President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive for security agencies to go after armed attackers that had laid waste to several communities for several months now came as a relief as Nigerian had waited for it. His directive, which came to light through the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, offers some reassurance after the growing public dismay over the federal government’s seeming indifference to the carnage in Agatu – Benue state and more recently in Ukpabi Nimbo – Enugu state by herdsmen that had also left trails of death in other states.
“I have directed the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police to secure all communities under attacks by herdsmen, and to go after all the groups terrorizing innocent people all over the country. This government will not allow these attacks to continue”, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who spoke at an even on behalf of the president, stated.
A State House statement equally reassured that “the Inspector-General of Police and heads of the nation’s other security agencies are already taking urgent steps to fully investigate the attacks, apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
The decision of the Presidency to make “ending the recent upsurge of attacks on communities by herdsmen reportedly armed with sophisticated weapons” a priority of the Buhari Administration is welcome. But we must not fail to accept that there was glaring security failure prior to this directive being given. One can only hope that something positive comes of the directive similar to what has happened since a similar directive was given on Boko Haram’s campaign of terror. Because the Boko Haram terror campaign and the armed herdsmen have some differences, even though similar in the horror they leave behind, it is important that those to whom Mr President has given this latest directive take note of its peculiarities. To do this, an appraisal of what has happened is important, especially in terms of the failures that preceded that directive.
It was apparent those who should have acted to prevent these killings retreated to huddle around conferences tables in their headquarters while twirling their finger awaiting Mr President’s directive to act. That they fidgeted instead of taking on the killers was proven beyond doubts as survivors of attacks often narrate how they alerted security agencies to impending attacks without getting any response. Assuming the suspicion of murderous intent was not enough to apprehend these armed men, what incapacitated the various organizations entrusted with our security from going after the so called herdsmen even after they have massacred entire villages? Such acts should have never escape the watch of the security agencies. Where were the Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigeria Police Force and the military in that order? How come that all that came after these crimes were usually half thought through responses that belied the unwillingness to act?
Is there an existing waiver for herdsmen to bear the kind of automatic weapons that are not even available to some security operatives? What are the sources of these weapons? Since these are not the kind of weapons for which citizens have permits, why did no security agency act to disarm them? Was there a directive to not interfere with the herdsmen bearing such arms?
There has been remarkable success on the part of security agencies in busting robbery and kidnap gangs, in some instances weeks or even months after they committed crimes. Why has no herdsmen been apprehended after these killings? Why is it possible for some association to hold press briefings and explain why herdsmen went on killing spree and nothing comes of such admissions? Are these claims even logical? Could they be a cover to deceive the populace into complacency while a new brand of terrorism gains root?
As we ask these questions of security agencies we should also direct questions to the traditional institution. What have our traditional rulers done to stop these crises in the affected communities? If we believe some reports in the aftermath of the attacks about persons that spoke on behalf of the herdsmen blaming the killing of their chief or their cattle for what they termed reprisal attacks then we have more questions. What did traditional rulers of these communities do when their people killed cattle (if the allegations are true)? What did the leaders of the herdsmen do when their men reported their cattle were killed? What has the leaders of the herdsmen communicated to their people that drive the herds around in terms of not allowing their animals to destroy farm crops?
Furthermore, we must all as Nigerians collectively ask ourselves why can’t we live in harmony? The animosity that was growing before Mr President gave his directive exposed our fault lines. Instead of taking an objective view of the problem facing us, interventions by individuals were heavily tainted by ethno-religious affiliation. Given this collective disposition, what are the lasting solutions to these killings? Are we willing to provide information that will make the operations against these killers a success?
Whatever answers we come up with will lead to even more questions for the security agencies and their chiefs. Are there impediments to implementing Mr President’s directive that he and Nigerians must immediately know about? Have they ruled out the possibility of a foreign dimension of component to these attacks? Have they isolated the chance that Boko Haram psychopaths chased from Sambisa forest have not themed up with embittered herdsmen to carry out these attacks?
Knowing full well and from what we have seen in previous and ongoing efforts to fight terrorism, what safeguards are the security agencies putting in place for the protection of civilian population as they go after these armed killers? Have they revised their rules of engagement so that their officers and men can conduct their operations in ways that will not alienate them from the communities they have to work in? Have they thought up measures to ensure that the elite arm of these gunmen do not gain the upper arm by switching to a media and propaganda war that will cripple the ability to effectively go after the killers? Have the security agencies fashioned out the strategy for speedily getting those they will arrest in connection with these crimes before the courts?
All the security agencies tasked by Mr President must internally seek answers to these questions to not only ensure they do not disappoint Mr President but to ensure that the lessons learnt from previous operations are put to good use. Nigerians look forward to when they can see news of rural communities making giant strides in agro-processing and other related ventures instead of being confronted daily by images of massacre.
Agbese writes from the United Kingdom.