Judging from the number of lives already claimed in their various attacks as well as the quantum of property and farmlands destroyed, what other criteria are required for herdsmen to be designated terrorists? Asks Shola Oyeyipo
It may be difficult to come up with a correct number of casualties in the various attacks by the marauding herdsmen, it is, however, obvious that thousands of human lives have been taken by the supposed cattle rearers and this phenomenon is becoming more difficult to understand.
Taking a cue from Benue State, where a timeline of herdsmen attacks released by the state government roughly pegged the numbers of deaths recorded between 2013 and 2017 alone at 1284 (which is obviously less than actual figure), and considering the recorded deaths in Taraba, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Enugu, Kwara, Plateau, Ogun, Ondo, Kogi and other states that have experienced their wrath, it is not out of place to conclude that the nomadic cattle rearers and the dreaded Boko Haram sect are both competing for top spot on the ranking table of killers in Nigeria.
No wonder the 2014 Global Terrorism Index considered that only Boko Haram, ISIS, and al-Shabaab were deadlier than the otherwise unknown militant group from West Africa. Yet since 2013, when the herdsmen killed about 80 people, the deaths have continued to increase each passing year. In 2014, they killed 1, 229.
Though the 2015 figure was relatively lower, an estimated death toll of approximately 2,500 people in 2016 still made the group as deadly as they were. In fact, some surveys suggested that the fatalities may have attained an annual average of more than 2,000 from 2011 to 2016, and in some years, exceeded the death toll from the Boko Haram insurgency.
Aside the dramatic escalation of their blood thirstiness, just as it is almost impossible to pinpoint the actual number of deaths arising from herdsmen attacks, it is practically impossible to know the number of people displaced. But it is safe to say thousands had been forcibly displaced, with property, crops and livestock worth billions of naira destroyed, and of course, with serious consequences for the economy.
Worried by the mindless and incessant killings and the impacts on affected communities, there is now a growing call on the Federal Government of Nigeria and other relevant international organisations to designate the killer group as a terrorist organisation. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), in a letter dated March 16, 2018, sent to the Unites Nation (UN) Security Council and its members, asked them to urgently hold a special session on Nigeria and to also visit the country to press the authorities to end continuing killings and destruction of property by suspected herdsmen across Nigeria, particularly in the North-central of the country.
According to SERAP, the UN should â€œtreat the atrocities by herdsmen as terrorist acts, in line with the UN Security Council resolution 2349 (2017), which addresses Boko Haramâ€™s presence in the Lake Chad Basin and calls on all states to combat all forms and manifestations of terrorism,â€ adding that â€œDeclaring attacks by herdsmen as terrorist acts would help wake up the authorities to seriously address the threats posed by herdsmen and combat the crimes against humanity being committed against Nigerians
SERAPâ€™s Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, who signed the letter said: â€œThere is serious concern that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect the citizens from increasing atrocities by the herdsmen, which if not urgently addressed would pose serious threat to regional peace and security, and by extension, international peace and security.â€
Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, shares SERAPâ€™s sentiments and has continued to tell the Nigerian authority to label the killer herdsmen as terrorists.
The renowned social critic again used the opportunity of a dialogue session organised by Ripples Nigeria in Lagos, to drum it to the ears of the Buhari government that there was no reason why the umbrella body of herdsmen in Nigeria, Miyetti Allah should not be tagged terrorist group just as the government did with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
In an hour-long speech titled: â€œMiyetti to Haiti; Notes from a Solidarity Visit,â€ Soyinka could not hide his disgust over what he considered excuses being made for the killer herdsmen like the drying up of the Lake Chad.
Just as Nigerians are not able to comprehend why the herdsmen are not sanctioned, two Igbo groups, the Igbo Peoples Congress (IPC) and the Igbo Aborigines (AB), while expressing anger and demanding a probe of the killing of some Igbo Youths at Isiala Ngwa junction, Umuahia and Aba by men of the Operation Python Dance of the Nigerian Army, declared herdsmen as terrorist organisation.
IPC, AB and the Adamawa United Forum (AUF) too has asked Buhari to declare herdsmen as terrorists. Their concern is the incessant killings perpetrated by the herders across the nation.
