President Buhari says ongoing killings should not be politicised, but the latest statement could further deepen partisan bickering.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari warned against politicising the ongoing killings across Nigeria, his aides have yet again reminded Nigerians that deadly attacks resulting in high number of deaths did not start under his government, but rather a reality which Nigerians lived through for the most part of Peoples Democratic Party’s 16-year rule.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, said the PDP was playing politics when the major opposition party declared a week-long national mourning in memory of those killed last weekend in Plateau State.
The police put the figures of those killed around 100, but witnesses and organised groups like the Christian Association of Nigeria are estimating over 200 deaths in the killings which affected several communities in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area between July 23 and 25.
Mr Buhari was in Jos, the state capital, located about 50 kilometres north of the affected communities, to commiserate with the state government and reassert his administration’s commitment to hunt down the killers and ensure justice for the victims.
The PDP, which became Nigeria’s major opposition party following its defeat at the 2015 general elections, announced Wednesday evening its flag would be unfurled at half-staff at its local and national chapters across the country for the next seven days.
For concrete action, the party said the “people of Plateau State” should “exercise their rights as global citizens, work with other public-spirited Nigerians and groups and take President Muhammadu Buhari and his government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague for acting helpless in the face of continuous mass killings in our country.”
“The PDP firmly holds that the life of every Nigerian is sacred. All Nigerians must be protected whether they are Birom, Basange, Igbira, Tiv, Idoma, Hausa, Igbo, Fulani, Gbagyi, Yoruba or from any other tribe whatsoever,” the party added. “The fundamental duty of government all over the world is the protection of lives and Nigerians can no longer continue to fold their hands while compatriots are being daily hacked down by marauders.”
In both tone and deed, the PDP’s move to rally Nigerians appeared an uncomfortable development for the State House, prompting Mr Adesina to exhume a string of past killings he said occurred without declarations of national mourning by the opposition party when it was in power.
Rather than exercise “decorum, deep introspection” and help proffer “actionable ideas” on how to end the senseless killings in the country, the PDP danced “on the graves of the dead, playing cheap, infantile politics,” with its national mourning, Mr Adesina said.
Mr Adesina said the PDP’s mourning exercise would fail because “Nigerians are politically discerning, and cannot be hoodwinked by cheap antics.”
The spokesperson went on to list the following past incidents and called out the PDP for allegedly failing to mourn the casualties at the time.
– November 20, 1999. Odi, in Bayelsa State, was invaded on orders of a PDP President. About 2,500 people killed. No national mourning.
– Between February and May, 2000, about 5,000 people were killed during riots over Sharia law in different parts of the North. No national mourning.
– In 2001, hundreds of people, including the old, infirm, women and children were killed in Zaki Biam. No crocodile tears.
– Between September 7-12, 2001, Jos, Plateau State, erupted in internecine killings. Between 500 and 1,000 people were killed. Flags were not flown at half mast.
– In February, 2004, at least 975 people were killed in Yelwa-Shendam, Plateau State. No mourning by the then ruling PDP.
– Between November 28 and 29, 2008, Jos was in flames again, with 381 deaths. No mourning.
– In 2010, 992 people killed in Jos. Mum was the word.
– In 2014 alone, according to Global Terrorism Index, at least 1,229 people were killed in the Middle Belt. No mourning.
– Boko Haram killings in PDP years were over 10,000. PDP flags were still fluttering proudly in the sky.
PREMIUM TIMES has not been able to examine the specifics of claims made by Mr Adesina and, therefore, cannot immediately corroborate their veracity.
Kola Ologbondiyan, a spokesperson for the PDP, said the party will exercise restraint and not be tempted into politicising the tragedy.
“We do not engage in counting of the dead, our party is currently mourning and we are not going to allow ourselves to be dragged into politicking by the Buhari presidency,” Mr Ologbondiyan told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Thursday morning.
While Mr Adesina said the claims should not be seen as an attempt to score political points with body counts, it was not the first time administration officials would amplify past atrocities while responding to latest incidents.
While responding to a barrage of outrage in the aftermath of January killings in Benue State, Garba Shehu, another senior presidential spokesperson, said Nigerians should remember that over 756 deaths were recorded in farmers-herders clashes during Jonathan administration.
Following last weekend’s massacre in Plateau, the first official reaction from the presidency cautioned the citizens against politicising the killings, a warning critics said was a calculated plot by the administration to retain its political advantage even as security situation deteriorated.
“They know the political consequences of their security failures, that is why they are always quick to say the killings should not be politicised,” said political analyst Sola Olubanjo. “Nigerians should not fall for the administration’s plot, and I advise everyone to speak out because no one seems to be safe anymore with these frequent and wholesale killings.”
Mr Olubanjo recalled that Mr Buhari himself while in the opposition issued several statements condemning deaths of Nigerians and putting the responsibility of securing Nigerians at the feet of the government at the time.
“People on social media have been recirculating the president’s attacks against former President Jonathan when there were security issues back then, so why should he now expect not to be challenged even when he displays worse and alarming level of incompetence in the area of security?” Mr Olubanjo said. “If there is anyone politicising the killings here, Nigerians will say it is the president and his aides.”
“You cannot sit there and be calling yourself the president while killings are happening at dizzying frequencies and still expect not to pay a political price for your incompetence,” the analyst added.
For pro-administration commentators, securing the country should be a collective effort of all, rather than holding the president solely responsible.
“It would be unpatriotic of people to accuse the president of not doing his best to stop the killings,” said Hakeem Akintayo, a public relations consultant for the government. “Nigerians should see the sincerity of purpose in the president’s efforts to solve the problem.”
“Resolving the security challenges should be a collective effort of everyone, and no one should be working to gain political advantages from the situation,” he added.