By Emmanuel Asemota Bello
The Nigerian state is once again faced with the maddening and barbaric onslaught of the marauding Fulani herdsmen, whose nomadic enterprise has left blood and deaths on their path in most cities in the country, and most recently in the middle belt region; Adamawa, Benue and Taraba states. This has been as a result of either clashes between the herdsmen (looking for luxuriant forages for their cattle) and farmers (protecting their crops and livelihood from rampaging cattle herders) or as recently alleged reprisal for the theft of their cattle. These attacks have left many dead, maimed, women raped, kidnapped and countless homeless and displaced.
The intractable and despicable killings perpetrated by these senseless brigands and savages, as well as the seeming docility and inaction from the relevant security agencies and Government have further divided Nigerians along religious, tribal and ethnic lines. These killings are threatening to further destroy the already fragile fabric of the country’s unity. These attacks have also become a nauseatingly recurring event in contemporary times. Granted that the problem has been with us for more than a decade, viz: we have been inundated by reports of herdsmen attacking many communities in Nimbo, Galadima, Agatu, Obiaruku Abraka, Ngodo, Buruku, Tarka and Biogbolo, which shows that these acts of uninhibited savagery are not limited to a single region of the country. Public outcry has never been as profound as a direct consequence of the frequency of occurrence, and the lethargic, almost complicit response of government to the menace, whereas the killer herdsmen have been listed as the fourth deadliest group in the world and responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram.
In a country where such brazen and unprovoked acts of terror go unchecked for days and the security agencies are lackadaisical in their reactionary approach, rather than proactively dealing with the crisis using intelligence gathering and effective community policing, it gives an unintended and pervasive feeling of government indifference and creates a heightening level of mutual suspicion, apathy and distrust. The comments and public statements of the Inspector General (IG) of police that the crisis is purely due to communal clashes even without any form of investigation or on-site intelligence depicts the primordial colorations to the crisis. The IG’s defensive comments further vitiates the confidence of the citizens and victims repose in the Nigerian Police Force, albeit, the Nation’s entire security apparatus. Such reckless statements and disposition have occasioned tangential reasoning and conjectures as to why these attacks are not being met with commensurate security or counter-terror response from relevant agencies. It is common knowledge that President Muhammadu Buhari went to commission an army battalion in Zamfara State some time ago, to arrest the rising tide of cattle rustling in that area. So, why has the President as C-in-C not responded in similar fashion to this security challenge of arguably greater magnitude?
The progressively deteriorating state of insecurity in the Middle Belt States as it concerns the marauding killer herdsmen definitely qualifies for a deployment of military personnel to secure lives and property, as well as maintain law and order in the region under siege. This glaring reluctance in tackling this issue head on, leads one to imagine whether the grazing herd is of more value than an average Nigerian life. It is sad and regrettable that the President of the Federation or any of his representatives has failed to even visit victims of the crisis/killings in all these happenings, let alone commiserate with them.
Amid brewing angst and escalating emotions occasioned by the atrocious and heinous crimes committed by these marauding pastoralists, and in the face of the apathy by the government to deal decisively with the crisis, there is need for government to brace up to the challenges of our present reality and act in ways to forestall a recourse to reprisal killings. This is because telling the victims to be calm and peaceful without necessary action portrays one as being less empathic and somewhat insensitive to their plight.
In recent times, some Fulani herdsmen have been seen brandishing automatic assault rifles while herding their cattle, this scenario brings to fore a worrying dimension to this whole unfortunate and avoidable disaster. Possession of semiautomatic and automatic weapons by civilians violate the laws of the land. The average Fulani herdsman is not trained in the art of weapons handling. So, having a herdsman toting a weapon and exhibiting such reprehensible and condemnable sophistry calls for greater introspection as to the severity and far reaching security implications. Another disturbing angle is, considering the average cost of an AK47 in the black market (between $300-$450), its proliferation and ease of possession opens a whole new vista of suspicion of plausible subterranean connivance with some of the security agencies, wealthy sponsors willing to cause instability in the land, cattle owners lending support to impunity or infiltration of arms from troubled region, viz: Libya and North Africa or a combination of the above. Or is it a malignant mutation or transformation of the released Boko Haram members now insidiously camouflaging under the guise of Fulani herdsmen?
The question then is: Who is training the herdsmen in weapons handling? Who is funding this acquisition of assault weapons? Why are the security agencies not deployed on time to nip these acts in the bud?
We have heard several times when communities call attention to the convergence of these killer herdsmen in nearby towns and villages, but the security agencies have done nothing to proactively address the palpable threat. The victims and other vulnerable communities are now living in a state of conditioned helplessness with some resorting to self-help which is not healthy in the attainment of peace and stability.
The Nigerian government in the discharge of its duties, has shown crass insensitivity, mind boggling viciousness and colossal ineptitude in the handling of this issue and the earlier they rise to their constitutional responsibility, and save us from this calamitous precipice and potentially combustible situation, the better for the country.
The way forward
Government should treat cattle grazing as a business enterprise and use global best practice in cattle/animal husbandry and management.
There should be a gradual and time-bound phasing out of nomadic type grazing of cattle in public and private lands and on farmlands backed the force of legislative enactment.
Government should jettison or totally forget about cattle colonies or setting aside State-owned lands specifically for herdsmen; given #1 above, it is not the business of government to be involved in this type of business.
Security agencies should be proactive and timely in the discharge of their duties
Government should deem the use of assault rifles by the herdsmen as an act of criminality and same be dealt with using the full force of the law.