To be sure, the herdsmen had acquired a notoriety for mindless killings that earned them an unsavoury reputation as the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world long before Buhari became president. But there is no doubt the irresolute deportment of President Buhari on whose desk the buck stops contributed to the arrogance and unconscionable language of Miyetti Allah and emboldened the criminal elements among the herdsmen to carry their deadly trade of kidnapping, banditry and killing of innocent farmers to the southwest region after sacking and confiscating farmlands of victims who were reduced to candidates for IDP camps in the middle belt region.
In a December 2018 report titled “Harvest of death, three years of bloody clashes between farmers and herders”, Amnesty International claims over 2000 Nigerians were killed in 2018 alone because “the authority’s lethargy has allowed impunity to flourish and the killings to spread to many parts of the country inflicting greater sufferings on communities who already live in constant fear of the next attack”.
Not much has changed. Many Nigerians now believe government’s apparent indifference or inadequate response to the activities of unrepentant killer herdsmen poses greater threat to the survival of our nation as resorting to self-help tactics by aggrieved groups could lead to chaos, anarchy and civil war. Those who however swear by the president’s patriotism and integrity put the blame squarely in the court of the president’s ‘loyal gate-keepers’ who appear to shield him from knowing the truth by trading in insults, ethnic stereotyping and sometimes outright lies.
With periodic harvests of death inflicted on Benue people by herdsmen expelled for not obeying the state rules, Governor Samuel Ortom last week took the battle to the president’s loyal gatekeepers. He urged them to tell the president that all is not well with Benue State and indeed the rest of the country where kidnapping, raping and killing have become the mainstay of many communities.
Wole Soyinka who, while not supporting self-help approach of some individuals believes the war was brought to the door steps of the Yoruba people who want to live in dignity and not as slaves in their own land, challenged the president to publicly denounce the herdsmen, Miyetti Allah and those fraudulently using his name as Saint Christopher’s barge for good luck while engaging in banditry, kidnapping, murder and illegal occupation of other peoples land. So far, it has been a deafening silence from the president.
Mindless killings of farmers and some prominent indigenes of Igangan and the whole of the Oke Ogun area by suspected Fulani herdsmen have been going on since 2015. The killer herdsmen are believed to be shielded by Seriki Fulani, Alhaji Saliu Abdul Kadiri, the godfather of migrant herdsmen and who according to governor Makinde’s special adviser on security, also doubles as chief ransom negotiator in many kidnap cases. The indigenes insist that most of the kidnappers disappear into the Seriki’s sprawling enclave while the police treat him with kid gloves after each report. Failure of government forced Sunday Adeyemo and his groups to react the only way they knew – self-help.
On their part, the people of Ondo State have had enough of criminal herdsmen who after each act of violence against the people disappear into Ondo forest reserve they illegally occupied. The state governor hearkening to the cries of his people, ordered the vacation of reserve forest and an end to open grazing in the state. He also took the first step in bringing sanity to his state by ordering those who want to live and do business of cattle grazing in his state to register. I am sure governors of Kebbi and Jigawa and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) who were with Akeredolu at the meeting anchored by Nigeria Governors’ Forum would readily admit that no Ondo indigene can convert any of the parks in their state to living quarters or other people’s land into rice-farm without permission or registration of their businesses with government.
Besides kidnapping and destruction of farm and farm products, for Ondo State, there is much more at stake. For instance, while following the 2007 Nigerian Conservation Foundation recommendation, the state stopped logging, hunting, farming and human settlement on the 829 km2 Oluwa Forest Reserve whose 40 per cent natural forest harbours elephants and chimpanzees, rampaging herdsmen with respect for neither law nor authority had no regard for forest bio-diversity. Neither they nor their cows similarly recognized the Idanre Forest Reserve designated ‘nature reserve’ by International Union of Conservation of Nature and its elephants and chimpanzees habitats.
The Osse River Park, formerly known as Ifon Forest Reserve established through a 1951 Gazette for the protection of Wild Game such as many wildlife species recognised by many international treaties and conventions including the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species was similarly not spared.
The way forward is for the governments of Southwest to clear its forest of all herdsmen including those that take delight in nocturnal grazing. They must be made to key into modern pastoral practices as obtains elsewhere in the world. Experience from the middle belt has shown that as long as there are vestiges of herdsmen left behind, unforgiving Fulani who lust over other people’s land will always invite diaspora Fulani to visit violence on those who refused to be driven from their land. Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna not too long ago confirmed those visiting violence on southern Kaduna farmers are trans-border Fulani immigrants. The besieged farmers of Igangan in Ibarapa part of Oyo also recently accused the Seriki Fulani in the area of inviting trans-border herdsmen through Benin Republic.
Southwest governors whose citizens like Epicureans consume 10,000 head of cows every day should pull resources together or take part of the federal government surplus RUGA fund to establish ranches that should be run as a public enterprise just as Awolowo’s administration did in the first republic. Herdsmen who are ready to embrace modernity should be encouraged to buy into the business.
Those who however insist open grazing is part of Fulani culture including Miyyeti Allah and Shehu Garba , the president spokesman who also doubles as herdsmen’s spokesman are at liberty to condemn children of the poor among them to nine months in the Kebbi and Jigawa forests or Zamfara and Runka reserve forests established in 1919 by the British colonial regime and later converted into a grazing reserve to prevent seasonal migration of pastoral Fulani from north to south and vice versa.
A former PDP chairman now APC chieftain while celebrating his 70th birthday last week narrated how the north encourages influx of Fulani immigrants from the Sahel region into the country during elections. This perhaps explains why most of those who kill, kidnap and rape in the north and now in the southwest are hardly found to face justice after their heinous crimes.
Governor Akeredolu has started well. If we intend to seriously address the problem of insecurity, states must register her citizens and those they host. It is hoped those serving other tendencies in President Buhari’s government who after rejecting state and local policing derailed Fashola’s first initiative will not sabotage Akeredolu’s current efforts but have it replicated in all the states.