The November 28 massacre of over 43 rice farmers in Zabarmari, Borno State, by Boko Haram terrorists, speaks to a fundamental state failure, impossible to be further garbed in pretentiously respectable robes, writes Louis Achi
“What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
– Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
In terms of sheer malevolent messaging intent, the Zabarmari massacre takes the cake in the bloody laundry list of the terrorist Boko Haram’s over decade-long depredations. Here is why.
Expansion in rice acreage, rises in rice yield, and multiple cropping have powered flourishing civilizations in Asia and Africa. The lowly swamp plant has provided the impetus for accelerated progress in national economies, cultural improvements, and population increases in many Afro-Asian countries during the past two millennia.
In effect, rice is synonymous with life and any threat to its cultivation and harvest – especially in Nigeria – bespeaks death in its starkest interpretation. Hence the most basic message from the Zabarmari annihilation by the Boko Haram is that – ‘we’ve got you by the jugular.’
More, the importance attached to production of the crop made it a key flagship project of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. This policy footing drove the transformation of Nigeria from being the world’s second largest rice importer some years back, to becoming the largest rice producer in Africa. This was the outcome of robust collaboration between the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in their quest to drastically reduce the country’s huge import bill.
Astute observers would not have failed to notice that extensive flooding in the North West earlier in the year destroyed thousands of hectares of rice, and food prices rose substantially in 2020 mainly due to insecurity in food-producing regions.
But by bloodying the lilting poetic cadence of the town’s name – Zabarmari – with a single gory strike that the nation’s security intelligence could not foresee – wiping out innocent rice farmers – the Boko Haram terrorists have simply and disdainfully laughed in the face of Buhari.
That the overburdened Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, told the BBC on Monday that the slain farmers did not secure military clearance to go to the farm hardly enlightened the fundamental issues.
His words: “Much of those areas have been liberated from Boko Haram terrorists but there are a number of spaces that have not been cleared for the return of villagers, who have been displaced. So, ideally, all of these places ought to pass the test of military clearances before farmers or settlers resume activities on those fields.”
It was important that Shehu clarified his statement later and reassured Nigerians that he was not blaming the victims.
Strangely, many miss the point that in the indescribable pain of the rice farmers whose lifeblood drained from savagely slit throats, the unbelievably diminished meaning and dream of the Nigerian state also dies.
It’s worth recalling that Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former president of France, who incidentally died at 94, four days after the Zabarmari massacre, had counselled statesmen and world leaders that, “There can be no response to history without effort.” d’Estaing was born in the First World War and saw action in World War 2.
An unwillingness or incapacity to respond to the peculiar history of the Nigerian state has apparently, effectively hobbled the Buhari presidency. The overarching constitutional mandate of protecting the lives and property of citizens has been violated with consequences probably made impossible by blind regime loyalty to the extant quirky structures of the state.
According to former Borno State governor, Senator Shetima, who spoke at plenary, “Last weekend’s beheading happened about 20 kilometers from Maiduguri. Boko Haram insurgents are virtually ruling all our rural areas. They kill and abduct people at will. They’re targeting farmers and this will create hunger in the North. Government officials keep saying that Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated’. This claim is not true.”
Several brazen killings and abductions of innocent citizens by bandits in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna States speak to the same existential quandary. Even the governor of Katsina State, the president’s home state, has expressed similar sentiment following several killings and kidnaps.
Out of understandable exasperation, Professor Babagana Zulum, the plucky scientist and Borno State governor, has urged the federal government to quickly engage mercenaries to fight the Boko Haram insurgents. The underlying message here is hardly missed by close observers of the unfolding tragedy.
Following the Zabarmari massacre, so many angles have taken the field – from the security agencies, important stakeholders to the presidency and the national parliament. So much movement – but where is the motion? Beyond the quirky blame-game footing, specific, audacious action is needed to retrieve Nigeria.
In a poignant observation at the turn of national events, erudite economist and scholar, late Dr. Pius Okigbo, once noted that what was unfolding in the nation’s socio-political arena was comparable to an Athenian tragedy but lacking the majesty of a Greek drama. A verdict delivered many years ago, Okigbo’s insight, strangely relevant, simply distils the damming failure of the ruling political leadership.
Being Africa’s demographic and natural resources centre of gravity, much of the world believes Nigeria ought to lead the journey of transformative change on the continent. She ought to provide the leadership to raise Africa to her next level. But then charity must begin at home.