The authorities must do more to contain the widespread internal disputes
Frequent violent clashes across the nation are increasingly having destabilising impact on governance, the economy and the society at large. Last week, a dispute over farm land between two communities in Cross River State led to the killing of scores of people, mostly women and children. According to Mr. John Inaku, Director-General of the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, the bloody dispute between the people of Wanikade and Wanihem communities in Yala Local Government also resulted in the burning of more than 1000 houses and the displacement of thousands of inhabitants.
At about the same period, two neighbouring communities of Ilofa and Odo-Owa in Oke-Ero Local Council in Kwara State which had coexisted peacefully for decades also resorted to arms to settle grievances over superiority rites during a new yam festival. At the end, lives were lost, buildings were razed, cars were burnt and the farming communities laid waste. “They burnt my house,” said Mrs. Felicia Oluwadare, a retired primary school teacher, who added, “They burnt all my clothes, my children’s property and my grinding machine.”
Across the country, communal conflicts are becoming widespread and deadly, and that should worry the authorities. Bloody battles for supremacy and for the control of land are becoming alarming. Only recently, some communities on the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State erupted in an unprecedented violence that claimed the lives of many inhabitants. Last month, about 20 people were killed over land disputes between another Cross River State community and a neighbouring Ebonyi State community. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State revealed recently that about 1900 lives had been lost to the lingering clashes between farmers and the herdsmen in the state.
The losses to the economy as a result of the activities of these crises cannot be easily quantified. Aside the thousands of people that were killed and property that had been razed, several families are today dislocated with countless people physically and psychologically maimed for life. The future ambitions of many Nigerians, particularly children, have been cut short or disrupted while the local economy suffers grievous harm. This is not to talk of foreign investors who are scared by the many violent conflicts in the polity.
What is more worrying is that the communal conflicts across the nation also highlighted the prevalence of weapons in the hands of non-state actors in the country. Nigeria is awash with illegal small arms and light weapons (SAWLs). The ease of access to these weapons has made individuals and communities more fortified and hence less amenable to entreaties to make peace. Many communities are now self-arming to protect themselves, to go on the offensive or for reprisal attacks.
This development does not bode well especially at this critical time when the nation is experiencing serious security challenges. It was such easy access to SALWs by some unscrupulous elements that resulted in total breakdown of law and order in some of the failed states in Africa of which Somalia is a prime example. Such proliferation equally led to difficulties in conflict resolution as was the case in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the recent past.
This is why we enjoin all the relevant authorities to recognise the danger posed by the influx of small arms into our country and act very quickly to tackle the menace before it is too late. There is also the urgent need to develop a framework that will enable the country to effectively respond to any crisis and safeguard lives, property and ensure stability and growth in the economy. For now, the government inability to maintain law and order in many localities is too obvious. Besides, and even more fundamental, there is need for a holistic approach that not only addresses the immediate challenge but one that deals with some of the root causes of violence in our country – the issue of growing poverty.