What even the most shortsighted observer of the Nigerian affairs finds difficult to understand is not the many crimes the Nigerian State has committed and is committing against its residents but the fatuous defences that the recipients of these wrongs put up in defence of these crimes. This doubtlessly emboldens the errant State so much that it imagines itself persecuted by the feeble few who, perhaps not out of reason but of the instinctual desire for self-preservation, protest in any form the irresponsibleness of the State. It is a perennial affair, intenser in proportion as the nation’s annihilation becomes not a matter of possibility but of time that has become foreseeable. The spiritual have no difficulty adjudging the Nigerian problems a national curse; the faithful have no option but prayer; but we the observers have nothing to offer but the testimony of our eyes.

The crimes of the Nigerian state are in all fronts: political, economic, insecurity. It is however the recent carnages – genocidal in proportion – that prompts this article. And it is no less in commiseration with the inconsolable direct victims of the show of violence, nor of the greater populace who pay the price by default than of laying the crime at the door of those in power, of the one in power, President Muhammadu Buhari. I enter no caveat, for there is no risk of overstatement in the telling of the crimes of the Buhari government; one fears, on the other hand, the dearth of statistics to quantify before the reader the human loss occasioned by Buhari’s misgovernment and insouciance. It is a terrible realisation that Nigerians have reached such level of degeneracy that such data, if available, are no longer newsworthy as to attract any outrage beyond the muffled cries of those directly affected. God then takes the blame (or the praise according to one’s creed) for it all, seeing as ‘all things happen according to his will’. Leaving then this superhuman influencer, let us concentrate on his human agent, avatarized in Muhammadu Buhari.

Without venturing much into philosophy or sociology, the social contract doctrine creating the relationship between Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian peoples can be summarised thus: In primeval society, people lived on their own, each his own government; the mighty preyed on the small. The people reached a consensus to confer right on the powerful among them to be their leader, protect them from the mighty and provide security for life and property; in short, curb arbitrariness of existence. In exchange, the people gave their individual governance to the powerful (the sovereign) who now gives laws to control the people. This is purely a contract, and each party was to keep the terms of the contract (which are more elaborate than this summary) for the contract to subsist.

The Nigerian peoples, going by the election results (it is distracting to think otherwise) have conferred their mandates on the sovereign, Muhammadu Buhari, and under the social contract doctrine, the people can no longer be laws unto themselves, otherwise they stand in breach of the contract. Those who have ventured to question Buhari’s power have thus found themselves clamped down by the State Police, or rather, its Military –  a realisation that the sovereign is not unaware of the power conferred on him by the people. It is therefore not in doubt that there is a subsisting contract binding on both the people and the sovereign. The people have fulfilled their obligation – and are fulfilling it by continual obedience to legitimate commands – but has the sovereign fulfilled his obligation under the contract? Put crudely in the Nigerian context, Has President Muhammadu Buhari fulfilled his obligations as the sovereign of the Nigerian State to the Nigerian peoples?

The prime desire of every person, contract or no, under any pyramid of priority, is the preservation of life. The sovereign ought therefore to make this the priority of the state. No amount of the state resources garnered to secure the lives of the residents of such state is superfluous. Only when lives are secured does the urgency of other needs arise. What then has been the attitude of Muhammadu Buhari to this prime need of the society? Indifference! Indeed, something worse than indifference, for not only does he not protect the lives of the people with the state resources but he lends tacit support to those who undermine the lives of the citizens! There is nothing monstrous in this accusation when one pauses for a moment to analyse the attitude of President Muhammadu Buhari – I attach ‘President’ with much reluctance – to the activities of those who take the lives of others in the Nigerian State.

