Audacity of the Herdsmen


Six months after the horrendous New Year attacks in Benue State, which left 73 persons dead, the herdsmen struck yet again, this time with heavier blood flow on their trail after mauling over a hundred people, in what is now being insensitively described as reprisal attacks in Jos, Plateau State. Although the herdsmen, who seem to have become law unto themselves had unleashed pockets of attacks on some villages and communities in different parts of the country since their January conquest in Benue, the recent Plateau killings appear tops in all of their killing sports, lately. Unfortunately, reaction from government is a template – constant and lacking empathy. President Muhammadu Buhari has a conviction – the killings, even without any verifiable investigations, are being sponsored by desperate politicians. His media team thinks it is a competition with the previous administration and therefore, still doing better. Yet, the leadership of the Miyetti Allah often admits responsibility for some of these attacks. What this could therefore represent is an evident collapse of the nation’s security architecture, typified by leadership failure and exacerbated by official conspiracy. Otherwise nothing can possibly explain the audacity of the herdsmen in a nation governed by the constitution and the rule of law, write Olawale Olaleye, Chiemelie Ezeobi, Shola Oyeyipo, George Okoh and Seriki Adinoyi

Have you seen those gory pictures from Jos, Plateau State circulating the airwaves? Perhaps, you’ve heard some of the tear-jerking stories of the Fulani herdsmen invasion, which left over one hundred dead – women, children and the aged inclusive. Or haven’t you seen tributes accompanied by pictures of good-looking people with decent living, who called in on Plateau at the most unfortunate time being shared on the social media? Well, if you haven’t yet, maybe you should not bother anymore, because a glance at just one of the pictures could leave you numb for so long a time.

But you would be justified to ask if those who delight in such terrifying killings are actually human or sane? Even though a brain check would be required to ascertain that, the layman would be pardoned to assume so. They come in the dead of the night when people are fast asleep. They maul without mercy. They burn houses as many as they choose to. They operate for hours in a society governed by laws and not a resistance from anywhere and they proudly stroll back to their ‘safe houses’.

Days ago, the Zamfara State Governor, Yari Aziz screamed aloud over the recent killings in his state, denouncing his constitutional title as the Chief Security Officer of the state. He said it was merely titular, bearing no corresponding powers to deliver just what is required to keep his state safe. He alluded to the continuous killings in his state and that in spite of the interventions sought from the federal government, nothing was done to tame the tide. And days after he raised the alarm, the monsters struck in Plateau, beating their own Benue record of bloodletting which claimed 73 persons.

For balancing, it is fair to understand that the issues in the North especially, North Central, are quite deep and somewhat complex. Unfortunately, as Professor Pat Utomi, said in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, they are often treated as Islamisation agenda. First, according to him, the herdsmen-farmers’ clashes are part of a major sociological challenge in a society in transition like Nigeria – transiting from an agrarian society to an industrial social unit.

Recall that some fifty years ago, the herdsmen were principally entrepreneurs. This was because they owned their cattle and the land tenure system was different at the time. But they were able to reach some kind of understanding with the farmers. They were generally allowed in certain corridors, where crops were not planted. They didn’t bother farmers as much. However, with time, Utomi explained, the Nigerian society became increasingly urbanised and the hitherto available corridors were shut at the herdsmen. This was further made impossible by the fact that the country’s leadership did not do enough to move into a ranch economy.

Thus, more than 30 years ago, when Nigeria should have been there, it is still not. Obviously, one of the failures of this country, he reckoned, is the failure in economic planning with continuity. This is against the backdrop that as far back as the 1950s, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had set up ranches especially a huge one in northern Ondo, but which has been disused for some time now. If Nigeria had continued with ranches at that time and the railway system had not collapsed, the country could have had a system in Yobe or Jigawa State, processing meat and putting them in cold storage in trains for the Lagos use.

