One of the tragedies of the Nigerian condition is that there are too many citizens for whom defending a particular politician’s misbehavior and incompetence is a more compelling task than that of holding them accountable. For these citizens, public commentators who ask tough questions of politicians are the enemy, not the erring politicians being challenged for their betrayal of the public trust. Of course, politicians are all too happy to unleash such misguided citizens against critics who, in their calculation, are not making them “look good.” The latest citizen to fall for this political game is one Muktar Garba Maigamo, who wrote a rejoinder to my earlier piece criticizing Governor Ahmed el-Rufai for his disastrous handling of the Southern Kaduna massacres.
What did I do to incur the wrath of el-Rufai and his defender, Maigamo? In a nutshell, I used the governor’s own words and confessed actions to indict him for worsening what was already a serious crisis in Southern Kaduna. I also urged him to take responsibility for his words and actions instead of lashing out and blaming phantom enemies and those he serially accuses of trying to divide people along primordial lines. el-Rufai, I argued, is the divider-in-chief, given his insensitivity to the state’s — and Nigeria’s — ethno-religious diversity and fault lines, his penchant for making incendiary comments that intensify sociopolitical tensions, his Fulani supremacist chauvinism, which is boldly advertised in his infamous tweet about Fulani blood vengeance, and his opportunistic pandering to parochial sentiments in order to divide and rule people in his state.
I made a strong connection between el-Rufai’s Fulani vengeance tweet and his blatantly pro-Fulani approach to the crisis, an approach betrayed by these actions of the governor:
1. Paying off Fulani herdsmen killers he claims are Cameroonians, Chadians, Nigeriens, and other nationalities.
2. Sending a message to the killers of citizens of his own state that a Fulani like them was now governor; in other words, making common kinship and cause with foreign herdsmen and prioritizing the appeasement of his foreign kinsmen over the protection of Southern Kaduna people whose protection is part of his remit as governor.
3. Failure to take seriously the threat to the Southern Kaduna people despite repeated deadly raids by the herdsmen. This a failure evidenced by the belated deployment of troops there, which came after much pressure and public criticism of his administration’s handling of the killings, and by the swiftness with which he tackled the menace of cattle rustling in the central part of the state.
4. His determination to humiliate the Southern Kaduna people and subordinate them to their tormentors by causing so-called apology billboards to be erected in Southern Kaduna communities — essentially forcing the people of Southern Kaduna to apologize to their killers even after their patrimony had been used, according to the governor, to pay the killers “compensation.”
The decision to pay off the killers, moreover, contradicts the governor’s own words from three years ago. On April 26, 2013, el-Rufai tweeted the following words: “any society that responds to crimes by forgiving and bribing the criminals will inevitably create large contingents of criminal waanabes(sic).” On that occasion, despite the legitimacy of the foundational grievance of the Niger Delta militants and the fact that they, unlike foreign Fulani terrorists, are Nigerians and were not invading villages and killing innocent men, women, and children, el-Rufai registered his opposition to paying them off through an amnesty program. The governor’s shocking departure from this principle in the case of his killer Fulani kinsmen shows him to be a hypocritical opportunist in addition to being a Fulani ethnic chauvinist.
Have el-Rufai and his supporters challenged any of these serious indictments of the governor’s leadership? No. Instead they are busy proving the contention that, for the governor and his minions, looking good in the media and projecting a good image is more important than caring about lives and protecting citizens he is constitutionally sworn to protect.
That Maigamo would allow himself to be conscripted into this odious endeavor is tragic. El-Rufai may have his strengths, but on this matter, his incompetence is in bold relief. He is captive to his own arrogance, and to his history of insensitive and ethno-religious supremacist expressions. Why do the people of Southern Kaduna not trust him as an honest peace broker? Why are they resisting his humiliating apology billboards and other actions that show him as privileging the interests of the killers over their safety? Why did they attack his convoy? A little introspection on the part of the governor and his defenders should redirect their anger inwards and cause a humble reevaluation of el-Rufai’s arrogant, go-it-alone, divide-and-rule brand of politics, which has now alienated much of his state. The Daily Trust columnist Hakeem Baba-Ahmed captured the governor’s problem succinctly in his column on Southern Kaduna thus:
“Governor el-Rufai’s personality and brand of politics have not prepared him well to deal with the daunting cumulative legacy in Southern Kaduna State. The voters from the region rejected him, preferring to stick with the sinking PDP. He has been unable to build political bridges with the region, choosing to operate with politicians without any weight in their communities. Prominent politicians and elders from the region who would have been inclined to work with and for him have been alienated by his tendency to believe that all past is a liability, and he can create his own world. He has accumulated massive hostility from a Christian community from many sources going as far back as a re-tweet some years ago which some say insulted their faith, to the plan to regulate religious preaching, to plans to demolish ‘Gbagi Villa’, a highbrow, largely Christian location in Kaduna he insists is illegally built and must be demolished. PDP politicians in the state have made massive political capital out of the governor’s travails with Christians and Southern Kaduna communities, in many instances specifically and openly urging disobedience to authority in the name of resistance.”
