A Record From Tomorrow -By Sesugh Akume

Filed under: Forgotten Dairies,National Issues |


I clearly recall the ‘show of force’ in my hometown Gboko when on this day in 2001, 2 military armoured personnel carriers rolled into town. The only thing that prevented an ensuing kerfuffle between the soldiers and the young men who wanted to know what they were doing in their town from degenerating into a blood bath was the intervention of a respected retired army captain. Blocking military convoys didn’t start with the Shiites in Zaria, it happened in my hometown and the people who did it were ready for the consequences. None of them may have survived, but most definitely none of the soldiers would’ve gone home to tell the story. There would have been reprisal attacks by soldiers on rampage, and the cycle would’ve continued. Was it necessary to deploy soldiers for a ‘show of force’, or whatever outcome desired could still have been gotten through other civil means without the drama?

That year there was an internecine hostile ethnic and border conflict between the Tiv in Benue and Jukun in Taraba states (there are ethnic, indigenous Tiv in Taraba and Jukun in Benue). Soldiers from their base in Takum, Taraba were deployed to quell the crisis, and keep the peace on the border. Shortly after then there were reports that the soldiers were siding the Jukun, killing the Tiv, and the reports weren’t stopping. There were rumours of a plan at ethnically cleansing the Tiv, that TY Danjuma was behind it as he was using his ties with the military and the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo to achieve this. Others said the fighters were Jukun mercenary militia impersonating the military. On this fateful day the locals in a community set an entrapment for an army vehicle that had crossed over to the Benue side at night to kill as it was reported that they usually did. On returning to their base in the wee hours they fell in it, none of the 16 including their commander survived. Then the news broke! ’16 soldiers killed in an ambush in Benue’, and other such headlines. General Obasanjo went berserk. The questions nobody was answering however were, Who deployed the soldiers and why? Are soldiers meant for internal peacekeeping? What covert operation were they doing at night on the Benue side? Etc.

A few weeks past, soldiers went to the closest village to where their colleagues had died and called the entire village to come together for a truce parley to settle the misunderstanding of the past weeks. On assembling the army opened fire on everyone present: men, women, children; everyone. This happened in Vaase. The army murdering innocent civilians including women and children for a wrong done them without recourse to the rule of law didn’t start with the Shia. There began the army rampage. They moved from village to village, community to community murdering everyone in their way, burning down villages, pillaging and destroying farms, barns, and everything they saw. People escaped for dear life thus becoming IDPs of a military on rampage. This continued for tens maybe hundreds of kilometers. Then they arrived at Tse Andôôr, the ancestral and country home of General SVL Malu, a decorated war hero, and chief of army staff (retired). They killed his uncle who was his foster father, his brother and sister. They destroyed and burnt the entire home. This house lies desolate and in ruins to this day. It’s along the Benue-Taraba federal highway and can easily be seen by anyone travelling along that road. Never mind that General Malu as army chief had murdered civils, leveled the town and later bragged on national television quoting military laws and international conventions to defend their actions which he said he’d repeat in the same circumstances. In this regard however, I still wonder the excuse the army had for this destruction.

They didn’t stop there they proceeded to Zaki-Biam. These same soldiers mounted road blocks and military checkpoints everywhere in 3 local government areas on the northwest Benue border neighbouring Taraba. As it usually happens with occupation armies there were all forms of abuses including extortion, torture, and rape going on. At this same time a military detachment arrived in Moon which is at the extreme northeast border of Benue to Taraba close to Cameroon. What caused soldiers to be again deployed to Benue on another side of the state remains a question to this day. The civilian populace raised a resistance and for some reason the army retreated to their base. This gave oxygen to the the theory of Tiv ethnic cleansing agenda. It was at this same time that the army showed up in Gboko. They said they were in Gboko looking for water, ironically having crossed River Katsina-Ala and its public waterworks all the way to Gboko where there’s hardly any stream, or functional pubic water supply system.

Wantaregh Paul Unongo, the fiery statesman led the charge against the military invasion and President Obasanjo’s abuse of office and genocide. He took up the matter at all levels. His public campaigns denounced the federal government, the president Olusegun Obasanjo, General TY Danjuma (retired), and the military. He said it was not done! The job of the military is never to turn their guns from foreign aggressors to citizens. No sane country uses its army to kill its own citizens. He said soldiers are not law enforcement. He said the police and state security service (SSS) — which be had helped form — should’ve been deployed to track and arrest those who killed the soldiers without any drama. But first, the FG should’ve told the world why soldiers were deployed in the first place not the police to handle the boundary skirmish. On and on he went. There were the usual rationalisers. They said killing soldiers for whatever cause was treason. Unongo replied to them there was a way of establishing treason and punishing the offenders accordingly if found guilty, but the military was most definitely not the agency of the state to mete out justice to a civilian populace for an act of treason. General Obasanjo found a way to extract apology from a timid George Akume, then governor of Benue for the entire imbroglio, Unongo termed it a ‘sheepish apology’. Composers released folk songs about ‘sheepish apology’.

