By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah.
There is a conspiracy of silence about the recent happenings in villages around Numan in Adamawa State of Nigeria. As a farmer was gathering his harvest of corn, a gun- carrying herdsman felt the harvest was good dessert for his cattle.
The argument that followed led to the killing of the farmer and his brother. The farmer’s angry kinsmen in retaliation killed innocent people, purportedly relations of the killer herdsman at their nearby hamlet. This caught the news and drew the ire of the herdsman’s elite kinsmen who made comments this writer can’t comment on.
The nation’s number one policeman was unprecedentedly soon at the scene as well as the representative of the army chief and the State Governor himself.
Few days after, several policemen were killed trying to disperse a gathering ethnic militia. The militia regrouped a few days after at a contiguous local government area, numbering hundreds and came to attack the communities around the epicenter of the original conflict.
A battle ensued and helicopters dropped bombs on houses at Dong, a village in Demsa local government area of Adamawa state. It was later discovered that some of the militia were foreign mercenaries from several African countries.
The nation’s number two person visited the scene to assess the situation and calm nerves while the President was away in Kano pardoning prisoners.
As we lick our wounds (physical and mental), mourn our deaths (especially the innocent on both sides) and count our material losses (the index harvest, cows, bomb-ravaged houses), many questions come to mind.
Given the number, multiple nationalities of the vengeful militia and their speed of revenge, was the initial destruction of the late farmer’s crops an incendiary striking of a matchstick to cause a planned inferno? How related were the comments and actions of the Numan elders and the herdsmen’s elites to the massive attack? Why has the media been generally silent? Has the government commenced any conciliatory efforts? Were the bombings deliberate or friendly fire/tactical mistakes? Have human rights crusaders investigated this incident?
An uncomfortable rehashing of the last four questions is whether or not we are dealing with a clear polarization of these stakeholders or their sheer ineptitude.
Let’s start with the Air Force. There can be no argument about the commendable role they have been playing in maintaining national security. But was it the Nigeria Air Force or a foreign one that threw bombs at Dong? If it was the NAF, were they neutral, trying to scare the fighting sides? If so, why were their targets the houses of the locals? Or were they polarized and outrightly fighting the locals? And if it was a mistake/friendly fire, why multiple bombings, again targeting houses of locals? A mistake will mean ineptitude, if we consider the frequency. The same NAF took planes, flew over an IDP camp with thousands of people and threw a bomb on them, killing scores of them recently in the same northeast and said it was a mistake. We will refrain from asking embarrassing questions about the quality of their training.
Next is the government. To its credit, the government has sent troops to Numan but good as that is that alone has seemed to be its wittiest move always. So far in this country, hardly has any ethnic conflict been brought to a logical reconciliatory conclusion were a forum is created for stakeholders to meet, raise tempers and vent angers so as to calm down, embrace and decide to calm their people. Once fighting is over, the uneasy calm is left to linger and solidify as hard animosity for one another: they are waiting for the slightest provocation.
They now even know that hardly will any culprit be punished. They feel once you are cheated, you remain cheated so they will not forgive but retaliate (a reputation some people are even proud of). It appears that given the seemingly complex nature of the conflicts, the government is at a loss as to what it should do. Ineptitude. On the other hand, those in government sometimes keep quiet because their kinsmen are involved. Polarization.
In Nigeria, investigative journalism seemed to have sprouted some decades ago but has been stunted by ineptitude and polarization. You read stories that are not balanced, reporting from one side only. We may never know the truth about so many events in our society because hardly do journalists take pains to dig further. The media should have been awash with different angles of the Numan story as a product of independent in-depth researches by reporters. This has not happened. They reported the little they were fed with. How will people ever know the truth? The ineptitude of journalists is hydra-headed, sometimes even capped by grammatical errors, so much so that one has to sometimes listen to news with children so as to correct such errors. On the other hand, some of us have to read at least two dailies usually biasly tilted to opposing sides to get a glimpse of the truth and a sense of balance. A third, compounding factor, greed, robs us of factual, detailed reporting by journalists. The details are too shameful to explore.
Polarization and especially ineptitude also plays out in the activities of the civil society. Heads of organisations, polarized in their beliefs and regional inclinations decide on where and on what to raise their voices on. So far, they use insecurity as an excuse. This is a show of ineptitude because the insecurity in Nigeria has been there continuously for a decade in recent times and innovation and ingenuity as opposed to ineptitude should have made them devise means of getting information. Little wonder, then, that the Numan incidence has hardly had any civil society voice bringing it to limelight. Even for international organisations, it appears that the do-in-Rome-as-the-Romans-do thing has caught on.
Players and stakeholders in the Numan crisis have fallen short of what is expected of them. Questions should be asked and detailed answers extracted especially to the use of areal force and mercenaries from foreign nations. A mechanism should be set up to begin a lasting process of reconciliation because the parties here will not just back down. Half-hearted attempts, for reasons of polarity or ineptitude will not suffice. It may be Numan today but tomorrow it sure will be somewhere else. Just as some Nigerians say, we must not recycle our problems year in year out.
●●Dah is an Abuja-based medical practitioner and sent this via firstname.lastname@example.org