You may obtain the harrowing details of these carnages from journalists of any calibre, but here is a minuscule version of the Buhari’s attitude to the atrocities committed under his watch. Boko Haram is a deadly terrorist group – at least I believe our collective conscience does not need any supranational proscription to label that group a terrorist organisation – which Buhari used as a campaign slogan that he would see to its destruction in the first few months of his inauguration to power. Months have gone, and now more than a year and the reason we no longer hear of the atrocities of the Boko Haram group is because they have become so commonplace as to interest any editor as headline in any paper. One pretends out of the desire to present a factual account that those who claim to be fighting the group are not in fact those responsible for the explosive empowerment of the group. One asks without much dubiousness how in a technologically barren country such a group acquires sophisticated weapons without the awareness of the security forces of the state; how the group acquires security information available only to the highest echelon of the State’s security – these are things that pique one’s imagination. But leaving aside these questionable show of ignorance on the part of those who should be held culpable for the continued perpetration of atrocities by the Boko Haram group, what efforts, even pretended, has the Buhari government made in fulfilling its campaign promise to annihilate Boko Haram? I cite the Boko Haram example not in accusation of Buhari but merely as a prologue in understanding his present attitude to the carnages perpetrated by the ‘herdsmen’ of the Fulani or whatever extraction.

Several social commentators have noted with historic figures how the State Forces have been used in curbing criminal activities when the state is inclined to doing so; and were not our collective memory short, we need no prodding for such facts. The State Forces are never as active as when the ‘criminal’ is an enemy – even a perceived one – of Muhammadu Buhari or of his. Kidnappers or murderers of political figures rarely go uncaught; protesters against the Buhari’s government, no matter how peaceful, never go unmolested by the State Military machine with passion that would terrorise the real enemies of the state; corrupt figures in the opposition party were never clever enough to escape the incompetent anti-corruption machine of the state. It is therefore untrue that when Muhammadu Buhari refuses to act, he does so out of inability; he refuses to act out of desire! So puerile is the mind-set that attributes Buhari’s crimes to incompetence!

Buhari’s greatest demonstration of his negative exercise of power as the sovereign of the Nigerian state is with regards to the activities of the Fulani herdsmen who have been object of terror to Nigerians everywhere they are found. I do not intend to reproduce even minimally the statistics of their destruction of human lives; that can readily obtained by simple clicks on the internet media. But it is worthy of note that Fulani herdsmen who are not hunters by profession, bear arms that even the members of the state police do not bear in defence of the citizens. These sophisticated weapons, according to those conversant with the market of such wares, are not only difficult to come by but not affordable by even the middle class. Who then have equipped the herdsmen with those weapons? If Buhari does not know, has he tried to find out? Secondly, the Nigerian law is clear – and common-sense is clearer in this regard – that bearing arms dangerous to the lives of others are forbidden the citizens. Even those authorised to bear arms – the state security forces – are licensed for it. How then can these cattle herders bear such sophisticated weapons in full glare without the intervention of the state security, if the commander in chief of the state security, Muhammadu Buhari, has not placed his imprimatur on their activities?

What has Buhari done on the wake of the killings by the herdsmen? He labels them communal clashes. For a moment, let us exercise our imagination and take Nigerians for the greatest fools on earth who will accept such labelling for clearly premeditated acts – are communal clashes outside the purview of the state intervention? What steps has Buhari taken to arrest both sides and do the right thing – subject them to the court’s determination and punish the guilty ones as stipulated by law? Or should we now, our level of foolishness notwithstanding, take this to mean that clashes between parties are to be resolved by the parties according to their whims, according as they are armed or otherwise? The excuse usually paraded by those in support of the murderous activities of the herdsmen is that they do so in defence of their cattle from being rustled by the host communities. For a moment, incredulous as the claim is, if we accept that they are in fact defending their cattle from being rustled, does that entitle them to use lethal weapon in defence? Those who use the proviso in s. 33(2)(a) of the Constitution in defence will have a nice time in criminal defence establishing the proportionality of their actions.

In all these killings perpetrated by the herdsmen, the number of persons killed is more than the number of cattle claimed to have been rustled – I stand to be corrected if otherwise. This leaves us with no choice but to agree with the new catchphrase that the nation’s conscience, Wole Soyinka, has coined: ‘All lives are equal, but a cow’s life is more equal than others’. Yes, the lives of the cattle of the herdsmen are more valuable than the lives of the citizens of Nigeria, in Buhari’s estimation. And let us make no mistake about it: Buhari’s senility or his pretence of it has not reached a level that he does not distinguish between figures in human loss and figures in cattle loss; he merely places priority on the cattle rather than on the humans. This is the sovereign of the Nigerian state, the one who, by the mandate of the people, ought to be in the forefront in protecting the lives of the citizens.

