Herdsmen, bandits’ siege

IF there was any doubt that the country is now effectively under the siege of herdsmen and bandits making life  horrendous, nasty and brutish for law-abiding Nigerians, such qualm was laid to rest last week by no less a personality than the wife of Nigeria’s president, Mrs Aisha Buhari. Echoing the dire warnings earlier handed down by elder statesmen like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Minister of Defence, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma (retd) apparently to a deaf administration, Mrs Buhari tasked the country’s security agencies to step up their game before bandits finished all Nigerians off. Speaking in Katsina State during a visit to victims of banditry taking refuge in Dakin Baki area of Katsina city and against the backdrop of reports that some 25,988 internally displaced persons were taking refuge at various camps in the state, Mrs Buhari said: “When the Katsina SSG spoke out, I sent it to all security outfits in the country. I told them it’s either they went and helped out or allowed us all to be killed. It is a must for people to come out and speak.”

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Frank and brutally honest as they are, Mrs Buhari’s comments do not come anywhere close to capturing the full extent of the atrocities committed by bandits and herdsmen across the country. In the past few months, the phenomenon of herdsmen in military fatigues waylaying travellers on the highways, dragging them into the bush and subjecting them to rape, butchery and carnage has been essentially a daily occurrence. Scoffing at the law and riding on the waves of governmental disinterest in the safety of the people on whose behalf its functionaries live in the lap of luxury, the felons tear women’s clothes with bayonets and subject them to brutal and blood-curdling rape before their husbands. They beat and rape daughters in the presence of their parents before collecting ransoms from their relatives in millions of naira. According to chilling details by survivors, the terrorists tie women and men to trees in the forests, subject them to sleeplessness and, at their beastly best, behead them for sport. This is of course when they are not raping and killing women on their farms before setting crops and any livestock in sight ablaze.

The fact that the atrocities have reached boiling point was underscored on Sunday by the governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi, who accused herdsmen domiciled in Afikpo North, Onicha and Izzi local government areas of the state of assaulting and raping women in the communities. Speaking during a peace talk between herders and farmers at the Akanu-Ibiam International Conference Centre, Abakaliki, the apparently distraught governor lamented that the herders were defiling the land of Ebonyi. He said: “I want the chairman of Miyeti Allah to know that we have a very strong traditional affinity to wives. For any Izzi woman—whether the man is from Izzi or outside Izzi and he has sex with the Izzi woman in this place— the land is desecrated and the woman as well is desecrated and cannot return to her husband’s house again and that is our culture. And the man that did it is not allowed to stay in that land. It is the same thing in the entire Ebonyi State.”

Pushed to the wall, women in Ondo State recently invaded the palace of the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi, declaring that the state was no longer safe as Fulani herdsmen had surrounded its forests and bushes. They lamented that herdsmen armed with  all kinds  of  weapons usually molested, maimed, raped and even destroyed their farmlands and livestock. Indeed, a 72-year-old woman was allegedly raped by some suspected Fulani herdsmen on her farmland at Ore in Odigbo Local Government Area of the state recently. Said another victim: “I was working on the farm when the two men invaded my farm and before I could question them on their mission, they gagged me, tore my clothes and raped me one after the other. They threatened to kill me if I made any noise.” Youths under the auspices of the Ondo State Youth Coalition and farmers across the 18 local government area of the state have consequently threatened to take the law into their own hands if the state government and the security agencies failed to address the issue immediately.

Indeed, the chilling details recently provided by a Nigerian woman in the Diaspora who experienced the herdsmen’s atrocities with her family support the conclusion that they (herdsmen) have declared war on the South-West and other communities in the country. The tragedy happened at the Ijare junction on the Akure-Ibadan highway where the driver felt a rupture in the tyres of the wagon in which the family was travelling and decided to change them. Wrote the survivor: “In a jiffy, a motley crowd of armed men in military uniform came out of the bush, firing at the boot of the car. They hit me on my chest, hit my daughter on her head, and blood oozed. At this time, it was better to kill me. I shouted at one of the armed men. His response was hell. He went straight for my private part, tore my dress with his gun. The others ripped my dress. Two of them dug their teeth into my breasts. We were marched for nine hours. I was half naked. My daughter was totally naked. Her tears were like a stream of blood on her cheeks. Our phones had been seized.

