Columnist Ogbuagu Anikwe suggests one strategic solution to deal with the psychology of Monday fear in the Southeast.

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In Nigeria, the people who live and do business in the Southeast appear shellshocked every Monday. They are paralyzed with fear, unable to think clearly. They are between the devil and the deep blue sea and, in this state of irrational fear, cannot think clearly to find a way to deal with their fears.

And yet, dealing with fear is as simple as understanding, confronting, and overcoming the sources of one’s fears.

There are two main sources of the fear that residents harbor in the southeast at this moment. They are the power of herdsmen and the reactions of Southeast youths that have gone rogue.

Some seven years ago, Southeasterners knew and lived with only a single source of fear. Their fear came from a band of cow herders who felt emboldened by the ascension of General Muhamadu Buhari into power. Buhari did not send them, as we say on the streets.

Our President did not ask any herder to bully the general population with their animals, their ancient magic sticks, or the modern AK-47 guns that some of them sling on their shoulders as they roam the wild. Still, they proceeded to unleash a reign of terror across the nation, with singular focus on those who feed Nigeria. Rural farmers, men and women, are their ultimate victims. They abused farmers who confronted them for letting their cows into farmlands, and raped women and young girls for fun.

I came face-to-face with the assumed power of these farm terrorists three years ago in my village, after learning what they did to a kinsman. Let’s call this kinsman Miller Kane, a nickname that he affected in the late 60s.

Three years ago, Kane was returning from our village farm when he saw and confronted three young Fulani herders who let their cows loose on his cassava farm. He apparently spoke harshly to them in his flawless Hausa, and this was how the fight started.

To establish the context of this fight, nine years ago, Miller Kane fled from the north back to his southern village. He resolved to begin a new life as a farmer after his lucky escape with his life when fanatics descended on Sabon Gari shops in core northern cities. Having lost his life’s savings to the ethno-religious vandals, he knew there was only one place where he could go to remain safe – the southeast village where he was born. Unfortunately, he did not stay long in peace before Mr. Buhari came to power and his Fulani kinsmen went wild. The likes of Kane could not understand how they will have no peace wherever he went to in Nigeria, including in their own state and village. Why were they being pursued to their father’s house by relations of the same ethnoreligious group that physically brutalized them, destroyed their businesses, and disrupted family life in northern Nigeria?

He lost it at that moment.

Villagers who witnessed the confrontation said they didn’t understand the harsh words that he spoke. They lived to regale people with the consequences. The cow boys, one of them slinging an AK-47 on the shoulder, simply seized Kane, lifted him hands and foot and stretched him horizontally with his back facing the sky. One of them drew a koboko with which he proceeded to lacerate his backside.

None of the shellshocked villagers lifted a finger to help. The boys finished their punishment, dropped the wailing Kane like a bag of rice, and sauntered off with their herd. I was told that they never uttered a word neither in response to Kane’s tirade, nor during the vicious flogging. They simply looked at themselves, answered to a seemingly practiced signal and did the dirty job.

The humiliation of Kane consolidated their psychological power over the village. The herders had pitched their tents at a strategic bush path that led to our village farms. Depending on their mood for the day, my people may be prevented from going to their farms. Any unlucky female that ventured deep into the woods in search of firewood came home a different person. Many told their stories of rape. Others bore their wounded pride with equanimity, even when they were dying inside from the shame and disgrace of forced sexual violations. Stray domestic animals intermittently disappeared, and no questions were asked; my people knew in whose stomachs the animals were digesting.

Two years ago, they launched a second wave of assault. All over the southeast, the herders, in collaboration with village rascals, graduated from rural farmer bullies to a different and more lucrative crime. They became facilitators of highway robbery, kidnapping, and assassinations. These effectively froze the southeast in a proverbial place located between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The devil are the cow hands who graduated from bullying rural farmers to serving as facilitators of highway robberies and kidnappings. The deep blue sea are our village rascals. One group of rascals aid the highway gangsters. The other joined and became radicalized “freedom fighters” of a ghost republic. Both groups eventually joined forces with the highway gangsters to unleash a reign of terror, taking advantage of the “sit-at-home” order imposed by the leadership of the ghost republic.

It is the inexplicable action of the local rascals that has left the Southeast shellshocked. Residents expected them to play the role of protectors, as we often heard the leadership of the ghost republic agitators frequently declare. But they turned their guns and knives on the people they were expected to protect. The enemy became us. Although the Sahel gangsters still hover over the background as kidnappers (or in the foreground as they were at IsiUzo in Enugu State), the bestiality and wickedness of misguided local rascals has kept the population of the Southeast sleeping with one eye open.

The way out of the problem is the responsibility of quite a good number of Southeasterners who are not emotionally invested in the ghost republic. It is the responsibility of this group to think outside the box for a way to check this ill wind that blows in the Southeast every Monday.

In the two Mondays that I witnessed life in the Southeast this Yuletide, it became obvious that fear is no longer the key that locks people indoors every Monday. It is the fear of fear.

Psychologists say that humans are born with only two innate fears – the fear of falling and fear of loud sounds. As a child grows, it begins to add more fears that must be avoided in their search for peace and balance. The problem, however, is that every serious attempt to avoid fear makes the fear more fearsome.

Take the case of the cattle herders. Contrary to what most people may think, the rest of Nigeria is not afraid of a Fulani herder. They are vulnerable and insecure souls, every single one of them. They merely live and thrive on two assurances – protection from law enforcers, and a sense of entitlement based on a legend passed on through the generations that they bought Nigeria from the British colonialists. These assurances will perpetuate for as long as the Fulani is sustained in power.

It is power that provides them with the opportunity to plant protection nationwide for itinerant clan members. Power also gives them the opportunity to loot the enclave they have come to regard as an inheritance.

Take away the power and the cow Fulani will become good citizens again.

This means that the solution to the perennial problem of herder bullying of local farmers is not stop the fear and seek a political solution. In other words, the political solution that Nigeria needs to begin this journey to “unity, peace and progress” is not on the table. It is in the polling booths, a reality that the wily Fulani appreciates more than any other ethnic group. Therefore managing the psychology of fear begins with getting one’s voters card. It ends by ensuring that one votes and remains to see that the vote counts.