The other slant to this is the sociological challenge. Utomi noted that the herdsmen were entrepreneurs some 50 years ago, because the cattle belonged to them. But today, that has changed. The cattle seen around, he argued, most likely belong to people in the National Assembly, some governors – even some southerners, who have invested in the business. So, basically, the herdsmen are now labourers with no stake. “They are, in fact, going through a transition crisis and there’s no brain to discuss the issue as it is and the simple answer is Islamisation.”

This is why the idea of a ranch economy cannot be thrown aboard in the entire debate of herdsmen invasion as it is in fact the only way out until a better technology waltzes through. That said, nothing can justify killings in the manner they do or the attempt to justify reprisals by equating human lives with those of cows allegedly killed. The country must move away from such mundane and totally primitive demeanor and embrace the kind of civilisation that encourages development. Even if not true, the allegation of Islamisation cannot be totally dismissed with their growing tendency.

Plateau went up in flames last week with coordinated attacks, which resulted in the killing of over 200 persons in two days. Suspected Fulani herders had swooped on some villages in Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Jos South Local Government Areas in night attacks, leaving a harvest of deaths in its trail.

A day prior to the attacks, the herders had issued a release and told the police that their cattle were missing, and that five of their kinsmen were on their way from Kara market in Jos South Local Government Area to Barking Ladi, when they were attacked. They however concluded that since their kinsmen were missing, the Berom might have attacked, killed and went away with their bodies.

The police immediately swung into action in search of the missing Fulani herders and promised to rescue the victims. But the following day the herders took laws into their hands, struck and killed the Beroms that had gone to mourn their kinsmen who were killed in previous attacks. The Fulani herders didn’t stop there; they went back, reinforced and launched night attacks on about 10 villages simultaneously killing over 200 persons. It was as if the claim of the missing Fulani, which though may be true, was to justify the planned attack. The villages attacked included Gindi Akwati, Ruku, Kura, Rapps, Kinshan, Gengere, Heipang, and Gana Ropp.
Mr. Francis Chung, President of Gashish Development Association (GDA), said the attackers, who wore masks had swooped on the people at about 11p.m on Saturday night and shot sporadically at the villagers killing 139 persons.

Corroborating Chung’s claim, member representing Barkin Ladi in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Peter Gyendem, described the situation as worrisome. He claimed over 150 persons were killed.

Another eye witness, who narrowly escaped in Gana Ropp village, near Bethany Christian Academy, Mr. Joshua Gwom said a Clergy, Reverend Musa of the Assembly of God’s Church, his wife and granddaughter were all hacked to death by the attackers. The crisis immediately escalated to Maraban Jama’a and Angle-D in Jos South Local Government Area.

The development has forced the state government to impose a dust-to-dawn curfew on the three restive local government areas. This is even as the state governor, Mr. Simon Lalong, who was in Abuja to attend the All Progressives Congress (APC), National Convention, was forced to cut short his stay at the convention and return to his troubled state.
The curfew notwithstanding, the Dorowa Babuje, a Berom-dominated village was attacked while the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo was in Jos. Several other dignitaries from across the nation, including President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Bukola Saraki, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and some ministers have been trooping into Jos to commiserate with the people. As it is, the development has set back the peace process embarked upon by the state government.

Plateau has a history of almost two decades of violence triggered by ethnic, religious and sometimes, political differences. For a state that prides itself as the ‘home of peace and tourism’, what has been seen in the past decades describes it in the opposite. The crises have actually been multifaceted, which has made it difficult for successive administrations, right from the days of Chief Joshua Dariye to proffer any lasting solution to it.

Though it hardly occurred among the indigenous tribes of the state, the Hausa-Fulani settlers have been the one taking on each of the tribes, one after the other. After decades of their sojourn and business activities in the land, the Hausa-Fulani would rather prefer to be called indigenes, and would demand to be given the rights accruable to the indigenes, especially politically. For the Fulani, the Berom land is good for their grazing, and they must claim it by terrorising and chasing them out.
In the heat of all this, two Berom illustrious sons – Senator Gyang Dantong and Honourable Gyang Fulani – had to pay the supreme price, when they went to bury their kinsmen who were killed earlier in one of the attacks.

