Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Herdsmen: Matters arising

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

Without doubt, the activities of the violent herdsmen who are killing and maiming their hosts in the guise of grazing their herds, represent the greatest threat to Nigeria’s national security and survival. Apart from the blood-curling exploits of the Boko Haram insurgents and the renewed sabotage of oil facilities by militants of the Niger Delta, the herdsmen’s menace has the potential to undo the fragile unity of Nigeria if not well handled. This must never be allowed.

In the face of the massacres in Agatu, Benue State, Ukpabi Nimbo and Uzo-Uwani communities in Enugu, the Federal Government maintained a sinister silence that boggled the mind. Subsequently, following the national uproar over the carnage, it eventually called for the investigation and fishing out of the perpetrators of the heinous act. That was a shame!

It is a fact that the herdsmen are perpetrating mayhem across a large swathe of territory from the Middle Belt to states south of the Niger. Recently, more attacks have taken place in Taraba, Delta and Edo states. In Gashaka, Bali and Donga local councils, several people were killed. One John Ogeleke, a non-academic employee of Delta State University was abducted by the herdsmen the other day and another, Stephen Omamuge, was killed by suspected herdsmen in Ughelli North Council of Delta State. In Ehor, Orhionwmon Local Council of Edo State, Catholic Archbishop Onaiyekan whose car was shot at by a band of three herdsmen escaped death only by the whiskers! Communities in Ekiti State have also been caught in the prevailing carnage, compelling Governor Ayo Fayose to prime his people for self defence.

As though oblivious of these atrocities of the herdsmen, the Northern Governors Forum’s intervention on the matter was mostly irresponsible as it sought to defend the herdsmen on the basis of ethnic bigotry and in ways that undermine national cohesion.

The herdsmen, emboldened by at best, the prevarication of the Federal Government, have, therefore, been on greater offensive. A curious dimension to the question is the Federal Government’s disgraceful position that the herdsmen are not Nigerian Fulanis, as if it is not the responsibility of the government to protect Nigerians from foreign aggression. According to the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, most of them are not Nigerians but Malians, Chadians and some Shuwa Arabs who are armed with AK 47s and moving down Nigerians in their own territory. Really? And how convenient an explanation!

The herdsmen have even come out openly to defend their rights to carry weapons in defiance of the laws of the country ostensibly to protect themselves from rustlers. But cattle rustling is a crime which only the police are authorised to combat. Nor can they hide under the canopy of the constitution to commit crime. According to the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MCBAN), North Western zone spokesman, the right to movement as enshrined in the constitution, allows the herdsmen to move to any part of the country.

Certainly, these rights are not permissive of an army of occupation and destruction of the legitimate means of livelihood of host communities.

For the avoidance of doubt, land belongs to the people while government holds it in trust for them. Government, therefore, does not have the right to alienate from the people.

It is worth reiterating that the tepid response of the government to the atrocities of the herdsmen could lead to self-help which may not augur well for the country. Indeed, different communities are already waking up to the reality of the threat posed by the herdsmen. Several socio-cultural groups in parts of the country have warned the herdsmen to steer clear of their communities, expressing their readiness to prevent any invasion or rampant grazing. And many have invoked the international law on the right to self-defence when once life is threatened!

Now, Nigeria is toying with the Darfurian, Rwandese and Somali scenarios. This is, to say the least, very discomforting.

The perception of seeming collusion of the state’s security apparatus with the herdsmen is also cause for worry. The arrest of some south-eastern community members, who gathered to deliberate over the threat to their lives, and the subsequent open partisanship of security agencies also point to something more sinister than can be fathomed. The situation is not helped by government’s reported plan to establish grazing zones in parts of the country and to import grass from Brazil with tax-payers’ money.

It is well known that in almost all cases, herdsmen are mere labourers and the cattle belongs to some big businessmen. It is the responsibility of those businessmen to buy land and build ranches. State governments can also build ranches and loan same to cattle-owning entrepreneurs who so desire. In the 21st century, it is an abnormality to allow cattle to roam about the landscape of Nigeria, from north to south, with such reckless abandonment as is done now.

Government, should, therefore, look in the direction of a dual economy, that is, selling grass by traders to cattle herders in the north while the latter sell cattle to consumers in the south. Indeed, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once articulated in details the economic potentials for Nigeria in the transportation, with cooling van by rail system to the south, of cow meat slaughtered in the abattoirs of northern Nigeria.

Besides, there is nothing stopping businessmen and farmers in the appropriate parts of Nigeria from developing their own cattle ranches to cater for local consumption. That is business. That is how to develop an economy. And that is one way to allay the fears of many Nigerians who see more than a quest for cattle grazing in the prevailing killings by the herdsmen.

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