What Buhari and his cohorts call clashes are merely the feeble attempts of the pillaged villages to protect their pates, which fails ninety-nine out of hundred times. Yes, it is just a clash when robbers attack a household; it is just a clash when armies invade a civilian village; it is just a clash when band of adult molest a group of children; it is just a clash when the truck crushes the bicycles. But we know on whose side of the clashes Buhari is. That is what makes the difference. But the future consequences of this clashes Buhari seems not to have realised. Buhari does not know that the household will one day prepare for the robber; that the child will one day grow to a man, that the bicyclist will one day acquire a truck – and then the story will change. The imbalance in power will not continue. The clashes will then take on their real lexical meaning. 

Then shall the minority take up arms in reprisal. Then shall the sovereign who cannot punish the group butchering others now lack the power and morals to mediate between equally-equipped groups. Then shall no one be indifferent, for the bloodletting will be on all sides. It is then, when Buhari sees the blood of his friends, will he feel the pains of his enemies.

The process has been set in motion. The people no longer think that they have a sovereign to protect them. Each man has learnt to be his own police, according as his ability. The contract between the sovereign and the governed has been frustrated by the sovereign’s deliberate actions; and as the sovereign has failed to fulfil his obligations under it, the people are gradually resiling out of it. They are creating alternatives for themselves. It is only a matter of time before the sovereign finds himself totally stripped of the people’s mandate.
©2018 Joshua Omenga 



The imminent ban on the religious activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, if sanctioned by the Russian Supreme Court, will be a proscription on the collective psyche of all the religious-minded people of Russia of which Jehovah’s Witnesses are but a paradigmatic example. This will be for Russia and the world only a repeat of history, a vestige of mankind’s recidivism to its barbaric past; for civilisation is not always a progression.

Put briefly, the submission of the Ministry of Justice of Russia to the Russian Supreme Court is a motion for a ban on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and a liquidation of the organisation’s assets on the basis that the organisation is an ‘extremist’ organisation. The enabling law for this charge is the Russian Extremism Law of 2002. If the submission by the Ministry of Justice is upheld, the status of the Witnesses will change from that of respectable citizens to that of criminals – and for those conversant with the religion, ‘incorrigible’ criminals, for as yet no ban on their activities has deterred them from furtive and overt assertion of their religious inclination.

Extremism is a charge for which they have no defence: they are, more than any other group (in Christendom at least) an extremist organisation. While the citizens of the fragmented world bear arms to protect their divide and destroy anyone against their interest, the Witnesses preach universal brotherhood and refuse to shed blood even of an avowed enemy; while God has become a distant phenomenon in many people’s lives, for the Witnesses He remains a constant catalyst; while evangelism has become a neglected pastime for Christendom, it is the label of Jehovah’s Witnesses. O yes, only those who have never been in contact with them will deny them extremism – but in so different a way is their extremism from the Russian definition!
Extremism – the Russian Definition
Extremism, according to Article 1.1 of the Russian Extremism Law 2002 is: ‘[a]ctivity of social and religious associations, or other organizations, whether through the mass media or through individuals’ premeditated organization, preparation and execution of actions directed at the: forceful change of the fundamental constitutional structure and destruction of the integrity of the Russian Federation; undermining the security of the Russian Federation; seizure or appropriation of commanding authority; creation of illegal armed forces; carrying out terrorist activity; incitation of social, racial, nationalistic or religious animosity; debasement of national dignity; creation of massive disorder, hooligan activities, and acts of vandalism motivated by ideological, political, racial, nationalistic or religious hatred or hostility, or otherwise motivated by hatred or hostility directly in relation to a social group; propaganda of exclusivity, advocating either superiority or inferiority of citizens on the basis of religion, social, racial, national, religious or linguistic affiliation.’

