Herders’ influx: What is South South doing?

EBENEZER ADUROKIYA, ALPHONSUS AGBORH, HENDRIX OLIOMOGBO, ANDY-MBA UKWENI, GODWIN AMAECHI, EBIOWEI LAWAL and INIOBONG EKPONTA, in this report, examine the implications of the influx herders to the South South after the ban on open grazing in many parts of the South-West, and states in the South South are handling the development.

It was reported about a while ago that operatives of the Western Regional Security Network, otherwise known as Amotekun, in Ondo and Ekiti states, escorted herdsmen, who refused to register their businesses as directed by the state governments, to the boundaries of Kwara, Edo and Kogi states. Edo State is a known gateway to other parts of the country such as the South East and the Niger Delta. As the forced eviction continues, beside leaving behind in their wake tales of tears, sorrow and death, the untoward activities of the herders are beginning to manifest exponentially in their new found homes. For instance, recently, some boys from Ekenwan road in Benin, reportedly arrested some suspected kidnappers operating close to the Ekenwan Military Barracks, thereby exacerbating the kidnapping menace already entrenched in the South-South states. The region has always been plagued by the criminal activities of vandals, kidnappers, bandits, robbers, cultists and from time immemorial.

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Governor Obaseki of Edo State

Unlike states in the South-West region, which have been able to establish Amotekun to checkmate the excesses of marauders, states in the South-South have not been able to replicate similar outfits to tackle insecurity due to the obvious reason of heterogeneity of cultures in the region.

In Delta State, parts of the three senatorial districts are territories where killer herdsmen have been operating for some years now. Those parts include Igbo-speaking Delta North, Abraka and Obiaruku part of Delta Central and Isoko axis of Delta South. Over time, scores of women and men have been either raped or killed in their farms by suspected gun-wielding herdsmen. Those lucky to have escaped surrendered their farms to the marauders, while security operatives appear to foot-drag in confronting and apprehending the perpetrators.

Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, for instance, believes that the Northern youths in the state are on survival mission, looking for any menial work to eke a living.

Aligning with the stance of Mr Aniagwu, the chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Warri branch, Mr. Emmanuel Uti, sees the influx of herdsmen and northern youths to the state in two ways. For him, the northern youths are taking care of menial jobs and contributing to the economy as most Southern youths no longer like carrying out menial jobs. He also argues that it has become apparent that most of the kidnappings are being carried out by criminal herders, which is very dangerous and need to be curtailed by security agencies and the government.

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Cross River governor Ben Ayade

Executive Director of the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP), Oghenejabor Ikimi, opined that the “implications of the influx of Almajiris or northern youths to the South-South would be dire only if their influx is based on ulterior motives to destabilise the region. Most of the Almajiris I see on my way to court in Effurun, Delta State with shovels are mainly labourers who are struggling to make ends meet which, to me, is lawful. Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) guarantees the right to freedom of movement, but such movements can be curtailed by our criminal laws if same is criminally based. Not all northerners relocating to the South-South are criminally minded.”

Jonathan Ekperusi, Chairman, NBA, Effurun Branch, also observed positive and negative implications of the influx to include provision of cheap labour as well as posing serious security threats, especially the herders among them.

National coordinator for the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), Sheriff Mulade, in his reaction expressed fear over the migration of herders and northern youths to the Niger Delta. “Inasmuch as anyone has the right to migrate to other parts of the country for the singular fact that the entire country including the South-South is called Nigeria, massive migration of people from the north to the South-South region apart from the positive economic benefit, will lead to increase in crime and other vices in the region.”

On why the South-South region has not been able to establish a common security network across the region to checkmate activities of criminals, Uti, Ikimi, Ekperusi and Mulade blamed it on lack of homogeneity in culture, ancestry, language, cognitive worldview and lack of unity of purpose among governors of the states.

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Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers

Just after one year being on the drawing board, the state government recently, in Asaba, finally unveiled the new security outfit,Operation Delta Hawk, as inaugurated by Governor Okowa  who quickly called on residents of the state to assist in tracking down criminals and their cohorts. Items inaugurated at the flag-off ceremony at the outfit headquarters included operational vehicles, body armour, communication gadgets and other security apparatus used in gathering information on security related issues.

Speaking on the alleged influx of evicted herders from the South-West, the Delta State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Onome Onowakpoyeya, however, observed that the state with the Big Heart, is rather witnessing some peace, warning against whipping up sentiments. “No herder has been dumped here in the state from any part of the country. We are on the lookout anyway, but for now, there is no report,” she quipped.

