Rudolf Okonkwo: As Bayo Onanuga joins the league of genocide champions in Nigeria
Those who intend to perpetuate genocide begin by finding ways, using laws and customs, to deny rights to the group they intend to slaughter.
RUDOLF OKONKWO • MARCH 21, 2023
For now, forget about MC Oluomo. He is just a leader of the foot soldiers.
The spokesperson for the Bola Tinubu Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga, has taken his rightful place as one of the intellectuals who are midwifing Nigeria’s impending genocide. And on this list are people like Texas-based cardiologist Adeniran Abraham Ariyo.
Eight years ago, Dr Ariyo called for a xenophobic attack against the Igbo in Nigeria, the way South Africans were attacking foreigners in their country. When called out, he claimed that someone had hacked his Facebook page.
Dr Ariyo’s Facebook outburst came days after the Oba of Lagos warned Igbo people in Lagos to vote for his preferred candidate in the 2015 election or otherwise see themselves thrown into the lagoon. Reasonable people made some noise made about the dangers of what Kabiyesi said. But being a Kabiyesi, he did not recant or apologise. He did not even get a slight pushback from descent people, who, deep in their hearts, knew of the danger in what he said. Like a spike hanging on the narrow path, it stayed there – a danger to us all.
And then, enters Musiliu Akinsanya, aka MC Oluomo.
The head of the Lagos branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, MC Oluomo, multiplied and amplified the Oba of Lagos’ 2015 threat on the eve of the final 2023 elections. MC Oluomo took a page from Dr Adeniran Abraham Ariyo’s book when challenged and pressured. He staged a damage control drama with Mama Chukwudi when his threat against Igbo voters who would not vote for Tinubu’s APC in Lagos’s March 18 governorship election went viral. In his case, he claimed that he was kidding. But that was before violence against those not voting for APC marred the governorship election. The violence followed the exact pattern MC Oluomo predicted.
But unlike MC Oluomo, Bayo Onanuga doubled down when called out. Why not? He is an intellectual turned politician – just like Joseph Goebbels.
For the purpose of intellectual analysis, we will leave out Femi-Fani Kayode. It is not because he once flew to Enugu to make a beautiful speech about “Handshakes across the Niger.” We will leave Femi-Fani Kayode out because … e get why.
Dr Ariyo’s Facebook has not been hacked ever since. But the Oba of Lagos’ threat has been metastasising. Like a contagion, it has reached MC Oluomo, Bayo Onanuga, Femi-Fani Kayode, and countless others on social media who have started to share in their minds the choice businesses of Igbo people in Lagos.
Typically, this stage happens after the genocide, not before.
Of course, we must acknowledge people of goodwill all over the country who spoke up. These people did not minced words. They knew that genocide kills more than the people it intended to kill. In every case, it kills people unintended. It even kills the people perpetuating the killing. If you doubt it, ask the Rwandans.
Those who have taken the time to study the history of genocide worldwide know that the people who perpetuate genocide never believe they could do something as hideous as that. They typically see themselves as accommodating of others. But in the end, they wonder what got into them. There is no exception to this rule. In our case, we have a ready-made suspect – the devil.
Eight years ago, after Dr Ariyo’s outburst, I wrote an essay warning about the dangers of his Facebook post. Four years ago, in the heat of the Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers down the Middlebelt region of Nigeria to the edges of Nsukka and Enugu, I wrote another warning that genocide is loading in Nigeria.
Please, find below a combination of the two pieces.
“Not speaking up is the mouth’s fault,” our ancestors said. “Not listening, the fault of the ear.”
Sometime in the 90s, Bola Ige wrote a controversial but landmark essay called “The Road To Kigali.” He later developed it into a series of essays published in his Nigeria Tribune Column, Uncle Bola’s Column, and so many other newspapers and magazines.
