Seventy-three Nigerians were buried in Benue on the 11th of January 2018 – a day some in the state will regard forever in infamy.
It was a mass burial of persons killed in the most brutal ways, but there was the dignity of proper coffins and the accompaniment of sincerely grieving bereaved relatives. These were Nigerians killed under the watch of a Federal Government that had to know such a carnage was in the making. In their death, as in life, there was the clear aversion by the authorities to be identified with them.
Amidst the many teary eyes, none was of any person from the Buhari government as an official representative. Nobody came from Aso Rock to commiserate directly with these people whose hope in government has been crushed to the size of fine sands.
Instead, Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, was, at the time when the funeral was ongoing, sending congratulations to the winner of his 2017 Season’s Greeting Card design competition.
Empathy should have required a Federal Government presence at Benue, but Buhari is not disposed to tinkering with that reputation of his as an aloof, insensitive and unfeeling old soldier. He had found it expedient and unavoidable to dash to Kaduna for the commissioning of the Inland port, plus extra locomotives for the Abuja-Kaduna rail line. But there was no need or urgency to make an extra 200-mile journey to get a firsthand view of the tragedy that had just happened in Benue. Nigeria’s chief security officer simply retreated behind the high walls of his comfortable palatial residence, leaving the talking and defending to his media lieutenants.
President Buhari is betraying his duty to the people of Benue to be their succour in grief. That may not be explicit in the oath of office but a Commander-in-chief who pledged to “belong to everybody” at his inauguration but consciously becomes unavailable to certain people in their time of crisis must have his sincerity and commitment to his responsibility questioned. Were it not for a sudden realisation of the sheer callousness of it, the president had it in his schedule to dance and wave disorderly brooms in Abia, while Benue people drowned in their vale of tears.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan was judged guilty in the court of public opinion for his dance moves after the Nyanya bombings on April 14, 2014, but that bowler-hat Ijawman had actually visited Nyanya the evening of the day of the attacks. Buhari, on the contrary, remained in Abuja, as the Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom, had to come to him as though he were some monument of pilgrimage, while his media team tweeted about rice production and the president’s love for humanity.
Where is that softer side now? Where is that general whose nature is to lead from the battleground? Where is that moral powerhouse and embodiment of compassion?
The president’s entire reaction to the traumatic events of the last 12 days has only provided further evidence to an already popular and widely believed theory about Mr Buhari’s outlook towards persons outside his ethnic stock. This cold disposition towards the calamity in the Middle Belt cannot be blamed on age or the wear of a Military career. Nigeria is led by a six-foot-plus man whose sixth sense is tailored primarily to the benefit of those for whom Daura is a rallying point.
Eventually, that will give these Benue killings the political connotation Vice President Osinbajo naively thinks it should not be given. The president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a Fulani man, abandoned Nigerians of other tribes who were killed by his tribesmen. It is political and it will have costs and consequences.