Who Will Stop the Herdsmen

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Despite promises by those in authority to stop the rampaging herdsmen from further terrorising innocent communities, the ease with which they continue to attack helpless people across the country remains a concern to many. Could government’s inability to stop them be the fallout of the concentration of the state’s security apparatus in the hands of northerners, Shola Oyeyipo ponders

‎Nigeria is obviously under siege. Not from Boko Haram terrorists nor from the Indigenous People of Biafra but from herdsmen.

A day hardly passes by without the disturbing news of herdsmen’s attacks. Nigerians are inundated with the incessant stories of their daring attacks which have claimed many lives while those who survived live in perpetual fear.

States such as Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Ekiti, Delta, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, Enugu have had to wait helplessly for the next attack as there has never been adequate protection for them from the rampaging AK 47-wielding nomadic cattle breeders. Listening to some of the affected people reveals a pathetic state of affair and the palpable fear under which they live daily.

A lot of well-meaning Nigerians have castigated government for not doing enough to reverse the trend. So, in an effort to arrest the situation, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai deployed troops to protect the flash-points. Also, the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau in collaboration with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, are to set-up a special taskforce to among other things stop the clashes between farmers and herders.

It is important to underscore the fact that the clashes between farmers and the herdsmen happen because animals feed and trample on crops. In some very rare cases the farmers attack the animals and kill them. Such attacks usually result in counter attacks.

But truth is, there is a growing sentiment that the killer herdsmen are somewhat being protected by government. The suspicion is that the herdsmen work for prominent leaders, traditional rulers of northern extraction, government officials, religious leaders, governors, state and federal lawmakers, and that this explains why government has refused to come down heavily on them as it did against the Boko Haram sect and the Niger Delta militants.

Some pundits have even attributed the seeming ineptitude of the Nigerian security agencies to tame the herdsmen to the fact the those heading security organizations are themselves from the north and may have sympathy for the herdsmen. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotum Idris; Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura; the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai; the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd); the Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. Mohammed Babandede; Commandant-General of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Muhammadu; Defence Minister, Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali; Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali; Comptroller-General (CG) of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), Mr. Ja’afaru Ahmed and the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal are all northerners and they may not be enthused to clamp down on their own people. While some will be quick to dismiss such insinuation, no one however can deny the fact that ethnicity continues to be a factor in who gets what in Nigeria.

Nimbo, a community in Uzo-Uwani local government area of Enugu State has been worst hit in the South-east. In one of the attacks in April 2016, no fewer than 40 persons were reportedly killed by the herdsmen.

It was reported that no fewer than 500 heavily armed herdsmen sneaked into the community to perpetrate the attack. Villagers in Nimbo Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Enugu Nimbo, Umuome and Ugwuachara were yet to overcome the shock. Houses, vehicles, motorcycles and a church, Christ Holy Church International, were razed by the herdsmen who destroyed everything on their path. And people of the area must only be on guard to protect themselves from another potential attack.

Benue State will easily pass as the hotbed of the herdsmen’s nefarious activities. There have been numerous attacks in different parts of the state. Hundreds of innocent persons have died in the series of attacks. In one of the mayhems, the herdsmen attacked a village in Agatu area of the state, killing no fewer than 50 persons.

Also in April, 2016, 15 people were sent to their untimely grave after suspected herdsmen attacked Dori and Mesuma villages in Gashaka local government area of Taraba State, killing at least 15 people. The number of casualty was contested by residents who said more than 40 people were killed. Several houses were equally razed by the attackers.

Earlier, in December 2015, at least, 22 persons were killed when herdsmen attacked Kwata in Jos South local government area of Plateau State‎. It was gathered that the attackers earlier wrote to forewarn residents of Kwata, Trade Centre, and Kuru that the 2015 Christmas season would not be an enjoyable one for the people but people took the warning with a pinch of salt to their regret.

The list of herdsmen attacks are almost endless. Those mentioned above are only some of the attacks reported by the media.

Despite calls by Nigerians on government to find a lasting solution to the ugly trend, the herdsmen are simply sustaining the attacks. In 2016, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project noted that the herdsmen were more dangerous than Boko Haram. They killed 484 people that year while Boko Haram insurgents killed 330. Reports put the number of people murdered in Agatu, Benue State at between 300 and 500.

More recently, this year, the attacks have continued. On Sunday and Monday, February 19 and 20, 2017, armed herdsmen invaded Southern Kaduna and killed at least 20 people. The coordinated attacks were carried out in four different locations; Bakin Kogi, Jema’a local government area, Ashim and other villages in Kaura local government area. During the attack, the herdsmen engaged in fierce gun duel with soldiers and mobile policemen, who moved in to repel the attacks. It took the efforts of the security agents to stop the herdsmen who were said to be aiming to burn down all the villages attacked and kill more villagers in the area.

On 15th April, 12 persons were killed while several others sustained varying degrees of injuries in an attack on Asso Community in Jemaa local governments area in Southern Kaduna by suspected herdsmen. The gunmen invaded the community and opened fire on residents.

Last week, the Delta Police command lost five policemen attached to the Abraka Police Division in the state. They were ambushed by a gang of armed herdsmen who reportedly sprayed bullets on their vehicle, a Toyota Hilux. The attack occurred the same day an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in charge of the Ughelli Area Command, Usman Ndanbabo, who was shot on Sunday night by suspected assassins, was confirmed dead.

In Delta State, last Thursday, suspected herdsmen beheaded a commercial motorcyclist whose name was given as Udoka Ossai, and six farmers who were indigenes of Ossissa community in Ndokwa East Local Government Area.

