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Pulse Opinion The politics of tragedy in Nigeria is a harmful distraction

Nigerians need to learn to stop getting distracted by selfish agendas in the face of tragedies.

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The politics of tragedy in Nigeria is a damaging distraction play Pall bearers carry coffins during a funeral service in January for people killed during attacks carried out by cattle herders in Benue state (AFP)
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When the first waves of attack by Fulani herdsmen hit Benue State in the early days of January 2018, more than a few people were killed in the most brutal fashion.

In attacks carried out between December 31, 2017, and January 6, 2018, at least 73 people were confirmed dead and buried in a government-funded mass burial on January 11.

Since then, several other attacks have been launched and a few more people have died in a security crisis that continues to unfold in the most unfortunate ways.

Despite the outrage at the severity of the crisis and the high human casualty it has caused, something much less important has been more prominent in the discourse: politics.

President Muhammadu Buhari is a Fulani man from Daura in Katsina State, and it didn't take long for anyone to draw the conclusion that his ethnic connection to the set of alleged killers largely held responsible for the crisis is why it is still a crisis.

Killer herdsmen will be fished out and prosecuted - Buhari vows play

President Muhammadu Buhari

(The Presidency)

 

Since this onslaught commenced in January, the presidency has had to stave off waves and waves of damaging accusations about how President Buhari is tolerating the killings based on his ethnic sympathies with the killers.

The president has done himself no favours by not taking a more physical interest in the tragedy by, for instance, paying a long due visit to Benue.

This is why when he visited Nasarawa State to commission projects on Tuesday, February 6, it was easy for the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to accuse him of using the trip as a cover to sympathise with cattle herders who had lost cows a few days earlier.

Despite how preposterous that theory sounds (it really does make no sense), the president's body language is the reason anyone would think that sort of story could fly.

PDP governors, Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti and Nyesom Wike of Rivers State have paid visits to Benue this week to commiserate with Governor Samuel Ortom and use the opportunity to attack President Buhari's poor handling of the crisis.

PDP lawmaker, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, even wondered aloud on his Twitter account why Ortom had not jumped ship to the PDP yet since they are the only ones who seemed to care.

 

For Nigerians, the politicisation of a tragedy is nothing new.

We have been here before

Before Buhari was president, the uneasy head that wore the crown was Goodluck Jonathan, and it wasn't so much fun.

The former president's handling of terrorist group, Boko Haram, did his administration's reputation no favours.

Much of that could be blamed on his administration's penchant for focusing on the political manoeuvrings that might have been at play in the group's activities.

The more people were killed in dastardly attacks by the terrorist group, the more his administration leaned on the conclusion that it was a political ploy to discredit and dethrone him.

This unfortunate perception of the terrorist group is chiefly responsible for his abysmal reaction to the infamous abduction of the Chibok Girls.

When Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, the instinctive reaction was not to attempt an immediate rescue, it was to probe the veracity of the incident.

This resulted in the very public meltdown of then-First Lady, Patience Jonathan, who took centre stage as Investigator-in-Chief in what should have been a military matter and embarrassed the nation with her histrionics.

Nearly four years later, and 112 of those girls remain captives with their oppressors who have married most, if not all, of them.

Despite the inappropriateness of the government itself politicising a crisis with human casualties, it wasn't just them engaging in the act back then.

In fact, President Buhari, then a candidate, used Boko Haram, and the definite return of the girls as a tool to aid his victory at the polls.

 

Every Boko Haram attack didn't just stir his sympathy for the victims but came with proclamations of how it would not have happened if he was president.

When the Federal Government postponed the 2015 general elections for a few weeks to shore up security and prevent further loss of lives in Boko Haram-ravaged areas, Buhari termed it as a political move and even said, "What is Boko Haram?" in annoyance.

Despite his solidarity with the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) advocacy group before he was elected, he has turned around to treat the group with disdain as his administration has more or less described the group and its leader, Oby Ezekwesili, as a political tool to discredit it.

It's a familiar tune that Jonathan's government also sang when the group was demanding his administration stand to its responsibilities and bring all the girls back home.

Nigeria's culture of politicising tragedies recognises no bounds.

Distractions from real issues

One of the biggest controversies to emerge from the Benue crisis is the plan by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to build cattle colonies for herdsmen and stem clashes between them and farmers.

While the plan has untold flaws that might create future problems, it has been largely derided for mainly political reasons; the prominent one being the theory that it is an attempt by Fulanis to take over the entire country as the colonies will serve as sleeper communities for a planned colonisation of other Nigerians.

The intense urge by opposition parties and Nigerians to go overboard with the politicising of the massacres in Benue and Taraba is the reason a lot of important details get lost in the conversation.

Details like the fact that herdsmen were tagged the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world in 2014, before Buhari; or details like the 45 Fulani women and children butchered to death by a militia in Numan, Adamawa in 2017; or details like the over 100 Fulanis reportedly killed in attacks allegedly orchestrated by a local government chairman in Sardauna LGA, Taraba.

Basically, details that might suggest the crisis is more complicated than is being painted or didn't start when or because Buhari is president.

To politicise or not?

Politicising an issue of national interest is not necessarily a bad idea, as long as it is not a mean-spirited attempt to push some selfish agenda that's not to the benefit of solving the problem.

However, the events that have unfolded over the current crisis in Benue have shown that this is not the case, at least not for all parties involved.

The crisis has devolved into a finger-pointing exercise that has created a hostile environment for progressive talks and productive solutions.

So much has been lost in translation because the important actors in the tragedy have taken their eyes off the ball and created room for mudslinging.

It is why Governor Ortom has been in a public war of words with the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, over the best way to move forward.

It's also the reason the Police Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, can flippantly call the governor a 'drowning man' on national television and make a wild claim about the prospect of state policing.

Unnecessarily making mountains out of molehills is a practice that selfish politicians and people of interest have been able to get away with for years in Nigeria.

However, in the end, Nigerians must learn to stay on course with the real issues and refuse to be distracted by unscrupulous acts that do not serve the greater purpose of moving the country forward.

When this is done, victims stop being just statistics in tragedies; their deaths or injuries matter, and no one should be allowed to make that the least important thing during a tragedy.

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