By Michael John,
On the fifteenth day of January every year, the Nigerian government would roll out the drums and pretend to celebrate the sacrifices, bravery and exploits of the Nigerian soldier in the different conflicts he had been involved in. Such conflicts include the Second World War, the Nigerian Civil War, the Boko Haram conflict and peacekeeping and peace-enforcing missions around the world. Of course you can also add conflicts like Operation Python Dance; Operation Crocodile Smile; the Kalakuta Republic imbroglio, which led to the dead of Fela’s mother, among others. These latter conflicts take the shine off this annual ritual because they targeted Nigerians. To most Nigerians it remains a purely government/military ritual.
Objectively speaking, what is there to celebrate about the Nigerian military? It is an even bet whether apart from the Second World War, when Adolf Hitler sought to rule the world and wipe out the blacks and the Jews, the Nigerian Army has been involved in any justifiable war. An army, which looked the other way when Fulani herdsmen wiped out over 500 at Agatu, but gleefully launched a campaign code-named “Operation Python Dance” against the unarmed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which had not killed anyone, needs to re-calibrate its sense of proportion and values.
Jumbo, my war veteran pal, would pump his chest and point out that the military fought to keep Nigeria one, and one should not lose sight of this patriotic achievement. Tales by moonlight! The Nigerian Civil War was a military matter. Egos flared and the military failed to reach an agreement on succession after the assassination of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi. The army tore the country apart and fought to keep it together again. You cannot tear my shirt and patch it up again and expect me to thank you for patching up what you tore!
Then Jumbo would reference peacekeeping missions abroad. How can you hope to keep peace in another country when you cannot keep peace at home? Fancy Ibrahim Babangida deploying troops to keep peace in Liberia during the Liberian Civil War! Charles Taylor’s forces killed over 5,000 Nigerians in Liberia for this “meddlesome” intervention. The same IBB who plunged Nigeria into chaos with his pathological crave for power and cancellation of a free and fair election won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
Nigerians involvement in the Second World War is the comforting narrative. The Nigerian contingent at the Burma war theatre proved to be the best fighting force there, and won accolades for their bravery and fighting skills. So you can lay a wreath to that generation of soldiers, though they on the verge of extinction.
While our soldiers had been away fighting quixotic wars, a more dignified professional known as the farmer had been busy feeding the country. He fed the soldier before he went war, and he fed the soldier’s family while he was away. He plants his seeds in the ground, waters and weeds the farm and cultivates the seeds at harvest season so that the country would not starve. His is a noble activity, which impacts on all aspects of the economy. He protects his farm and his crops from wild beasts. But lately the “wild beasts” that now invade his farms, come with Federal Government protection, AK 47’s and marauding cows with murder in their minds and blood in their eyes.
The farmer is a man of peace. He does not bear arms. He believes in the laws of the land and that a man’s land should be his castle. He believes that the government would keep the law, and those who swore to protect and do good to all citizens would come to his protection and the protection of his land. He is as wrong as the pedestrian who tried to walk across the pedestrian crossing when the green lights were on. He was run down by armed robbers, who had just robbed a bank, in a get away car. The pedestrian (like the farmer) was right as he walked along, but he was as dead as if he were wrong. The farmers were right in fighting for their land, but they are as dead as if they were wrong.
Fulani herdsmen come with fury and a sense of entitlement to every land in Nigeria. For some curious reasons when they kill, the Federal Government does not seem to care that ownership of guns and murder are still supposed to be illegal (at least that is what the law says). They brandish their guns openly like soldiers and the police and other law enforcement officers look the other way. They kill babies, pregnant women, aged men, the disabled, etc. Whenever they commit genocide, the Federal Government would device a new way to compensate or appease them. When they killed about 500 at Agatu, the Federal Government proposed that they should be given grazing routes in all states of the country as compensation (or is it appeasement?). The Federal Government did not talk of justice. No Presidential delegation visited Agatu to commiserate with them. The poor people of Agatu mourned and buried their dead.
Now they have committed another genocide in Benue State – leaving a bloody trail of over 73 dead. Instead of talking of justice, the Federal Government has thought up a new reward idea – give them cattle colonies in all states of the federation. This strange policy of progressive appeasement for evil doing is stranger than proposing to give Boko Haram terrorists national honors. The reward for their first genocide was grazing routes. The reward for the latest one is grazing colonies. Who knows? If they kill again, they might get grazing towns. The more they kill, the more they get.
We pray the cattle colonies should be dead on arrival. What a man gets by blood, he will keep by more bloodletting. You cannot build a house on a faulty foundation. You cannot establish colonies on the blood and lives of 73 innocent, law-abiding citizens – nor use cattle colonies to reward callous, cold blooded killers. The herdsmen would see the colonies as prizes, not gifts. Prizes they earned by shedding blood. As they expand in the colonies they would still have problems with their host communities and resort to the same “vampire” methods, and kill more.
The Fulani herdsmen come from states in the north. There are farmers in the states they come from. But the Fulani herdsmen do not kill them nor ravage their farms. You do not have these killings in Sokoto State, Kano, Katsina etc. They respect their people and would not kill them. But when they step out of their natural habitat, every life is at risk. So let them stay at their home states, and graze their cows. Let their home governments supply them with land or colonies – if they consider it necessary. Cattle-rearing is a private activity and should not be cast as a national youth service scheme (NYSC). So far the army has not launched “Operation Praying Mantis Dance” against the rampaging, terrorist herdsmen. Yet you want one to lay a wreath to the Unknown Solder? Sorry pal, he is unknown to me. I only know the Unknown Farmer.
You are nodding? I understand! The real hero is the Unknown Farmer who was buried in Benue state. The innocent farmer who lies in honored glory in his hallowed grave. The Unknown Farmer who died defending his land and our freedom. The farmer and his family who were betrayed by the Government he voted for but they watered the tree of liberty with their blood. He may not have a tomb marked out on land. Never mind because he is eternally embalmed in our hearts, where we would lay a wreath for him, “Here lies in honored glory a farmer known but to God.”