A long definition, but for the sake of the subject matter, the specific definition under which the Witnesses are capable of being charged is: ‘propaganda of exclusivity, advocating either superiority or inferiority of citizens on the basis of religion, social, racial, national, RELIGIOUS or linguistic affiliation.’ That is, Jehovah’s Witnesses may be guilty of advocating the ‘superiority’ of  their religion and the inferiority of other religions. And what facts support these charges? Without intending to do the prosecutor’s job, a few examples from the affidavit of ban on the organisation’s literature and website will suffice, videlicet: They propagate superiority by maintaining that theirs is the only true religion; and they preach inferiority by inciting to hate the leaders of other religions by, for instance, showing the deprecatory activities of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time in their literature. There is no need at this moment to question the government’s finding of facts or its surmises; let us even suppose – but without conceding – that the government is entirely right in its fact-finding.

The question raised is, ‘How does the preaching of the superiority of one’s religion, or the exposition of the follies of other religious leaders (which its truism is not denied!) amount to extremism capable of undermining the security of the Russian Federation? It is not an easy question for a State which feels threatened from all angles, but it is a question which must be answered as it has a significance not just on the thousands of people professing the religion within the Russian divide, but is also of tremendous significance to the international community of human rights activists, of humanity in general – and the sanity of the Russian government in the international community.
Extremism – The Worldview
That the Extremism Law is a troublesome legislation internationally (for its human rights implications) and internally (for its inconsistencies with the Constitutional proclamations of which we shall consider anon) has been recognised and commented upon by various bodies and commissions. In 2012, the Venice Commission published its opinion on Russian Extremism Law and notes that the Law’s definition of ‘extremism’ is ‘too broad, lack clarity and invite arbitrary application through different interpretations in contravention of international human rights standards.’

Commenting on the definition of ‘extremism’ as ‘propaganda of exclusivity, advocating either superiority or inferiority of citizens on the basis of religion, social, racial, national, religious or linguistic affiliation’, for which the Witnesses are caught, the Commission notes: ‘In the view of the Venice Commission, to proclaim as extremist any religious teaching or proselytizing activity aimed at proving that a certain worldview is a superior explanation of the universe, may affect the freedom of conscience or religion of many persons and could easily be abused in an effort to suppress a certain church thereby affecting not only the freedom of conscience or religion but also the freedom of association. The ECHR protects proselytism and the freedom of the members of any religious community or church to “try to convince” other people through “teachings”. The freedom of conscience and religion is of an intimate nature and is therefore subject to fewer possible limitations in comparison to other human rights: only manifestations of this freedom can be limited, but not the teachings themselves.’

Religion by its very nature is a subjective phenomenon. Being a matter of conviction and opinion, demanding that an adherent hold an opinion of equality in religion, or even an objectivity of it, is demanding the impossible. One in fact wonders the essence of conviction if one holds on to his religion without thinking it the best. The criterion for judging a religious disposition, faith or even non-religion or beliefs is in the conviction, not in the correctness or incorrectness of the belief. And no man or principality is qualified to arrogate to itself the authority to dictate the mode of exercise of a people’s conscience and therefore their religion.

This of course does not remotely imply an unbridled practice of religion. Every state holds it as a duty to protect the rights of its citizens by delimiting the freedoms of others, and no less is expected of Russia.
Russian Extremism Law Vs the Russian Constitution & International Human Rights Standard
Article 2  of the Russian Constitution makes a bold declaration that ‘Man, his rights and freedoms shall be the supreme value. The recognition, observance and protection of human and civil rights and freedoms shall be an obligation of the State.’ In its assertion of religious freedom, Article 28 of the Constitution provides that ‘Everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion, including the right to profess individually or collectively any religion or not to profess any religion, and freely to choose, possess and disseminate religious and other convictions and act in accordance with them.’ By this provision, every Russian citizen is guaranteed religious freedom if in the exercise of this freedom he does not ‘violate the rights and freedom of others’ (Article 17.3)

In proscribing as extremist a religious group for propagating ‘the rightness’ of its religion, the Russian government will be infringing on its supreme law. The tenor of the Extremism Law which contemplates not only activities that pose threat to the security of the State but also innocuous activities carried out in the free expression of the people’s right to religion and conscience fully protected in the Russian Constitution has implications worth determining.

