By Abimbola Adelakun
This is, undoubtedly, a difficult time for Afenifere leader, Baba Reuben Fasoranti. He has suffered a grievous loss of his daughter, Funke Olakunrin, in untoward circumstances. The loss of one’s child is a painful and traumatic experience. My prayer for him and his family is to find strength at this trying time.
Now, the death of Mrs Olakunrin is bad enough; the politicisation of the grief is grossly unfair to the family of the deceased. We have always known that some of our leaders have bad manners, but this incident has further exposed them as lacking the ethic of charity. When the news of the death was first announced, the President’s media aide, Femi Adesina, hastily jumped on Twitter to say her killers were “those described as armed robbers by Ondo State Police Command.” Adesina cared little about the deceased; his obsession about roughening up the narrative was to preempt people’s angst that would be directed at his paymasters. If he cared about the poor woman and he respected the Fasoranti family, he would have hesitated and not tried to stuff words in the mouth of the police. The bereaved family not only have to contend with their pain, they also have to deal with the irritation of their daughter’s name being evoked each time we bring up the petty politics of shameless politicians who are using the sad incident to burnish their credentials as bona fide national leaders.
One of these Job’s comforters is the All Progressives Congress leader and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, who answered some journalists’ questions during his visit to the Fasoranti family. First, he downplayed the circumstances of Olakunrin’s death by suggesting that she could have died in a road accident if it was duly fated. This line of reasoning is about one of the most uncharitable things one can say to the hearing of a bereaved family and, frankly, unbecoming of someone who wears the label of an elder. Such misspeaks bolster my conviction that the withdrawal of the permanent pass that some folk have awarded themselves as Yoruba leaders is long overdue for withdrawal. However manner Olakunrin might have died, the fact remains that she was killed and allegedly by herdsmen. To even overlook the circumstances of her death, sidestep the tense reactions by the exasperated populace, and begin to meander logic through bush paths is moral cowardice.
For a while now, Nigeria has been in a difficult situation because of the activities of killer herdsmen. Mind you, these herdsmen have been labelled as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world by the Global Terrorism Index. They have carried out massacres in rural and agrarian communities, and have been emboldened enough by the slackness of state security forces to move into urban settings. Tinubu only needs to go to rural areas in southwestern Nigeria, and his ears will be filled with stories of assault, kidnapping, and vicious murder. People are no longer at ease. They have lost their lives and entire investments in farming to the herdsmen menace. Those that have survived deadly encounters live in fear of the herdsmen. The fact that death is cheap in Nigeria does not mean we should refuse to label an issue for what it is. There is a context to the suspicion that Olakunrin might have been killed by herdsmen; why try to obfuscate matters by pointing out other ways she could have died? Why not just tell the bereaved you are sorry and go home?
The herdsmen nuisance got to the point that Adesina told Benue State people to yield their land to their killers or continue to lose their lives. How can anyone look at all of these stories – including the “your land or your life” propositions to the poor hapless and undefended Nigerians – and merely shrug and say death could have come by a road accident anyway? We all know death is inevitable, but nobody throws their life outside the window for the fun of it. Otherwise, why does Tinubu himself travel with an armed escort and in a bulletproof vehicle too? Why can he not test his fate by stripping himself of the paraphernalia of defence and let’s see what happens?
While responding to the press, Tinbu tried to deflect, engaged in a rhetorical strategy called ‘whataboutism’ for no other discernable reason than not wanting to address the hippopotamus on his laps. The question at hand was the issue of insecurity – the kidnappings and killings by herdsmen – but somehow, he managed to drag in another issue entirely when he alluded to the alleged kidnapper, Evans, who was arrested a while ago. What has Evans’ kidnapping career got to do with herdsmen who did not even start their crimes with kidnapping but massacres and displacement of poor villagers whose farms they raided? Why stop at Evans when he could equally have raised other issues such as Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo’s pending lawsuit and even climate change? He even threatened to give us a history of kidnapping to show us that what we are presently dealing with is an imitation of the criminal proclivity of southerners.
All of the above bring me to the point that baffled me most and which summarises all of the rhetorical acrobatics he did at the Fasoranti’s house: the needless defence of the Fulani by Tinubu. By now, everyone would have noticed that the most strident defence of the Fulani over the herdsmen issue has come from southerners, particularly the Yoruba. On the question of whether the Fulani deserve the stereotype of cold-blooded killers or not, the Yoruba people have wept louder than the bereaved. The Fulani themselves are an ethnic group with enough power to take over the media in their own defence, but they do not do so. Today, the Fulani are resented, and not just because of the herdsmen issue but also because of the clannishness and tribalism of President Muhammadu Buhari who has more or less driven collective benefits in the direction of a selected class. Why have they not refuted the narrative about them, considering that they have the necessary clout to challenge the demonising of their ethnic identity? They can use the airwaves and other media forms to vehemently denounce the herdsmen who attack undefended populations. They can rebuke Miyetti Allah group over their inflammatory statements, and also condemn the actions of reprobate groups such as the Coalition of Northern Groups who gave governors a 30-day ultimatum to enforce RUGA and students of Usman Dan Fodio University who insisted that RUGA must be established in all the 36 states of Nigeria.
They are so many crisis-management strategies the Fulani ethnic group can deploy to manage their image being battered all over Nigeria because of the spate of herdsmen attacks. If the Fulani themselves are not engaged in activities to refurbish their image, it is because they are too self-secure in their political power and privileges to be bothered about the long-term implications of ethnic stigmatisation. They probably also do not concern themselves so much with pushing back against stereotypes because their lackeys in the South run those errands on their behalf.
Tinubu, in rounding off the interview, made a rather curious statement cum question, “I don’t want to be political, but I will ask, where are the cows?” If by that he means that the crime of murder could not have been committed by herdsmen because there were no cows at the crime scene, it means he has reached the end of reasoning. I do not want to be political either, but the question of where the cows are has already been answered by none other than Tinubu himself. The cows are everywhere. If some people look into their mirror, they will find those cows staring back at them in all their bovine glory.