- The concerns Soyinka expressed over his “patch of territory” were linked to a comment he said a leader of Miyetti Allah (a Fulani association of cattle breeders) made in Borno State. It was to the effect that they were on a conquest mission. Soyinka spoke about this threat of ‘conquest’ in relation to his personal safety, that of the South of the country, as well as Benue State in the North. Then there is the repeated reference to those he says are selective about history which they use to justify conquest.
The Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, granted an interview the other day. A promotional clip of the interview focuses on insecurity in the nation. As it’s sometimes the case with excerpts, the content of the promo clip didn’t sound to me like it caught the complete narrative regarding the state of insecurity. As such, I looked forward to watching the full interview.
In the course of the interview, the interviewer moved from other issues to his first question on insecurity which drew the response contained in the promo. In the series of related questions asked, I waited to hear responses that included a description of the general nature of the current state of insecurity in the country. It was in that context the entirety of what the interviewee said regarding insecurity would have presented a complete picture. Anything different is a selective rendition of events, an incomplete narrative that every discerning mind would easily notice. However, the interviewee’s responses to questions on insecurity focused mainly on attackers who wanted to take “my patch of territory.” Those he said wanted to take it are members of the cattle breeders association.
The concerns Soyinka expressed over his “patch of territory” were linked to a comment he said a leader of Miyetti Allah (a Fulani association of cattle breeders) made in Borno State. It was to the effect that they were on a conquest mission. Soyinka spoke about this threat of ‘conquest’ in relation to his personal safety, that of the South of the country, as well as Benue State in the North. Then there is the repeated reference to those he says are selective about history which they use to justify conquest.
Going forward, I should state the following to establish credentials. If the interviewee refers to ‘History of West Africa’ as taught in secondary school, particularly how different tribes engaged in wars of conquest and formed empires until the 19th century, I know a parch of that because I studied it and sat for the final examination. One had also voraciously read other historical materials equally related. So I shall express my view in due course with regard to wars of conquest. If, however, the history the interviewee had in mind was about the political and constitutional development of this nation from the pre-colonial period to the present, I wasn’t a witness like Soyinka had been but it was what I studied in all my years of academic pursuits, including at three different degree levels in the university.
I didn’t state all of that to claim any knowledge equal in status to that of this world-renowned professor, whose field is literature, because as every Yoruba person knows a younger person may have clothes like an elder but he cannot have as many rags as an elder. I state these things to point it out that the professor talks about an issue that’s my field both academically and as a journalist, and regarding which I have a perspective.
So here, as students of Theatre Arts regularly interrogate Soyinka’s works (about 30 of which I’ve read and over a dozen of which I have on my bookshelves) in their academic theses, I critically interrogate his submission in the interview. It’s an issue I’ve written about over the years and I travel across the North, especially, to see the local situation. I think this is significant because people perceive things differently from where they sit in the South. When you travel around to other theatres of events, however, you get a different perspective.
In the interview, there was a reference to Owo in Ondo State and the attackers who killed worshippers not too long ago. Soyinka visited the state at the time and among other things he was quoted as saying to the state governor, “We got the message.” It was the kind of comment so dramatic in proportion that everyone believed Soyinka knew what others didn’t know. Asked by the interviewer to clarify this comment, Soyinka’s response suggested he only spoke based on his perception of events at the time and nothing more.
I read this response from Soyinka to mean his acknowledgement of subsequent facts on the attack as presented by the nation’s security forces. These facts indicated that the tribe Soyinka thought sent a message of intent to conquer might not have been at the centre of the Owo attack. The Nigerian Army said the group that carried out the attack was ISWAP (a region-wide group consisting of members of different tribes and known for its affiliation to international terrorism). Also, persons of Ebira origin in Kogi have been arrested in connection with the Owo attack. So these weren’t some herders executing the vision of Miyetti Allah to conquer as Soyinka earlier implied in the “we got the message” comment. This is significant because a few other attacks in the South, previously thought to involve herders, have been found not to be the case.
This interview showed a Soyinka who largely was expressing concern for his personal safety with the constant reference he made about some taking his “little patch of territory.” His view on insecurity centred around an association of cattle breeders (not even a national association for all Fulani people) that he said threatened conquest. I find this narrow narrative deeply concerning and I shall return to it. First, I state a brief but general nature of the nation’s security challenges.
Here, I show that what Soyinka was saying regarding threats of conquest, attacks linked to herders in the South and the concern he expressed over some taking his parch of territory didn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a national security challenge; the attacks in the South of Nigeria and in Benue State in the North, which he read to mean attempts at conquest, exacerbated within that context. This is so with particular reference to the skewed security architecture which doesn’t allow for an adequate and prompt response. State governments could more quickly intervene in attacks carried out by any group bent on conquest of the type Soyinka described or by ISWAP. But they can’t because the Federal Government controls the security apparatus. That’s one factor that makes attackers get away with ease.
The how and the form of attack is something I’ve been interrogating on this page since 2012. That was when insecurity took a deep slide in parts of Kaduna State in the North-West. Governors of Kaduna State at the time, Patrick Yakowa, and later Ramallan Yero, took steps to stem the situation which mostly centred around the herder-farmer issue. However, since 2009 there had been an insurgency perpetrated by Boko Haram in the North-East. Those who started it weren’t herders bent on the kind of conquest Soyinka described. In the backdrop was the political instability in Libya. Fighters were recruited across West Africa to fight in that nation.
The Libyan leader was killed and light weapons spilled across West Africa. Nigeria was a major destination. Other West African countries also had weapons flowing into them and internal instability followed. Across these West African nations, such people as Mali herders and farmers had problems as well. Since Libya happened, the illegal flow of weapons had been identified by the Nigerian government as one main reason armed attacks increased across the nation. That’s significant to note in view of Soyinka’s submission on conquest.
I refer to the insurgency in the North-East here because it impacted what eventually happened in the North-West. Insurgency, which wasn’t started by herders, contributed greatly to our national security challenge; it has helped criminal elements do what they do either as herders or bandits and any narrative that paints a different picture is reductionist and dangerous. Boko Haram, and later ISWAP, operated in the North-East at one stage. When attacks on them by the armed forces made them disperse gradually it was in the news that they were heading North-West. Soon some elements settled in Niger State.
It was in the news that insurgents from the North-East, with a huge dose of Kanuri elements, had begun forming partnerships with criminal elements from diverse tribes in the North-West. Regular attacks began to happen in Niger and Kaduna states, especially in the Birnin Gwari axis that borders Niger State. It’s an axis I’ve visited and it has people of different tribes.