Governments at both the state and the national levels constituted panels of inquiry to unearth the immediate and remote causes of the various crises at different times but the reports were never implemented. Among the panels constituted at various times were The Nikki Tobi Panel, Fiberesima panel, Bola Ajibola panel, Emmanuel Abisoye panel, and even the one constituted by the House of Representatives. All ended up a waste of time as none of the reports was ever implemented. It is alleged that some sacred cows were indicted.
This has been the bane of the unending crisis in the state, as people who felt terribly hurt by the loss of their loved ones and properties continued to see those indicted in their misfortune move freely. In fact, some of those indicted later secured juicy federal government appointments.

Particularly since the 2008 crisis, Plateau has suffered huge casualties especially in the villages, as those who felt that they didn’t get justice in spite of the series of panels resorted to self-help. They mobilised themselves into groups for attacks and counter-attacks leading to more casualties in the villages.
While these happened in the villages, Jos the capital city was only sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Any minor provocation easily degenerated into serious mayhem. One of them was in 2010, when a man whose house was destroyed at Dutse-uku in the city centre in 2008, went back to re-build his house, and in the process, he was attacked by his neighbours of different religious divide, leading to another round of uncontrollable riot that claimed hundreds of lives.

The Berom have continued to insist on one demand – they must not be terrorised out of their ancestral land. They had addressed press conferences three times, announcing that they were not only rejecting the cattle colonies proposed by the federal government, but that the government should “demonstrate justice by helping us to reclaim the large portions of land that have been forcefully taken away from us and occupied by some of the killer herdsmen.”

They added that over 50 villages and farmlands have been taken over by the Fulani after terrorising and killing the villagers and chasing away the remnants, who are now refugees in other places. He said the Berom Houses in those villages are now being occupied by the Fulani herders while they use their farmlands for grazing their cattle.

President of the association, Rwas Choji Dalyop Chuwang said the call became necessary, because they were also worried that the killer herdsmen currently occupying their lands are not the ones that had lived among them previously, lamenting that several of them have been traumatised, humiliated and killed by the herders, who have also destroyed their property and chased them from their ancestral homes.
But in spite of the repeated cries by the Berom, the state and federal governments had looked away while the Fulani continued to occupy their lands and homes. Only after last weekend’s attacks in which over 200 persons were killed that Governor Lalong began to assert his powers when he warned that his administration would not tolerate land grabbing in any part of Plateau.

“Those fighting, killing people and destroying their settlements with the intention of taking ownership of such places would not be allowed to do so. If anyone thinks he can chase people out and grab their lands, we as a government would not allow you to own the land,” he said, noting that his “administration is working out modalities for prosecuting land-grabbers to discourage the act.”
If only the federal and state governments had taken proactive steps to address forceful occupation of Berom land by the Fulani, which is indeed similar to the cries of other indigenous tribes, perhaps these needless killings would have been long averted.

Since the massacre of 73 people on 2018 New Year’s Day in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen, life in the state has not been the same for most rural dwellers as more attacks and killings have turned the state into a mourning field.
From Guma to Logo, Okpokwu, Kwande, Gwer, Gwet East, Makurdi and Agatu, it has been tales of woe as many residents, families and farmers have been displaced, killed and maimed, while properties and farmlands have been burnt down.
Casualties of the January attack included women, children and some members of the Live Stock Guards, who were assigned to enforce the anti-open grazing law while many people were seriously injured. The affected communities in that attack were Gaambe-Tiev, Ayilamo and Turan all in Logo Local Government Area while Umenger, Tse-Akor and Tomatar near Tse-Abi in Nongov District were of Guma Local Government Area.

The herdsmen, who invaded Gaambe-Tiev, Ayilamo, and Turan around 10 a.m on New Year’s Day as the people returned from service opened fire on everyone in sight. They further invaded Tomatar, in a guerrilla manner, knocking on houses and gruesomely killing them with machetes as soon as they opened for them. They went on to also attack Umenger and Tse-Akor.
The two attacks and killing of innocent people generated massive protests in the state and threatened the peace that hitherto existed. Many groups, including the state government protested the killings and a mass burial was held for the victims at the state capital, Makurdi. But since January, over 20 other attacks had been recorded, including the killing of two Nigerian priests and 17 worshipers in April.

