Chima Christian argues why self-help should not be an option

Nigeria’s Middle Belt region has faced, and continues to face crisis of civilisational proportions. Attacks on indigenous communities, often but wrongly labelled farmer-herder crisis, have continued unabated. Every now and then reports of attacks on sleepy communities, and the number of people killed during such attacks, make national headlines. What is not usually reported is the number of people displaced, and what happens in those displaced communities after such violent relocation of indigenous peoples has happened.

For starters, when a community has been repeatedly attacked, people flee, seeking refuge in IDP Camps or neighbouring communities. When this happens, one would expect the deserted communities to remain empty. But we find out that populations, often speaking the language and having an affinity with armed invaders settle in and occupy those lands, killing or threatening to kill every indigenous land owner that dares to come back. This is true of Moon Council Ward in Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State as it is true of more than 68 communities in Mangu Local Government area of Plateau State. These two LGAs are only a minor highlight of what is going on today in several parts of the Middle Belt.

In all these, the response of the government and the establishment media have been far from helpful. The government has failed in its duty to protect and enforce the rights of the people. The media has continued to misreport and mischaracterise these events. These have given rise to populist sentiments calling on the people to arm themselves and defend their lands in the face of the obvious inability or unwillingness of the government to do so.

As we implement all reasonable strategies to halt the mindless killings and the violent usurpation of the rights of indigenous peoples of the Middle Belt region, we will also have to push back on this often fantasised idea of arming the people to “defend” themselves. To be sure, this idea sounds beautiful, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

I tell you the truth, once the Middle Belt gets to that threshold, they will completely eject invaders out of their lands in less than three months. They will do this not minding the presence of Nigeria’s security forces whose stock in trade has been disarmament of the locals.

Take this for an example. If anyone told the Nigerian Police and soldiers that a time will come when they will become endangered species in the South East region, would they have believed it? Today, the situation is so bad that policemen/soldiers operating in the region, even in state capitals, cannot go to work, or come home from work cladded in their uniforms. They must disguise themselves once they are not in their full formation, or else they stand a grave risk of being captured or killed by local militias.

As we speak, the anger of the everyday Middle Beltan against Nigeria’s security forces whom they deem either compromised, incompetent, or both, is welling up. If we do not intervene, it will only be a matter of time before that anger and the lived trauma of the people come bursting at the seams.

Advocates of non-state armed confrontations as a way to end the invasion of the Middle Belt must be called upon to answer a pertinent question; What happens to the region when the invaders are gone, and the indigenous peoples begin pointing their guns at each other’s jugular?

The Middle Belt retains the capacity to hurt itself much more than any invading force can hurt it. From historical and even present-day realities, we know this to be true. We also know that once equipped, the people will undoubtedly resume fighting old tribal/ethnic wars with new tools. This is why all policy designs around solving the problem must be broad enough to factor in what happens to society after the problem has been solved

Those advocating for an uncontrollable experiment in the Middle Belt should be reminded that the fastest way to cure any sickness, especially debilitating ones, is to kill the sick person. Because once the carrier of the disease or sickness is gone, the sickness goes with him or her. Yet, that is not even a considered option when we, or our loved ones, fall sick.

We take our time to go through sometimes slow, painful and expensive routines as prescribed by experts. Even when we take drugs, we do not ingest all of them at once, we space them out as recommended to avoid badly damaging ourselves in a bid to get rid of an ailment. In some cases, conditions have to be managed till the grave comes calling because attempting a wholesome cure will first kill the person before it remedies the situation.

If we know this to be true, why then do we prescribe chaos and guaranteed destruction when it comes to dealing with sicknesses at the societal level? Why are we insisting that burning down the house is the best way to exterminate rodents?

I acknowledge that the situation is dire. Having personally visited a few of the hurting communities, and IDP camps in at least three states in the region, and seen the scope of the humanitarian disaster occasioned by this crisis, I am also in a hurry to see that the pains end like yesterday. Having also seen the protection these invaders enjoy, the possible accomplices they have in positions of authority, and the lethargic response of the political elite, self-help also seems appealing.

It is agreed that political and diplomatic solutions to issues of this nature are both long and intricate. More so, there is no guarantee of immediate answers as the politico-diplomatic pathway is the one most susceptible to lengthy protocols and even lethargy. Yet, we must painfully follow and iterate on this route till it works for the Middle Belt. The alternative, I am afraid, has to be immediately abandoned for it only solves the problem by creating ten new ones.

Africa’s morning is at hand.

 Christian, a Public Policy Analyst, is the Executive Director of Africa’s Morning Centre for Public Policy and Good Governance

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