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 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