Like Amotekun in South West, like People Volunteer Force in Edo

The burning desire to fill in the gap left by the near absence of security agencies and secure the lives and properties of Edo people from kidnappers recently led to the formation of a militant group, the Patriot Volunteer League (PVL).

The coordinator, Mr. Mike Amadin, insisted that concerned Edo youths could no longer fold their hands and watch those he referred to as foreign terrorists take over the state highways and forests, kidnapping the people at will for ransom.

“After years of unprovoked attacks on peace loving innocent people in the country, we have therefore formed the Patriots Volunteer League to defend our people. It is not acceptable to allow an evil like terrorism to dominate or control the society and the world. We must always respond when such heinous development is being fostered on mankind”, he said.

The militant leader vowed to stem and defeat Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) and their acolytes in not only Edo but the whole of South-South zone of the country and also support the government to defeat Boko Haram, adding that the kidnappers, bandits and terrorists must be checkmated as their actions disrupt farming which could lead to hunger in the land.

Herders have also taken a walk southward in past weeks extending to Cross River State. In Akpabuyo Local Government Area, which has a vast portion of arable land, increased number of herders have been sighted on several major roads including the Calabar-Akpabuyo-Bakassi Road, Okurikang in Odukpani Local Government Area, Akamkpa Local Government Area, Nassarawa in Calabar Municipal.

While the Sector 4 Command keeps the area under heavy surveillance with several check-points along the Calabar-Akpabuyo-Bakassi highway, there seems to be un-calm, especially after the spontaneous killing of six police men last week.

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Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State

One of the youths in the area, Mr. Effiom Edem, noted that, so far, the herders have not caused any mayhem in their community “our people do not have problems with that”, adding that, “everybody must make sure that the community is safe, and we are on ground to make sure that our people are not made victims”.

A security expert who simply introduced himself as John Asuquo, noted that, “it is dangerous to sit down, fold our arms and watch at a time when our neighbors’ territory is under siege, let alone when the cause of the problem begins to knock on your gate. For now, it may appear harmless, but the pressure of solving it later might bring far more consequences.”

Attempt to speak to one of the herders proved abortive due to his lack of knowledge of the English language. But speaking with Alhaji Mustapha in the Bogobiri area of Calabar, he noted that “open grazing is in itself not bad where the locals understand themselves. But the problem of insecurity has made grazing highly suspicious, creating room for accusation. To solve this problem is to enable a government-grazers partnership where dissenting views can be harmonised”.

The Special Adviser on Security to the governor of Cross River, Mr. Austin Ibok, speaking with our reporter, acknowledged that, “there is need for security generally for all our communities, all hands must be on deck to support Governor Ayade to keep Cross River State. We have zero tolerance for crime and criminality in our state. Already, Professor Ayade has launched the state anticrime squads code named, “Operation Akpakwu, and it is doing just fine”.

Regional stakeholders including the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North\West Senatorial (Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District), Obong Chris Ekpenyong, speaking in an interview in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital at the weekend, stressed the need for ranching to be created by cattle dealers instead of the current pastoral system. He frowned at the unregulated grazing system which, according to the former Deputy Governor, would continue to generate friction between farmers and herders.

In the same vein, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), warned of a full blown crisis between the herders and the farmers in Akwa Ibom, noting that the influx of the herders into the state as a backlash to the quit notice issued them in the South-West, was “a time bomb waiting to explode”.

According to the state chairman of CLO, Otuekong Franklin Isong, “I live around the Ifa area of Uyo, and people’s farms have been subjected to ruins because the herders have turned them into grazing fields for their cattle”.

Checks by Nigerian Tribune revealed that the daily migration of new visitors of Fulani stock into the state has risen especially in recent times, as their wives, some clutching babies with their teenage children could be seen thrusting their begging bowls to sympathetic motorists at some points on the metropolis.

Worried by the crises that have resulted in the dislocation of the Fulani herders and their families, especially in the South-West, the leadership of the Hausa\Fulani community in Akwa Ibom state has frowned at the eviction order.

Besides, the leader of the community, the Sarkin Hausa, who doubles as the Vice President-General of the Akwa Ibom State Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Hassan Sadauki, condemned calls by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) on Fulani herders to return to the North if they feel unsafe in the South.

According to him, such resolution would have a big negative multiplier effect and widen the already yawning gab of insecurity plaguing the Nigerian system over the years.

“This kind of thing raises so many questions because there are people who would ask reason why you are relocating. And they would definitely explain. If that is asked, information will spread concerning the reason for relocating. Then, the next response would be, why are their people still here with us? They may not have that understanding with the other people and they might be forced to say if you are sending our people out of your place, your own people must also relocate from our areas. This will definitely create more frictions. To me, this is not the best option to take”, he warned.

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