The Presidency has responded to a call made by a former Army chief, urging Nigerians to rise up and defend themselves against violent attacks.
Former Army general, Theophilus Danjuma, said Nigerians were being slaughtered by deadly gangs because the armed forces were “not neutral”.
He said security forces instead helped the assailants by providing them with cover.
“The armed forces are not neutral,” Mr. Danjuma said at the maiden convocation of the Taraba State University in Jalingo, the state capital. “They collude with the armed bandits to kill people, kill Nigerians.”
The federal government and the military earlier dismissed the call as “inflammatory” and urged Nigerians to disregard them.
In its first official response Saturday, a week after the remarks were made, the Presidency said Mr. Danjuma’s comments were “shocking and scary” and could embolden “criminal gangs”.
“The Presidency is very worried that criminal gangs will feel justified in defying legal governing and democratic institutions, and authority of legitimately elected democratic government if unrestrained pronouncements are made,” a statement by spokesman Garba Shehu said.
“Silence can be dignified, but sometimes it can be misinterpreted and exploited. It is both shocking and scary to hear the recent comments by a senior citizen calling for Nigerians to defend themselves.”
The statement warned that Nigeria may not survive if its citizens rose against the country’s “organized, trained and equipped military”.
The statement did not directly mention Mr. Danjuma, who was President Muhammadu Buhari’s superior in the army.
“We advise former leaders to take advantage of the various fora where people with a history of national security can offer advice to the government without resorting to the exploitation of emotional sentiments.
“The civil war motto: “TO KEEP NIGERIA ONE IS A TASK THAT MUST BE DONE” rings very timely at this time in our nation’s history. We must be careful to avoid the mess that destroyed other African countries like Somalia,” it added.
Deadly killings have been recorded in several states across Nigeria since January 2018, but the government has appeared helpless at identifying and bringing culprits to book. The clashes have been mostly between herders and farmers.
Hundreds have been killed in attacks on villages in Benue, Kogi, Adamawa, Zamfara, Kaduna and Mr. Danjuma’s home state of Taraba since January.
The 2018 attacks began in Benue, where about 100 people were murdered across two local government areas on January 1 by suspected herders.
Mr. Danjuma said unchecked violence is pushing Nigeria towards Somalia, a country that has been in a state of war since 1991. The East African country is widely seen as a failed state due to the failure of the central government to have any serious control beyond the capital, Mogadishu.
“This is highly uncalled for and is invitation to anarchy and should be disregarded by well-meaning Nigerians,” the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, had earlier said.