There was fury across the world on August 2, 1990, when Iraqi forces commenced a two-day invasion of the neighbouring country, Kuwait. It was an audacious move in which Iraq, led then by the late Saddam Hussein, overran a sovereign nation over allegation that Kuwait was stealing its oil through “slant drilling.” Many nations, individually, and the United Nations, speaking for all countries, had risen against this contravention of the sovereignty of Kuwait, with outright demand that Iraqi forces withdrew immediately and unconditionally from Kuwait.
Following the refusal of Iraqi leader, Hussein, to withdraw his country’s troops from Kuwait after the expiration of the deadline given to him, a United Nations-backed international military force, led by the United States, marched on Iraq, in what was termed ‘Operation Desert Strom. This military operation lasted for seven months, leading to the liberation of Kuwait and the restoration of its sovereignty. Interestingly, before ‘Operation Desert Storm,’ the ‘allied forces’ had declared ‘Operation Desert Shield,’ wherein a coalition of international armed forces was sent to protect Saudi Arabia, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Gulf mass action was thus: From ‘Operation Desert Shield’ to ‘Operation Desert Storm.’
Today, in Nigeria, there is anger in the land. Following the latest invasion of Benue communities, which came on the heels of sustained attacks on villages in the North Central geopolitical zone, in particular, and southern states of Nigeria, in general, by armed herdsmen, Nigerians are angry. They cannot swallow the orgy of blood, the massacre of innocent people and the arrogance of some herdsmen, who are acting as if they are above the law. Individuals have cried out. Organisations and groups have lamented. They are shocked that the Federal Government, which swore to an oath to protect life and property of Nigerians, cannot arrest the menace of herdsmen. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, for instance, could not fathom the government’s failure. Speaking out, like he did last year when herdsmen invaded Nimbo community in Enugu State and killed many people, Soyinka declared: “In plain language, they (herdsmen) have declared war against the nation, and their weapon is undiluted terror.” He then posed a fundamental question: “Why have they been permitted to become a menace to the rest of us?”
Soyinka’s question is germane. When some herdsmen, under whatever guise, become a band of blood-thirsty hounds, killing people and destroying property, without government bringing their terrorism to an end, something is definitely wrong. For the avoidance of doubt, herdsmen are on rampage in Benue. They terrorise Nasarawa. They are attacking Taraba, Plateau, Kaduna and others. They are everywhere, meting out various degrees of savagery. The situation has gone from bad to worse in the last two and half years, with government merely condemning their atrocities and promising to do something. At present, President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the latest Benue killings. He has asked the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to relocate to Benue and ensure that life and property are protected in the affected communities. Soldiers have been deployed to ensure that the killings stop. However, the question remains: When is the Buhari government going to take punitive and decisive action, like, for example, declaring ‘Operation Scorpion Sting’ in Benue and the North Central, as a whole? Herdsmen, like Iraqi forces did in 1990, have invaded the North Central and deprived the people of their peace and freedom. They have put communities under siege and fear. They have become a deadly army. They are entrenched and daring. And government has not stopped the violence.
It is stating the obvious to say the government must take action against herdsmen, to convince the rest of the country that it is not looking the other way because the perpetrators of violence are from the North, just like President. It is high time the government declared a military action in the North Central, wherein soldiers would take over the place, look for and fish out these armed herdsmen and their sponsors and bring them to justice. In the past, the government, had declared military actions/operations to arrest situations. In recent times, we heard of ‘Operation Python Dance’ in the South East. We heard of ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in the South South. We heard of ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’ in North East. In justifying these operations, the government told Nigerians the actions were declared to bring about peace and restore security. Now, there is a bad situation in the North Central. The onus is on government to handle it like it did others, including those of less consequence. If something like ‘Operation Scorpion Sting’ against herdsmen is not declared, it will be obvious that there is double standard in the conduct of the government.
For the avoidance of doubt, when the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group agitating for the ‘sovereign state’ of Igboland, was at the peak, the Federal Government came out with all the force in the world. It proscribed IPOB and declared it a terrorist group. This was despite the fact that the pro-Biafra group was agitating in a non-violent way. In the ‘Operation Python Dance 2’ against IPOB in the South East last September, people were molested, maimed and killed. It was a month-long suppression, intimidation and victimisation by the military. Now, we have armed herdsmen attacking and killing people. Nigerians are waiting for them to be declared terrorists by government and their aggression arrested. Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has consistently pointed fingers at the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. The group, which is an association of cow dealers and herdsmen, rejected the anti-grazing law in Benue. The group threatened to resist the law. It rejected proposed establishment of ranches by government. It defended herdsmen who engaged in killing, saying they do so in self-defence. Nobody has sent soldiers after the leaders of the group. The authorities are looking on while humanity is perishing.
No matter what they say, the truth that cannot be denied is that the conduct of herdsmen is a major security threat to the nation. It is plague capable of plunging the country into serious crisis, if the government does not take an all-embracing action. The Federal Government claims it has been doing something over killings by herdsmen. If what the government has done is not yielding positive results or deterring the herdsmen, this means it is not effective. There should, therefore, be a change of strategy and tactics. That change should be, but not limited to, total war on the herdsmen, whether they are Nigerians or foreigners. A well-thought-out military action is needed. An ‘Operation Scorpion Sting’ has to be declared.
I am afraid, if this is not done, there is the danger that communities would resort to self-help, to defend themselves. In Ekiti State, hunters are being mobilised to defend the territory and the people. Other states may also be doing something to keep herdsmen in check, just like the ‘allied forces’ enforced ‘Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia in 1990. A situation where communities arm their indigenes for self-defence and reprisal attacks would spell doom for Nigeria. This is why the Federal Government must rise to the occasion, do the needful and save the country a major disaster.