What the Russian Constitution does prohibit is ‘Propaganda or agitation, which arouses social, racial, national or religious hatred and hostility… Propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy shall also be prohibited.’

Does the religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses arouse religious hatred and hostility? Does the organisation preach supremacy such as is contemplated by the Constitution? These are questions of facts and law to be determined by the Russian Supreme court. In determining these questions, the Court is to rely not only on the Russian Constitution but also on other international human rights instruments, for Article 17.1 of the Constitution states that ‘[i]n the Russian Federation human and civil rights and freedoms shall be recognized and guaranteed according to the universally recognized principles and norms of international law and this Constitution.’

The Venice Commission, in commenting on the human rights implications of the Extremism Law, further notes: ‘International and legal standards mandate that religious minorities be treated fairly and without discrimination in the same way as other religions. Yet, Russia has contravened these standards through misapplication of the Extremism Law to censor religious materials, to arrest and detain believers for reading or disseminating Scriptures and to liquidate and close down places of worship for targeted religious faiths. The arbitrary application of the Extremism Law by Russian authorities against religious literature of, for example, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, devotees of Hare Krishna, Falun Gong practitioners and readers of the Muslim philosopher Said Nursi amounts to religious censorship and suppression in contravention of Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Articles 18 and 19 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).’

The Commission’s recommendation: ‘[Russia] should revise the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity with a view to making the definition of “extremist activity” more precise so as to exclude any possibility of arbitrary application…Moreover, in determining whether written material constitutes “extremist literature”, the State party should take all measures to ensure the independence of experts upon whose opinion court decisions are based and guarantee the right of the defendant to counter-expertise by an alternative expert. Russia should heed these findings and recommendations and (1) amend the Extremism Law accordingly; and (2) cease and desist filing arbitrary actions to label non-violent materials “Extremist” and subject organizations and individuals to harsh sanctions for possession and distribution of such materials.’
The World is Watching

The obligation before the Russian Supreme Court is not a small one: it is not merely the application of a domestic legislation, nor yet of the Constitution, but a choice between upholding a recognised right or a paranoid ideology of an entity seeking self-protection. One does not pretend to understand the fear which elicited the enactment of the Extremism Law, suffice it to say that the law itself is an extremist one for seeking to control not only acts but conscience as well.

The Supreme Court decision on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia will have implications also for other religious groups – major or minor. More than this, the Supreme Court of Russia needs to consider that what is before them is not the correctness or incorrectness of the religion’s beliefs but simply the need for its tolerance in recognition of the Constitutional and international protection of human rights. The Russian Supreme Court might do well to heed the advice given centuries ago in a similar situation by a foremost Jewish jurist to the Jewish Supreme Court: ‘Men of Israel, be careful as to what you intend to do with these men…Under the present circumstances, I say to you, do not meddle with these men. Let them alone. For if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. Otherwise you may even be found fighters against God Himself.’(Acts of Apostles 5:35-39). 


The history of Biafran war is a history which will forever dwell in the memory of Nigerians, born and yet unborn; but it is a history whose memory is most disturbing to the generation which witnessed it. Not a small number of people are of the opinion that what happened in the years of the civil war should be left as it was – it is a story already over-told. But in There Was a Country, Achebe was true to his words, ‘You told your own story and now you are announcing that the novel is dead. Well, I haven’t told mine yet.’ And now Achebe has told his own story; and what has he accomplished by his exposé on the Biafran tragedy?

The problem with Nigerians is that they are at times so full of premeditated ideas about matters that they are always on the lookout to praise or condemn without giving themselves the opportunity to be acquainted with that which they seek to praise or condemn. It is surprising than in less than three days after the public release of There Was a Country, it generated so much controversy. One wonders how suddenly voracious the Nigerian public had become that they could read 265-page book within two days, and read in such a way as to have formed their own opinions about it!

