By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
That officials of the Nigerian state have made the spurious claim that the gunmen who have unleashed a savage orgy of bloodletting and violence in many sections of the Nigerian federation are unknown, is a profound, if miserable contradiction in tragic terms. Ours is drama without a hero, of only villains in power, because there is no nobility of deeds to attract such elevated comprehension of the order if order of things we have. It is also a fundamental commentary on the question mark which currently defines and interrogates the existence of Nigeria made severe by the fatalistic detachment of the Presidency from the grim realities of everyday life in the country. But we are not surprised or shocked, not anymore. Our sensibilities have been so assaulted by official complicity in the nefarious that we now believe late Dele Giwa who proclaimed Nigeria as an ‘experiment on the impossible’.
The contradiction is heightened by the fact the incumbent Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a retired Army General, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, a man who once fought for the unity of Nigeria and who promised in 2015 to bring the raging insurgency to an end within a short time. Unfortunately, neither his antecedents nor his election promises have amounted to much in the aftermath of victory. These aside, our beloved but beleaguered country is the very definition of contradictions. Rulers as brigands, brigands as protectors of the State. How? For the reasons above, I have elected to proclaim The Unknown Gunman my Man of the Year!
The choice of the Unknown Gunman as Man of the Year was tragically easy for my one-man Editorial Board. Gory pictures of the brutally murdered always leap to my conscious and unconscious imagination each time I engage Social Media platforms. A governorship election in Anambra State was almost halted on account of the activities of the unknown gunmen. Imo State, and indeed the South-eastern states have witnessed high profile killings by gunmen. In the northern part of the country, gunmen have attacked serving and former state officials, with impunity. Retired Army generals have been slaughtered, men who survived the battlefield only to die in the hands of gunmen whom the State says are unknown.
Such serving Generals as Dzarma Zirikisu, Major General Hassan Ahmed former Provost Marshall of the Nigerian Army have lost their lives to unknown assassins. Retired Major General Mohammed Shuwa was murdered by Boko Haram scoundrels in November 2012. A former Chief of Defence Staff of Nigeria Air Chief Marshal Tony Badeh died from gunshot wounds after his vehicle was attacked by unknown gunmen along Abuja-Keffi Road in December 2018. Also, retired AVM Muhammed Maisaka was shot dead along with his grandson in Kaduna in November 2021. No credible security force allows killers of its senior officers to go unpunished. Undetected is outside the codes of engagement. While I was writing this essay, a news headline arrived on my smartphone: ‘Bandits Strike hard, kill, Abduct many DSS Operatives’. I have left out the names of high-profile civilians who have been killed.
Official perfidy and an egregious embrace of all that is odious with statehood and statesmanship have become the face of governance in Nigeria. Despicable and irascible as the late General Sanni Abacha was, his submission that ‘if insurgence lasted for more than 24 hours hold the government in power responsible’ has come to confront us as we grapple with that which is, but which the government denies: the active presence of terrorists in the land in the character and modus operandi of Boko Haram and the notorious Fulani herdsmen. This denial is invariably associated with the President’s perceived reluctance to take decisive actions against his kith and kin. Some of this have to do with President Buhari’s antecedents in his days as a candidate for the Number One seat in the polity! His declaration that actions against Boko Haram were palpably anti-north has come to haunt him in a most brutal manner.
This then is our dilemma or the dilemma of the President and the security forces in the land. To know that herdsmen and Boko Haram are a threat to the polity, that these have been given an ethnic colouration, that the security architecture currently dominated by one region gives room for suspicion. Yet, ironically, the northern part of the country suffers the devastating impact of banditry and kidnappings more than the south. Kaduna, Katsina, Borno, Niger, and Zamfara States have been virtually turned into a special den of criminality, with some areas under the unofficial control of non-state actors. Professor Usman Yusuf writes that ‘Sabon Birni, Isa, Goronyo, Illela and Wurno LGAs in the eastern part of Sokoto State are now under the control of a notorious bandit called Bello Turji’.
