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Op-ed: Avoiding Rwandan type genocide

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko


The United Nations as we know it came about as a result of the aftermath of the killings that characterized the first and second World Wars. 

In those two wars, millions of members of the human race were slaughtered.

But the Magna Carta of the United Nations or the universal declarations of Human Rights (UDHR) were birthed onDecember 10th of 1948. 

These sets of principles were conceptualized to compel as an obligation the member states of the United Nations to deploy every means humanly possible to avoid a repeat of such large scale slaughter of members of the human race. However, United Nations has failed to become an effective buffer against needless wars. 

The middle East has witnessed wanton killings of people even as the Middle Eastern nation of Iraq was actually destroyed based on false intelligence which the United States President as he then was Mr. George Bush and his ally from Britain Tony Blair used to manipulate the United Nations to okay the war which did not only unseat the then Saddam Hussein from office but completely destroyed the Country.

Also, one of the most remarkable mass killings that adversely challenged the consciences of humanity was the genocide masterminded by the war time German dictator Adolphus Hitlar in which an estimated 6 million Jews were killed for being Jewish. That treacherous and senseless genocide instigated the Second World War which compelled humanity through the World leaders to couple together what is today known as United Nations.

But many decades after all these killings that compelled humanity to frame up sets of beautiful legal principles to forestall large scale killings of human beings, the Rwandan genocide happened in the mid-nineties and inevitably posed some of the greatest moral questions as to the relevance or otherwise of the United Nations system.

The fact that all the signs that showed possible outbreak of ethnic genocide were neglected by the United Nations, seriously put the credibility of that world body to an ethical quagmire.

Few years after the bloody unrests which happened between two diametrically opposed ethnic nationalities in Rwanda classified as Hutu and Tutsi, the nation with the largest concentration of black people globally known as Nigeria is witnessing disturbing ethnic motivated mass murders even as the United Nations system is once more complicit and is fast asleep.

To make matters worse, and to further provide ammunitions for critics of the continuous relevance of the United Nations system, Nigeria which in the past few years has done nothing as a government to prevent the killings of certain class of people by armed Fulani herdsmen was recently rewarded with the unmerited membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council based on a charade called election. 

Nigeria’s erstwhile Environment minister under the current dispensation Mrs. Amina Mohammed was recently made the Deputy Secretary General of UN Mr. Gutierrez. 

We will dwell briefly on the remote and immediate circumstances that nosedived into large-scale inter-ethnic genocide in Rwanda whilst the United Nations system headed by the Egypt born Mr. Boutros Ghali did nothing and watched as nearly one million people were killed.

It is after we established the conditions precedent that necessitated the Rwandan genocide then we can relate it to the sequence of killings that have happened and has continued to occur whilst all the relevant armed security forces under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani are actually speaking from both sides of their mouths whilst the killers are even appearing in the media and justifying their criminal acts.

The Rwanda genocide as earlier stated ignited a global wide consternation because it happened for virtually two months between April and June 1994 even as the World leaders did nothing in what is blamed on racism. The coupling together of two completely strange ethnic nationalities by the colonialists that provided the reasons for these inter-Ethnic disharmony that eventually resulted in the genocide. 

An estimated number of 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.

It was only after this large scale killings happened that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hagues, Netherlands came up with a Tribunal which sat in Arusha, Tanzania to try the war -lords who orchestrated the killings.

A fascinating but shocking accounts of what happened was captured by team of reporters from the British Broadcasting Corporation which did a very elaborate news report published on 17th May 2011.

The BBC summed up the scenarios that threw up the forces that masterminded the slaughter of human beings just because they share no ethnic affiliations. The case of Rwanda is pathetic because both the killers and victims worshipped hitherto in same churches.

Like most other historical accounts, the BBC reporters stated that the genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6th April 1994.

BBC recalled that a French judge has blamed current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame – at the time the leader of a Tutsi rebel group – and some of his close associates for carrying out the rocket attack.

Mr. Kagame vehemently denies this and says it was the work of Hutu extremists, in order to provide a pretext to carry out their well-laid plans to exterminate the Tutsi community.

Whoever was responsible, within hours a campaign of violence spread from the capital throughout the country, and did not subside until three months later, says the BBC

But the death of the president was by no means the only cause of Africa’s largest genocide in modern times.

When the Belgian colonists arrived in 1916, they produced identity cards classifying people according to their ethnicity.

The Belgians, according to BBC, considered the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Not surprisingly, the Tutsis welcomed this idea, and for the next 20 years they enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbours.

BBC never failed to remind her readers that bottled up angst and longstanding resentment among the Hutus gradually built up, culminating in a series of riots in 1959. More than 20,000 Tutsis were killed, and many more fled to the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.

When Belgium relinquished power and granted Rwanda independence in 1962, the Hutus took their place. Over subsequent decades, the Tutsis were portrayed as the scapegoats for every crisis.

BBC reported that this was still the case in the years before the genocide. The economic situation worsened and the then incumbent president, Juvenal Habyarimana, began losing popularity.