Of course it is evident that neither Achebe’s critics nor eulogizers are really aware of what he has written in There Was a Country, for should they do, I suppose they all should be gravely disappointed. There is an element of disappointment in There Was a Country for everybody, and if people should but take their time to read it, they will no doubt leave Achebe alone, neither praising nor criticizing him. It is admittedly near impossible for opinions to be formed about a public figure without prejudice; however, it is suggested that in the case of Achebe, one who wants to know his stand on Biafran catastrophe should at least endeavour to read him first – understand Achebe before judging him!

Many have alleged without reservation that Achebe has written a pro-Biafran literature, some even going as far as implying and even saying outright that he has written against the Government of Nigeria in support of the secessionist Biafra. It is easy to see why the Igbo man gets carried away with exultation that Achebe has finally opened his mouth to talk about Biafra, no doubt hoping that he would get ‘justice’ from his fellow Igbo man; but little does he know that Achebe has done him no more good than he has done everyone else! There Was a Country is not a book which seeks to justify the action of one people, nor to exonerate anyone from a rightly merited blames; it is a book in which the writer has candidly stated out the facts of history albeit in his own passionate perspective – but then, it would be asking the impossible of any writer to be totally objective in whatever subject he has set himself to write upon. It is a perfect blend of truism and literary ingenuity; and its major aim, as far as one can deduct from its pages, is to give the facts to the public and allow everyone to form his own judgement about who among the power players of the civil war were the heroes or the villains. This, I think, is the most a writer can be asked of in a disputable issue such as we have all agreed the civil war to be.

Soyinka’s initial silence after the release of There Was a Country no doubt excited some people since they might have thought that he had probably seen the indecorums of the book; but when more than a month later, Soyinka gave his praises on the book, people sighed conspiratorially, no doubt thinking that it was a mere case of an Ibadan old student praising another’s work (hypocritically). Whatever conclusions any one might draw from Soyinka’s accolades, it should at least be acknowledged that he reserved his comments until he has read the book before commenting on it. Let he who must praise or criticise Achebe first read him, not the newspaper editorials! Maybe then, it will be easy to understand why even the radical Soyinka identified with the candid narrative of Achebe in There Was a Country.

This is not the place to appreciate the book; suffice it to say that Achebe has simply laid bare the follies of both sides of the conflict as he understands it – which is not a small matter considering that he was very active during the war, albeit not in the artillery fields. If any man is hurt by his remarks, it is because the truth has an offending arrogance which spares no man; and if any man is praised, it is not flattery but deserved praise. To mention in passing, for instance, Achebe did not portray Ojukwu as the classic war hero which even ‘Nigerians’ themselves think him to be; he was portrayed for what he is, with all his nobility and tragic arrogance. Achebe did not present Gowon as an incorrigible villain of the war (not of course that he was not highly critical of his war strategies which Achebe himself personally suffered under!) It is surprising that there should be objections from parties so fairly treated; and Zik would surely have appreciated how his position in the war was brought to the public, for not a small number of Igbos believe that he was anti-Igbo.

Admittedly, the fairness and bluntness of Achebe’s assertion may at times border on the offensive. For instance, what Igbo man will not be appalled by his blunt yet truthful assertion: ‘I will be the first to concede that the Igbo as a group is not without its flaws. Its success can and did carry deadly penalties: the dangers of hubris, overweening pride, and thoughtlessness which… can obsess the mind with material success and dispose it to all kinds of crude showiness. There is no doubt that there is a strand in contemporary Igbo behaviour that can offend by its noisy exhibitionism and disregard for humility and quietness.’

This is the book which many will not read but will pass their judgement upon; this is the book which many will judge by its covers and cast away; this is the book which will be praised or criticised because of its author’s name. But just like the Bible, both its critics and eulogizers will never get to know its strength and weakness until they have read it.
©2013 Joshua Omenga