If you skim out the controversies as it relates to who is playing the role of the Tutsi and who is playing the Hutu in the case of Nigeria, the late lawyer and an agitator for a National Conference argued that left on the same path Nigeria was on, the people of Nigeria were headed for the same fate that befell Rwanda. The core of his argument was that a country that is structurally flawed, inherently unjust, where impunity reigns and law and order means nothing to anyone, would constantly flirt with doom.
For those who have forgotten, Rwandans had lived in a fractured country with unresolved citizenship and rights questions, crawling from one crisis into another until 1994, when they killed 800,000 of their compatriots in 100 days.
Bola Ige later became the Attorney General of Nigeria and was murdered at his home in Ibadan.
And Nigeria moved on, as we often do.
But the issues he raised have not died. Nigeria, unfortunately, continues to dangle between the Road to Kigali and the Road to Rio de Janeiro.
Bola Ige wrote when Plateau state was still peaceful. Then, Plateau and Benue states had not been turned into a killing field where ethnic and religious conflict had not led to the death of thousands and the destruction of towns and villages. Ige wrote of the Road to Kigali when nobody in Nigeria could fathom that a group of Nigerians could rise and call themselves Boko Haram and start destroying towns and villages, killing schoolboys, kidnapping schoolgirls, blowing themselves up, and wiping out villages across the North East.
According to Gregory H. Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, there are ten stages of genocide. He tagged them as Classification, Symbolisation, Discrimination, Dehumanisation, Organisation, Polarisation, Preparation, Persecution, Extermination, and Denial. He said these stages do not follow any particular order. They can occur concurrently.
In Rwanda, the 1994 genocide started when, on April 6, 1994, a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. It killed everyone on board. The next day, genocide against Tutsi and moderate Hutu started.
President Habyarimana, a Hutu, had signed a ceasefire agreement called the Arusha Accords. It was aimed at ending the Rwanda Civil War. Hutu extremists who opposed the ceasefire agreement shot down the plane to frustrate Habyarimana’s move to share power with the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front. But when the incident happened, Hutu extremists blamed it on the Tutsi. It became an inciting tool for Hutu leaders who were determined to wipe out the Tutsi people in Rwanda.
Jean Kambanda, a banker and an economist, directed the genocide that followed. As the leader of the Mouvement Democratique Populaire, he directed the execution of what they called “the final solution of the Tutsi problem.” The Hutu set up roadblocks and apprehended Tutsi people, and massacred them. They distributed machetes, and Hutu militias, soldiers, and regular folks hit the streets, killing and maiming, and destroying properties belonging to Tutsi. In 100 days, over 70% of Tutsi in Rwanda were killed.
1994 was not the first time Tutsi had been massacred in Rwanda. It happened in the 50s and 60s. For the Hutu extremists, the Tutsi have dominated the country’s economy and power for generations and must be stopped. To accentuate their narratives, the Hutu tagged the Tutsi as foreigners, oppressors, ‘and native colonialists and even called them cockroaches. In each of the past instances of killing before the 1994 genocide, Hutu government officials have been at the forefront of organising and supervising the massacre. But more importantly, in their rhetoric before the massacres, they prepared the masses for gruesome acts against the Tutsi.
In Rwanda, journalists who promoted hate on the radio were later tried for inciting genocide. One George Ruggiu of Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines was sentenced to 12 years in jail. Inciting genocide and complicity in genocide are all crimes violating international law. You sometimes hope that the likes of Bayo Onanuga know this.
Also tried and punished were army officers who led gangs that massacred people. Major Bernard Ntuyahaga, the commander of the Presidential Guard, received 20 years in prison for his role. You sometimes hope that the likes of MC Oluomo know this.
Genocide does not happen out of the blue. There is a long period before the actual killings when the populace is prepared for genocide. The first step in the preparation is to classify the potential victims as ‘them’ and the potential perpetrators as ‘we’. The setup is the classic ‘we’ versus ‘them’. The line could be drawn along ethnicity, religion, race, and even class. The ‘them’ are next given a symbol. They are discriminated against and then dehumanised.