“We ended up in an ungoverned region in the thick of the forest.   There were some people with their legs chained to trees, as if half dead. I was separated from my husband. My daughter was taken away. I only heard her scream intermittently. Three beastly criminals sat on my husband’s back, jumping until he was too weak to stand.  I was not allowed to put on any additional cloth on my body for 24 hours. I became a sexual museum for the armed men who in turn addressed me and asked questions about my financial standing. New Fulani men joined the camp. They organised military training for the new Fulani men that came, teaching them how to shoot and walk through circles of glowing fire. We were not released until after six days. We had to walk the same zig-zag journey back to the main road, our eyes blindfolded.” That was of course after paying  N8 million.

Reacting to the tense situation in the South-West following the herdsmen’s latest round of atrocities, Secretary-General of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr Kunle Olajide, accused security agencies of aiding and abetting the herdsmen’s atrocities, saying the herdsmen had reportedly built 1,123 cells inside the thick forests across Yorubaland. He called for the equipment of the police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) with good vehicles, motorcycles and drones to fly over these forests and identify the locations of the criminals, adding that the permanent solution remained the decentralisation of the police.

Indeed, to all intents and purposes, the herdsmen and bandits’ atrocities cannot be divorced from the Nigerian state apparatus. It is simply illogical to assume that the felons’ apparent takeover of Nigeria’s sovereignty has been without the tacit support of subversive interests within the Federal Government. In Zamfara State, local government chairmen now reportedly pay ransoms to bandits on a daily basis and as we noted in our previous editorials, the Kaduna/Abuja highway has become a metaphor for a failed state, ceded to bandits. Many innocent Nigerians have lost their lives on the highway and many more have been maimed for life, causing the Nigerian Railway Corporation to deploy two coaches to complement the ones already being used as the rail sector takes advantage of the predicament of motorists. As we noted, for a nation increasingly divided along ethnic and religious lines, the situation portends danger, particularly in the possibility of disenchanted citizens resorting to self-help and thereby blurring the lines of civility and legality.  We have not been persuaded to change our view that a situation whereby people resort to rail transport only to save their lives is both worrisome and foreboding, not least because those who made the roads impassable can equally make the rails undesirable.

There can be no doubt that Nigeria is now a largely ungoverned lawless space and any ethnic group relying on the state security apparatus for its safety and security will, as Lieutenant-General Danjuma warned, simply perish. Given the fact that Nigeria exists principally because nationalities like the Yoruba, Ijaw, Igbo, Hausa, Izon and others exist and in fact pre-dated the formation of Nigeria as a sovereign entity, the time has come to address the very question of Nigerian nationhood itself, including the form its continued existence as a sovereign entity should take. Nigerians have suffered too much from herdsmen’s atrocities, particularly under the current administration, to expect that a governmental miracle would suddenly save them from their (the herdsmen’s) vile clutches. We find it worrisome that a government which wasted no time in labelling a separatist group like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) a terror group has allowed Fulani herdsmen, a group which ranks highly on the Global Terrorism Index, to ravage and pillage innocent communities without challenge. To date, the government has failed to join the international community in labelling the herdsmen a terror group and it is open to question whether it can therefore be realistically expected to put a halt to their murderous activities.

We call on the governors and leaders of thought in the affected communities and states to devise means of self-defence allowed by international law while availing the security agencies with information on the activities of herdsmen and bandits in their communities. In case President Buhari has not yet grasped the point, Nigeria has become a lawless fiefdom under him and it is time he rose to the challenge of his oath of office. The ethnic and religious fissures stoked by herdsmen must be curbed lest the country irreversibly slides into  full-blown anarchy.