Guest Columnist By LAWSON OMOKHODION
It appears that the federal government of Nigeria has surrendered its powers and might to violent criminals. It is incredulous that there is no part of the country that can be considered safe for any citizen anymore. Even the mega city-state of Lagos with its excellent managers is also not free from the violent upsurge. Businessmen and students are taken away by kidnappers at will. In Rivers state the norm is to kill, maim and bully while herdsmen and kidnappers roam the streets with impunity. In Kaduna state particularly southern Kaduna it appears the violence in that part of the state is a policy of government.
In Taraba state the orgy of violence in the state required both the military and police to contain it. Both state actors and non-state actors have a common interest – to make money by destroying and killing. Every facet of our national life has drifted into a state of normlessness. The country is in a state of anomie. The moral compass is broken. The acceptable standards of measuring human behavior in Nigeria have been distorted. The Nigerian state has been compromised.
There is violence in the land. Both in temporal and spiritual matters chaos and anomie have taken over. Even churches have become the temple of criminality. Prosperity preachers, money crazy pastors, false prophets, deluded messengers of ‘God’, and magicians and sorcerers have taken over churches while ‘alfas’, native doctors, amulets and charms experts have taken over mosques. Money, materialism, riches no matter how ill gotten, naked and base acquisition of property and unearned wealth are eulogized by churches and mosques and the larger community is polluted beyond words.
Violence is stalking the Nigerian state. Everywhere you turn, a phenomenon of violent cattle herdsmen using their herds of cattle to invade farmlands in the southern and middle belt states of the country has become a constant in our lives. Cattle Fulani herdsmen known for their meek and friendly disposition in the past are now armed and ready to kill without provocation. These herdsmen take off from states like Adamawa, Taraba, Kaduna, Kano and joined by their brothers from Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger etc. head to the southern states of Oyo, Delta, Edo, Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Bayelsa etc. to graze and in the process destroy crops, farmlands and then follow up with killing, raping, and maiming men, women and children on their farmlands. When these killings and destructions are reported to the law enforcement agencies the police are not able to make any arrest and no one is punished for killing and destroying.
Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbe recently frightened me to the point of a seizure. Audu Ogbe said that the ECOWAS protocol of free movement of persons across boundaries make it impossible for the Nigerian government to control the foreign elements amongst the herdsmen. Ogbe seems to say that arms and ammunitions, diseased and sickly herds of cattle and criminal herdsmen can move across boundaries without restraint. It means that even when the government forbids its citizens from possessing unlicensed firearms it allows herdsmen from neighbouring countries to wander over Nigeria with unlicensed AK-47 with no fear of arrest. So these foreign herdsmen can join the Nigerian herdsmen to kill and destroy and the federal government says it cannot do anything to stop them.
For killing Nigerians and destroying their farmlands the government says it cannot visit any repercussions on the criminals from ECOWAS states. It can also not visit any repercussions on the herdsmen from the northern states because they are state protected herdsmen. People affected are crying out and their cries are met with a deafening silence. How can agri-businessmen dealing in livestock believe that their own business is more important than agri-businessmen dealing in food/cash crops? Yet in all these killings and dispossessions by the cattle herdsmen no one has been arrested brought to trial and punished.
Impunity has been allowed to reign supreme. Recently, herdsmen were sighted strolling with their herds of cattle along main streets in Abuja, the federal capital. They then went further, the herdsmen led their herds of cattle to graze on the football field of the national stadium, Abuja. The attack by the herdsmen seems to be so pervasive that everyone is alarmed. The herdsmen can shoot and kill anywhere they face and anytime they want.
Husbands and wives are weeping for the murder of their spouses by herdsmen. Men and women are crying for losing loved ones.
Farmers in Midwestern geopolitical zone of Nigeria have deserted their farmlands. No farmer is safe in the Midwest. The herdsmen invade farms; their herds of cattle eat up crops, and turn green vegetation into desert by voracious consumption. When these herdsmen as much as sight the farm owners they shoot them at sight and if the women are available they are raped and butchered and the federal government says it cannot take any action because the herdsmen are special. The violent cattle herdsmen have expanded their territory of operation. They have no fear of police. They kill policemen as much as they kill civilians. The government apparently believes police death in the line of duty is acceptable.
In the Nigerian Police force of the glorious past anytime a criminal or fleeing robber killed policemen, the police force, in its traditional esprit de corps would pursue that criminal until he is apprehended and punished. These days the police are as helpless as the ordinary people. Indeed, a few years ago some members of the department of state security were butchered in their prime in Nasarawa state by a known cult group and there were no repercussions.
