By Inibehe Effiong,
It is politically correct and simplistic for anyone to demand the arrest and prosecution of Apostle Johnson Suleiman, the outspoken and controversial Founder and General Overseer of the Omega Fire Ministries over his recent belligerent utterances against those said by the Nigerian government to be aliens from Mali, Niger, Chad and other neighboring countries; the so-called Fulani herdsmen.
That is what is expected of any die-hard supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari who may be motivated either by ethnic, religious or political sentiments and considerations. It perfectly fits into the narrative of those seeking to divert attention from the unabated mass murder of Nigerian citizens by ‘’foreigners’’ in Southern Kaduna and other parts of the country and the troubling silence of the Nigerian state.
For me, it is Nigeria first. Loyalty to our nation and its Constitution should always take precedence over political, ethnic or religious affiliations. Are we not ashamed as Nigerian citizens that the State Security Service (SSS) is taking action against Apostle Suleiman, a citizen, for making inciting statements in response to the Southern Kaduna massacre when no single person is on record as having been arrested and prosecuted for the killing of defenseless Nigerians, whether Christians or Muslims, in Kaduna State by ‘’foreigners’’?.
I refuse to join the mob calling for the head of Apostle Suleiman, not because I am a Christian or a Southerner but because my spirit, soul and body resent, detest and reject hypocrisy, injustice and oppression in every form. If Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State could shamelessly use taxpayers money to settle or compensate alleged murderers who he also claimed are foreigners in his unserious attempt to dissuade them from their murderous and satanic proclivity, what justification does anyone have to demand the prosecution of Apostle Suleiman for basically calling for self-defense, though in a rather bellicose language?
Governor El-Rufai who is on record for issuing divisive, irresponsible, inciting and dangerous threats and statements in the past without being arrested or prosecuted, further legitimized the insane culture of appeasement of criminals in Nigeria by seeking a truce with alleged murderers instead of bringing them to justice and compensating the victims. If there is no other person that knows those who take senseless pride in shedding innocent blood of human beings because their cows have been attacked or killed, Governor El-Rufai knows them, on his own admission.
The Nigerian state and the SSS or DSS cannot be strong with those calling for self-defense and weak with those who are the real perpetrators of violence and mass murder. It is an unprovoked assault on the intelligence of patriotic Nigerians for the SSS to swiftly go after Apostle Suleiman when the alleged murderers who instigated his bellicose and unfortunate statements are walking freely. That is not just a case of double standard but an audacious and tragic statement that in Nigeria under President Buhari, the criminal justice system is skewed to protect the killers and hunt those calling for self-defense or revenge against the alleged killers.
Is there any self-respecting and truthful person in Nigeria today that will deny the complicity and utter nonchalant disposition of the Buhari’s administration to the killings and destruction by the so-called Fulani herdsmen? Why are we pretending as if we are oblivious of the conspiratorial inaction of the federal government to the mass killing of Nigerians across the country by the herdsmen?
Who has been prosecuted for the Agatu massacre in Benue State? Who has been prosecuted for Nimbo massacre in Uzo-Uwani of Enugu State? Who has been prosecuted for the serial murder of protesting Shiite Muslims in the North? Who has been prosecuted for the continuous killing of Pro-Biafra agitators in the East? Do the lives of our people really matter to President Buhari?
Like many Nigerians, I was outraged by the statements made by Apostle Suleiman after watching the video. Religious leaders should foster the bond of unity, preach peaceful co-existence and not be the instigators of anarchy. Not all Fulani herdsmen are murderers. There are criminal elements in every tribe and religion. We should never submit to the temptation to stigmatize or label an entire religion or tribe for the criminality of its disgruntled members.
The herdsmen have their grievances which should be attended to. Similarly, the host communities and farmers also have their grievances. The bottom line is that no person or group of persons should be excused and protected by the Nigerian state for embarking on mass murder because his or their cows or farmlands or crops have been killed or destroyed, as the case may be.
A deeper and dispassionate introspection on this matter evinces a fact that many commentators and public intellectuals are shying away from. The fact that if the President Buhari-led administration had fulfilled her primary purpose under Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) by prioritizing the security and welfare of its citizens, there would have been no calls for self-defense and revenge against the continuous attacks by the herdsmen.
Mr. Buhari failed, refused or neglected to act responsibly when the crisis between the herdsmen, their host communities and farmers reared its ugly head at the inception of his administration. The apparent inaction and seeming complicity of the President and other leaders like Governor El-Rufai allowed the crisis to fester and emboldened the herdsmen to continue to kill people indiscriminately at the slightest provocation.
It is because the Nigerian state under President Buhari is confused as to whose life is more important; between that of a human being in Southern Kaduna, Nimbo, Agatu or any other part of the country and a cow, that we now have a situation where those accused of mass murder are protected and compensated while the victims are abandoned and left unprotected and those who react fiercely or irresponsibly to the shameful and pathetic dilemma of the Nigerian state like Apostle Suleiman, are speedily targeted by the institutions of the state.
Get this clear: Apostle Suleiman is not above the law. He is not immune from arrest and prosecution. What we are saying is that it is unacceptable for the SSS to go after him over his bellicose utterances when the killers of innocent Nigerian Christians and Muslims are walking freely. This is not the time for anyone to pretend to love the rule of law more than others. Let justice be done and the law enforced without ethnic, religious or political bias.
Self-defense is a fundamental right recognized and guaranteed by Section 33 (2) (a) of the Nigerian Constitution. There is nothing unlawful in calling on those whom the Nigerian state has failed to protect and rescue from the murderous grip and attacks of blood thirsty criminals to defend themselves. If Apostle Suleiman went beyond the constitutional allowances of self-defense and freedom of expression, let the law take its course.
However, it will be an aberration for Apostle Suleiman to be punished or persecuted over his utterances when the real perpetrators of the violence and the mindless killings that he complained of are left to go unpunished. Justice should be blind to all persons irrespective of their race, religion, sex, ethnicity or political leaning.
Inibehe Effiong is a Legal Practitioner and Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD) and can be reached at: [email protected]