According to AUF spokesman, Musa Jekeko, who feared that Nigeria risked the wrath of other militia groups, the recent killings in Numan local council of the state and other parts of the country had shown that the herdsmen were deadlier than Boko Haram.
â€œLooking at their operations from the prism of objectivity, it is high time government designated them as terrorists to check the emergence of other militia groups in our communities. Adamawa must remain a peaceful territory, and that depends on the effective handling of security issues in the states,â€ Jekeko warned.
President General of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, John Nwodo, has also maintained that the herdsmen deserved the terrorist label and not IPOB.
â€œIn Nigeria, we have Fulani herdsmen and terrorism tracking organisations have ranked them as the fourth deadliest terrorist organisation, that kind of organisation which has ravaged farmlands in Nigeria, killed quite a number of people, has not been classified as a terrorist organisation,â€ he said..
Last September while explaining why Nigeria has not designated herdsmen as terrorists despite having killed hundreds of people and destroying property worth several billions, the Minister for Information, Alhaji Lai Mohamed, said it was because their activities were criminal and not terror-related.
Mohammed told a foreign media organisation that the criticism of Nigeriaâ€™s designation of IPOB as a terrorist organisation was flawed, noting that the separatist group and the deadly herdsmen have different agendas.
According to him, â€œActs of criminality should not be confused with terrorism acts.â€
Contrary to the federal governmentâ€™s position as enunciated by Mohammed, Afenifereâ€™s National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin, said designating the herdsmen as terrorists is the best option available to Nigeria if their activities must be curtailed.
â€œIt is the right thing to do because they have become more ferocious than Boko Haram. Declaring them terrorists would allow the full weight of law to curtail their murderous activities. To allow them to continue with their nefarious activities poses danger to the corporate existence of Nigeria,â€ he stated.
A Lagos-based stalwart of the ruling APC, Tunde Ajibulu, was of the opinion that while it is important to take drastic measures to address the nefarious activities of the herders, it is equally of essence to ensure that innocent people are not wrongfully labelled terrorists.
According to him: â€œItâ€™s a dicey situation, because one has to be very objective and remove sentiments. My major issue is, are we sure of the real identities of the people that perpetuate this carnage? There are different schools of thoughts. They could be dispersed members of the Boko Haram sect. They could be from neighbouring African countries like Mali, Chad, and Niger.
â€œWho knows if they are cattle herdsmen? Are they members of Miyetti Allah? If the people that perpetuate these atrocious, senseless and wanton killings are confirmed members or are tied to Miyetti Allah, then they should not only be labelled a terrorist organisation, they should be labelled number one public enemy.â€
For the likes of the President General, Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Olorogun Moses Taiga, when he spoke with THISDAY on the activities of herdsmen in Urhoboland and their negative effects on the communities, the activities of the herders across Nigeria pose threats to the unity of Nigeria, so the menace must be addressed urgently by government.
Taiga suggested that: â€œNigeria must first look inwards, if it must give the necessary solutions to the challenge, otherwise we will continue to make noise and at the end of the day nothing concrete will come out. It is a critical issue that deserves serious attention from all the stakeholders in Nigeria otherwise it is dangerous enough to jeopardise our unity and corporate existence if the menace is not carefully and tactically addressed before it gets out of hand from the way it is going.
â€œWe need to go back to the automation system whereby we used rail and Lorries to transport cattle to the South. In those days, herdsmen used to bring their cattle to the South through the Nigerian railway lines. For example, in Sagamu, they used to bring cattle by train and take back kolanut to the North through the same means. We need to reactive that.
â€œI learnt that Ajaokuta-Warri rail line would be commissioned before the end of this year. They are also working on the Lagos-Ibadan rail line. With pockets of such projects, I believe the situation will improve. Besides, the roads are not too bad for trailers to bring cattle down to the South. During Christmas, I used to send people as far as Sokoto to buy cows for me to distribute to my communities, which they bring in lorries.
â€œSo, we cannot abandon what has worked for us before. There are trailers coming to buy diesel and petrol all the way from the North. They are there in Apapa, Warri and Port Harcourt to carry the products up North. So, what is the problem using the rail and the roads for cattle transportation?â€