The country is being gradually divided along regional and ethnic lines on account of herdsmen and farmers clashes in many parts of the country. Without any decisive voice or convincing steps being taken by President Muhammadu Buhari, there are concerns that unless something is urgently done by the authorities to address the situation, the country might implode, writes SAMUEL ODAUDU
Tempers are simmering across the country in degrees in response to the rampant cases of herdsmen clashes with their host communities. While this is now acknowledged as the new phenomenon in Nigeria’s delicate national security, what is most troubling in this development is the overwhelming public perception that President Muhammadu Buhari and the federal government of the All Progressive Congress, APC, is largely indifferent or half-hearted in arresting the situation.
There was a statement from the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Lai Muhammed, that the president has asked the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector-General of Police to get the perpetrators of the killings and contain the crises. But a matter as weighty as different cases of killings of communities by alleged nomads around the country demands prompt resposponse from the government of the day; the president is expected to come out boldly to condemn the situation and inform the nation it’s plans to bring the culprits to book and end the carnage. That did not happen.
At the National Conference of Culture and Tourism held in Abuja las week, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, captured the minds of many distraught Nigerians in his terse reaction to what he described as a “homicidal escalation” in Nigeria. Soyinka disagreed with the presidency on how it intends to solve the problem of herdsmen’s invasion in many parts of the country.
He said, “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. 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”, he said.
Continuing, the writer said “He (President Buhari) 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 schema”.
The public perception is that of insecurity in the face of unpredictable invasion of armed herdsmen. There are widespread sentiments alleging that that armed Fulani herdsmen are on rampage invading their host communities around the country with impunity while the federal government pretentiously looks the other way doing nothing. Already, there is a strong attribution that the herders are drawing strength from the fact that their ‘brother’ is in power.
This probably explains Soyinka’s exclamatory position at the alarming rate at which violence is being carried out without any fear of constituted authority or law: “It is not merely arbitrary violence that reigns across the nation but total, undisputed impunity. Impunity evolves and becomes integrated in conduct when crime occurs and no legal, logical and moral response is offered. I have yet to hear this government articulate a firm policy of non-tolerance for the serial massacres which have become the nation’s identification stamp.
“I have not heard an order given that any cattle herders caught with sophisticated firearms be instantly disarmed, arrested, placed on trial, and his cattle confiscated. The nation is treated to an eighteen-month optimistic plan which, to make matters worse, smacks of abject appeasement and encouragement of violence on innocents.
“Let me repeat, and of course I only ask to be corrected if wrong: I have yet to encounter a terse, rigorous, soldierly and uncompromising language from this leadership, one that threatens a response to this unconscionable blood-letting that would make even Boko Haram repudiate its founding clerics.”
He therefore warned that “The leadership of any society cannot stand idly and offer solutions that implicitly deem the massacres of innocents mere incidents on the way to that learning school… For every crime, there is a punishment, for every violation, there must be restitution. The nomads of the world cannot place themselves above the law of settled humanity.”
Neither is there any strategic or coherent plan by the government on how to tackle this problem. For instance, last week, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Lai Muhammed was reported to have said that the federal government is “working silently” towards ending the problem of herdsmen and farmers or host communities’ clashes in the country. If his statement was weak, the one by the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Chief Audu Ogbe, was that of disillusionment. He lamented that the federal government was not doing enough to tame the problem.
Beside that, the proposed National Gazing Bill being considered by the National Assembly has been rejected as a panacea to the problem.
“After the Agatu massacre that was condemned by well-meaning Nigerians, the next train of tragedy moved to Enugu State”, said Mr. Akinyemi Lasisi, a public analyst based in Abuja. “The state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, disclosed that he got wind of the attack that took place at Ukpabu Nimbo, alerted security agencies that in turn gave him assurances that everything was under control but nothing was done to protect the community. This is taken as a credible indictment on the federal government. It is dangerous that people of the country are losing confidence in the political will of the Buhari administration to tackle the problem”, he said.
This development also learnt credence to the allegation that the north is implementing an agenda through the Fulani herdsmen who go about unleashing mayhem on other communities in Nigeria emboldened by the fact that a Fulani man and a cattle breeder himself is in power.
There have been calls by ethnic and opinion leaders that people should arm themselves so as to protect their lives since the federal government has failed to guarantee their safety. Mr. Femi Fani -Kayode, former Minister of Aviation made the call in one of his recent articles. The president of Ohaneze, Chief Gary Enwo-Igariwey added his voice to this call over the weekend in a press interview. In his opinion, “nobody will sit by and get killed. Our fear is that ethnic militia will emerge in the various nationalities in the country because they have to defend their farms, wives, children, properties and their own lives. It is therefore natural that humans will react in that way; that people will try to do everything to protect themselves, including pre-emptive attacks.
“It is dangerous and that is why we are against the Grazing Bill. We don’t need it because it is dangerous for this country! If they can do what they are doing without the bill, you can imagine how emboldened they will be when there is a bill in place. It means there will be fights everywhere in this country. The bill will not help any person. In fact, that is why we are also wondering and asking: How come these people are armed? Is there no law prohibiting the possession of banned firearms?”, he said.
Another respondent, Mary Ibrahim, an advocate for gender mainstreaming lamented that “The silence of President Buhari on the genocidal invasion of Agatu people in Benue State will be remembered in many years to come. Is most unfair. And mow the tide has turned on Enugu State. Who knows the next destination? The sealed lips of the president portrays him as a Fulani and northern president and not Nigerian president and father. He may not bother but history will not forgive him”, she said.
This is being complicated by the position of the Northern Governors Forum that perpetrators of community invasion should not be branded as Fulani people, a statement which has further drew the ire of many groups and individuals in the country. For instance, Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, has described as shameful the position of the governors adding that such a statement could embolden the herdsmen in further carrying out more attacks. The group added that such statement is divisive.
The question is: will the president speak and address these issues? When? Nigerians want to hear from him directly on these sensitive matter. Popular opinion is that it is good for the image of this government, some innocent and harmless herdsmen, as well as that of national interest.