Conspiracy theories are the palm oil of Nigeria’s politics. They give taste to falsehood, tension, fear and unrest. And often, they are ignorantly eaten, regurgitated and spewed by the unwary.
On December 11, 2013, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a caustic missive entitled, ‘Before it is too late’, searing former President Jonathan and his administration. He alleged that Jonathan was “clannish” and that he was promoting an Ijaw agenda. He also alleged that the immediate past president was arming militants, and that he had pencilled down 1000 people for crucifixion. Obasanjo surmised that Jonathan was training a special killer squad like that of Abacha which would dispatch political opponents to the place yonder.
Hear him: “…Allegation of keeping over 1000 people on political watch-list rather than criminal or security watch-list and training snipers and other armed personnel secretly and clandestinely acquiring weapons to match for political purposes like Abacha and training them where Abacha trained his own killers….”
“Mr. President would always remember that he was elected to maintain security for all Nigerians and protect them. And no one should prepare to kill or maim Nigerians for personal or political ambition or interest of anyone.”
Obasanjo’s conspiracy theory turned out to be a hoax of cataclysmic proportions. But it became evident that he conjured this ruse from his pouch of tricks for political reasons, and that it was deployed in the desperation to get Jonathan out of office.
Now, the former president says there is a subterranean plot to “Fulanise and Islamise” the whole of Nigeria. But is it not curious that he levelled similar allegations of promoting ethnicity and arming militants against the Jonathan administration?
One thing is clear, Nigeria is a deeply fractured country; so fractured that the ethnic group of the leadership and other nationalities will always be at one another’s jugular. In fact, there will always be recriminations and accusations of ethnic dominance for as long as the present unwieldy structure is propped up.
As a matter of fact, fears of ethnic dominance are as old as Nigeria’s politics. It was one of the reasons for the 1966 coup; it was one of the reasons for the pogroms in the north; it was one of the reasons for the civil war, and it is the reason for the groundswell of conspiracy theories today.
If tomorrow, there is a president of Igbo extraction; naturally, there will be accusations of “Igbonisation and Christianisation” of the whole country and institutions. This is how divided Nigeria is.
However, there have been crimes – kidnapping and banditry – perpetrated by some persons of Fulani extraction across the country. But sadly, this criminality has been shaded as the “invasion and expansionism agenda of the Fulani”.
Really, what has given voice to this flawed theory is the ethnicity of the current leadership of the country.
I think, it is injudicious to link these criminals to a grand plot of ethnic colonisation hatched by the government. However, I must admit, these suggestions have been enabled by the poor handling of the security challenge by the leadership.
By and large, as I said in my interview on Newsday on BBC World News Service, London, in January, the Fulani common folk have been largely abandoned on the fringes of society for so long. Some of them are without knowledge of government or any institution. How do we integrate them into society? How do we make them functional members of society? We cannot keep ignoring and stereotyping them? We must think Fulani and understand that all Nigerians matter. We will only kindle the fire if we keep spinning theories of hate and fear.
The Fulani herder who takes his cattle on a stroll in the field is not your enemy; your enemy are those who pit you against the herder, but sit in the national assembly raking in millions without making laws that will make the country workable.
––Fredrick Nwabufo, firstname.lastname@example.org.