Has FG Lost the Initiative on Marauding Herdsmen?

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As more states scramble to enact anti-open grazing laws to stop rampaging herdsmen from attacking innocent communities across the country, the federal government may have lost the capacity to holistically address the problem, writes Tobi Soniyi.

Before President Muhammadu Buhari took office on May 29, 2015, herdsmen were already on rampage. The point must be made, the problem was not created by him.

However, as soon as Buhari was sworn in, herdsmen became more daring. They became uncontrollable. As Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka would put it, they started exhibiting conqueror mentality. Unfortunately for the country, the authority exhibited lack of political will to stop the menace. The federal government was found wanting when it was supposed to show leadership. At a time the country was under siege.

In Benue alone, not less than one hundred people had been killed while properties and means of livelihood valued at hundreds of millions were destroyed. The psychological effect on the people could not be valued as they live under fear overwhelmed with trepidation.

The story was not very different in Plateau. In 2016, a first-class traditional ruler, the Saf Ron Kulere and Chairman of Bokkos Traditional Council, Sir Lazarus Agai, was killed with his driver while returning from his farm.

In the south-east, the herdsmen invaded Ukpabi Nimbo in the Uzo-Uwani Local Government of Enugu state killing about 20 persons. In Ondo State, herdsmen invaded the farm of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae. The security guard at the farm was killed during the attack. Other attacks did not attract the attention of the media and went unreported.

A government that is quick to issue a statement condemning terrorist attacks in other countries had in the past refused to react to these atrocities by herdsmen and when it did, the reaction did not go far enough. At a time, when concluded that the herdsmen were enjoying a tactical support from those in authority. But the government rejected such insinuation.

The whole country expected the federal government to tackle the herdsmen head on especially when their activities threatened agriculture, a major plank upon which this administration planned to rely on to diversify the economy.

As the attacks intensified, governors came under heavy pressure by their people to protect them. But the governors were helpless since security apparatuses were in the hands of the federal government. The fact that Buhari had chosen to appoint only his kins men and those who share the same religion belief with him as security chiefs did not help matter.

Several times, Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom was at the Aso Rock Villa seeking federal intervention to stop the killings of his people by herdsmen. The fact that he also had to sign an anti-open grazing bill into law implied that he had to find a solution to the challenge by himself.

When it became obvious that the government at the centre would not come to their aid, the governors looked inward for a solution. The Ekiti State governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose, a fierce critic of the president fired the first salvo. He got his state’s house of assembly to pass a bill, ‘Prohibition of Cattle and Other Ruminants Grazing in Ekiti, 2016’ which he quickly signed into law. He was widely applauded.

When he did not get the help he wanted from the federal government, Ortom also signed a somewhat similar bill into law in Benue state. In his reaction to the new law, the governor said: Well, I want to say that I’m optimistic that peace has come. That is giving leadership. That is what we did in Benue state.

We have given leadership and we believe that this is the only thing that will restore peace in Benue state and any other state that wants peace in states where herdsmen are terrorising them, that is the way to go because globally, what is being practised is ranching and not this nomad life of moving from one end to the other destroying people’s farms and all that.

But like I keep saying, I’m challenging anyone including the herdsmen and Miyetti Allah that if you have a superior policy that can restore peace other than ranching, to bring it up on the table and let us debate it. But for now, that is the way forward.”

Taraba and Edo states also working on a similar law.

Recently, the Speaker of the Taraba House of Assembly, Abel Diah, said that an executive bill seeking to prohibit open grazing, would be beneficial to both herdsmen and farmers in the state. According to him, the bill was meant to improve the lives of livestock and herders.

He said: “This is a revolution government is bringing to better the life of grazers, create jobs and harmonious co-existence between farmers and herders. It is high time we stopped killings associated with open grazing.

“When passed and signed into law, the bill will check the activities of criminals hiding under the guise of grazing to perpetrate all forms of crimes.”

“Those (grazers) coming outside the state will be given temporary permit for the purpose of identifying livestock owners,” he said.

Diah said the law would also enable the government have information about grazers at its finger tips and know how to plan for their welfare.

Also in Edo state, a bill for a law to establish the Edo State Cattle Rearing and Grazing Agency had already passed second reading on the floor of the Edo House of Assembly.

Bright Osayande (APC-Ovia North East 11), who led the debate for the passage of the bill, said the incessant killing of defenceless farmers and the needless destruction of crops by herdsmen had become a call for concern.

“The criminal activities of these herdsmen have earned the group the reputation of being the fourth most dreaded group, according to the Global Index for Terrorism (GIT).

“Their activities have taken a different dimension as the herdsmen now take their cattle to school premises for grazing,’’ he said.

He drew the attention of the house to a newspaper publication, which drew global attention to the herdsmen’s invasion of Ohovbe primary school in Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area of the state.

He called on the lawmakers to make deliberate efforts at giving members of the public a feeling of protection by regulating the activities and menace of herdsmen through stiff penalties.

There are indications that many more states will join the race to address the challenges posed by the marauding herdsmen. Since the federal government would not do anything, the states should not be blamed for seizing the initiative. However, attempt by these states to solve the problems is likely to create more confusion.

Apart from the facts that some of the offences created and those that are likely to be created are already taken care by existing laws, enforcing the new laws would pose challenges and is likely to result in chaos. For instance, who will arrest herdsmen when they run foul of the Ekiti law? Is it the federal government-controlled police? If the federal government is not interested in bringing herdsmen to justice, then enforcing states’ laws will be a tough challenge.

There are also concerns that some of the provisions of the laws violate the constitution and are likely to be declared null and void by the courts.

As it is, it is not too late for the federal government to rise to the occasion and show leadership by working with states and security agencies to come up with a workable solution to the challenges posed to the nation by herdsmen. It only needs to muster the necessary political will.

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A government that is quick to issue statements condemning terrorist attacks in other countries had in the past refused to react to these atrocities by herdsmen and when it did, the reaction did not go far enough.