Then, as in other times in the past as now, I’m vehemently opposed to militarisation and a militarist approach to resolving civil issues both for the principle of it, and from the experience of what the military leaves in its wake after their havoc. I was against army deployment in Odi, as I was against their deployment to kill the Shia, as I am against the ‘show of force’ in the Southeast, all for the same reason.

Today however, I’m yet to hear the revered statesman Wantaregh Paul Unongo who is presently chair of the Northen Elders Forum (NEF) raise his voice against the abuse of deploying soldiers to civilian spaces. The hypocrite Nasir el-Rufai had called the Nigerian army ‘Jonathan’s murderous army’ for killing El-Zakzakky’s sons, and even paid him a condolence visit. Today, he supervised and oversaw the murder of El-Zakzakky’s sons by the same ‘Jonathan’s murderous army’ now Buhari’s. Some Shia on a procession had blocked the road that happened to prevent the chief of army staff from going wherever he said he was going. Nobody fished out those to blocked the road preventing other road users from using same and causing a breach of the peace. Soldiers went at night to murder Shiites in their homes because they are Shia: men, women, children just everybody, demolished their buildings, and buried them secretly. Then, it was Christian president Jonathan wanting to exterminate Muslims and we were united in one Muslim brotherhood against the coldblooded murder. Today, the Shia don’t even respect the Prophet’s wives and denounce some Hadiths of the faith, they aren’t even Muslims and have been giving Islam a bad name, kill them all. Who are they to block the road when ‘a whole’ chief of army staff is passing? Kill them!

Then Jonathan wanted to kill everybody in the northeast in order to win the coming elections. We repeated the Sani Abacha quote that ‘If an insurgency lasts for 24 hours the government is involved.’ It’s past 24 months, the insurgency continues, but now the government isn’t involved. Just two or so weeks ago in Banki 17 women were abducted, 5 persons murdered by Boko Haram, it’s still okay. Then the military would move into a community and open fire on any group of males they saw. In their book any male was Boko Haram. Any objective person from the northeast or who is aware of what has transpired there will confirm that the military killed more people than even the terrorists. We called for the army’s withdrawal. But today it’s just fine to deploy the army anywhere. Two weeks ago an eye witness said that an attack in Baga was not by Boko Haram but by soldiers who would rather control the fishing trade in the area. Then it was wrong to keep the military there for so long, and their atrocities were condemnable, today it’s just okay. Many Benue people who yesterday saw a deployment of the army as heavy-handed are just fine with another deployment in the Southeast today, even if whatever desired outcome can be gotten through other civil means.

Yakubu Gowon is on the role of the world’s worst, most evil dictators of the 20th century. He’s speeding these days of his life arguing left and right, running from pillar to post protesting this appellation, only that nobody is listening to him. Gowon was head of state during the Biafran War which claimed not less than 2 million lives. Nobody knows Ojukwu, who egged his people on declared ‘Sovereignty or Mass Suicide’ but when push came to shove, the time for him to commit his own suicide, he ran away only to return after a presidential pardon marry a beauty queen, enjoy his life and die at a ripe old age. In fact he got all his accumulated army pay of decades. He protested that he wasn’t a lieutenant colonel but a general, whereas I thought he would collect a middle rank officer’s pay of lieutenant colonel but insist on being treated as a general, he still collected the money, feasted with on and cleaned his mouth. Nobody ever mentions him. It’s Gowon who will forever bear that record. All the people hailing General Buhari today will not be there tomorrow to clear his record if he fails to intelligently defuse the tensions all around Nigeria and especially in the southeast without drama as he insists on using his usually brazen militarist approach, and the matter escalates.

Already under Buhari the military has the largest number of deployments across the country ever. They’re spread too thin across to focus on the real aggressors like Boko Haram. I counted close to 20 before having to stop. These 20 include 2 in the Northwest: ‘Operation Sharan Daji’, and ‘Operation Harbin Kunama’ specifically set up to ensure the security and welfare of cattle, as that is what our constitution says is the primary duty of government. General Buhari saw that the sanctity of human life, and dignity of cattle was at stake therefore had the army set up those 2 operations which he personally decked himself in military regalia to supervise. This is a commander-in-chief who has never been to the northeast to cheer his troops nor encourage IDPs, nor has been to any place disaster has struck Nigerians. The welfare of Nigerian cattle trumps all.

If the conflict is not wisely and deftly defused but escalates, nobody will mention Nnamdi Kanu tomorrow. Who knows Nnamdi Kanu? Who is Nnamdi Kanu? As far as I’m concerned Buhari and his grossly incompetent media team gave Kanu the fame he so desperately craves. Kanu has grossly violated Nigeria’s laws for which he is liable and should’ve been arrested and dealt with along time, I repeat, without the drama. There are many Nnamdi Kanu’s and his sort of insurrectionist, separatist movements in the US, Canada, Spain, and everywhere else, google it to confirm. Not once will the heads of those countries ever mention their names, never the military, much less deploying them. Not once will the military be deployed toTexas, New Mexico or California because some irredentist operates from there. No need blacklisting an entire ethnic because one among them is preaching hate and defying the Federal Republic.

I repeat, the people hailing General Buhari will never be there to tomorrow to clear his record. The sad thing is today, if this crisis escalates we all will be in the mess, as the tension will affect us all, one way or another.