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BLOOD flowed in Benue State this week, like it has become the case always, as herdsmen visited six communities with violence of monumental proportion. In the New Year attack, invading herdsmen killed no fewer than 50 persons in a heinous manner. Scores of others were injured.
Indeed, the gory pictures of those killed or injured in the attack on communities in Guma and Logo local government areas would make even a heart of stone melt. Throats were slit. Stomachs were cut open. Heads and limbs were severed. Men were killed. Women were murdered. Children were massacred. It was carnage carried out in the most ruthless manner.
As expected, President Muhammadu Buhari, through a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, condemned the killings. Quoting the President as describing the attack as “wicked and callous,” the statement said: “The President assured the governor (Samuel Ortom) and people of the state that relevant security agencies have been directed to do everything possible to arrest those behind the regrettable incidents and avert further attacks.”
On face value, President Buhari’s directive is quite reassuring. When a President, feeling concerned, condemns a wrong doing or criminal activity and directs security agencies to arrest the situation, the citizens are expected to heave a sigh of relief and also have a sense of protection. However, judging by the way things have been going, do the people of Benue State have that sense of protection, even when the President has spoken? I doubt this. I do not think so because they are still fleeing to places they consider safe. For them, the President’s condemnation of the herdsmen’s attacks and his directive to security agents to arrest the killings and bring the perpetrators to book have become a routine, which change nothing. I agree with them. This is so because, after all said and done, no decisive action has been taken to tame the herdsmen.
To be sure, I remember that the same presidential order and assurances were made in April last year, when herdsmen attacked Nimbo community in Enugu State. At that time, President Buhari had declared: “I have directed the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police to secure all communities under attack by herdsmen, and to go after all the groups terrorising innocent people all over the country. This government will not allow these attacks to continue. These attacks will not continue.”
While Nimbo community may not have had another cruel attack, last year, herdsmen are still on the prowl, killing and maiming people who challenge their activities. Yes, herdsmen’s carnage has continued.
For the avoidance of doubt, herdsmen had attacked Dori and Mesuma villages in Gashaka Local Government Area of Taraba State. Many people were killed. They descended on Kwata in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State. Scores were massacred. They took their bloodletting to Umuekune village of Irete community, in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State. Many lost their lives. They visited mayhem on Agatu and other communities in Benue at different times. Many people were killed and buildings destroyed. Many other communities in the North Central, South West, South East and South South have also lost people and property to herdsmen. The question is: Are these herdsmen
spirits? Are they invincible and, therefore, cannot been seen and tamed? Are they above the law? I ask these questions because, despite all the promises, government has behaved in a way that portray it as being helpless or lacking the political will to deal with the matter. Like the police advert, which said that armed robbers were not spirits but people like us, herdsmen are not spirits. They are known. But it does appear that the government does not see the herdsmen’s killings and menace as a problem. Instead of proactive measures, what government has been doing is reactionary. Now, government waits for the herdsmen to act and then condemns their actions. And nobody whatsoever has been brought to book.
I found it curious that in talking about security challenges in the country, President Buhari did not mention the menace of herds- men. In his nationwide broadcast of January 1, he talked only about terrorism, with regard to the activities of Boko Haram, and kidnapping. Specifically, he said of kidnapping: “With regard to rampant cases of kidnappings, we are taking immediate short-term measures to combat this new evil creeping into our societies. Tighter police methods and swift and severe punishment for those proved to be engaged in kidnapping are on the way.” No mention was made of the activities of herdsmen. Meanwhile, herdsmen are on the rampage, wreaking havoc across the nation.
Methinks that, had the government seen herdsmen’s havoc as a challenge, President Buhari would have found it worth mentioning in his broadcast. Had he done that, this could have sent signals to herdsmen. It would have assured the citizenry, particularly those who have suffered herdsmen’s attacks, that government was not only concerned but also ready to do something to stem the tide. It would have made more assuring President Buhari’s promise thus: “Our government remains determined to protect all Nigerians, in line with our election pledge and promises.”
My position in April last year, after the Nimbo attack by herdsmen, is still valid today. As serious as President Buhari would want us to take his declaration, there is nothing that gives much hope. It is this same feeling that made Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, to declare last year: “When I read a short while ago the presidential assurance to this nation that the current homicidal escalation between the cattle prowlers and farming communities would soon be over, I
felt mortified. He had the solution, he said. Cattle ranches were being set up, and in another 18 months, rustlings, destruction of livelihood and killings from herdsmen would be ‘a thing of the past.’ Eighteen months, he assured the nation. I believe his Minister of Agriculture echoed that later, but with a less dispiriting time scheme.
“Neither, however, could be considered a message of solace and reassurance for the ordinary Nigerian farmer and the lengthening cast of victims, much less to an intending tourist to the Forest Retreat of Tinana in the Rivers, the Ikogosi Springs or the Moslem architectural heritage of the ancient city of Kano. In any case, the external tourists have less hazardous options.”
I believe that Buhari’s presidential declaration on the herdsmen’s carnage should go beyond promises and assurances. What Nigerians need is action, in the real sense of it, and not lip service. Decisive action and determination should be attached to what President Buhari has said. As long as no herdsman is arrested or, when arrest is effected, nobody is brought to book, President Buhari’s directive means nothing.
The Federal Government should also take long-term measures to solve the problem. In countries where cattle rearing is serious business, ranching is practiced. Those who engage in cattle business should provide ranches for themselves. Open grazing, which leads to the destruction of people’s farmlands, is an infringement on the fundamental rights, means of livelihood and businesses of farmers.