It should be made clear from the outset that I am overwrought with immense grief by the heartbreaking but unintentional killing of 126 innocent men, women, and children celebrating Maulud at Tudun Biri village in Kaduna State on December 3. Nothing can compensate for this. No excuse can rationalize it. And the outrage that this issue has generated against the Tinubu government is richly justified.
But it’s oddly hypocritical that there are suddenly vocal elements from the North—particularly the Muslim North, which went into a dreamless slumber during Buhari’s reign of bloodshed—carrying on as if this cruel, indefensible, even if involuntary, killing of innocent Muslims in the name of fighting outlaws is unprecedented.
Well, on January 17, 2017, the Nigerian Air Force also “mistakenly” dropped two—yes, two— bombs on an IDP camp in Rann, Borno State, which killed 236 innocent men, women, and children, according to Human Right Watch Nigeria’s revised estimate as reported by the Voice of America on January 24, 2017. The Nigerian military said it mistook the poor refugees for Boko Haram terrorists.
There was pin-drop silence from the Muslim North—and from the same people who’re—or pretend to be— outraged by and bent out of shape about what happened at Tudun Biri. Those of us who ranted and raved in righteous rage about it because Muhammadu Buhari showed scant concern for the lives that were snuffed out by the military he was commander-in-chief of were hushed up, harassed, attacked, and defamed.
In a January 21, 2017, Daily Trust column titled, “Buhari’s Gambian Gambit As Borno Burns,” I wrote the following words that have now somehow materialized, except for the little fact that Tinubu isn’t a southern Christian:
“Imagine for a moment that Nigeria’s current president were a man called Goodluck Jonathan (or, for that matter, any southern Christian), and the military ‘mistakenly’ dropped a bomb on hapless internally displaced Boko Haram victims, killing scores of them and critically injuring many more. Imagine again that such a president didn’t deem it worth his while to visit the state where this grievous tragedy happened, but instead chose to go to another country to resolve the country’s political differences. What would we northern Muslims be saying by now?”
Several of my fellow northern Muslims attacked me for this. My traducers were particularly incensed that I inserted scare quotes around the word “mistakenly.” They thought it implied that I meant Buhari had deliberately ordered the murder of civilians in Rann. But I merely inserted quotation marks because I was acknowledging that the military owned up to the killing and called it a mistake.
When Mubi, Adamawa State’s second largest town, was overrun by Boko Haram terrorists in 2014 and then President Goodluck Jonathan decided to visit Burkina Faso to resolve the country’s political crisis, he was roundly condemned in the country, particularly in the North. I wrote a stinging column on this myself.
“Amid the heartrending humanitarian disaster that Boko Haram has wreaked on Mubi, the president chose to travel to Burkina Faso to ‘resolve’ the country’s political crisis. Which sane person goes to put out another person’s fire while his house is up in flames?” I wrote in a November 8, 2014, column titled, “State of Emergency Amid Worsening Boko Haram Insurgency.”
But when I wrote to condemn Buhari for ignoring Rann and, like Jonathan, choosing instead to visit the Gambia to resolve the country’s political crisis, I got rhetorically violent pushbacks from the very people who should be hurt by Buhari’s blithe indifference to the tragedy in Rann.
All that Buhari did after more than 200 civilians were killed by two Nigerian Air Force bombs was to delegate an aide to issue a familiarly stereotyped expression of “regret” through his Twitter handle. Neither he nor his deputy physically traveled to Borno State to condole with and comfort the people.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s response to the Tudun Biri tragedy is comparatively better. Within a few days of the disaster, he delegated Vice President Kashim Shettima to visit the community and express his condolences.
“President Bola Ahmed Tinubu sent us to commensurate with the people of Kaduna over this tragic incident. The calibre of people that are here with me is a testimony [to] how deeply touched the president was by the incident,” Shettima said during the visit, as if to draw a contrast between this government’s response to a horrendous tragedy and the previous government’s response to a similar but more horrific involuntary mass massacre.
There’s always more that can be done, but that there was a presidential visit to the site of the tragedy—unlike in the past—is worthy of acknowledgement. I have advocated for this sort of empathetic leadership for years. I would be a hypocrite not to acknowledge it when I see it.
In condemning Buhari’s symbolic unconcern over the unintentional killing of IDPs in Rann, I wrote, “Now, a presidential national broadcast to mourn this tragedy and a personal visit by the president to give emotional strength to the bereaved won’t bring back the lost lives, but it would show respect for the dead and show that the president cares and takes responsibility for the fatal error of the people he is commander-in-chief of.”
There has been no presidential broadcast from Tinubu, but there was a presidential visit to bereaved families, yet the Tudun Biri tragedy has attracted more attention and anger in the North than the Rann one did. It’s obvious what’s responsible for the double standards: the ethno-regional identity of the president.
Had Buhari—or, for that matter, any northern Muslim been president when the Tudun Biri Maulud merry makers were involuntarily killed by the military, there would have been no expression of indignation from most of the people who are hyperventilating now.
Although Sheikh Ahmad Gumi was consistently critical of the Muhammadu Buhari government for eight years, which he undermined with his curious defense of bandits, he is increasingly coming across as merely using the Tudun Biri as an outlet to ventilate pent-up ethno-regional anxieties about a southern presidency.
That’s also true of former National Health Insurance Scheme DG/CEO Professor Usman Yusuf who became critical of the Buhari regime only after he was fired from his position. He is now furtively religionizing and regionalizing the Tudun Biri mass deaths.
”This is a religious procession,” Yusuf told Channels TV. “What would have happened if a religious Christian Procession in Plateau or Kaduna was bombed? Big Churches from the South specifically would have raised their voices all over Nigeria.”
This seems to me like an underhanded religious incitement because what the villagers were doing at the time of their unfortunate death was incidental to the fact of their death. They could very well have been at the marketplace selling goods.
Yusuf knows that the most effective way to rouse the raw passions of northerners, whether they are Muslims or Christians, is to make appeals to religion. Except that Yusuf’s attempt at religious manipulation is undermined by the reality that both the president and the vice president—and, to complicate things further, the two ministers of defense— are Muslims.
Why would they be interested in killing fellow Muslims? This same logic undermines Gumi’s claim that the Tudun Biri killing was “deliberate.”
Finally, Bashir Ahmad, former special assistant on digital communications to Muhammadu Buhari who saw no evil during Buhari’s reign suddenly went into an amnesic, conspiratorial frenzy over the Tudun Biri tragedy on Twitter.
“Haba! You can’t kill 126 innocent souls — a hundred and twenty-six civilians, and just call it a mistake. I can’t even remember a time when the troops killed such a number of terrorists anywhere in this country at once. @HQNigerianArmy, Nigerians are waiting to hear from you how this ‘mistake’ will be corrected and what measures you’d put in place to prevent a recurrence,” he wrote.
Thankfully, people shut him up by reminding him of Rann where 236 Muslims in IDP camps were mistakenly bombed to a cinder when Buhari was president and Buhari didn’t deem it worth his while to visit the survivors. When your sense of rage and outrage is activated or suppressed by the primordial identity of the person in power, you have no conscience.