Discrimination comes in various forms. Those who intend to perpetuate genocide begin by finding ways, using laws and customs, to deny rights to the group they intend to slaughter. As it happened to the Jews, the Germans denied them full citizenship. And it appeared right to decent Germans. What often follows is a restriction on employment, political participation, and empowerment. In the Nigerian context, the issue of indigeneship versus citizenship comes to mind. And as we have seen in recent times, the matter of the right to vote and the right to be voted for. Discrimination can advance to what Prof. Alan Whitehorn called stigmatisation. A targeted group is given a stigma on which they would be hanged.
It is important for future perpetrators of genocide like Bayo Onanuga to dehumanise their victims. They need to be dehumanised so that their eventual killings would be guilty-free or guilty-lite. The Germans discriminated against and dehumanised the Jews. They fabricated stories blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s economic woes. Another tool used by perpetrators of genocide is to create an elaborate stereotype of the victims and put every targeted group member into that jacket. Good examples are: they are all thieves; they all love money; they are all dirty; they worship the wrong God etc. At this moment, the massacre of Muslims in the Central African Republic comes to mind.
In effect, part of the preparation for genocide is to induce hate for the targeted group through the vile simplification of complex human issues. For instance, if some group members are mafia leaders, the problem is a law and order problem. In this case, law enforcement will do well to treat people as individuals and hold them accountable for falling afoul of the law. It is not something that demands the generalisation of the group in question. A good example is the mafia problem in America in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Though most mafia leaders were of Italian descent, America did not tag every Italian American as a mafia. In fact, one of the people that brought the mafia in New York City to its knees was an Italian-American prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani.
That’s how it is done in a society that wants to progress. But a lazy society will rather scapegoat every member of a group and, in the process, jeopardise the cohesion and advancement of the whole society.
Nigeria is a lazy society where a negligible number is interested in the heavy lifting needed to actualise the nation’s ideals. The majority simply wants a shortcut to secure a permanent advantage for their group over others. The lack of genuine nationhood feeds all the vampires out in the field. They spend time scheming and searching for whom to blame for their unpleasant life.
“Stereotypes are not necessarily malicious,” once cautioned Chinua Achebe. “They may be well-meaning and even friendly. But in every case, they show carelessness or laziness or indifference of attitude that implies that the object of your categorisation is not worth the trouble of individual assessment.” That’s how the action of a man or a group of people is often ascribed to the action of an ethnic or religious group.
Organising genocide starts with those with power. It could be governments, local chiefs, and extremist groups. And there are many in Nigeria. What is needed is for the environment to be ripe and for agitators to eliminate a group that has been labelled undesirable to give the nod. The militia and other agitated groups in the society would take it from there. The leaders in their mansions, castles, and palaces do not have to come out on the streets to direct the operation.
The first sign that genocide is about to start is when the moderate voices within the perpetuating group are silenced. That is needed for the extremists to take over. The extremists do not mind killing and arresting moderates within their own group to make room for their intention. It happened in Rwanda. The Hutu extremists first eliminated moderate voices within the Hutu society to ensure that nobody stopped them.
Of course, perpetrators do not come out and announce that they plan to commit genocide. They find a code name or metaphor to mask their real intentions. It could be as mundane as fighting terrorism or fighting crime, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate the targeted group.
The actual operation could entail lynching, deporting, segregating, confiscation of properties, and cold-blooded killing of innocent men, women, and children under any pretence. In situations like this, it is often difficult to contain, and in a short period of time, thousands of people could be killed by a brainwashed, angry mob.
The final stage of genocide, according to George H. Stanton, is denial. He said that it is an indication that future genocides are going to happen.
“The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence, and intimidate the witnesses,” he wrote. “They deny that they committed any crimes and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes and continue to govern until driven from power by force when they flee into exile.”