Still last week, six days after the herdsmen invaded Logo Local Government Area, home of ex-governor, Gabriel Suswam killing about twenty people, the insurgents between Tuesday and Wednesday advanced into the Mbavuur council ward of the local government killing four people and injuring 16 others. The attack was the second attack on Logo people in less than five days. 10 dead bodies had already been recovered from the area.

The violent herdsmen later headed to Mbaya council ward in neighbouring Buruku local government area where they killed two people. They took over the entire council ward and freely grazed more than 4, 000 cattle.

While these attacks were perpetrated, it took President Muhammadu Buhari a rather long time to react and when he did after the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo, he ordered the police and the military to “take all necessary action to stop the carnage”, but the killings are yet to abate.

The prevailing emotional disturbances among the people can be encapsulated in the position expressed by some notable Nigerians. For instance, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who is also a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress had to challenge the federal government to do more to stop the attacks by herdsmen across the country.

Ortom who visited the Logo and Buruku killings in company with members of his State Security Council, lamented the renewed attacks witnessed in the region, stressing that “There must be a solution, the federal government must come and collaborate with the state to solve this problem” he added that “While I agree that the herdsmen have the right to graze, they should graze where there is land. In Benue state, there is no land for grazing.”

The President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Samson Ayokunle, has always called on the president to put an end to the menace of herdsmen attacks in the country. Recently, he called on government to stop making excuses for its failure to curtail the attacks, otherwise, he added “it will be to your tent oh Israel, where there has been continuous injustice.”

Pan-Igbo sociopolitical group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo also condemned the government over its failure to address the rising spate of attacks when the group’s Secretary General, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu said: “We are very sad and very disappointed that all over the country, not just the South-East, these killings by Fulani herdsmen have continued unabated and nothing concrete is being done by the federal government.

“The first act of governance is protection of lives and property. It is complete failure of governance. There has been no response from the Federal Government and this is allowing the Fulani herdsmen to continue the killing spree.” Nwaorgu’s statement was in response to an attack in Enugu State which reportedly left 40 people dead.

In the same vain, Yoruba leaders in the South-west under the umbrella of the Afenifere, who have vehemently protested the incursion of the killer animal breeders to the region, have vowed to no longer tolerate any further attack by armed herdsmen in any part the region.

After a meeting in the residence of the Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti in Akure, the Ondo State capital recently, the Yoruba leaders condemned the menace of the herdsmen in the South-west and other parts of Nigeria and in the communiqué read to journalists by its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “The herdsmen cannot continue to harass us, we are agrarian communities in the South-west; many of our people cannot farm again because the herdsmen have taken over their farmlands; this cannot continue and that must stop immediately.

“To show our seriousness on this matter, we have empowered a panel to go round all the communities in the South West where the herdsmen have been carrying out all kinds of havocs, to do an on-the-spot assessment and compile a documentary and report which we will not hesitate to tell the international community to look at, if the Nigeria government continues to prove that it is helpless or unwilling to tame the criminal activities of these Fulani herdsmen.”

The president had, in several statements, shown his disapproval for the wanton killings. Last year, following reports of attacks by herdsmen on communities across the country, particularly the on Ukpabi Nimbo in Enugu, he vowed that his administration would continue to ensure the safety of lives and property of all Nigerians in all parts of the country.

Speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, he condemned the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo and other such acts of violence in other states.

“And the Armed Forces and Police have clear instructions to take all necessary action to stop the carnage. In keeping with the President’s directive, the Inspector-General of Police, the General Officer Commanding the 82nd Division of the Nigerian Army and the Director of the Department of State Security in Enugu State have visited Ukpabi Nimbo to personally oversee investigations into the attack on the community and ongoing efforts to apprehend the culprits.”

About a month earlier, after the dastardly killing of 30 people in Zaki Biam, Ukum Local Government Area local of Benue State after a raid by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen, Buhari also condemned the killings saying that nobody has the right to unjustly and unlawfully take the life of another.

He wrote on his facebook page that: “I am saddened by the recent attack by gunmen on a market in Zaki Biam, Benue state, and which resulted in the loss of lives. I commiserate with the Government and people of Benue state. I assure that the incident will be investigated, and the perpetrators brought to justice.

“Let me remind you of what I promised, in my New Year’s Day (2017) Message to the nation. We remain committed to fulfilling it.

“We must condemn inhuman and unnecessary shedding of human blood all over the country. We seem to have lost value for human life, which is sacred. Man is the glory of God’s creation and nobody has the right to unjustly and unlawfully take another person’s life in a reckless manner.” Victims want action not words.

For whatever it is worth, those in authority must know that the violent attacks by herdsmen have reached a disturbing dimension. This underlines the recent call by the President, United Church of Christ in Nigeria (UCCIN), Reverend Amos Kiri, that there was the urgent need to deploy massive military tactics in tackling herdsmen who attacked and killed innocent people across the country.

Where this is not done, people may resort to self-help. Already, it was gathered that Bakassi Boys, a well known unorthodox security outfit that once held sway in the South-east, was regrouping in the aftermath of the Nimbo, Enugu State attack.

Likewise, it is also in the public sphere that the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is also reaching out to other groups across the five South-east states to form a united front against further onslaughts by killer herdsmen.

It is therefore very important to take urgent steps to stop this carnage and prevent a situation where people lose confidence and opt for self-defence, a situation that is capable of creating anarchy.

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The president had, in several statements, shown his disapproval for the wanton killings. Last year, following reports of attacks by herdsmen on communities across the country, particularly on Ukpabi Nimbo in Enugu, he vowed that his administration would continue to ensure the safety of lives and property of all Nigerians in all parts of the country.