A traditional proverb states that a wise man keeps his tongue. This statement is even more pungent in the area of leadership. The wisdom to say and what not to say is quite important for anyone that occupies a leadership position. Some Nigerian politicians have however failed in this regard as their utterances are replete with violent undertones.
As Femi Adesina puts it, Nigeria is in a war of tongues. Nigerian leaders have continued to make careless statements along ethnic and religious divides, without considering the implications. Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle and CHURAC president, Alaowei Cleric are two examples of such leaders.
Bello Matawalle, who is a strong proponent of negotiating with bandits, has been the center of inciting violence lately. He started out by defending criminal bandits by insisting that not all of them are criminals. He explained that most of the bandits take up arms to protest the injustice meted on them by some members of the society. This is in the face of over hundred of persons who have been killed or kidnapped by the bandits in Zamfara, Kastina, Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna, and Nasarawa States in recent years. Despite attack on local communities and innocent citizens, the Zamfara governor has repeatedly called on the Federal Government to grant amnesty to bandits.
In the words of Matawalle, “Not all of them are criminals. If you investigate what is happening, and what made them to take the laws into their hands, some of them sometimes were cheated by so-called vigilante group.”
He further noted that the groups saddled with the responsibility of protecting the communities sometimes rustle the cattle of the bandits, while destroying their livelihood.
Now the question is, if truly vigilante groups are the centre of the grievance of these bandits as Matawalle claims, why are innocent citizens within the localities made to suffer as such? Why are the bandits not going after members of the vigilante groups? Or are schoolchildren cattle rustlers?
Apart from this, his recent speech has been described as unexpected of a serving governor who is well aware of the consequences of such grave utterances for a country like Nigeria. As the influential Arewa Consultative Forum noted, Matawalle’s statement was the easiest way to destroy Nigeria.
The Zamfara State Governor said the attack on the president by protesters in London was an attack on the North, and that the South should not expect protection when the North retaliates. The governor issued the warning in a statement on 8 April 2021, saying the South has no monopoly of violence.
According to the governor, “If Northerners and their means of livelihood will not be protected, accommodated and be dignified anywhere they choose to stay in any part of the South, Southerners should NOT expect protection from the North as the North has more than what it takes to respond to any aggression and hatred.”
While well-meaning Nigerians and stakeholders like Adams Otakwu condemned the attack on the president as an assault on Nigeria’s integrity, Matawalle decided to do the same but chose to label it a Southern affair for which “the North has more than what it takes to respond to any aggression and hatred.” His words:
“As a Northerner, I condemn in strongest term how in the same manner of hatred, President Muhammadu Buhari was treated by so-called protesters that could not hide their disdain and hatred for the North. Their action, no matter their grievances, is uncivilised, highly irresponsible, unpatriotic and disrespectful to the person and office of the President and has demonstrated the growing hatred against anything North.”
But the real question is, were all Southerners part of the protest in faraway London? How many Southerners supported the protest enough for Matawalle to label it a protest against the North? Nigeria is on the edge of a precipice and it is expected that leaders across the country rise to the occasion and build bridges of understanding as opposed to fanning the embers of discord and hatred, aggravating an already precarious situation. With his rash statements, Governor of Zamfara State has shown himself to be an enemy of peace and One Nigeria.
The National President Delta-based centre for Human Rights (CHURAC), Alaowei Cleric, is another Nigerian that fans the embers of war. This is as a result of his recent exhortation of self-defence. In response to Matawalle’s irascible statements, he stated that “Who is attacking who? The herdsmen that are attacking the indigenous people in the South do not concern the Northern leaders? No Southerner is attacking Northern people in the South.
“We are even at the receiving end of the herdsmen brigandage. If, however, any Southerner attacks these marauding Fulani herdsmen, such can be done in self-defence.”
Meanwhile, self-defence which the CHURAC National President didn’t realise fall under the same category as monopoly of violence and which he was criticising has been the centre of the ethnic tensions rocking the country.
As Arewa Consultative Forum stated while also condemning Matawalle’s statement, “if somebody breaks the law, the person should be taken to the law enforcement agents. People should not be encouraged to take the law into their own hands.
“It is not justifiable to say that because northerners are being killed in the south, we are also going to kill southerners in the north. That is the easiest way to destroy this country if everyone takes the law into his hands and decides to revenge.”
Last year November, Alaowei had said that “the North was part of the problem of Nigeria” after the region said it was in support of SARS owing to the way they operated in the North, which ran contrary to the defunct unit’s operations in the South.
In 2018 also, Alaowei had also said that there was “a deliberate move to protect the North” after alleging that the Attorney-General of the federation “failed to arrest Shettimah and his group of Northern delinquents because of security reasons”: a situation which the CHURAC president described as a “selective prosecution of perceived enemies of the government”.