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The Agatu Killings

IllustrationAbout two weeks ago, as of this writing, tens of Idoma people went to the national assembly in Abuja to draw national and world attention to the killings in Agatu local government area of Benue State. The protest was the first concerted effort by the Idoma people to a) show their frustration with the laggard government response to these killings and b) to show they had waited in vain for government to take steps to end these killings that have been going on for at least two years now.

For two years, response to them from quarters that matter has been at best lukewarm and at worst, insouciant. The responses were confined to the traditional response in matters of this nature: condemnation by the important people. Our governments and our big men tend to believe that their duty is done once they offer these hackneyed condemnations that in effect amount to nothing.

The protest at the national assembly will, of course, not necessarily end the killings in Agatu. It would be naïve to expect it would work the magic. But as I see it, the protesters have succeeded in making two important points. Firstly, it would henceforth be impossible for the Idoma as a people and the government of Benue State to pretend to be ignorant of the horrendous killings and the mindless devastation that have become the sad lot of the Agatu people. The protesters have stuck the pin in the conscience of the government and the big men. And when people draw public attention to their problem, the world tends to listen and remember.

If the federal government did not know what the Agatu people have been facing, now it does. And it has a duty to put an end to these killings. The people had expected to hear the voice of protest from their so-called leaders – the moneyed men and the politicians. All they have heard from them so far has been the sound of sealed lips. In their indifference, the blood of the innocent is also on their hands of the other Idoma people.

Secondly, the protest has, for the ninth time, drawn attention to the increasing impotence of government at all levels to the mounting insecurity challenges. The first constitutional duty imposed on federal and state governments is security. The people and their property must be secure and protected by governments. We, the people, are not seeing much of the discharge of this sacred constitutional duty on the part of our governments. In matters of security, everyone cannot fend for themselves. Killings do not bring peace to communities. They bring death and destruction.

Killers are roaming the land, killing and laying waste the property of the people virtually unchallenged. How did we come to this very sorry pass at which lives mean nothing and there is no rhyme or reason to the killings of fellow Nigerians, men, women and children? A once peaceful nation in which we were brothers’ and sisters’ keepers has become a conflicted country in which even mere arguments among friends and families are settled with the very deadly A-K47.

If the federal government did not know what the Agatu people have been facing, now it does. And it has a duty to put an end to these killings. The people had expected to hear the voice of protest from their so-called leaders – the moneyed men and the politicians. All they have heard from them so far has been the sound of sealed lips. In their indifference, the blood of the innocent is also on their hands of the other Idoma people

Protests, such as this, constitute a telling evidence of the helplessness of the ordinary men and women in our country. They protest in desperation because they do not know to whom they should turn in the face of critical challenges such as the killings in Agatu. The protests also raise an important question: Must the people protest before government is made aware of its responsibility towards them, especially in matters of the security of their lives and property?

I am not sure that successive Benue State governments have bothered to find out who is killing Agatu people and why. I know the killings have been blamed on Fulani herdsmen or militia. But blaming Fulani herdsmen has become a convenient peg on which to hang the do nothing attitude on the part of officialdom.

If, indeed, they are Fulani herdsmen, we would like to know the cause or the causes of the disagreement between them and the Agatu people. Are they fighting over grazing land? Why has the disagreement lasted this long and taken the lives hundreds of innocent men, women and children?

You do not solve a problem without knowing its probable cause or causes. It would be interesting to see what the Suswam administration found out about the cause or the causes of these killings, if, indeed, it ever bothered to investigate them. It is a problem inherited by the Ortom administration. I suppose the people took their desperation to the national assembly because they do not know what the state government has done or is doing to end the Agatu killings to give other Idoma people a sense of security.

It would be a huge mistake to treat the killings in Agatu as an isolated case of a communal crisis. They are much more and even much worse than that. These killings are symptomatic of how badly things have turned out for us in our country. We all seem to be living on borrowed time, given the cocktail of security challenges we all face. Let not the big men think that this has nothing to do with them. Sure, they are protected by a battery of security forces but if one Nigerian, no matter how poor or insignificant as a person is not safe in his home or his farm, none of us should consider ourselves as safe.

We have watched over the years, at least since the return to civil rule in 1999, the steady erosion of our common humanity. Nigeria has been turned into pockets of killing fields. Nigeria is awash in blood. Blood, blood everywhere.

Time to quit pretending that all is well. If we seat on our hands and watch, matters can only get worse. The truth is that nothing is as it should be any more. We all know this. The insecurity challenge has reached a clear crisis point. In some communities, peasant farmers have abandoned their farms because of insecurity. Cattle rustlers have made life impossible for the herdsmen. Almost every day, the rustlers steal hundreds of heads of cattle. We are all losers.

Yes, Agatu people are dying in their tens or hundreds. But the killings are not their problem. They are victims of something much deeper and more serious than they can handle. I am intrigued by the fact that the protesters have put all Idoma people to shame. They have demonstrated that if we want people to listen to our problems, then we cannot afford to do nothing. To put it another way we hold the key to compelling the authorities to provide security for our people. It is the least duty we owe ourselves.

This post was syndicated from The Guardian Nigeria. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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