Indeed, these days when reports are made to a police command regarding the atrocities of herdsmen, the police would tell the people that the policemen must first access the firepower of the herdsmen before confronting them. Herdsmen should never have firepower. They illegally bear arms. The Sultan of Sokoto recently asked the federal government to probe the sources of arms used by the herdsmen. The right approach must be that all herdsmen nationwide must be disarmed and anyone carrying weapons must face the armed robbery courts for bearing firearms without license and the penalty is death sentence.
Recently women were raped and beheaded in the cities of Ewu and Ekpoma in my own dear Edo state and till today no one has been arrested and yet we all know where the herdsmen have their settlements in the forests. Owners of these herds of cattle must set up grazing ranches for their cattle.
The times when herds of cattle roam the forests covering thousands of kilometers are gone. We must move with the times. If the Nigerian state cannot land somebody in Mars, must it not be able to control rampaging herdsmen? The Nigerian state must wake up. If illiterate herdsmen maim, kill with impunity the federal government must as well allow every Nigerian to bear arms and defend them.
Recently in Edo state, cattle Fulani herdsmen led their herds of cattle to take over the classrooms of a community primary school. The frightened students fled from their classrooms while their teachers ran for their lives. The herdsmen destroy farmlands and if allowed they are ready to make learning impossible for our children. Neither the state government nor the federal ministry of education has thought it fit to make a statement condemning the invasion of a school by herds of cattle led by their herdsmen. The federal ministry of interior has no statement to make on the invasion of the Nigerian territory by herdsmen. Even when the federal government reluctantly speaks to acknowledge the existence of criminal activities it never mentions the murderous destruction and economic despoliation caused by herdsmen as part of the problems.
As herdsmen overwhelm the land, kidnappers have emerged as an equally virulent danger we face in the country. School children are kidnapped at will. Businessmen are kidnapped and only released when ransom of considerable amount is paid. People are kidnapped on the highway; as they enter their homes; in places of work and everywhere imaginable. Herdsmen take over the highways and kidnap motorists only to release them when huge ransom is paid. Nigerians can no longer travel to their villages. The problem is compounded by bad and un-motorable roads. Catholic reverend fathers and sisters are being kidnapped daily. Petty kidnappers are in every nook and cranny of the country.
Again a new dimension of the crisis has emerged pitching northern Nigeria against southern Nigeria. The federal government is alarmed. State governments are confused. Nigerians are frightened. Communities that have lived together in peace for generations are preparing to tear at each other. When in 1992/3 citizens of the republic of Rwanda called each other disparaging and dehumanizing names little did the world know that a massacre of unearthly proportion was gathering momentum. When it came the conflagration was uncontrollable. Nigerians are playing with fire. We must return to reasonableness and let our young ones live instead of sending them to war to die. Any war that breaks out in Nigeria today will signal the end because the OECD countries and Russia have loads of arms and ammunitions to supply to all sides of the conflict on credit and at a very attractive discount.
Nigeria is in a state of anomie. The country is at a crossroads. The society is steeped in infamy. Its people are divided and in torment on all fronts. We yearn for a way out. The country and its people cry for justice, fairness, equity and humanity. As we reflect on the perplexing state confronting the country, we need to join in praying for Nigeria. Nigeria has been in distress for such a long time. At both individual and family levels we have to pray for Nigeria and with good intentions in our hearts. The times are very delicate.
As Nigeria attends to major initiatives to re-energise itself the federal government must live up to its billing and handle security of life and property more firmly. If it has the political will the federal government can roll out the armed forces, the police, DSS, civil defense corps, Customs, FRSC, etc. to tackle criminalities and promote security in the land. But it seems that the federal government has itself collapsed. Meanwhile, we must begin to address the clamour for a restructured federation.
The country needs the creation of state government controlled police force and to avoid abuses it should be circumscribed by a proper delineation of what constitutes federal crimes to be handled by federal police. With state police armed herdsmen will be afraid to act and move with impunity across autonomous states.
The country needs a workable constitution. The immunity clause on criminal offences for elected president, vice-president, governors and deputies must be thrown out. Slush funds known as security votes must be wiped out. Presidents and Governors must be taken to court for criminal breaches while in office. The exclusive legislative list must be pruned so that the concurrent and residual lists will take in more responsibilities. The federal government takes in too much money from the federation account, which is misused. Fiscal federalism is imperative and the time for genuine resource control has come.
The federal government is too over-stretched and has lost the capacity to manage Nigeria. The government cannot secure Nigeria. The bi-cameral legislature is too expensive and unworkable. The national assembly operates outside the Nigerian reality and it is too foreign and insulated. The federal government cannot continue to fund it. The Government needs to move fast on fixing the broken parts of the Nigerian vessel otherwise more Nnamdi Kanus may emerge.
• Chief Omokhodion is a retired banking executive