ON Tuesday, July 16, the chairman of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), Professor Ango Abdullahi, asked all Fulani herdsmen residing in the southern part of the country to leave immediately as their security was no longer guaranteed. This directive, backed by members of the NEF and the Coalition of the Northern Groups at a joint press conference in Abuja, was ostensibly informed by anxiety over the safety of the lives and properties of Fulani herdsmen who live in the southern part of the country. The northern elders claimed that they were worried that some southern leaders had openly threatened war against the Fulani herdsmen and that as a result, their lives were in danger. Professor Abdullahi also called for the establishment of a judicial enquiry that would be saddled with the responsibility of determining the quantum of loss of properties by herdsmen and farmers.
We consider the utterances of Professor Abdullahi and the NEF to be very provocative given the security crisis involving herdsmen that has engulfed the country. Herdsmen have been implicated in several incidents of violence and killing of innocent citizens in several parts of the country. The increase in the number of incidents of kidnapping for ransom and killing of citizens in the southwestern part of the country has generated public outcry. Furthermore, the raging controversy over the Ruga policy proposed but later suspended by the Federal Government to address “farmers-herdsmen conflicts” reflects the frustrations felt by Nigerians over the poor response to the pain and anxiety suffered by victims of the horrendous crimes perpetrated by herdsmen. Not a few people in the South perceived that the Federal Government’s Ruga proposal was designed to further consolidate the herdsmen’s stranglehold on the South.
Members of the NEF ought to have been more circumspect in their utterances as elders, especially given the reported cases of killings and kidnapping involving herdsmen across the country. The killings and kidnappings have created an atmosphere of pervasive insecurity and distrust of herdsmen in many places across the South, hence the frequent demands that the Federal Government should take drastic steps to stem the situation.
Members of the NEF are senior citizens who are expected to show empathy to victims. They are expected to be agents of reconciliation in times of conflict. They are expected to provide solutions to national challenges, not to worsen them. They should never fan the embers of war. It is unfortunate that the NEF has not deemed it fit to provide suggestions to address the persisting killings and kidnappings perpetrated by herdsmen across the country. We call on leaders and members of various groups across the country to refrain from inflammatory, divisive and retrogressive statements that would further undermine the peace, sense of belonging and harmony among Nigerians. Rather, they should mobilise Nigerians in the concerted effort to find lasting solutions to criminal activities regardless of the origin or occupation of the perpetrators.
We commend the Federal Government for swiftly responding to the unfortunate call of the NEF by restating its commitment to protecting citizens of Nigeria wherever they find themselves. Describing the call as political and needless, the statement by the Federal Government declared that “no one has the right to ask anyone or group to depart from any part of the country, whether north, south, east or west.” That is how it should be.