Sunday, 15 January 2017

National Peace Committee and Kaduna mayhem

IN the past few weeks, the mayhem in Southern Kaduna has dominated the news in a manner that clearly undermined Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s claims that he was on top of the situation.
If he lived in denial, and the federal government feigned absence of interest, other observers as well as victims and families directly affected by the crisis have been less ambiguous about the killings. They have wailed bitterly and insisted vehemently that the problem, which has led to the killing of hundreds of people and burning of houses and seizure of lands by Fulani herdsmen, was capable of fracturing the country. The state governor suggested that the problem would benefit from dialogue than the imposition of law and order, but later chose appeasement as his panacea. Then at various times, notable members of the political and traditional elites in the North had given various identities to the perpetrators of the pillage — implying anyone but Fulani herdsmen. Spade was no longer simply a spade.

Since the problem was not really abating but was instead morphing into the more volatile and cataclysmic religious cum ethnic mix, the federal government began mobilising security agencies to arrest the crisis. They pussyfooted for a long time, but at least they have begun to mobilise. Mallam el-Rufai himself has not been quite as vocal and cocksure on the matter as he was once. He is a little more mortified, more chastened by the unrelenting crisis and the indescribably high level of bloodletting. President Muhammadu Buhari was accused of maintaining an undignified silence. He has at least now spoken through his spokesmen and given orders for troops and policemen to deploy in the region, even if he still kept directly mute.

It is in fact the ad hoc National Peace Committee led by former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, that has given indication in recent days that someone out there still understands what should be done about the crisis. That the peace committee is mobilising late in the day is probably due to the fact that it was reluctant to upstage the pussyfooting government of the day. With members of the peace committee such as the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, who has admittedly waffled a lot about the identities of the perpetrators of the killings in Southern Kaduna, and the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, who often speaks unequivocally, it is not surprising that their years of experience in mediating crises are being brought to bear on the tragic conflict ravaging Southern Kaduna.

The Abdulsalami-led peace committee played a significant but perhaps unappreciated and unacknowledged role in ensuring the peaceful transfer of power from the Goodluck Jonathan presidency to the Muhammadu Buhari government. Everyone, including the president himself, has tended to openly acknowledge the role played by the United States of America, and especially its Secretary of State, John Kerry. But the reassurance given the loser by the peace committee in those uncertain days, not to say their back and forth between the two leading contestants, doubtless did more than any other thing to calm frayed nerves during that sultry election month in 2015. With the experience gained from mediating the looming stalemate in 2015 and the surefootedness it acquired from that exercise, the committee has announced exactly how it hopes to proceed in Southern Kaduna.

Said Gen Abdulsalami (retd.): “We are here due to the recent happenings in Southern Kaduna. And from here within the week, we are going to meet with other stakeholders, religious leaders, the chiefs in the area and also visit the site where these problems are and discuss with the people. After that we will sit down and see what we think should be done.

“Then we come back to the governor and also if necessary to the Federal Government. Considering that these clashes and killings are not only limited to Kaduna State, it is something that is engulfing the country. So we want to make sure that peace reigns in Nigeria, to make sure that people know that we are together. We have to live in peace with each other and we have what it is to give and take. We are reaching a situation in the country where human live doesn’t mean anything to people and this is wrong.

“There is no religion on earth or anywhere that preaches violence. So that is why we are here today. We thank the governor and his team for receiving us. One of the points that the governor drew our attention to is the way people take law into their hands and they go scot free. And this impunity must be checked. These are some of the issues we discussed.”

This approach, sadly, is what the federal government should have employed in tackling the crisis. But where the government was remiss in its responsibility, even believing belatedly that massive deployment of force could curb the problem, the peace committee has decided to step in with a more sensible paradigm. The country can only wish them success. Gen Abdulsalami indicated that the governor was bewildered by the way people engaged in self-help and got away with murder. For a governor that paid self-confessed killers to stay their murderous hands, it is not clear whether he was sincere in his observations or the head of the peace committee was giving him a make-over.

Whatever it was, the peace committee boasts far better antecedents than the federal government to qualify the ad hoc body as an impartial and better equipped arbiter, despite misgivings about the views of one or two members of the committee. It would be reassuring for the country should this peace team succeed in their onerous quest to secure an end to a conflict that was unwisely and perhaps prejudicially allowed to fester for too long.

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