Even more pathetic is that the situation in the camps, where people are kept is deplorable. A Former Minister of State for Niger Delta, Dr. Sam Ode, expressed concern over the difficulties victims face as he recently donated N400,000 cash as scholarship for children in the Internally Displaced Persons ( IDPs) camp, Abegana, Makurdi.

Though there have been series of clashes between farmers and herdsmen over the years, the earliest documentation of the killings started in July 1999 but reached a very disturbing climax around 2015. Benue State has recorded an estimated 1,269 deaths in 14 out of the 23 local government areas over the years. It is obviously worst hit.

The killing spree however escalated between the end of 2014 and May 29, 2015, when the new administration took over. Some 100 people were killed earlier in the month by herdsmen in villages and refugee camps at Ukura, Gafa, Per and Tse-Gusa, Logo LGA.
A person was killed on July 7, 2015 and mourners in Imande Bebeshi in Kwande LGA were injured. 12 persons were killed and 25 others injured in Buruku LGA after herdsmen’s attack on November 5, 2015. On February 8, 2016, 10 people were killed in a clash between herdsmen and farmers at Tor-Anyiin and Tor-Ataan in Buruku LGA.

Estimated 500 people were killed and 7000 displaced between February 21 and 24, 2016 after attacks on Agatu LGA by Fulani herdsmen. More than seven villages were burnt. On March 9, 2016, eight residents were killed by herdsmen in attacks on Ngorukgan, Tse Chia, Deghkia and Nhumbe in Logo LGA. Former Senate President, Senator David Mark’s convoy was attacked on March 11, 2016. Six people including an APC youth leader were killed by herdsmen in an attack on Tarkaa LGA on March 13, 2016.

On February 29, 2016, 11 people were killed in Edugbeho Agatu LG. Among them was a police inspector. Two people were killed in Obagaji Agatu on March 10, 2016. It took security agencies extra efforts to prevent killings in Agatu on March 5, 2016. On January 24, 2017, 15 people were killed by rampaging Fulani herdsmen in Ipiga village in Ohimini LGA. 10 more were killed in Mbahimin community, Gwer East LGA on March 11, 2017. Seven were killed when herdsmen attacked a Tiv community, Mkgovur village in Buruku Local Government Areas.

On May 8, three persons were killed by herdsmen in Tse-Akaa village, Ugondo Mbamar district of Logo LGA. On May 13, 2017, armed herdsmen struck again in Tse-Akaa village and killed eight more people and between December 31, 2017 and January 2, 2018, 50 persons were killed in fresh attacks on Benue communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen that invaded Gaambe-Tiev, Ayilamo and Turan in Logo, Umenger, Tse-Akor, Tomatar and Guma LGAs. The killers struck twice on January 17, 2018. Four people were killed in Uhime and Angyo communities at Dooka in Doma, Nasarawa State by Fulani herdsmen. Another four were killed in another attack by suspected armed herdsmen in Logo and Guma same day and on January 30, 2018 an attack on NNPC officials in Benue claimed one.

Ten people were killed on March 5, 2018 in Omosu village. On March 7, 26 people were killed as herdsmen sacked Benue village in a fresh attack and since then, till now, it’s been nearly a daily occurrence as there have been incessant reports of killings in Benue communities.
In January 2018, persons suspected to be herdsmen attacked and massacred the bus driver of Gloryland School and on March 18, five persons, including a first-year student of the Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma, Edo State, Collins Ojierakhi, were allegedly killed by herdsmen in Ugboha, Esan South East and Odiguete Ovia North East local government areas of Edo State.
Earlier, on January 21, 2018, a farmer named Ifeanyi was killed by herdsmen in Onicha Olona following argument with some herders in his cassava farm.
Many of the fish farmers in Delta State have abandoned their trade after four of them were killed. On April 30, 2018, two people were killed in Onocha-Olona in Aniocha-North local government area of Delta State.