At the same time, Tutsi refugees in Uganda – supported by some moderate Hutus – were forming the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Mr. Kagame. Their aim was to overthrow Habyarimana and secure their right to return to their homeland.

BBC claimed that Habyarimana chose to exploit this threat as a way to bring dissident Hutus back to his side, and Tutsis inside Rwanda were accused of being RPF collaborators.

In August 1993, after several attacks and months of negotiation, a peace accord was signed between Habyarimana and the RPF, but it did little to stop the continued unrest.

When Habyarimana’s plane was shot down at the beginning of April 1994, it was the final nail in the coffin.

Let us now return to what has happened in Nigeria now classified as armed Fulani insurgency, what makes the matter worst now are two things: the first is that the current President who is a Fulani and is known to own cows. 

Secondly, in the appointments of key national security chiefs, President Muhammadu Buhari conceded the overwhelming positions of strategic national security posts to the Islamic Hausa/Fulani section of Northern Nigeria.

The minister of defence is also Hausa/Fulani ex-military officer just like his Fulani/Hausa counterpart who heads the internal security ministry. The Inspector General of Police is a Moslem Northerner. 

The ministry of internal security otherwise known as ministry of interior which is headed by the retired ex-chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen Abdulrahma Danbazau is also dominated by handpicked Hausa/Fulani heads of agencies. Heads of Customs and Immigration that ought to monitor and stop the inflow of small weapons into Nigeria are all of the Ethnic Hausa/Fulani affiliations. There are accusations that weapons used by armed Fulani herdsmen may have been smuggled into Nigeria through the numerous borders. 

The men calling the shots in both the internal security intelligence network (DSS) and the external wing are all from Katsina State. They are both Hausa/Fulani.

These lopsided appointments are blamed for the lackadaisical approach to stopping the growing army of armed Fulani attackers who have carried out systematic mass killings of farmers in all Christian dominated communities. Fast forward to the hurried proscription of the unarmed pro-Biafra Indigenous peoples of Biafra (IPOB) by the government and then followed by the deployment of armed soldiers in a highly criticized operation python dance two to the South East of Nigeria which applied sledgehammer to crush the civilian members of IPOB before using the backdoor to get the Federal High court headed by Hausa/Fulani to declare the body a terror organization even when it is a peaceful group. Then look at the partiality displayed in the treatment of the armed Fulani herdsmen’s killings with kid gloves, what you see isn’t fundamentally different from the situational built up to the Rwandan genocide. 

What has further painted the circumstances playing out in Nigeria with the ongoing armed Fulani insurgency that make it look like the circumstances that built up which resulted in the genocide in Rwanda, is that of all the killings that have happened in southern Kaduna, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau and Enugu state, which resulted in over 10,000 victims, not one suspect has been prosecuted.

Aside the deliberate undermining of extant laws against culpable homicide, those who should enforce the laws are busy rationalizing and providing excuses for the mass murders even as millions of those whose loved ones have been killed are nursing an undying ambitions to avenge the killings. 

We must remember what Augustine of Hippo wrote that “If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbets?”

Indeed, in some parts of the North central, some victims have decided to defend their communities since those who are obliged to enforce the laws are siding clearly with the killers and the Federal Government is even plotting juicy packages to reward the mass killers. Are all these not the same circumstances that sparked off Rwanda genocide?

A protégé of Thomas Aquinas, the respected European Philosopher and Theologian in the medieval periods called Giles of Rome wrote that being a part of civil society is “living politically”, and is essential to living a good life according to virtue. He submitted without equivocation that this is because civil communities are regulated by laws that ensure and safeguard the morality of their citizens. Giles postulated that good laws should enforce virtues, such as justice. For this great Philosopher who is reported to have partnered intellectually with the renowned Catholic Cleric and Philosopher Thomas Aquinas to popularize the works of one of the most revered fathers of ancient philosophy Aristotle, being a member of society (living politically) requires adherence to these laws; not abiding by them means living outside the society. 

This therefore brings us to the critical question of how a democratically inaugurated administration like the current one in Nigeria is dangerously becoming grossly complicit in the cocktails of well-coordinated mass killings by armed Fulani herdsmen. Why does government undermine the law and is playing hide-and-seek with the apostles of hate filled genocidal killings? Why is the National Assembly at peace with the grave crimes that are being carried out by armed Fulani herdsmen in what even Professor Wole Soyinka has called a declaration of war? Nigerians from all walks of life must constructively look dispassionately at all these and other multitudes of questions arising from the official tolerance of the armed Fulani killings, so as to collectively prevent the Rwandan type genocide from happening in Nigeria. Wishful thinking or empty rhetorics can’t resolve these self-imposed nightmares. The laws against murder must be strictly applied and the composition of the National Security team must comply with the constitutional provisions of Federal Character Principle so Nigerians will not continue to nurse the perception that the current administration is carrying out the FULANIZATION of the Nigerian State. 

 Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @

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