“This people cannot just be going all over the place … perpetrating all this evil and be going scot-free .. Nobody is there to defend us. Nobody is there to help us … Please, the appropriate authority should just come to our aid and help us. Please, we are begging …”
A desperate victim of herdsmen’s marauding exploits in Adamawa State last week, as broadcast on Channels Television, Sunday, July 1, 2018.
“We are gravely concerned about the rising spate of killings across the country, especially the communal clashes between farmers and herders and attacks by bandits across at least 17 states”.
Amnesty International, on the excessive killings in Nigeria, June 27, 2018.
1,813. That’s the number of killings recorded by Amnesty International, based on reported cases since January 2018 alone. Many more killings had taken place during the period, which were either denied by the government or were never reported at all.
Suspected Fulani herdsmen are responsible for most of the killings. They’ve killed thousands with impunity, especially since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power on May 29, 2016. In the absence of prosecution or deterrent, they are most likely to kill more.
On the surface, they claim they are killing in the name of cattle. When their cows are hungry, they kill for greens. Any greens-grass, crops, legumes, anything sprouting from the ground. In the process, they plunder farmlands, raping the women and kidnapping or killing farm owners and innocent villagers, including children. When their cows are lost or stolen, they kill in retaliation. The local Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has made this claim several times.
Whenever whole villages were plundered by the herdsmen and the villagers driven out, it was often suspected that the search for pastoral land had given way for the Fulani quest for territorial expansion. One of their spokesmen, at least, allegedly claimed that much of Benue land belonged to the Fulani. A similar motive is said to be at play in parts of Plateau State.
In the same vein, repeated attacks on non-Fulani ethnic groups, especially the Tiv in Plateau and the Idoma in Benue (all mostly Christians), have given way to thoughts about ethnic cleansing. The Christian folk could not but be rattled by the serial killings in Benue churches in April, involving about 30 casualties, including two Catholic priests.
All these thoughts and suspicions are fuelled by the tardy, untidy and often indifferent responses or attitude of the government. Buhari, in particular, has been slow, indecisive or mistaken in his responses. For example, it took him 10 weeks to visit Benue State after the killing of 73 citizens of the state by herdsmen. His consolation to a grieving state during the belated visit was to tell its citizens to be “accommodating” of rampaging killers.
Similarly, while consoling mourners in Jos recently over the loss of an estimated 200 lives, again to herdsmen, Buhari found time to blame those who find him culpable for the continued herdsmen attacks. The buck stops with you, Mr. President, especially on security matters. That’s what being Commander-In-Chief is all about.
Elsewhere, in both the United States and Britain, Buhari told his foreign audience that the killers in Nigeria were Gaddafi trainees who dispersed across the Sahel after Gaddafi’s death. Buhari should have been asked about the effort he had made to apprehend the criminal intruders. Most people do not believe Buhari’s source of intelligence, given the gross underperformance of his intelligence architecture. Didn’t Benue citizens tell us repeatedly that they knew some of the marauding herdsmen and that a number of them lived in their communities until they turned killers?
If Buhari is not preaching accommodation or blaming critics, he is deflecting responsibility by cautioning political opponents against over-politicising the herdsmen’s killings. Why wouldn’t they, especially in a pre-election year, when no solution is in sight?
There are, indeed, strong reasons to read politics into the killings. To start with, Buhari has all the powers and resources to stop the killings, but he has so far failed to do so. Why wouldn’t reasonable people surmise that he is foot-dragging simply because the herdsmen are from his ethnic group and that he himself is not only a cattle owner but he is also said to be the Grand Patron of the MACBAN?
The expectation for action on the herdsmen’s atrocities is heightened by the knowledge that Buhari’s security council is made up largely of people from his region, some from his corner of the region. Seven of the top 10 members of the council, at least, are from his region. His failure to summon them to decisive action on the herdsmen’s atrocities cannot but raise the suspicion that he has decided to treat the herdsmen as sacred cows.
This perception could only be intensified by Buhari’s insistence on spending public funds on setting up ranches for the private business of unknown cattle owners and their herders. But then the marauding herdsmen have continued their rampaging exploits despite public announcement of the government’s ranching plans.
If Buhari is not doing or saying the wrong thing, he is mismanaging the coordination of different arms of his government or sending signals that he is not in control. By his own admission, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, disobeyed his instructions to go to Benue State shortly after the mass killings there. There are two possible interpretations of this admission. Either the IG truly disobeyed the President or the President said so to save face. Neither interpretation bodes well for Buhari.
This may have emboldened the IG to disobey the Senate. Not that anyone is losing sleep over the Senate’s grandstanding on the matter, owing to public negative perception of the Senate for various reasons. The same public, however, is quick to blame Buhari for the “cold war” between the National Assembly and the presidency. His inability to exercise a firm grip on the different organs of government under his control has further emboldened a self-serving Senate to foot-drag on a number of national matters, including the passing of the national budget.
What is important for present purposes is that Buhari’s lethargic response to various national matters has come with grave consequences, including noncooperation between the presidency and the National Assembly and lack of coordination among security agencies. So far, whatever measure he has employed in dealing with killer herdsmen has failed.
What then can stop the herdsmen’s killings? It is up to Buhari to take decisive action. Here are three things he could do. First, the Federal Government should secure the cooperation of participating states in assisting cattle owners in their states to set up ranches for their cattle. The financial details as to how the ranches would be set up should be left to states and their cattle owners. If necessary, the Federal Government could provide financial guarantees for states that may wish to borrow money for the project. The point here is that cattle rearing is private business and it should be kept that way.
Second, the cooperation of all security agencies is needed on one joint task, namely, to engage in a country-wide mop up operation to recover guns from all herdsmen. It is important for Buhari to speak on disarming the herdsmen.
Third, the President and all security chiefs should meet with the leaders of the MACBAN and secure their cooperation on disarming the herders. They, too, need to know that cattle rearing is private business.
The bottomline is that herdsmen’s killings have propelled security to outpace restructuring as a hot button issue for the 2019 election. It is bad enough that Buhari is foot-dragging on restructuring. It will be disastrous if he fails to end herdsmen’s killings.
This is the time to muster the political will and professionalism with which he dealt with Boko Haram in dealing with the killer herdsmen.
Written By ‘Niyi Akinnaso
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