Going by the estimate of a Non-Governmental Organisation, the Coalition on Conflict Resolution and Human Rights in Nigeria, no fewer than 2000 lives have been lost to violent activities and clashes between herdsmen and farmers across Nigeria while countless thousands have been displaced by incessant farmers/herdsmen’s conflicts.

The worrisome increase in deadly attacks between farmers and herdsmen has continued to beggar questions on why the combination of forces amongst the Nigerian Police, the Department of State Security and the tripartite arm of the Armed Forces has not been able to contain the menace. For many, the police, who are constitutionally charged with all things pertaining to internal security, seem to have bitten off more than they are able to chew, hence the involvement of the military.

A security analyst, who spoke to THISDAY, blamed this on the body language of the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who allegedly did not exert a firm hand when the fresh crisis broke out recently. President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the IG to redeploy to the area like he ordered the military three years ago to redeploy to Maiduguri, when the reign of Boko Haram intensified.
But while the service chiefs obeyed, it was not so for Idris, who visited and left same day, albeit not without leaving a deputy inspector general of police behind. This lack of discipline and blatant disregard for authority has been partly blamed for what is playing out today.

According to a security expert, the move by the IG in disobeying the president’s directive without sanctions signalled a lack of zero confidence in this administration. He noted that for a security force that should thrive on discipline, a break in chain of command often ripples down the ladder, resulting in chaos. Little wonder that indiscipline reigns supreme in the force.
Another worrisome trend, which is chiefly the source of these killings, is the proliferation of illegal firearms in the country. These firearms have found their way into the hands of the cattle herdsmen.

A soldier, who spoke on the ground of anonymity, told THISDAY that they were more worried about the weapons used by the cattle herdsmen, noting that some of them were too sophisticated and expensive to be bought by the itinerant herders. He said when initially deployed to tackle the issue, they had the mindset that cattle herdsmen were only known to go about with knives and sticks. That mindset, he said lasted only about a week before the truth started staring them in the face.

On this, it’s no rocket science that there is an urgent need for the government to check the entry points, where these illegal weapons are coming from and going into. Beyond the lip service by the police, a comprehensive mop up of the weaponry is key in this fight. There is also a need to track the sources behind these proliferations of small arms and weapons.
Monitoring the activities of these herdsmen by military forces has been touted as another veritable solution to these crises. During a recent chat, a security expert, Dr. Bone Efoziem of Strict Guards Security, while advocating for grazing across the country, said it should only be on the condition that adequate security is deployed to monitor the activities of the herdsmen.

“The cattle herdsmen are not educated enough, rich enough to import such firearms. So, who then is bringing these weapons to them? This is where the government has to look into. It is time the government knew who the cattle owners and rearers are in Nigeria. The government should have grazing centres, where security agents can monitor herdsmen’s activities if the clashes must stop.”
The expert however posited that the security challenges in Nigeria should not be blamed on the performance of security agents, rather, the government that failed to provide necessary equipment for their jobs.
THISDAY is very much aware of the proposal by the Senate Committee on Defence to deploy the special forces of the Nigerian Navy to stem the tide. The committee led by its chairman, Senator Isah Misau, made this proposal after a brief preview of the capabilities of the Special Forces.

The Special Forces known as the Special Boat Services (SBS) are Nigeria’s equivalent of the Israeli and United States of America’s navy seals, trained to carry out the most dangerous and delicate of operations with minimum casualties. But months after mooting the idea, deployment was yet to take place, again portraying the lapses in government.

Given their use of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) in their operations, many had fingered the SBS as a veritable tool in tackling the herdsmen/farmers’s crisis. The SBS although predominantly focused on littoral and riverine operations are however not restricted in carrying out other covert operations.

A security expert who spoke off record, said the solution to these crises might not be far-fetched if the SBS are incorporated. Citing their core derivatives, which is founded on ISR, he said if eventually deployed, the unit will first have to gather intelligence, re-survey the porous areas and then apply reconnaissance, which involves placing such large areas under constant monitoring to pick trends and patterns that would be analysed.

