Devil's dinner: why a long spoon doesn't save

New telegraph Thursday Back Page of April 8, 2021. By Ike Abonyi. 

"When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change. The devil changes you."

- Amanda Hocking

To dine with the devil requires a long spoon, according to the wisdom of the ages. In Nigeria, the contrary is the case...salvation does not lie in your long spoon. [Amanda Hocking must be a Nigerian!] That is why men of wisdom always remind us to be careful with the choice of friends. 

In the same vein, a constant advisory from parents from time immemorial is "Children, mind the company you keep." Also, show me your friend and I can tell who you are. Another way to stress why we must apply choices in friendship.

A bad company corrupts good manners and has negative consequences no matter the circumstance. Politicians and other politically exposed persons, PEPs, are among the most vulnerable to unsalutary company keeping because of their curious penchant to eat their cake and want to have it back. They mostly keep all sorts as "friends" during electioneering.

Verifiable records show that much of the security challenges facing Nigeria today is the outcome of the company kept by politicians in their bid to "use and dump" people. Nigeria is replete with examples that are mind-blowing. 

According to one popular legend, the origin of the dreaded Boko Haram that has brought lasting terrorism on the country is traceable to a certain friendship that went awry. 

When Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, then governor of Borno State, so the legend goes. He was in an unholy alliance with one Mohammed Yusuf, a fiery Islamic teacher and pioneer leader of Boko Haram. Yusuf was believed to have turned the teachings of Islam on their head. And he had a sizable following among the unemployed and like-minded others. 

The liaison between the sect and the governor was to aid the latter to win and keep winning elections by intimidating and cowing opponents. The initial objective was achieved. The Mohammed Yusuf sect did the governor's bidding, helping to instal Sheriff as the political supremo of the state. According to another version of the legend, the sect even nominated a commissioner in the Borno cabinet.

However, there is always a danger in empowering people who are not equipped. What these people need badly is education with proper empowerment. However, politicians leave out the education part in the belief that if the people they use get an education, they will not be available for the devious roles. It may sound logical; it is definitely selfish and not without consequences. Where we are with Boko Haram today with thousands of lives and property lost and a raging war for nearly a decade is one result of that political misstep.

The fFormer gGovernor whose government sheltered and incubated the sect that abhors Western education is on record to have lost blood relatives, property, and the political control that was the original intention of founding the body.

Akin to the Boko Haram history is the notorious triumvirate of bandits, herdsmen, and kidnappers. Recently, an estranged top gun of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Alhaji Barage, openly confessed that he was yet to be controverted that in 2014, ahead of the 2015 Presidential election, some Fulani mercenaries were recruited from outside Nigeria to intimidate the Goodluck Jonathan government, a bid to win the election at all costs. The objective was achieved, the election was won, and intimidation effectively executed. What happened thereafter has kept Nigeria bleeding. APC won the election, Muhammadu Buhari became and is still the President, but at what cost? While Jonathan would rather walk away than spill any Nigerian's blood, Buhari, who had threatened hell and brimstone, won.

The foreign mercenaries polluted the local herdsmen with whom Nigerian communities had related for years without any friction. The original Fulani herders used to carry cutlasses and their mystery sticks to ward off threats like snakes and predators and, in some cases, cattle rustlers. On the other hand, the recruited dogs of war carry dreaded weapons like the AK-47 rifle and indulging in crimes like rape and kidnapping and looting. It could have been easy to check them, being foreigners with little knowledge of the local terrain, but they connived with their local counterparts who backed them for expansionist purposes. They took advantage of the patronage they enjoyed from their protectors to launch aggressive land grabbing expeditions.

After the damage has been done, our political leaders who were hitherto sympathizers are now fed up and frustrated, and ready to end the unholy matrimony. How do you lock the door after the horse has bolted?

The damage has been done. The uncoordinated and abandoned youth population they recruited have found a new revenue base and won't let go without an alternative, hence the amnesty request being megaphoned by the unofficial emissary or go-between, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi.

In its macho attitude, the federal government has rejected the amnesty option in response to public outrage against negotiating with criminals but failed to provide credible alternatives. When President Buhari rose from his slumber after the Jangede school children kidnap, he said it would be the last of all school abductions, many thought the Commander-in-Chief, the General, had woken up, indignant. But it has continued ever since even coming closer to Kaduna. As Nigerians awaited the action of the Commander-in-Chief who was dared by common criminals, he was already airborne on a medical trip to the United Kingdom, a more peaceful and serene environment. Life is good even for the war commander.

While away, Boko Haram has claimed to down a Nigerian Air Force jet, Fulani herdsmen invaded Egedede village in Ebonyi State, killing more than a dozen innocent lives and destroying property, a Catholic priest was slain in Benue and another was abducted in Kaduna. Another mayhem was visited on Imo State.  The clCommander-in-Chief is directing from the hospital bed that criminals be flushed out, a similar directive he gave when he  in sounder health did not yield any results. What a country?

What prompted this discourse this week is the lamentation of the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, after the Egegede killings. He said the Fulani herdsmen betrayed him.

Recall that the governor had ignored all advice against befriending nomadic herders because they pose a serious threat to his people. He would not listen, instead, he created the enabling environment for them. More mosques built in Ebonyi than any other state in the region, the state became a home for herders of all kinds.

The governor needed to build such a relationship for political purposes. He has his eyes on the Presidency and believes that the Fulanis hold the ace in politics. He had befriended President Buhari even of another party, doctored his people's votes for PDP to enable Buhari and APC to score 25 per cent. He produced rice and adorned the bags with a Buhari photo. He gave Fulani herdsmen whatever they asked for in the hope that they would say him well to power at the centre.

When the herdsmen in the Egegede community complained to Gov. Umahi that they lost somebody and some cows in a clash with the community, the governor, without quibble, paid them compensation and made adequate arrangements for their settlement. The villagers who were suspected to have attacked the herdsmen were taken to Abakaliki, the state capital and tried in court.

While the trial was still going on and compensation paid, one year after, all the herdsmen the villagers helped to settle at the intervention of their governor left the village and within 24 hours they came and attacked and killed over 15 persons. Governor was shocked to discover that his friends had vanished from the area. The governor was forlorn, pitiably abandoned as he parked his people's dead bodies. In a visit to Ebonyi, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, for want of what to say without getting into trouble with the cabal, said the matter would be investigated. What is there to investigate, the attackers are known, they were known political friends who betrayed him.

With friends like herdsmen, you will understand properly the taste of betrayal and Gov Umahi can tell better now.

So from the North to East, to the West and South, the needless bloodletting has its traces on the inordinate ambition of politicians. Their unusual ambition led to the use and dump practice and the illegitimate arming of youths for the selfish cowing and destruction of opponents. 

Since every human action has a consequence, where we are in the land today is like the chicken coming home to roost. Harvest time for what we planted at its due season. We are experiencing what it is to dine with the devil without the recommended long spoon. It's like riding Okada without a helmet, when the fall comes as it has it would be fatal. 

God, help us.