Nigeria is a known area of conflict. It has a long history of killings and massacres that fit perfectly well into this genocidal model. And Nigeria has done everything to deny it, which means future genocides will happen. Instead of acknowledging the killings of the past, Nigeria blames the victims. And those who committed those atrocities, rather than being driven out, continue to oversee the nation’s affairs.
That’s quite unlike what happened in Rwanda, where an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up in Arusha, Tanzania, to try high-level people involved in the genocide. It complemented the Gacaca Court system that tried over 3,000 cases. Twenty per cent of the defendants received death sentences, while another thirty-two per cent received life in prison. To ensure that the people of Rwanda do not forget, the government has built monuments to remember. It also passed laws against discrimination based on ethnicity. Each year it marks the anniversary of the genocide with events that starts on April 7 and until July 4, called liberation day. The first week of April 7 to 14th is called the week of mourning.
That is quite different from the story of killings and massacres in Nigeria. In 1945 some Northern elements in Jos rose and massacred Igbo people. When it was repeated in 1953 in Kano, the British inquiry reported that “No amount of provocation, short-term or long term, can in any way justify their (Northern Nigerians) behaviour.” The British report went further to warn that “the seeds of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16 (1953) have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again, and only a realisation and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger.”
Of course, it happened again. It happened in all of northern Nigeria in 1966, Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Jimeta in 1984, Gombe in 1985, Kaduna & Kafanchan in 1991, Bauchi, Kastina, & Kano in 1991, Zango-Kataf in 1992, Funtua in 1993, Kano in 1994.
In Northern Nigeria in 1964, there were calls in the Northern House of Assembly to revoke all Certificates of Occupancy forthwith from the hands of the Igbo residents in the region. Lawmakers stood up in the assembly and promised to find ways to do away with the Igbo. Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, O.B.E and Minister of Land and Survey, told the assembly in March of 1964 the following:
“Having heard their demand about Ibos holding land in Northern Nigeria, my ministry will do all it can to see that the demands of members are met. How to do this, when to do it, all this should not be disclosed. In due course, you will all see what will happen. (Applause)”.
The Northern People’s Congress, NPC, followed Alhaji Gashash’s promise by issuing a booklet called SALAMA: Facts must be faced. This booklet portrayed the Igbo in a very bad light and gave the masses in the North the sense that the Igbo were the source of all their problems.
The military coup of 1966 presented a pretext to carry out a plan that had been laid out years before. It was a plan that aimed at the total extermination of the Igbo or, at least, their containment. The pogrom and the brutal war that followed was the final solution to the perceived Igbo problem in Nigeria.
Five years ago, Gen. Theophilus Y. Danjuma, a 4-star retired general from Nigeria’s North Central region, who had been close to the corridors of power since the first military coup of 1966, broke ranks with the government by denouncing the military that he served for 19 years, accusing it of bias in favour of the Fulani-herdsmen against farmers. In a commencement address at a local university, he complained that the government had done little to provide justice.
He warned his people to be ready to defend themselves or face extinction. He reiterated the determination of his people to defend themselves during his appearance at an event in the US hosted by the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) in collaboration with the Heritage Foundation and 21 Wilberforce. “If chaos continues in Nigeria, refugees will flood over West Africa, then Europe and eventually America — whether you build a wall or not,” warned General Danjuma.
Soon after, the United Kingdom’s House of Lords debated the security situation in their former colony. Ironically, the UK’s colonial government brought nearly 300 diverse ethnic groups under one geopolitical banner in 1914. So far, the most deadly repercussion of that profit-motivated move was a Nigerian-Biafran war that lasted from 1966–1970 and led to the loss of over 3 million Nigerians, mainly from the breakaway Eastern region. Intensifying in the last decade is a wider Fulani-farmers crisis playing out now in a nation that has never been unified, a nation that a UK Lord said could break out into a Rwandan-like genocide if steps were not taken to stop the killings.
