Opinion: Plateau killings: The heroic example of Abdullahi Abubakar – By AYO OLUKOTUN
“Those who work for peace do not belong to one group or another, they are not just Muslims or Christians, they are individuals who give up their lives for goodness and fight evil”
–David Young, Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Nigeria, The PUNCH, Tuesday, July 31, 2018.
Making the waves is the report of heroism and daring life-saving action narrated by Plateau State Governor, Mr Simon Lalong, concerning 83-year-old Abdullahi Abubakar, a cleric who rescued close to 300 Christians from massacre, during the recent widespread killings in that state. As the fierce, so-called retaliatory mass slaughter of citizens unfolded in June this year, Lalong narrated, 300 people from the largely Christian community in the Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of the state, deserted their ancestral homes in search of safety. It was at this point that Abubakar, defying the murderous odds, offered refuge in his home, and in a nearby village mosque, to the imperilled persons foraging for hideouts.
In the Imam’s words, “I hid the women in my personal house, and after that, I took the men to the mosque and hid them there”. It was this singular act of courage that saved a humanity forced to the brink of death from joining the escalating roll of Nigerians slaughtered by suspected Fulani militia. It is good news that Abubakar, in his twilight years, is to be offered a national honour by President Muhammadu Buhari, on account of exemplary and sacrificial heroism. Too often, honour has been dashed out incestuously to members of the political class who have little or nothing to show for their high sounding titles. National honours have descended to an intramural, self-congratulatory vanity fair by an underperforming and frequently looting ruling class, scavenging for unearned legitimacy. Abubakar’s projected elevation to the status of a national honouree, shifts the balance, in favour of the dignity of outstanding labour and richly deserved award. The event, when it takes place will oppose to the current system of rigged and unfairly allocated honours, a restructured template of ethically derived national gratitude for work done, for magnificent intervention. The inspiring words of the American diplomat, David Young, quoted in the opening paragraph, suggests that excellence, fortitude and nobility of action, such as displayed by Abubakar, are properties of the human spirit, from which mankind, whatever their religious or political persuasion can draw abiding lessons. On the whole, religion in Nigeria has been little more than identity markers, manipulated for gain, negotiation or raw egoism. Abubakar, through near martyrdom has audaciously critiqued the prevailing religious cubicles, lacking in the milk of human kindness, in etiquette or the possibilities of redemption. By straddling the artificially widened divide between the two dominant religions, in order to save lives, Abubakar has flashed new vistas of interfaith conversations, building bridges over the troubled waters of irrational faith.
Important, too, is the fact, barely disguised, that Abubakar was standing in for a state that is perennially absent or too late to arrive to the scene of crisis. This point was underlined on a Channels Television programme on Thursday by David Young. Contrasting the American and Nigerian responses to emergences, Young pointed out that law enforcement personnel arrive almost immediately at the site of disasters in the United States. In the case of the Plateau State crisis, Young, generalising from oral interviews with survivors, said that it took seven hours, in some cases for police to arrive at the scene of tragedy. The jury is still out as to whether police truancy in some instances are forms of calculated connivance, with one side in the crisis, or whether the dereliction is a result of logistical hitches. Whatever is the case, in the successive eruptions of massacres in central Nigeria, law enforcement has been repeatedly found wanting. So, Abubakar was stepping heroically into the vacuum created by the absence or sensational tardiness of law enforcement. The tragedy of the serial killings of innocent people, under one pretext or another, is yet to be fully investigated or systematically studied. However, there is no running away from the echoing warning of Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma, at least in a few well-known cases, that the law was enforced against one side in the combat with devastating loss of lives.
In other words, we are dealing, in some instances, not just with an absentee state, but one which is a controversial actor upholding the ring against the victims. It is this whiff of cruel partisanship that makes Abubakar’s arbitration and going the extra mile to prevent further deaths even more gripping. What we have, therefore, is that in place of a state that is either ineffective, or shockingly partisan or both, there is an old man bent with age, carrying on with epic bravery to do what the state ought to have done. What this suggests is a prospectus of forward looking and remedial action, through the co-optation of civic energy and actors, in the search for answers and solutions to the massive bloodletting. In the repeated crises of security, the state has often behaved as if it had all the answers, as a behemoth standing above civil society; the resolute life-saving activity of Abubakar counsels that only a state that has its roots deep in society can quickly overcome the many sided challenges of insecurity. Pertinent to the suggested collaboration is the need to close the trust gap and virtual enemy framing between the state and other actors in times of emergency. For as long as persecuted and targeted populations see law enforcement agents as opponents rather than helpers, they are unlikely to give the kind of support that will make it easy to win the war against atrocious killings. Abubakar’s peacebuilding model ought to provide fresh impetus for resolving the recurrent crises and tragic murders in North-Central Nigeria.
Similarly, it will be much easier for the state to rally civic support behind it, if it was more minded to implement a failed social contract between it and the people. For communities travelling on roads that resemble hunters’ trails, where children go to dilapidated schools and where the nearest clinic is hundreds of miles away, it is difficult for them to offer a handshake to a state that was never there for them. That is another way of saying that for law enforcement to be trusted, the government which it represents must display a caring mien and attitude towards the populace, beyond the distribution of envelopes as enticement for voting in election season. Nigeria’s insecurity crisis is bound up with the character of a virtually irrelevant state which merely makes the motions of law enforcement after the proverbial horse has bolted from the stable. Until our approaches to crisis management and political order stretch to include effective social delivery to the many abandoned communities across the nation, it will remain hollow and unproductive.
In conclusion, as we celebrate Pa Abubakar’s valiant intervention, we must employ it as a metaphor and a template for instituting a wide array of reforms in national security, taking particular note of ways in which the gaps connect with the mediocrity in governance. Punch