Either el-Rufai and his supporters are too blinded by their primordial loyalties or pride to see that the governor has become part of the problem and has sown distrust or they are simply incapable of self-critique — a necessary ingredient for leadership at any level.
The governor has blamed nameless “dividers,” foreign Fulani herdsmen, the 2011 post-election violence, bandits, and even Niger Delta militants (!) for the situation in Southern Kaduna. He and his defenders have additionally sought to deflect criticism by hiding behind the General Agwai committee report, which they claim he is implementing. However, by the governor’s own admission, the Agwai committee simply identified foreign Fulani herdsmen as some of the culprits in the killings and did not recommend monetary payments to them. Nor did the committee recommend other failed, half-hearted measures. Moreover, el-Rufai is the governor and so, whatever the origins of the actions he is taking, the buck stops at his desk. He owns those measures and is responsible for their failure or success. The choice to either reject or implement any recommendations rests with him. Deflecting blame to previous administrations or to the Agwai committee is ludicrous, escapist, and dishonest.
Like all unprincipled political hatchet men, Maigamo is a sloppy and mendacious one. In Nigeria political hit pieces directed at critics and public commentators are never complete without the gratuitous insult on the critics, the invented lie or speculative attack on their integrity, or a questioning of their motive. Maigamo begins his piece with the fat, silly lie that I once asked el-Rufai for a job when he was the Director-General of BPE and was turned down. A quick trip to my CV, which is displayed on my faculty webpage, would have saved him the trouble and shame of having to make this nonsense up because the chronology of my professional biography would have simply demonstrated to him that his allegation was not plausible or possible. But Nigerian attack dogs are not even sophisticated enough to tell a plausible lie.
I finished my NYSC in 1998 and left for the United States about three months later in August to begin my PhD program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I got the admission and supporting fellowship during the NYSC year. How could I have asked el-Rufai for a job at the BPE when the return to democracy didn’t occur until May 1999 and el-Rufai did not become the Director-General of BPE until several months later? Simple chronological logic falsifies Maigamo’s invention. Moreover, unless I had managed to clone myself, with one of me looking for a job in Nigeria and the other studying for a PhD in the United States, there is no way by the laws of terrestrial logic that what is being alleged would have occurred. I completed my PhD in 2004 and moved to my current job right away. By the grace of God, therefore, I’ve never had to look for or apply for a job in Nigeria since I graduated from the university in 1997. By the way, I have never met, corresponded with, or in any shape or form interacted with el-Rufai.
Maigamo’s reference to my research is a non sequitur that deserves no serious response. My scholarship speaks for itself, and the research he lazily alluded to has actually been published as a book to wide acclaim, including being awarded finalist for the most prestigious prize in the field of African Studies, the Herskovits Prize. It must therefore have scholarly merit that my peers have recognized and rewarded. He would not be able to grasp the book’s scholarly contentions, so why bother even try to educate him. I have for many years criticized the actions, inactions, and utterances of public officials, including presidents, legislators, ministers, officials, governors, and even my own state governor. I have been doing so since I was an undergraduate and regularly since 1999. My scholarship has nothing to do with my duty as a concerned citizen and public commentator holding rulers and leaders accountable.
It is tragic when silly blackmail is deployed and lies are invented by citizens, who are themselves victims of bad governance and incompetence, on behalf of politicians, to muddy the waters, shield said politicians from criticism, and disrupt the legitimate process of scrutinizing public officials who are accountable to us, their employers.
I consider myself lucky to live outside the country. el-Rufai’s intolerance for criticism is as legendary as his obsession with “looking good” in the media, an obsession which has supplanted the will to do the right thing for the beleaguered citizens of his state. Other critics have had it rough. Senator Shehu Sani, el-Rufai’s nemesis and constant critic, has been serially harassed along with his supporters. Dr. John Danfulani, another consistent critic of the governor’s misdeeds, has spent several stints in detention for his public commentary.
For a man rumored to harbor ambitions for a higher office, this is the worst possible way for el-Rufai and his minions to position him for that office, whatever it may be. There is time for the governor to rebuild his image, retreat from his ethnic supremacist thinking and divide-and-rule politics, and regain the trust of his people. He will, however, not do this by lashing out in every direction instead of taking responsibility for fixing a problem that he didn’t cause but has exacerbated with his supremacist mentality and divisive utterances and actions.
Moses Ochonu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.