Early 2005, while in graduate school, a Singaporean classmate and I decided to go to the cinema to unwind. We settled for Hotel Rwanda, the film starring Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo who both acted Paul Rusesabagina and his wife in a true life story of the Rwandan genocide where nearly one million Rwandans lost their lives in less than 100 days in clashes between Hutus and Tutsis. It shook us to the bone.
The eerie silence that enveloped the cinema that evening left many in the audience teary-eyed. It was a sombre feeling, the other moments I ever felt like that were at the Holocaust Remembrance Centre, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, Israel and the Point of No Return in Gberefu Island, Badagry, where slaves waited before boarding the ships that take them to unknown destinations. After the film ended, my friend and I waited a little bit before exiting discussing what really happened in Rwanda, a decade earlier as at then.
It was at that moment another classmate walked by, she had seen the movie too and she pointedly asked me, “Wale, why did you allow this to happen? What did Africa do?” As a person from the Caribbean, her pain on issues affecting the motherland is understandable but I could not understand how she thought one person alone could carry the burden of an entire continent. Good enough that Rwanda has emerged stronger and more united from the ashes of that ethnic cleansing.
But I wouldn’t want to be accused of doing nothing again in future as our country walks on a precipice with the happenings in Benue State and that’s why this warning is necessary. Last week was bad, particularly bad, as worship places became the latest theatre in the cauldron of war going on in the state. Seemingly, governments at all levels appear to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence and inaction to offer help or succor to those being decimated. While the perennial conflict has been framed in the herdsmen-farmers narrative, it appears that we have more than the usual binary actors in the massacre going on in Benue. We’re sitting on a precipice and gradually we are marching to Kigali if we are not careful and it’s doubtful if our country can survive a Rwanda-like experience. From the withdrawal of soldiers involved in Exercise Ayem A’Kpatuma or Operation Cat-Race launched on February 7, to the insensitive holiday in China of the state governor who had to come home last week, and the apparent lassitude of our president to the Benue massacre, governments have failed the people of Benue.
Pray, what do we tell the people of Tse Umenger, Mbakpaase and Tse Ali Agundu in Guma local government of Benue who lost, at the last count, 34 people last week? What could be more devastating for a group of people who while praying to their God became cannon fodder in the ongoing war? A senior colleague in his 60s called me last week asking some rhetorical questions. And since much of our public discussion is still sadly classified on where one stood in the 2015 presidential election, it is noteworthy to add that he is a Buhari aficionado. Long before the president became the darling he was three years ago, he has always voted for him and will tell all of us who are close to him that he supported him. He asked, “Why is Buhari so detached from all these killings? Why is he so cold and seemingly unperturbed at lives being lost?” I had no clear answers for him, as one is not close to the president to gauge his mind on the killings. We can only infer from afar based on the president’s actions and inactions.
From the admittance publicly that he did not know that the inspector general of police refused to heed his instruction to move down to Benue State and the extension granted the service chiefs even in the face of their lackadaisical performance and the president’s unwillingness to appoint new ones with the fact that he decided to go to Bauchi State on a routine visit without any fundamental reason, one might not be far off the mark by concluding that our president does not care about the crisis in Benue. Regular issuance of statements condemning another round of killings cannot assuage citizens’ feeling of helplessness and abandonment. A recent report on the fate of internally displaced persons in Benue will melt even the stony hearted. Beyond a vote of no confidence on the service chiefs recently and an earlier one by the House of Representatives, it is doubtful if the national assembly is bothered too much about Benue as well.
Regrettably, Theophilus Danjuma’s words are getting truer daily. Citizens are left with no option but defending themselves. If those of us who are unaffected think we are safe, we should think again and prevail on our government to be more serious in tackling the menace. To paraphrase Harry Truman, a former American president, the buck surely stops on President Buhari’s table, here is hoping that he will do more and halt our march to Kigali.