Nigeria. It was, in fact, government’s failure to respond to the murderous and conquest mentality of these herdsmen that threw up otherwise unknown characters like Igboho! But I should not pre-empt myself.

The second thing that the arrest of Kanu and Igboho tells Nigerians is that the Buhari regime is desperate about maintaining the unity of Nigeria! It reveals the regime’s adoration for this ideal, possibly more than any other thing. It suggests that the President will do anything to, (manifestly except for initiating profitable engagements with stakeholders) to retain the entity called Nigeria. Government is therefore in mortal fear of agitators like these men and would stop them by all means.

A corollary to this posture is that government and some of those close to it, see separatist agitations as more dangerous than the bands that kill, kidnap and hold children until incredible sums are paid as ransom.

From the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who took a ludicrous interest in Kanu’s designer luxury adornments to presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu’s admonition that “any attempt to build an armoury, coupled with plans either subtle or expressed, to undermine our unity as a nation will not be condoned,” the Buhari regime has positioned these fellows as enemies of state numbers one and two.

But popular Islamic cleric and self-appointed intermediary between government and bandits, Sheik Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, has been more upfront. Sometime in June, the Kaduna-based cleric, whose agency for the government has been confirmed by Lai, said that banditry and the herdsmen menace were considerably lesser evils. He told newsmen: “And the herdsmen are kidnapping children not to kill them but to get money; so, how can you compare somebody who is killing our gallant men directly to somebody who is kidnapping children to make money and not to kill them?”

Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State shared a more modest but equally ludicurious position. Speaking on Kanu’s arrest, the governor, who recently withdrew his son from a public school to reduce vulnerability, indicated that the IPOB leader’s activities threatened Nigeria more than the activities of bandits, who are in it for business and without known leaders.And el-Rufai is right. One must concede that Kanu and Igboho are indeed treading on a very slippery and dangerous path. However, does anything repudiate government’s authority more than the ways bandits have carried on in the very recent past under Buhari?

For instance, 20 students of the Greenfield University in Kaduna were kidnapped by bandits in April. When these students were released about five weeks later, five of them and one staff member had been murdered while parents of surviving students had to part with a whopping N150 million ransom and eight motorcycles before their release!

The regime maintains an understandable no-negotiation with bandits’ standpoint, yet its security agencies were unable to rescue these children. So, the country looked on until parents raised money to get their children out of their kidnappers’ den. Wasn’t  this a clear affront on the regime?

The same scenario is currently playing out with the abductors of the 120 pupils of Bethel Baptist High School who are demanding the payment of N60m from parents. While one hopes that el-Rufai’s Tuesday promise of action from security agencies would change the tide of things, parents and the Nigerian Baptist Convention are reportedly scampering around to raise the money, yet the Buhari regime does not see this as an unparalleled challenge to its authority? It would be really disheartening if it doesn’t.

But there is even something more frighetening!That is the fact that these abductions involve children. If anyone should not be left in the hands of kidnappers for a single day, it should be pupils who seek nothing more than an education. But Nigeria currently has hundreds of these children, some of whom are as young as three and four years old, in the custody of criminals. In May, about 200 students were said to have been kidnapped from an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State. These children, some of which are said to be toddlers, are still in bondage almost two months on. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recently put the number of children in such situations at about 348.

All of this suggests that Nigerian leaders don’t think about the future of Nigeria. President Buhari seems just so determined to hand over “one Nigeria”, not realsing that he might be handing over an irredeemably damaged country.

The terrorists, bandits, and insurgents of today are a product of the planlessness of past years. Even now, the country has a burden of about 13 million children who are not in school, most holed up in Buhari’s North. Yet, some of those in school are being kidnapped and kept inside forests in exchange for money while government looks on helplessly or providing subtle justifications.

The late Nelson Mandela once said that: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children…” Nigerians say children are the future, but leaders of the country are unwittingly sacrificing the future by neglecting the welfare of children and prioritising the need to keep Nigeria together. One wonders how much of that can be achieved without the important conversations that democracy demands. But even if Nigeria survives, is the country preparing her children to run a sustainable country that will compete in the challenges that the emerging world poses?

This article originally appeared in Punch


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