Benue Killings: The Unhealthy Narrative 

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By Francis Ulal Damina

The recent killings in Benue state, like those of southern Kaduna, Taraba, and Plateau states in the middle belt, have generated a plethora of reactions largely from the point of view of religion. The reactions which explicitly appear to send a signal that the lines for a religious war have just been drawn, reminds me of several attempts in the last few years by the indefatigable Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Catholic Diocese to sterilize the extremely corrosive views of some religious cum political leaders who have been preaching about a plan to Islamize Nigeria.

In moments like this, rather than rallying around to find solution to our challenges by emphasizing on the things that unite us, all they do is  feasting on the rot by creating and emphasizing on some false narratives against the backdrop of what Dan Agbese referred to as “…two of the nation’s fault lines – religion and ethnicity”, to lubricate their parochial interests as well as attract the attention of their foreign donors who are drunk with the zeal to increase the frontiers of God’s empire. According to Agbese, “these two faut lines have had the same disastrous pull on the society.”

Before Agbese, Bishop Kukah had opened my eyes in two submissions he made. The first was in a piece he did supposedly in defence of the then General Muhammadu Buhari when the General was accused of asking Muslims to vote for only Muslims in the then forthcoming 2005 elections. There was, in the words of the Bishop himself, name-calling, bashing, brickbat throwing, sabre rattling and so on, while politicians from both sides anxious for capital and advantage were throwing there lot in any direction that favoured them.

And since truth comes before fellowship, the Bishop, at the onset of this piece, said: “I know that many readers who have rather made up their minds and would rather remain in their laagers, will accuse me of blindly supporting the General, pandering to the North, or even trivializing what they consider to be a serious issue. It might also be said that the General may have settled me, as is common with us whenever anyone dares to beat a track away from the popular and wide road tarred with prejudice. They would wonder why I have broken ranks with my own tribe when all Christians ought to have stood on one side.”

Yes, anyone who is familiar with His Lordship knows that he bows to facts and not to intimidation or to the recent best-selling conventional wisdom and groupthink deliberately anchored around the two fault lines. The beauty of the submission was at the climax where he noted: a) A nation with the attendant characteristics of poverty, squalor, illiteracy, hunger and want, sees its population weakened and reduced to servitude and indignity. The citizens gradually fall back on patrons who then use the condition of their so-called constituency to engineer discontent by raising the volume of the people’s condition.
b) The patron (he is usually a male, a chief, a fake appellation of Dr. and a fake sir – all titles he garners to compensate for his semiliterate and modest credentials) is not so much concerned about the welfare of his people, for he requires that existing condition as a grazing field to satisfy his personal ambition and hold unto power.
c) The patron then invests an identity for his people and builds a brick wall to stop them from both realizing their conditions and negotiating with others in the larger society who may share their depressing conditions.
d) Unknown to those these patrons claim to represent, they only have the interests of both themselves and their children in mind. The people fail to see that they have time now because all their children have been ferried to the best schools. Yet, there is the tendency of setting one group against the other when the conditions of poverty are explained away on the claims that our conditions are miserable because the North/Muslims have cornered power, the Yoruba’s have cornered the economy or the Ndigbo have cornered the bureaucracy.

The second submission was in a letter he dropped at the height of Boko Haram killings that was interpreted by some religious leaders to mean Jihad in 2012. In the letter entitled: “Be Still and Know That I Am God (PS 46:10), Kukah descended hard on his colleagues in the theocratic class. After citing examples of killings and burning of churches that were carried out by fellow Christians themselves disguising as either Muslims or Boko Haram, the Bishop said: “Rather than rallying our people, some of our religious leaders have resorted to divisive utterances, wild allegations and insinuations against fellow adherents of other religions. In the last five or so days, text messages have been circulating across the country appealing to some of our worst demons. We must condemn this for what it is; a grand design by enemies within our folds who are determined to destroy our country. Whatever they may call themselves, they are neither true Christians nor Muslims.”

As the debate on how to end the insecurity in country ensues, there is need for us to be cautious of some religious cum political leaders who are the real problem of this country. They will, in moments like this, not hesitate to make capital by dragging our gullible citizens into believing that we are finally here because a particular religion intends to take over the architecture of this country. But this is not about how to obey God and go to heaven. It is about the struggle to survive in a plural society that has no insurance for its citizens.

And while we advocate for genuine prayers and solidarity from all men and women of goodwill for our country, the president must be seen to be a Father to all. He must be able to now see the handwriting on the wall that there is so much hardship enthroned by the injustices facilitated not by him, but by the holy sinners around him who are his acolytes. It was this same holy sinners that the Kaduna state Governor Malam Nasir Elrufai, in a leaked memo, told the president about last year.
As an admirer of the president who was invited to work for him at the Buhari Support Organizations then, I feel it is time for him to swing into action by getting rid of this cabal. And this is not about the next elections. It is rather about where history will sooner than later categorize a former president Muhammad Buhari both in libraries and in the hearts and minds of generations to come. May the precious souls of those innocent citizens rest in peace.

–Damina, a student of Religion and Society, wrote via francisdamina