The death of Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, nee Fasoranti, daughter of the leader of the Yoruba social-cultural group, Afenifere, penultimate week in the hands of alleged bandits, is one too many and should be the turning point in the resolution of this existential threat to different parts of the country. Although, as usually every case in this clime, politics seems to have overshadowed the substance of the issue as groups and persons are making all sorts of claims and counter claims which detract from the problem confronting the nation that is crying for answer.
The immediate challenge facing the nation is that we are all in danger and the future unity of the nation in doubt on account of the threat posed by a group of people who believe they own the country. Nigerians should be concerned with this development because nobody knows who the next victim may be and this is the time to address the issue one way or the other.
We are encouraged by the reactions that have trailed this dastardly act but the time of talking is over; what is needed now is action and concrete steps to end such senseless violence and waste of lives. We commend former president Obasanjo on his open letter to President Buhari which clearly defined the issues, and Prof. Wole Soyinka for speaking out so forcefully on this evil that now makes the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east seems like a child play.
The problem is not intractable as it seems but the challenge is the perception around it which suggests rightly or otherwise that government is indifferent to or tacitly supporting it, as there has not been effective attempt by leadership to deal with it since the problem snowballed in Benue state three years ago, and spread to other parts of the country especially in the Middle Belt region. As this article was being written another case of violence and killings in Enugu state was trending.
Coming in the wake of the suspension of the Ruga settlement policy, many people are inclined to link the two issues together and the levity with which government is responding – plenty of assurances but no action. This newspaper is worried that without deploying the political will to end this threat, the country may descend into anarchy of Hobbesian proportion.
According to Obasanjo, “The main issue is the poor management, or mismanagement, of diversity, which is one of our greatest and most important assets. As a result very onerous cloud is gathering, and rain of destruction, violence and disaster and disunity can only be the outcome. Nothing should be taken for granted anymore as the clock is ticking with the cacophony of dissatisfaction and disaffection. As Prof. Anya put it, ‘we can no longer say with certainty that we have a nation”. This is foreboding and ominous prognosis we believe.
This matter is straight forward and the attempt to distort its import and meaning by some northern elements and even government spokespersons is sheer sophistry and red-herring. It does not matter how we see it and the origin of the killers, or even their purpose; it is a crime and any crime is an act against the law and should be seen and treated as such.
There is no other way to objectively look at it; we cannot be using huge public resources to fight corruption when those who blatantly take human lives are ignored. As some people have argued we seem to place material things such as money and cattle above the sanctity of life. Nothing can be more primitive and barbaric than that; but it seems to be the impression government is creating by its posturing.
And it is worrisome because this perception could be the incentive and motivation for people to resort to self help since it appears government which exists to protect all of us is wittingly or unwittingly shirking that responsibility as a particular group of people are spreading the reign of terror across the nation with the rest of us at their mercy.
Compared with the heavy handed treatment given to the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, in 2017, over non violent resistance, which attracted a full military invasion with several casualties, what is happening with the threat from herdsmen and bandits is perplexing to even the politically neutral.
The prevailing perception that government is indulging them has reinforced the atmosphere of impunity and bias; government should not create the impression that a group, any group, can commit crimes and escape justice; it would be sowing the seed of future crisis and should not be permitted because it breaches the whole duty and essence of the existence of government and paves the path to anarchy. If the state fails in its obligation to protect life and property, it has wittingly or otherwise destroyed the basis of its existence and our nationhood.
There are a whole lot of issues and questions surrounding the problems and unless they are openly discussed and resolved, the future may be strewn with land mines which nobody can determine when they may explode. Why is government disarming other groups in the country except the herdsmen who are parading about with AK 47 rifles?
Why are the herdsmen rejecting the generally agreed option of ranching as a solution to the opening grazing practice that is at the root of the constant confrontation between them and farmers? Who are the owners of these cattle that have constituted a threat to national cohesion? What is the contribution of this business to national economy and development?
This newspaper believes that the death of Mrs. Olakunrin is the tipping point on this matter and the time has come to deal with it decisively without let or hindrance. Nobody or group should be stampeded into accepting any policy or action without an open and frank discussion of it by all those who will be affected by it.
Government should set up the machinery to bring the matter to public sphere for a resolution. All the subterfuge and clandestine moves to foist a group interest on the nation can only produce more suspicion and distrust, and harden feelings and sentiments. The outcome will be unpredictable and possibly resisted.
The slain Mrs. Olakunrin must not die in vain and the only way to ensure that is for government to rise up to its statutory responsibility of not only protecting life and property but bringing the full weight of the law on all acts of criminality wherever it occurs. This is the only way to immortalize her and to build a nation where all Nigerians are treated equally and the life of all is sacrosanct and safeguarded.