A clear and present danger
By Editorial Board
President Muhammadu Buhari’s tepid response, overall, to the threat which rampaging Fulani herdsmen pose to Nigeria and its people is troubling. For long, he has chosen, for reasons only he can tell, to remain silent on the murderous activities of the cattle herders. On the one or two occasions that he deemed the matter worthy of his presidential comment, Buhari trivialised these incidents as ‘ herdsmen/ farmers clashes.’ At another time, he maintained that the perpetrators were not Nigerians but armed foreigners from Mali and Libya who have infiltrated the local herdsmen community. This is most unfortunate.
Let it be clear to all: the widespread acts of brigandage by the herdsmen pose a clear and present threat to the Nigeria and its people. In Benue State alone, the governor, Samuel Ortom, said that 1,878 persons were killed between 2013 and 2016, 750 were seriously wounded, 200 were missing, and 99, 427 households were affected with billions of naira worth of property destroyed. In the last week, nearly a hundred have been killed in the state. Cumulatively many more have been killed or maimed by the herdsmen in other states – north, east, west and south of the country.
In Enugu State, Fulani herdsmen murdered 46 persons, razed 11 houses and a church in the villages within the Ukpabi-Nimbo community, despite a prior awareness by the state government and the security agencies. Nowhere and no one – high or low – in Nigeria is safe from the reach of this murderous gang.
Alas, Buhari’s response, or more correctly, non-response, to the criminality of these Fulani herdsmen has raised questions that are many and befuddling. If the territory under his leadership is infiltrated by foreign elements, what are Nigerians, and the world, to make of a government worthy to be so called? What manner of leadership, aware of such invasion, does nothing first and also fails to fish out violators of the immigration laws of the country and fails to punish them for murder, kidnapping, rape and other heinous acts? How are citizens of this federal republic to regard a leader who, having been elected and entrusted with the power and the authority to protect and to serve them as spelt out in the constitution, but keeps smugly silent in the face of the current carnage perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen?
Arguably, only the president and a non-challant few in his government, including the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris, view as mere communal clashes the coordinated and persistent invasion and killing of people by the herdsmen. Discerning Nigerians see through it a sinister political motive. Taraba State governor, Darius Ishaku has ascribed it to ‘a drive for territorial control.’ Some see it as an economic war. They may be right. But if so, then these are acts of terrorism, known in the broadest sense as ‘the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror, or fear, to achieve a financial, political, religious or ideological aim.’ Indeed, it is appropriate to demand that the brigands who have inflicted so much pain on Nigeria be so termed to earn them condign local and international treatment.
Nigerians, high and not so high, have condemned the trend in strong terms as well as challenged the Buhari government to rise to its constitutional responsibility to Nigeria and its people. In his opening speech to the general assembly of Northern Traditional Rulers in Kaduna last December, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar ascribed these acts of brigandage to ‘a failure of government.’
‘If you see such things happening, it must be a failure of government. But if governments wake up to their responsibilities, some of these things will not happen.’
Herdsmen, local and foreign, have traditionally gone about their business armed with a guiding stick. Not, until in recent times and possibly only in Nigeria, have they begun to bear arms. The inescapable questions then: by what authority do they carry arms? Why do Nigerian law enforcement agencies fail in their respective duties to challenge them?
As once said by this newspaper, grazing is not new in Nigeria. For as long as Nigerians can remember, this agricultural activity has contributed immensely to food security. That Nigerians enjoy ample beef supply in their diets and cuisines is largely due to the animal husbandry of the Fulani cattle-herders. Grazing has also fostered socio-cultural relationship amongst communities and promoted unity and harmonious existence.
This being the case, the current harvest of carnage, destruction and occupation is beyond comprehension. Why has there been no arrest and prosecution of any of these itinerant killers? Inaction, silence and selective prosecutions, especially where some communities resort to defensive action against the herdsmen, have caused many to believe that there are very powerful people behind the herdsmen, thus giving the impression that there is an agenda.
The Senate once ruled that issues relating to grazing are matters for the states to handle. States are therefore empowered to enact laws with a view to making both cattle herders and landowners or farmers live in peace as they engage in their businesses that are mutually beneficial.
In the face of enlarging threat to this nation by the herdsmen, Buhari’s obvious inaction is, once again, troubling. It has opened him to all sorts of criticisms including that the killers are emboldened by his presence in power, the president himself having been the leader of the herdsmen’s club before his ascent into office. To conjecture this at all is a pity, and it is debasing to his person and to a country that should be a light to other black nations.
For a man who was voted into power on the strength of his ‘integrity’, there is, halfway into his tenure, little to show that is integrating about him, the government he heads, and even the political party of which he is the ‘leader’. For a man who swore to ‘discharge my duties…faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution…’ which, by the way, defines ‘the primary purpose of government’ as ‘the security and welfare of the people,’ and who promised to ‘not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions’ to ‘do right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will,’ it is increasingly difficult not to agree with the wisdom that it is not the oath that makes people believe the man, but the man that makes them believe the oath.
Some see Buhari as maintaining a dignified silence, some consider it a silence of cluelessness, and still others think it is a silence borne of arrogance and contempt. Whatever it is, this is not at all a time to say and do nothing. After all, Buhari once led a delegation to protest to the then Governor Lam Adesina what he considered, erroneously though, the ill-treatment of Fulani herdsmen in Oyo State.
There is certainly a clear and present danger in the land. Buhari must come out of his cocoon to stop the killing of Nigerians and Nigeria. How he responds to the current emergency will define, substantially, his place in Nigeria’s history.