AS I indicated in this column last week there would not be any need ab initio for the unhealthy rivalry between Fulani herdsmen and their host communities if the right orientation is given to both parties. I am still pained that both the government and the herdsmen and the host communities did not deal appropriately with the rift occasioned by the relations among them.
While some persons had argued that the problem would have been dealt with more proactively by the government others posit that government played a conspiratorial and lackadaisical role in the imbroglio.
Whichever way any one looks at the development each party has its own blame. It is sheer preposterousness for anybody to blame only the government for what had happened. Yes, government is constitutionally empowered to maintain law and order and protect lives and properties of all Nigerian citizens, including non-Nigerians. It is, therefore, unacceptable for government to be deemed to have neglected or underplayed this role.
The continual crises arising from the activities of these herdsmen have posed a huge threat to national development and security for some time now. The exacerbation of the crises has left many wondering what has gone awry this time around.
I guess the herdsmen had lived among us for quite some time, dating back to when Nigeria first became a nation. I remember vividly when we were growing up, how these herdsmen shepherded their flocks, moving from one part of the country to another. Nobody complained about their activities at the time. Instead they were accommodated wherever they went, because people saw their business as central to the nation’s economy and survival.
But how time changes! Things have taken the turn for the worst. People once reputed for their harmlessness and cooperative disposition have suddenly turned into a band of terrorists and marauders – killing and maiming innocent people. In retaliation they too have been hunted down by their hosts, killed in cold blood and, in some cases, buried in shallow graves.
What bothers and baffles me most is how the usually unarmed and harmless herdsmen turned into terrorists with sophisticated ammunition such as AK49, assault rifles and grenades, even to the point of carrying out successful attacks on communities undetected. The mass killings by the so-called herdsmen in Agatu (Benue State) and, of recent, in Nimbo (Enugu State) were much more than mere attacks. They amounted to nothing but genocide.
So, how could such mass killings have been planned without the security agencies getting a whiff of it? Who sponsored and armed these terrorists pretending to be herdsmen? What actually went wrong such that their activities have posed a serious threat to national security?
I listened to the address by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) when they paid a courtesy visit to President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja last week. They roundly condemned the activities of the herdsmen in Agatu, Nimbo and other states such as Edo, Delta, Ondo, Nasarawa, Taraba and Plateau, etc. The bishops were unequivocal in their call for the attacks on these areas to be thoroughly investigated. They also called for the establishment of ranches across the country with a view to containing the menace.
For me, the bishops were very correct and pragmatic in their suggestions. As fathers of their flocks they are better positioned to offer such advice when other similar organisations have shied away from adding their own voices.
Setting up ranches in areas known for the breeding of cattle is one of the surest ways of dealing with the unfortunate situation. The Grazing Reserve Bill has attracted mass condemnation from even unusual quarters. In fact, the global outrage generated by the proposed bill is enough to discourage further discussions on it.
What I think should be done in addition to the suggestions made by the Catholic Bishops and other well meaning Nigerians is to set up a special committee to study the development with a view to advising the government on the best way forward. The matter is not as easy and simple as it looks. It is a very contentious and perilous development, which if poorly and unintelligibly handled is capable of causing more harm than even the Boko Haram impasse.
Those who witnessed the metamorphosis of Boko Haram into a global terrorist group will agree that the Fulani Herdsmen brouhaha has the capacity of endangering our nascent democracy and throwing the nation into turmoil.
How many wars will Nigeria wage before it becomes free and develop? Yesterday it was Niger Delta militants, today it is Boko Haram. What do we expect tomorrow?
The complex nature of Nigeria makes constant crises unhealthy for its advancement. Apart from the problems posed by corruption, poverty, unemployment, kidnapping, armed robbery and other social malaises, Nigeria is today faced with the challenges of the herdsmen attacks. Will Nigeria ever survive it if nothing is done to uproot it now?
It is unfortunate that some persons (Nigerians I am sure) are behind the fuelling of the Fulani herdsmen menace. But I wish to warn such people to desist from their evil plots and cooperate with the Federal Government to find lasting solutions to it. The undeniable truth is that the attacks by the herdsmen are quite different from other brands of terrorism. If allowed to fester it could lead to inter-ethnic rivalry and, if care is not taken, another civil war.
I mentioned it in this column last week that the pogrom in the north was one of the things that led to the civil war of 1967- 70. The same pogrom is being repeated – this time in the name of herdsmen’s attacks.
It is important to state here that no real herdsman would engage in any acts capable of constituting nuisance to public peace. The real Fulani herdsmen go about their legitimate business without let or hindrance. Such harmless herdsmen avoid leading their cattle into farm lands. Rather they pass through the rich vegetation that abounds in the South of Nigeria.
Let us tell ourselves the truth, there is nothing wrong if the herdsmen can operate peacefully and without resort to violence in any form. After all, that was their modus operandi before they were infiltrated by bad eggs.
