“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; when the wicked… rule, the people mourn.” – Proverbs 29:2
General Muhammadu Buhari was elected president in 2015 essentially on the strength of his famed integrity, his disdain for corruption, his asceticism, and the belief that he would be a swinging rod of justice. Buhari’s associates and supporters still parrot the same qualities in their push to resell him for another term in 2019. It is unlikely if discerning Nigerians would again fall for the trick of buying what may be no more than a fake product. For three and a half years down the line of his presidency, Buhari has fed the tree of integrity with the waters of nepotism, he’s driven his anti-corruption battle tank with a tunnel vision, he’s dressed asceticism in the garb of hypocrisy, and he’s thrown the lamb of justice to the wolves of lawlessness. It’s apparent that the president had all along been adorned in stolen robes. As rivers of blood flow from the deserts of the northeast to the Benue valleys and the Plateau mountains; as a sea of tears sweeps through the Zamfara farm lands to the Kaduna plains; and as the federal capital Abuja boils in the cauldron of protests, the people mourn and groan and sigh.
For three days last week, the Shiites mourned; they mourned the killings of 46 of their members during the Arbaeen Symbolic trek, a three-day religious gathering and protest for the unconditional release of their leader, Sheik Ibraheem Zakzaky, detained since December 2015 despite several court orders authorizing his release. The sect’s spokesman Abdullahi Muhammad Musa accused the security forces of killing 46 mourners and protesters, injuring 107 others and leaving 1,000 unaccounted for. There were video clips on social media of soldiers shooting at protesters sporadically for nothing more than blocking the road. The military, and the police, have since justified their highhanded response to the Shiites protesters. It is indefensible, however, that so many protesters would be killed simply for throwing stones at security forces.
It is difficult to understand the continued detention, in the last three years, of Zakzaky, arrested after a confrontation of his followers with the convoy of the Army Chief, a confrontation resulting in the death of the cleric’s wife, son and hundreds of Shiite members. Despite repeated court orders, the Buhari administration has denied Zakzaky freedom in what is seen in my quarters as unhelpful persecution of Shia Muslims. Although the sect’s modus operandi has been problematic for successive administrations in the country partly because of their defiance of the institutions of state, and partly because of their non-recognition of the state itself, the former resulting from the latter, this administration’s resort to lawlessness would only end up worsening the situation. Or is the administration acting at the behest of Saudi Arabia, supported by the US, in what has become a global battle by the Sunni Muslims, championed by Riyadh, to crush the Shia Muslims, led by Iran? In, ‘The State Beyond El-Zakzaky’ (December 29 2015) this column had called for a different approach in handling the problem of the Shiites and the increasing abuse of religious freedom. Among others, I had argued that there should be some regulation to curtail the present unrestrained religious freedom, called for taxation of business ventures thriving on the platforms of religious organisations not only to improve revenue but also to subject religious leaders to state authority, and frowned at the politicization of religion and religionization of politics. My conclusions then are still valid today.
The bloodfest in Abuja was only one in a series of needless deaths in the country under Buhari’s watch. The people of Kaduna are still mourning some 55 persons killed in an ethno-religious crisis in Kasuwan Magani, and a traditional ruler kidnapped and murdered after even after paying a N10m ransom payment. The people of Benue State had serially mourned killings from rampaging herdsmen. Plateau State has been no less in mourning with hundreds killed in communal clashes arising from land disputes. Zamfara people have had more than their own share of mourning from the deadly activities of bandits and cattle rustlers. Mourning has taken a larger than life image in Borno State and some other areas in the northeast due to killings from incessant raids of Boko Haram terrorists whose capacity to commit havoc the administration had repeatedly claimed had long been degraded.
Those not mourning are groaning, yes, groaning from the pangs of hunger, and from the debilitating pains of poverty. Many businesses have closed down in the last three years, sending breadwinners out of jobs, and leaving them unable to pay for their accommodation or keep their children in school. The victims thereafter groan in depression sometimes leading to suicide. They groan as the temptations to commit crime pull at their apron strings. They groan as they burden their equally groaning relatives and friends with begging.
The rest of us can only sigh. We sigh at the in-your-face nepotism in the administration’s major appointees to critical offices. We sigh at the one-sided battle being waged on corruption. We sigh at the unseemly face of hypocrisy in high places. We sigh at the lawlessness in some state institutions, the impunity with which favoured appointees break the rules because they can. We sigh at the arrogance of those we had thought would treat us with compassion, at their refusal to talk to us while talking at us, at their distant stares at our complaints and cries, and at their contemptuous responses to our criticisms. Yes, we sigh!
In all this, we are comforted in the knowledge that the 2019 election is almost here. Soon, very soon, we’d move to cast our ballots. And when the movement of mourners sweeps away those who have been carrying on as if tomorrow would never come, and those who have been groaning gyrate in celebration, we’d be here to capture the transformation of stressed sighs to seductive smiles.
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It would then be Buhari’s turn to sigh!
By Eniola -Bello; [email protected]