It remains the puzzle that the graph of violence is not growing shorter in Nigeria. Rather, it is growing taller, with Benue, Borno and Zamfara taking the highest toll in the past one week. The latest round of killings by armed bandits in Benue State in central Nigeria has particularly deepened the puzzle about whodunit and why. Thirteen persons were killed following invasion of St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom Parish in Gwer East Local Government Area of the state April 24th, 2018. It came on the heels of the killing of 71 persons on New Year day, another 24 in Omusu in the same Benue State in March and 10 others in adjoining Guma Local Government Area also of the state on April 21st, 2018.
The killing in Ukpor-Mbalom Parish has set in motion a chain of understandable reactions. Not only is the number much, 18 so far, the targeting of a Church in session and the killing of priests are all bound to attract sensitive reactions. The assumption would be that Christian killers would not target priests.
Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives reacted by suspending sittings for three days and calling the service chiefs and security aides of President Buhari to question. It has also planned to summon the president to appear before it. That might appear to introduce a new dimension to it because everyone must be holding his or her breath in anticipation of what the president might be saying if and when he gets there. The president had said recently that the killings were being carried out by armed bandits who used to be Gaddafi’s operatives. That is what many suspect to be the case but many also wonder if the president needed two years of killings across Nigeria to make such an uncomplicated statement. Secondly, if the president knew that ever since and also knew that Nigeria is under attack, why his silence since 2016 when the current trend started? Thirdly, it is not as if he proceeded to announce any new security measures in response to the siege. Meanwhile, the present killing is coinciding or coming just after a military operation in the Benue and Taraba states.
The planned summoning of the president might not be unconnected with dispelling the notion that the Nigerian State is so overwhelmed it does not know what to do by way of a convincing strategy of grabbing the attackers. Another question might be why the bandits would have selected Nigeria for concentration of attention since no other neighbouring country is under this sort of siege from bandits that are not internal products? Is a player sitting somewhere playing a game of setting the country on fire?
At the rate things are going, who would convince people from reading meanings to what is unfolding, especially when mass mobilisation tactics is completely strange to the government in Nigeria today?
Everything about the spate of violence frightens. In the series of thematic exploration of Nigeria within its Africa Program, Chatham House is framing the 2019 elections in the country in terms of preparations for and prevention of conflict risks. Above all, its profiling of Nigeria in terms of conflicts is frightening. Nigerian citizens and decision-makers, it says, “are currently contending with violence related to herder-farmer conflicts across multiple states, Niger Delta militancy, Boko Haram attacks and communal clashes, and heightened risk of conflict due to Shia-government tensions, secessionist-government tensions in the South East, and cultism, gang and criminal violence”.
As a think tank, the Chatham House contributes in shaping the foreign policy disposition of the United Kingdom, itself an important player in the global order. When the Chatham House frames the 2019 elections in terms of risks, it is a pointer to what the world might as well be thinking. What the world might be thinking may not necessarily be what happens in the end but the fact that they are thinking and posing the future in terms of risks and how to prevent such risks must suggest to the Nigerian establishment that it has a crisis of mission. Change hardly comes from outside, meaning that all framing of Nigeria in terms of risks amount to red alerts to the domestic players to do something and quickly too.
In this regard, those who pay attention to recent patterns of fractionalisation within the power elite in Nigeria would have found it disturbing but welcome, all at once. It is disturbing because everyone could get it wrong and the outcome could be messy. It is welcome because the dialectic of that internal wrangling could be the harbinger of a ‘New Deal’ or renewal of hope in Nigeria. The drama of inter-factional wrangling playing out there would, therefore, remain inviting to all students of stability. But that is not at the expense of something drastic immediately in relation to the current spate of killings.