“It cannot be disputed that the attack by herdsmen requires urgent and decisive action. Government should immediately find out how these herdsmen, who in most cases are barely literate, acquire modern weapons and learn to use them with such deadly efficiency. National security requires that ethnic and tribal sentiments be put aside in pursuit of a common goal: the prevention of total breakdown of law and order.”
Nigeria has since independence experienced various challenges including ethnic and tribal conflict, religious uprisings, military dictatorship, electoral fraud, upsurge in violent crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping, pipe line vandalism, etc. However, the fabric of the country’s unity, as loosely woven as it is, appears to have withstood everything thrown at it by these problems. This at least was the case until the emergence of a new menace in the form of Fulani herdsmen. These men who can be found across virtually all the states of the federation have brought with them wanton destruction of lives and properties. They are usually well armed with sophisticated weapons with which they kill and maim their victims. It often takes very little to ignite these attacks which have costs thousands of lives. Central to this problem is the failure of the herdsmen, in many instances to respect the rights of others on whose farms and property they take their cows to graze. Overtime, despite all entreaties, many herdsmen have come to regard entry onto the land of others for the purpose of grazing as a divine rights of sorts. Commenting on the subject, Eddy Odivwri on the 25th March 2017 wrote in the online version of Thisday as follows:
Some people in pursuit of their own private endeavours, shepherd their flock to other people’s land to graze. The cows do not know the difference between grass and crops. As long as they are all green, they are good for a sweet crush. Their owners who should know the difference between grasses and crops pretend not to know and indeed lead the cows to crush down on all grasses and plants and crops. These same plants and crops are the only source of livelihood of the local farmers. When the cows destroy them, the farmers will suffer pangs of hunger and starvation for a full farming season. But when they complain and grumble, they are attacked, their women raped, kidnapped, etc. by the Fulani men. How does this feed the ethos of justice?
Loss of lives and properties
The scenario described above has led to many attacks and the loss of hundreds of lives. The most notable of these occurred in Benue State when, over successive days and weeks, herdsmen launched a series of violent attacks on innocent and defenseless villagers in several communities of the State. According to a group known as Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre, VATIM, the last of these attacks which affected over seven villages resulted in the loss of over 500 lives and displacement of close to 300,000 persons. In yet another notorious case, herdsmen kidnapped Chief Olu Falae, a former Secretary to the Federal Government on his farm in Ondo State. Despite the eventual arrest and arraignment of some of the kidnappers, the invasion of Chief Falae’s farm remained constant.
Matters came to a head recently when herdsmen again invaded the farm to graze their cows. Fearful of a breakdown of law and order, Chief Falae brought the matter to the attention of the police authorities in the state who swiftly deployed a team of 15 fully armed policemen to the scene. Not unsurprisingly and keeping in tandem with their predisposition to violence, the presence of the policemen did little to faze the herdsmen as they on the contrary, attacked the policemen! In words which best capture the current general feeling of helplessness at the conduct of the herdsmen, Chief Falae was reported to have stated:
“They got to the farm and met three separate herds feeding fat on my farm. When the police approached them, they fired at the police. The policemen went there to see if they could effect arrest for trespassing and destroying farm produce. So, if the herdsmen fired at the police, what would they do to me?’’
Other states that have experienced one form of violence related to herdsmen include Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Delta, Cross River, Kaduna, Imo, Plateau, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta and Enugu.
Reasons for upsurge in attacks
Many reasons have been adduced for its prevalence including inefficient or lackadaisical law enforcement, religious and tribal sentiments, corruption and lack of interest of the Federal Government in finding a long lasting solution to the problem. Some of these reasons cannot easily be discountenanced as facts indeed suggest for example that despite receiving information well in advance of the attacks, failed to take adequate steps to prevent it. In the case of the Federal Government, critics point to the failure of the government to take any definitive stance or measure in the wake of the upsurge in the attacks or to even acknowledge its emergence as a national security issue deserving of urgent attention. Many liken this to the failure of the government to recognise early on, the threat posed by the Boko Haram sect before its evolution into a full-fledged insurgency that has since claimed thousands of lives.
Yet the vast spread of the violence has equally given rise to numerous suggestions as to how to end the menace posed by the herdsmen. Many including the Senior Special Assistant to the president on the National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang believe that the introduction of large scale ranching will put an end to the immediate cause of the violence which is grazing on farmers’ land and the attendant destruction of crops. Other measures suggested include a nationwide restriction on the movement of cattle and general re-orientation of the herdsmen. While the issue of ranching has itself thrown up another controversy relating to how government will acquire the needed land, it does appear that some state governments have decided to take the bull by the horns through the enactment of anti open grazing laws. Ekiti, Benue and Taraba states fall into this category. Under the Ekiti State law, it is a criminal offence for herdsmen to move their herds from one place to another. The herds cannot also be taken into farms owned by others for grazing. It is hoped that other states will follow suit in passing similar laws. Also worthy of note is the adoption of some states, of a community based approach to the problem. In these states, committees made up of stakeholders including representatives of farmers and herdsmen jointly ensure that both sides keep the peace.
Whatever the preferred method of curbing the menace is, it cannot be disputed that the attack by herdsmen requires urgent and decisive action. Government should immediately find out how these herdsmen, who in most cases are barely literate, acquire modern weapons and learn to use them with such deadly efficiency. National security requires that ethnic and tribal sentiments be put aside in pursuit of a common goal: the prevention of total breakdown of law and order. If left to fester, violence does not discriminate between tribes or ethnicities, innocent or guilty, old or young. It knows no particular tongue and on the contrary speaks a language easily understood by all i.e grief, sorrow, tears and blood. The time to act is now.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D