It’s only psychopaths who would not have cringed at the gory pictures coming out of Benue State in the last two weeks. Just on Saturday, rampaging herdsmen massacred another 16 citizens of the state. Apart from the usual ineffective condolence message by President Muhamamdu Buhari, with the attendant “order” on the largely complicit Nigeria Police, our president has been blasé about the Fulani herdsmen menace. By the way, do we need the president’s order or directive to go after criminals? To affirm this more, our top cop promptly pronounced that what we have seen in Benue was nothing more than “communal clash”.
There goes whatever hopes one harbours of our police preventing further killings. The vice president tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to remedy his principal’s inaction with his address yesterday at an interdenominational church service for the 2018 armed forces celebration at the National Christian Centre, Abuja. He stopped short, however, of blaming the victims for bringing the attacks on themselves. Appealing to them and other citizens not to “politicize the killings” appears like using Band-Aid to cover a festering sore, which has defied long-term treatment. Lumping the herdsmen killings with Badoo, which has been largely curtailed in Lagos and part of Ogun States, and the new year day killings in Omoku, Rivers State, was insensitive and at trivialized the trauma those citizens in Benue have suffered.
The Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, in a newspaper interview lamented that a “cabal” that word again, is blocking access to the president and so he cannot reach him for proper briefing on the gravity of the situation in his state. In the interview, Ortom disclosed how he was finding it difficult to keep his people at bay and telling them not to retaliate due to the horrors they are facing. Perhaps we need to remind the federal government that the first duty of any government is protection of lives and properties and anything short of this is invitation to anarchy.
“I have resisted the temptation to say that our people should protect themselves because I trusted the president. I believed that he has the capacity to protect us. But from what is happening, I am sure some people around him are frustrating our communication with him and the actions to be taken. Otherwise, the president I know will not allow this kind of thing to be happening. We have not committed any offence,” Ortom said in the interview.
The genesis of the latest killings appears to be the anti-open grazing law enacted by the state ostensibly to protect humans and farmlands from the destructive activities of herdsmen in the state. In open defiance of the law, whatever its merits and demerits, a spokesperson of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria said last week that the organisation will frustrate the implementation of the law. Let’s face it; the herdsmen problem is not peculiar to Benue, no, not at all. Nearly two years ago, a cousin told me of how he abandoned his farm in my homestead, Iwo, Osun State, after investing over a million naira due to Fulani herdsmen rampage. Warts and all, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State actually asked his special duties commissioner to oversee the relationship between farmers and herdsmen in the state and this is what has largely kept the herdsmen at bay in Osun. Across the country, there have been clashes over grazing areas between hosts and herdsmen all leading to loss of lives.
Interestingly, the rampage seemed to have gone up under the Buhari administration leading credence to conspiracy theorists claiming that the president is complicit in the saga. Most communities in Nigeria in years past remember Fulani herdsmen with nostalgia as they conducted their business without molesting their hosts even intermarrying in the process. I remember the raw cheese their women usually hawk, an incentive for me to accompany my parents on Christmas holiday to our town and how my late uncle had numerous business relationships with some Fulani raising cattle for him in the process. So, when and how did they metamorphose to the killer monsters that we have now? In high school agricultural science, we also learned about transhumance which is the practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle and I remember the phrase our teacher said then, Fulani transhumance movement.
Naturally too, the population explosion in Nigeria leading to scarcity of resources including grazing areas, will seek to curtail transhumance as it was practiced before since there are more mouths to feed. It is trite, however, to say that grazing cannot be done the way it was done years ago and the earlier Miyetti Allah members accepted this, the better for us all. The vice president speech notwithstanding, it is clear that herdsmen lives matter more to the Buhari government than other citizens and anarchy will be the end result. We cannot continue this way.