‘The moment the prerogative of violence slips away from the hands of government into an unknown body, there is no government…we have been challenged with Boko Haram for so long and now it is (the) so called herdsmen…”
– Dr.Ahmadu Ali, former Education Minister, ex-PDP Chairman.
The unnerving part of the current herdsmen blood lust is its regularity. It is impossible to open the pages of a newspaper without a hair-raising report in one part of the country or another. When it is not about a man butchered to death in his farm in Delta State, it is the night invasion by the herdsmen of a rural community in Benue State, suddenly awakened from sleep by gunfire, then the pandemonium, the flight of the villagers, and the burning of their homes. Overnight they have become homeless, in need of security, a shelter and sustenance. These are exactly what rural folks dread. They don’t want to depend on charity; they work all the time and are tied to the land.
A few instances in the last fortnight cannot be exhaustive. On April 11, the village of Jandeikyula in Wukari Local Government Area of Taraba State was attacked at night, the attackers numbering more than 200 took the community by surprise and 25 were killed and hundreds were displaced. The attack on the Kpanche community in Bassa Local Government Area of Kogi State claimed 10 lives at the weekend. This was confirmed by the Police whose intervention helped nip the fight in the bud. Sunday Ojei Onwueze was also killed last weekend in his farm in Onicha Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. He was working in his farm when he was attacked and butchered. A father of five, he was a graduate of Federal Polytechnic, Oko, an elder and a Sunday School teacher in the Church of God Mission in the town. Just last Friday, armed bandits struck in Kabaro and two other villages – Danmani Hausawa and Danmani Dakarkari in Dansadau Emirate in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State. At least 30 persons were killed.
The Tiv socio-cultural group, Mdzough U Tiv (MUT) has said that between April 15-19 more than 75 Tiv people have been killed in their villages in Nasarawa State by herdsmen who had invaded the villages of Awe, Obi, Keana, Doma, in Lafia Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. The herdsmen ransacked the villages and displaced more than 100,000 persons. It seems to be the view of the MUT that the herdsmen were attempting to cleanse the state of its indigenous ethnic Tiv people. Now, between last Friday night and Saturday morning, April 20-21, no fewer than 22 persons were killed by the herdsmen who invaded and attacked Saghev Ward of Guma Local Government Area of Benue State where the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, comes from. It had been attacked many more times in the past.
As if Benue State has not had enough tragedies in the year, the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi on Tuesday announced the massacre of two of its priests, Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha in the early hours of Tuesday, that is, two days ago; 17 worshippers were also slaughtered by the rampaging herdsmen at St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor-Mbalom in Ayer-Mbalom community of Gwer East Local Government Area. They also burnt down more than 100 houses in the community, just four days after the destruction of many houses by suspected Nigerian Army personnel in Naka, Gwer West LGA. In a statement by the Director of Communications of the Makurdi Diocese, Rev. Fr. Moses Iorapuu, the church noted that the murders were perpetrated by the herders who had stormed the community, killed the priests, burnt down houses, destroyed crops and slaughtered people. He noted that the Diocese had been active in providing food and other relief to the IDPs since herdsmen attacks began and wondered why it has became a target.
Rev. Fr. Gor seemed to have nursed a presentiment of his fate when he recently wrote in Facebook: “Living in fear. The Fulani herdsmen are still around us in Mbalom. They refuse to go. They are still grazing around us. No weapons to defend ourselves.
The Federal Government, from its words and deeds, seems not to understand the herders menace. What part of that tragedy it doesn’t understand remains a riddle. There is a temptation to say that President Muhammadu Buhari did not understand it because he is a cattle owner himself. This is not persuasive because the president of Nigeria has access to the most knowledgeable experts to give him the best of counsel. He can reach for additional information from abroad should he feel he needs wider input. But he is also the President of Nigeria, a country inhabited by herders and farmers.
President Buhari’s waffling, and his tentative steps on the issue is baffling because he had waded into the same issue 18 years ago as an Arewa leader to ventilate Northern anger over what he had considered the unjust killing of some Fulani herdsmen in Saki, Oke Ogun, Oyo State. The account of his almost belligerent visit to the then Governor Lam Adesina on October 13, 2000 depicts a seething General Buhari who was, as reported by Thisday of January 8, 2018, “emitting fire, the general accused (governor) Lam and the government of Oyo State of complicity in the killing of over 68 Fulani people in Oke Ogun area and (of) perversion of justice.”
“Your Excellency,” General Buhari continued, “…Fulani cattle herdsmen and merchants are today being harassed, attacked, and killed like in Saki. In the month of May, 2000, 68 bodies of Fulani cattle ‘rearers’ were recovered and buried under the supervision and protection from a team of Mobile Police from Oyo State Command. Some arrests were made by the Oyo State Police Command in the massacre and they were immediately released without court trial. This was said to have been ordered by Oyo State authorities. The releaseof the arrested suspects gave the clear impression that the authorities are backing and protecting them to continue the unjust and illegal killings of Fulani cattle herdsmen…”
Governor Adesina then made a few remarks to show that the general had been misinformed. Then he turned the main responses over to the heads of the Federal agencies. After the Police commissioner spoke, the Director of the DSS noted that “the natives (of Oyo State) don’t have problem with the Fulani who are resident but those who are coming in, they don’t care about anybody. They just go ahead and when they graze the natives’ farm, whoever cares to challenge them runs into trouble. You said 68 people were killed and people driven away. I am not saying there were no killings, but they cannot be more than five.” The DSS chief almost literally corroborated the commissioner of police. General Buhari had been given the impression that 68 Fulani herdsmen had been killed’ the police commissioner and his DSS counterpart who were on the spot were now telling him that far from 68, those killed “cannot be more than five,”
Then the governor made a heart-felt appeal to Buhari to plead with the herdsmen to be a little more tolerant, to exercise greater consideration for other people. “It is not good, it is not right just coming from somewhere then you just pass through some farm lands cultivated maybe with the person’s life savings and then overnight everything is gone. That is not right…”