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There have been early warning signs that the destructive confrontation between nomadic herdsmen versus settlers in parts of Nigeria may snowball into full blown conflagration if not nipped now. And if that is allowed to happen, no part of Nigeria may be spared; and definitely not even the ostrich-like elite class cocooned in the comfort of palatial homes in Abuja, Lagos and other sprawling urban centres.
In the last few weeks, Ekiti State has presented a draping red flag on this matter which the federal authorities appear to be ignoring. The impression rightly or wrongly is that because it is Ayo Fayose, the enfant terrible opposition governor that is involved, the matter can be treated as another noisome episode of bi-partisan politics. Should that be the case, then the APC-led federal government is sorely missing the point. And that is both pitiable and tragic as it shows a measure of the yawning gap of statesmanship in the highest levels of the land.
But given that something will have to give in any case as every action begets a reaction, it is pertinent for now to highlight some scenes of this macabre drama starring Fulani nomadic herdsmen and settlers in Ekiti State.
On August 29, Fayose signed the Prohibition of Cattle and other Ruminants Grazing in Ekiti State Bill, 2016 into law, an event which elicited wide-range reviews amongst both admirers and denouncers of the governor’s politics and leadership style. The law basically seeks to regulate the activities of herdsmen and impose a code of relations between them and host communities. In order to give life to the law, the governor promptly inaugurated the Ekiti Grazing Enforcement Marshals (EGEM), a hurriedly clobbered vigilante group mandated to arrest cows found to be invading farms and damaging crops in the state. Since the birth of this quasi-security outfit, several straying cows have been arrested with some of them slaughtered and shared for meat to locals too happy to be provided with miraculous manna from heaven in these times of economic recession. Expectedly, this has not gone down well with the herdsmen. Days ago, their umbrella body, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) issued a strongly worded statement with veiled threats of reprisals. Signed by one Othman Ngelzarma, the group’s spokesman, the statement laid a weighty allegation to wit: “Fayose unleashed the marshals against our members whose herds of cattle had gone to a stream at Agon bridge on Federal Polytechnic Road between the time of 2:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to quench their thirst on Friday, October 21. The anti-malu vigilante group shot five cows and carted away the meat but the herdsman was able to flee with the rest of his cattle.” Based on that claim, the group in same statement asked Governor Fayose to apologize for the action of his marshals and demanded compensation: “We deplore this act of brigandage and call on Governor Fayose to offer an unreserved apology to MACBAN and equally set machinery in motion with a view to compensating our members who lost five cows in this primitive adventure.”
The statement continued: “As far as we know, Ekiti State is not an island of its own but a state within the Federal Republic of Nigeria and while the governor is permitted to carry out actions geared towards protecting the interest of Ekiti State, such actions should follow the rule of law. That the brutality of the Ekiti Grazing Enforcement Marshals (popularly known as anti-malu) on herdsmen is even outside the time stipulated by that law (if the law exists at all. We are hereby constrained to implore the federal government through its security agencies to wade into this unprovoked and primitive aggression against our members before this macabre incident develops into unquenchable inferno involving our members and Ekiti State Government.” Such statement coming from a group that has been associated with deadly attacks on defenceless and unsuspecting farmers to the scale of what some victims have described as terrorism and pogrom in states like Benue, Plateau, Delta and Kaduna is one that cannot be taken lying low.
