Unauthorised vigilantes on Ondo highways

RECENTLY, an Abuja-based lawyer and rights activist, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, reportedly had an encounter with some arms-bearing Fulani men at one of their checkpoints in Ondo State. The men were stopping people on the road; not in the bush paths. Upon the lawyer’s interaction with them, they reportedly confirmed the existence of a vigilance group formed by Fulani herders and which was already mounting checkpoints in the state. They also confirmed their membership of the group with the identity cards allegedly issued to them by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN). The rights activist, an indigene of Ondo State, was understandably embarrassed and he has been relaying the account of the somewhat humiliating encounter. The government of Ondo State as well as the security agencies in the state have subsequently dissociated themselves from the activities of the alleged vigilance group. They claimed ignorance of the existence of such group and ordered the arrest of any unauthorised vigilantes on highways by the police.

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If officials of the state and the security agents believe that they have shifted the burden of culpability, having washed their hands off the activities of the illegal group, they are mistaken. The official claim of ignorance of the existence of the group is, in itself, a serious indictment on the constituted authorities in the state, especially since it took a visitor to the state from Abuja to bring to light the group’s patently overt but allegedly unauthorised activities that bordered on security. The fact that the herders formed an unlawful group to openly carry out illegal actions while the security agencies in the state were allegedly unaware, let alone tracking them down, calls for worry.

There are quite a few questions begging for answers.  What if the highway vigilantes were working in tandem with the criminals in the forests? Did MACBAN license some of its members to provide cover for the kidnappers in the forests? Do the Fulani vigilantes have licences for the firearms they carry? How can anyone be sure that the Fulani vigilantes do not transmute to kidnappers at some point on the highways? Why is it that no security agent or government official ran into the vigilantes on the highways before Dr. Ajulo’s encounter with them? Are the security agents patrolling the highways as ordinarily demanded by the grave security situation in the state?  And could it actually be that the support of the Fulani herders was not officially enlisted and they just mustered the effrontery to act illegally? Or was it a case of overreaching or misunderstanding of their official briefs? The security agencies should provide answers to these questions which would not have been warranted if they had lived up to their responsibilities. The pace at which law and order appears to be breaking down in the country is dangerous and intolerable. It points in the direction of the absence of capacity and /or commitment on the part of the security agents and that could be perilous.

It will be recalled that MACBAN had earlier mooted an idea, laced with subtle threat, about its intention to form  Fulani vigilantes nationwide, but the scheme was aborted following a deluge of outrage from many and different quarters. The public indignation derived from the mistrust between the Fulani herders and the other ethnic groups occasioned by what is historically perceived as their expansionist antecedents. Ironically, there is a sense in which the proposal could have helped, especially if it was genuine and sincere: the drift is that the Fulani herders would be in a better stead to identify and flush out the unscrupulous and criminal elements within their folds in different parts of Nigeria. This is akin to the aphorism that a thief is better able to identify and trace the steps of another thief on a rock. But the idea was treated with justifiable suspicion and trepidation and it was shut down. And as a consequence, the potential gain that MACBAN’s proposal could have yielded in terms of security was drowned in the rivers of grave distrust of the past and the seeming official pampering and preferential treatment of the present. However, if anyone was in doubt, the botched introduction of RUGA settlement scheme by the Federal Government and the speed with which it was to be implemented, apparently without the buy-in of critical stakeholders even in the Presidency, confirmed  the suspicion of those who found the proposed emergence of Fulani vigilantes across Nigeria objectionable.

There is disquiet in some quarters that the police and the other security agencies may have surreptitiously abdicated their responsibility to protect life and property to members of a group held in suspicion by other compatriots as violent aggressors. Therefore, beyond the current self-indicting claim of ignorance of the existence of the activities of the Fulani vigilance group in the State, we  call on the security agencies to launch an inquiry on the matter, smoke out the outlaws and bring them to justice. There should be a limit to acts of lawlessness in the country.