With a military force of 181,000 men and women, out of which only 124,000 are active forces, the Nigerian military is not in a position to provide adequate security across 356.669 square miles of the nation or handle a genocide triggered by killings and revenge killings. During the kidnapping of 110 schoolgirls at Dapchi in February, the Nigerian defence headquarters openly stated that they did not have the manpower to deploy troops to protect all the schools in the North East. The security challenges facing Nigeria have proven to be beyond the scope of roughly 400,000 men and women in Nigeria’s police force, which is undertrained, underequipped, and poorly remunerated.
So, a break out of genocide would be swift and devastating, like what happened in Rwanda.
Based on the above, for the Igbo, the utterances of the Oba of Lagos eight years ago that Igbo people who failed to vote for his candidate in the Lagos State governorship election should be thrown into the lagoon was a warning sign. It fitted well into the pattern that led to genocide.
The matter was discussed, and those that the Oba’s utterances made uncomfortable urged that we move on. The nation moved on. Then xenophobic killings in South Africa began. Like genocides of history, it was triggered by the utterances of the King of Zululand. The king blamed foreigners for the difficult life of South African blacks.
During that discussion, Texas-based cardiologist Dr Adeniran Abraham Ariyo called for a xenophobic attack against the Igbo in Nigeria, the way foreigners were violently being attacked in South Africa.
“You see how they are being slaughtered in South Africa,” Dr Abraham Ariyo wrote. “That’s what’s going to happen to them in Lagos…When are they not going to be slaughtered in Abuja?…God might have put a curse on them … We will continue to bus them to Onitsha.”
It was a surprise to many that a cardiologist in America could come so low as to suggest that the solution to whatever issues he has with the activities of some Igbo people in Lagos was a call for a xenophobic attack. History, however, showed that well-educated people like Rwandan Jean Kambanda advocated and subtly and openly promoted the carnage that ordinary people later carried out.
When concerned people put heat on Dr Ariyo, he claimed that someone hacked his Facebook account. In his thesis as to why he could not be an advocate of genocide against the Igbo, he listed all his Igbo friends and how he had helped a lot of Igbo people along the way.
Dr Abraham Ariyo knew the truth. Despite his public posture to save his name and maybe his career, he ultimately answered to his conscience and his chi.
But as history tells us, the promoters and perpetrators of genocide do have friends within the group they are targeting. Some Hutus who were married to Tutsi killed their Tutsi wives and even children they had with Tutsi women just to show their commitment to the total elimination of the Tutsi. So, Dr Ariyo’s Igbo friends could not be an alibi. And when Bayo Onanuga wakes up and lists his Igbo friends, he too will find out that it will not serve as an alibi no matter how long the list is.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others.
By now, Dr Ariyo is undoubtedly aware of how genocide comes about. He is also cognizant now of how educated people become perpetrators of genocide. But, more importantly, he is familiar with the consequences of such actions. He may not come out to acknowledge it, but you can be sure that his Facebook account will not be hacked again. Ever.
As for Bayo Onanuga, he is operating in the Nigerian environment. That is why he is doubling down instead of retreating. That is why he thinks it is cute to say that the right of Nigerian citizens who live in Lagos to vote is “Igbo interference in Lagos politics.” That is why Bayo Onanuga thinks that “Let there be no repeat in 2027” is a choice expression that would endear him to polite societies worldwide. In the mind of Bayo Ononuga, denying people the right to vote in their own country is a way for them to mind their own business.
I won’t be surprised if Bola Tinubu gives Bayo Onanuga a high-profile position his government that is loading. In that position, Bayo Onanuga will travel with the president everywhere in the world. He will see how diverse countries run their affairs based on the rule of law and shared democratic values. I expect him to learn something. I just hope he will see something in Paris or London or New York or Beijing that will make him ponder where Lagos, his beloved Lagos, will be 200 years from now.
As for Femi Fani Kayode: forget it.