This along with other factors has led to the ‘North is Bleeding’ protests that rocked some states and Abuja in the month of December, highlighted by the active participation of the sister of northern establishment poster-girl Kadaira Ahmed, Zainab Ahmed. Poignantly, the protesters declared: ‘We are here to tell the government to secure our lives. We bury hundreds of people on a daily basis yet there is no action, not even a sorry from our leaders. We are here because we are angry. Because we are children of Baba Buhari. We called on our followers to vote for Buhari in 2019 for the next level and this next level is killing us. We are dying, this is not what we voted for’. Abuja-Kaduna Road is a near-certain death trap for travellers! In December 2021 just before the President visited Maiduguri to commission projects, ISWAP launched missiles into the city to send a strong message!
The narrative of woe is not any different in the south. Aside from the federal troops’ onslaught in the South-eastern states, there are unexplained killings of traditional rulers, businessmen, politicians, and ordinary citizens. On Mondays, business life is paralysed on the orders of the proscribed IPOB which has proved to be the de facto government in the region. Police posts and stations have been attacked by unknown gunmen with the police recording a high casualty rate. In Delta and Edo States, Fulani herdsmen, ensconced in the deep forests, sometimes with local collaborators routinely seize wayfaring citizens and collect ransoms. Too many people have lost their lives to random shootings from these known yet unknown criminals between Sagamu and Asaba, and between Benin and Auchi. How did we degenerate into this chaotic geographical space that once held great promise for the continent of Africa?
It is inconceivable to anybody who has a passing knowledge of the sociology of criminality to believe that unknown gunmen can operate in a country for twelve months or more without being known or detected. There is the suggestion of official complicity. There is a lie, a big lie out there, an offensive and rude one. There is denial. A wicked reluctance to express the obvious. This denial is official criminality. It is irresponsible. It offends the collective notion and Constitutional obligation of the State versus security for the citizens who elected officials to various offices.
By default, and by design, we, that is, the Nigerian State created the Unknown Gunman. He has emerged from the ashes of official plundering of State resources. The resources are controlled by a few who have had access to political power. How do we explain the humongous sums that have been traced to individual accounts while the nation suffers a disgraceful infrastructure deficit? If non-state actors could not gain access to wealth, was it not inevitable for the Unknown Gunman to arise? In plain terms, State capture by insensitive rulers has created the monster of the Unknown Gunman. Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu are variants or activist symptoms of the Gunman virus. Added to this is the rise of fundamentalists whose defeat in Libya, Syria and other parts of the Middle East has created a diffusion of forces to Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.
The Unknown Gunman lives with us, and is from us, and is us. The bandit lives with us. The savage herdsman lives with us. There are foreign elements, yes, foreign elements among the herdsmen who had been imported for political reasons as explained by some angry politicians. The incumbent government’s policy of accommodating strange elements from across the borders on account of ethnic affiliation is our undoing. They created a monster. The monster has grown beyond them. They are now eating up the flesh of innocent Nigerians for breakfast. The Unknown Gunman is the legacy of failed governments in Nigeria. It is not Buhari. Not Goodluck Jonathan. It is a collective failure of all past governments. It is the failure of the people who compromise their votes for a mess of the proverbial pottage.
The Unknown Gunman, therefore, is my Man of the Year. The rapacious phenomenon has produced the rapacious Nigerian that was once hidden in the dark recesses of the nation. The federal government is complicit. The state governments, except Rivers and Benue, have been bullied into acquiescence. The federal system is in breach in practice. It exists only in notion. The federal government is an accomplice to the Unknown Gunman. Metaphorically, the federal government is an Unknown Gunman waiting to be unmasked. Hand in hand, the federal government and some gun-toting scoundrels have decimated lives, truncated dreams, traumatized millions, and seized our liberties.
If 2023 elections will be free and fair, the Unknown Gunman will stand no chance of entering Government House at the national or regional or state level. That would be our only opportunity to save Nigeria from the vagrants who now hold the nation’s jugular as bandits, herdsmen, kidnappers, policymakers, and security personnel!
*Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha, University of Lagos
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