It is against this background that Governor Fayose immediately reacted by challenging the people of Ekiti to be vigilant and ready to protect themselves in the event of attack by herdsmen. Hear him; “I am therefore using this opportunity to put Ekiti people, especially residents of border towns in the State on red alert. Ekiti people must be prepared to defend their land against these Philistines whose attributes and characters are extremism, violence, bloodshed and destruction.” Take note of the use of the word ‘Philistines’ to which I will return shortly. Not one to be cowed into submission even by the sceptre of state might, the governor countered further: “The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria should rather tell its members to comply with this law by seeking from the government designated land for grazing ranch, which the government is always willing to give. Why didn’t Miyetti Allah that is now calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to warn me, the custodian of the mandate of Ekiti people, warn its members when they were killing Nigerians and destroying farmlands? Are their cows more important than human lives? To us in Ekiti, lives of 5,000 cows cannot be equated with those of human beings that are being killed daily by herdsmen across the country. Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria should know that cattle farmers are not different from other farmers. If they want to rear cows in Ekiti, they should do so in accordance with the laws of the State. After all, law prohibiting sale and consumption of alcohol was made in Kano State and the law is being enforced while Sharia Law made in some States in the north is also being enforced.” It would be unlike Fayose to end his rabid rejoinder without taking pot-shots at the federal government. Hear him again: “Four days after this threat was issued against the government and people of Ekiti State by the Miyetti Allah, the federal government is yet to act in any manner that will disabuse the minds of Ekiti people, who believe that the federal government is in support of the threat. The silence of the federal government has no doubt further confirmed the insinuation that there is plot to give tacit support to the herdsmen to invade some border towns and villages in Ekiti State and cause chaos in the State so as to justify the evil agenda of declaration of a state of emergency on the State. Nigerians should be reminded that in May, this year, Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria said openly that the reason for the killing of over 1,000 people in Benue State was the killing of over 800 cattle by Tiv youths. In other words, Miyetti Allah boldly told Nigerians that its members (herdsmen) killed over 1,000 Agatu people of Benue State because their cows were killed! Up till today, no one has been arrested for the massacre in Agatu in Benue State and now, Ekiti State and its people are being threatened by this same Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, and the federal government has pretended as if nothing was wrong. From the words and antecedents of the Miyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, it is clear that they have assurance beyond their personal minds from the federal government to kill Nigerians in place of their cows. If not, by now, the man who signed that press statement, threatening the entire people of Ekiti State ought to have been arrested and questioned. Therefore, in view of the above, we wish to tell Nigerians and the entire world that in the event of any invasion of Ekiti State by killer herdsmen, the federal government should be held responsible. The herdsmen and those urging them on should also be informed that any attack on one Ekiti person is an attack on all Ekitis and we shall not sit back and allow our people to be killed under the guise of cattle rearing. In the event of federal government’s security agencies refusal to secure the lives and properties of Ekiti people, the people will have no option than to defend themselves. Our forefathers did same in the famous Kiriji War and we won’t mind doing the same now! It is strange that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria kept silent when its members killed two people and injured several others in Oke Ako in Ekiti State. So strange that the same Miyetti Allah that defended the murder of over 1,000 Agatu people of Benue State and kept silent when herdsmen killed over 100 people in Enugu State and a traditional ruler was killed in Delta State suddenly found its voice when Ekiti State government decided to curb the murderous activities of its men.’’
The governor cannot completely be blamed for rallying to the defence of Ekiti people who elected him into office. Fayose swore to an oath of office which entails securing the lives of the people and ensuring their welfare. His methods may be blunt, hard-hitting and unacceptable to some but that they are precipitated on a law legally passed by the State House of Assembly and subsequently assented to calls for a more careful examination and reaction. It is understandable that as those directly affected by the execution of the law, the herdsmen may cry out loud especially if they are convinced about the illegality of the actions of Ekiti State Government. But to arrogantly dismiss the law and insist on doing things their way under the bogus guise of being bona fide citizens of Nigeria also misses the point. Such attitude is offensive to the tenets of federalism which Nigeria purports to practice.
But while the Ekiti governor and the nomadic cattle breeders are threatening to exchange fire for fire, the federal authorities should be doing all it can to prevent an imminent inferno. And it should be seen to be doing so because when the bush starts to burn during harmattan no one can tell how far the raging balls can go. When a governor results to the use of adjectives like ‘Philistines’ to describe fellow citizens of his country, he is evidently appealing to religious sentiments. And Ekiti being a predominantly Christian state, such appeals certainly resonate with the people. Students of the Bible know that the allegory of the Israelites’ battle with the Philistines conveys a derogatory call to arms. Whether made out of altruistic fear for the lives of citizens of his state or in line with his combative persona, the governor has signalled an intention to forcefully challenge the herders’ menace which the federal government has shamefully shied away from confronting. And coming at a time when Fayose has struck some rapprochement with some South-west political overlords in the APC, the battle line if eventually drawn may recognize no contours of partisan affiliations. It is then it will be crystal clear that the Oduduwa heritage comes first in the face of persecution.
––Epia, Publisher of OrderPaper.ng is on Twitter @resourceme.