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Whiff of old Lebanon

At the height of the Lebanese civil war in 1982, compounded by that year’s Israeli invasion of the country, the conservative Newsweek magazine columnist George F. Will wrote that “Lebanon is the state of nature that Hobbes had in mind; everything against everything.” He said Lebanon had a National Army, 16 assorted militia including Sunni, Shiite, Druze, Phalangist and Maronite Christian; many PLO factions including Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], Ahmed Jubril’s PFLP General Command and Abu Dawud’s Black September; 75,000 Syrian troops in the Bekaa Valley, 60,000 Israeli invaders and 1200 American Marines at Beirut airport. 

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In that situation, Will quoted the Lebanese Prime Minister as saying the US government assured him that it will continue to maintain Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. George Will wrote, “Oh? How can you maintain something that does not exist?” Addressing a security summit in Kaduna last week, the Police Inspector General promised to maintain peace and security in Nigeria. I wondered, “Oh? How can you maintain something that does not exist?” Nigeria is not yet near the Hobbesian ideal but criminals appear to have parcelled out this country into fiefs. 

Two feuding factions of Boko Haram roam in one corner, one of them loyal to ISIS, snatching schoolgirls on the go. Cattle rustlers roam freely in several states, turning every forest into a rustlers’ fortress. Deadly cattle herdsmen pick and choose which villages to visit with “reprisal attack” far out of proportion to the offence. On the Mambilla Plateau, Mambilla tribal militiamen kill cattle ranchers by the dozen. In more flat Taraba country, many inter-ethnic conflicts are still raging on. Kidnappers are having a field day on Nigerian highways and where the police chase them off the highways they walk into towns, seize people and demand for ransom. In Zamfara last week, we had a rare cause for celebration when police paraded the decomposing corpse of top rural bandit Buharin Daji through the streets of Gusau. Residents flocked to the streets and cursed the corpse. In many other Nigerian states, cultists, ritual murderers, pirates, pipeline vandals, fake medicine hawkers and clinics for harvesting unwanted teenage pregnancies abound. 

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Two things made me to think about this matter at the weekend. President Buhari is expected to resume his swing tour of troubled states this morning with a visit to Benue. This is the stop in the itinerary that displeases Buhari the most.  The second issue that prompted me was former President Obasanjo’s “condolence” visit to Benue at the weekend, designed to upstage Buhari’s visit. Buhari was prodded by public pressure to undertake a national tour that he has avoided since he returned to power in 2015. In the olden days, every new governor or head of state quickly undertook a tour of his entire domain. 

Unlike these days when the president arrives a state in the morning and departs in the afternoon, presidential visits in the olden days used to be protracted and deeply engaging affairs. In 1974 General Yakubu Gowon visited the North Western State for ten days; as schoolchildren we lined up the routes to welcome him. He visited every Division in the state. When he returned to Sokoto, police outriders in his convoy who were lodged in our school dormitory told us they had not had a bath in ten days. Not just heads of state; in those days governors too used to exchange state visits. In 1975 Military Governor of South Eastern State Colonel Udo Jacob Esuene paid a one week visit to North Central State. Every day New Nigerian newspaper published colourful pictures of the visit. 

Not that Buhari did not know this tradition. When he took over as military head of state in 1983 he undertook a quick tour of the four Army Divisions and addressed soldiers at the parade ground. Much later he undertook a tour of states.  This time around he has visited few states, maybe because the states are numerous now. My fear is that his planned visit to six states could degenerate into a nation-wide tour because many other states had insecurity incidents that merit a presidential sympathy visit. 

Lagos State for example deserves a visit and commiseration over billionaire kidnapper Evans. Anambra deserves a visit over last November’s Ozubulu church killings. Niger deserves a visit over the kidnap of a traditional ruler. Kebbi deserves a visit over the canoe accident on the River Niger that killed scores of people. Bauchi deserves a visit over the 20 students killed in a car crash. Kaduna deserves another visit over the killings at Kasuwar Magani and Akwa Ibom deserves a visit over last year’s collapse of an uncompleted church building in which Governor Udom Emmanuel barely escaped with his life. Edo too deserves a visit to commiserate with it over the ill treatment of many of its citizens in Libya. 

Beyond one belated and one mischievous sympathy visits, I was wondering, what will stop incessant killings in Nigeria? Nigerian criminals do not have the slightest regard for human life. Obasanjo said in Maiduguri last week that one solution is education; that there would have been no Boko Haram if the North East had attained the South West’s level of education. Knowing Obasanjo as we do, this was not just a cultural brag. Education will certainly reduce the pool of people available for recruitment into a misguided pseudo-religious cult. The Boko Haram doctrine that anyone who does not join their ranks should be killed sounds silly and illogical to most Western educated persons. Apart from education, religion and the security forces are two other possible tools that could stem senseless killings in Nigeria.

But can they? Reflecting on the confusion in Lebanon, George Will said it could have been avoided in one of three ways: democratic accommodation as in Belgium; authoritarianism as in Yugoslavia or “outright despotism as in the Soviet Union.” [As a young Communist in those days, I rejected description of the USSR as despotic].  Will however said Lebanon could not aspire to any of the three solutions because it lacked the necessary conditions. My fear today is that neither education, nor the clergy and not even the security forces could save us from senseless killings.

If only the police have the ability to apprehend every culprit who commits a crime, killings will immediately reduce. The police often say they are short of men but they are not making good use of modern technology. For example, causing a long queue of vehicles on the highway only for a policeman to peep into each car appears to me to be the height of folly. Years ago when military checkpoints dotted every highway in the North due to Boko Haram, I witnessed a situation just outside Gusau when soldiers stopped a trailer full of cement and wanted to search it for weapons. It was only a suspicion because they did not have any gadget that gave them that indication. The truck blocked the path for other motorists and it could not even reverse because hundreds of vehicles had massed behind it. There was no way the soldiers could unload 600 bags of cement in that bush. 

Nor is the situation helped by the conduct of other law authorities. For example, the bail granted to accused husband killer Maryam Sanda last Friday, only for her to throw a lavish birthday party for her daughter the next day and splash the photos on Facebook was the height of insensitivity and the worst possible message to would be killers. Just like George Will said of Lebanon in those days, Nigeria too cannot aspire to an educational, clerical or security force solution to incessant killings anytime soon. We might have to make do with sympathy visits, some belated, some mischievous.


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