I expect the Federal Government to take the current threat very seriously and do something expeditiously to deal with it. It should not allow any undue sentiments stall its will to uproot the terrorist herdsmen before they inflict more damage on our collective psyche.
The preponderance of the attacks by herdsmen is an indication that their ranks must have been infiltrated by Boko Haram since their capacity to carry out spontaneous attacks as they did in the past had been whittled down by the military onslaughts. Having operated without success in the north east axes, they have now chosen to move down south to continue their infamous activities. This is the prism through which I expect the government to look at the matter.
Government should not allow its sense of judgement to be beclouded by unnecessary ethnic or parochial sentiments. What is central now is to see what could be done to avoid a repeat of the Agatu and Nimbo massacres. Measure the pulse of the people of these areas that had been attacked and you will understand the seriousness of the situation.
Another way to deal with the tension generated by the recent attacks, particularly at Nimbo, is to institute a high-powered panel of inquiry to look into what had happened and uncover the perpetrators. The panel should also be empowered to make recommendations such as punishments for those found guilty. In addition, the National Assembly should come up with an act to regulate the activities of the herdsmen in order to remove all areas of conflict and foster smooth relationship between herdsmen and their host communities.
To be frank, there is an urgent need to reassess the operations of the herdsmen with a view to providing them better opportunities to survive. It is no longer fashionable across the world for nomads to travel with their flocks hundreds of miles to find food for them. What is in vogue globally is the establishment of grazing land and ranches.
I was told by a friend of a certain man at Amichi in Anambra State who has a big ranch where he raises cattle. These cattle do not leave the ranches to graze. They are well fed and weigh substantially. This is the type of thing the Federal Government should copy and replicate across the country.
The urgency to do exactly as I have suggested has become more imperative with the latest attacks on Nimbo Community where over 43 innocent persons were dispatched to their early graves. As a result of the Nimbo attacks all other communities in the entire Southeast now live in fear and must have taken measures to defend themselves in case of any repeat attacks.
Nigeria will be in a serious security situation if any community in Igboland is attacked by the so-called herdsmen. I said it last week and I repeat it here, our people will never fold their arms and watch anybody, in whatever guise, come and kill them just like that. We will do everything possible to defend ourselves. It is only a tree that is told that it will be killed and it stays put. For any man or woman, he or she will take measures to forestall such an impending attack. That is exactly what our people will do next time.
Igbo believe in the unity and indissolubility of Nigeria and have paid a price for its sustenance. This is why they should be respected and trusted. Those who nurse the fear that trusting Igbo with power would amount to mortgaging the sovereignty of this country are racists. Igbo can be trusted with power. Why not?
All my life, I have laboured for the continued existence of Nigeria as one nation, believing that our collective interest will be advanced and protected. What our people deserve is some respect and consideration. Definitely not chastisement or persecution!
I have implicit confidence in the ability of the President to address the worrisome security conditions of the country. Already he has shown considerate conviction in the way and manner he has handled the Boko Haram insurgency. Slowly but steadily we are winning the war.
By directing the army to crush the terrorist herdsmen the President has also doused the fears in the minds of many Nigerians that his administration was giving the herdsmen undue leverage to perpetrate their evil plots. The army in response to the order has dealt a deadly blow on some cattle rustlers and criminals who now disguise as herdsmen.
I have never believed that any right-thinking government would stoop too low to support a band of criminals for whatever reason. Therefore, those making such wicked and malicious insinuations should guard the tongues properly.
Nigeria’s survival should be paramount on the mind of every Nigerian irrespective of tribe, religion or culture. United Nigeria can face any threat – internally or externally – to its existence. Forget all the ethnic jingoism and hegemony being promoted by some persons for their selfish interest. Nigeria is better off as a united nation.
Let me however advise the Federal Government to embark on restitution immediately to assuage the pain of those who lost dear ones and properties in the senseless attacks. I had expected the government by now to have sent a delegation comprising top government functionaries to the affected areas to comfort the victims. It is such insensitivity that creates the impression that government is siding with their assailants.
It is painful that up till the time of writing this piece, the government is yet to send relief to the stranded victims, many of whom have run to neighbouring communities to seek shelter and safety. Where is the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)? Why has it not acted as swiftly as expected?
It is important to draw attention to some of the justifications given by the masterminds of the attacks recently arrested by the police. According to one of them caught with camera recordings of the reprisal attacks on Nimbo, the attacks were in retaliation of the killing of their own people (herdsmen) by the community in the past. As justifiable as the defence might appear it should not warrant any retaliation. It is only the courts that have the powers to convict anybody found guilty of an offence after due investigation and diligent prosecution. That is the way of the law. Therefore, nobody, including the herdsmen, has any legalistic or legal right to kill another person under whatever guise. To restore the confidence of the affected people and many others who now live in fear the government must show more interest in beefing up security around them and compensating them for the losses they incurred.
This is why I advised earlier that the government should set up a panel of inquiry to investigate and ascertain what actually happened, how it happened, and what could be done to checkmate a recurrence.
The report of the panel is what will show people truly that this government really cares.