Inter-service rivalry has also been identified as inhibiting the flow of information. Synergy, which is key for collaborative operation is one element sorely lacking in the different operations launched in the region. With the joint operation launched to fight this menace, the military are often known to keep some vital information without disclosing same to the police and other security agencies.
But defending this move, a top military source said it was a tactical move. He said the lesser the number of people in the know of any critical operation, the more the chances that success would be recorded in the operation. While not accusing the police of sabotaging cooperative efforts, he said they have often times have to deal with leakages. Thus, in a bid to minimise this, they would rather withhold some vital information.
The disposition of the presidency is also a factor in the level of operation the security agencies embrace. For example, while the federal government was quick to proscribe IPOB and labelled them terrorists, it has turned a blind eye to the rampaging killer herdsmen, who have killed thousands in their wake, even when IPOB hardly had any killings to its name.

…And the Implications
There is no telling that the unceasing attacks by the herdsmen, compounded by other cells of criminalities across the country are fast decimating the security architecture of the country, not to say the least, tearing down her development fabrics. Even more unfortunate is the fact that this particular incidence weighs heavily on the government of Plateau State, given the likely political undertone. Whilst the herdsmen are seen to have gone amok in their killing sports, the possibility of a political dimension to the entire development is high.

To understand this is by first establishing that the governor, Samuel Lalong, is in the minority in the state, who is believed to have emerged by default, following former governor Jonah Jang’s decision to field a cousin of his, the late Senator Gyang Pwajok, as successor. His emergence, therefore, is seen as lacking the support of the majority in the state, evidence of which is the current protests that have since followed the killings in his state.

Under Lalong’s watch, two former governors of the state, Jang and Joshua Dariye, have been put on trial for alleged corruption, whilst one of them, Dariye has already bagged 14 years imprisonment. Each of the former governors ruled for eight years and to think their supporters would not fight back would be to have acted naively or exhibit insufficient knowledge in the political possibilities in a state like Plateau. Even where such instigations cannot be directly linked to the governors, loyalists are known to be ardent, especially where their survival is threatened.

It is no wonder, therefore, albeit disturbing, that Lalong has not been able to go to the office since the incident as protests after protests have continued to hold in the state with protesters occupying his office. This is not a good development for Plateau, which had only begun to savour some respite after many years of unrest and killings. And should this ill-feelings tarry through the period of the elections, that would pose a huge challenge for the APC, because the implications can be predicted.

By and large, the federal government is yet to exhibit or deliver leadership. There is no way the government would maintain evidently failing security architecture and expects an improvement in the security of lives and properties. Sources close to the president say he has not been happy with the conduct of the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, yet, he lacks the capacity to show him the way out.

This is why many an observer holds the position that President Buhari cannot continue to blame the opposition or perceived desperate politicians for his obvious ineptitude, when in actual fact, the buck stops at his desk. There are too many killings going on and the fact that no one has been made to pay for such insensate attacks is the reason this may not go away any time soon, except of course, the president upholds his oath of office, which is to ensure the security of life and property.

Sadly, it is already a mess at the level of the international community particularly, the United States government, which has raised concerns about the level of killings in the country. Not only do they seek the arrest of the perpetrators, they desire punitive measures to be meted out to the senseless killers, who have made Nigeria their abode. And with a recent security report, which said ISIS had been sneaking some of its hardened fighters into the country, it is then in collective interest that Buhari understands the weight of what is at hand and be more firm in addressing them.

The good news, however, is that some of the killer herdsmen believed to be involved in the recent Plateau attacks are said to have been arrested, with a majority of them already assisting the Police in their investigations. Unfortunately, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Nigerian government and its security wings lack the capacity to conclusively shovel through intricate cases, it is only hoped that this particular incident will mark a turning point in the modus operandi of the nation’s security agencies.

But, certainly, it is going to be a long haul for security agencies if reports that herdsmen were already renaming villages ’grabbed‘ from indigenes are true. This, of course, is another disturbing development to the age-long history of violence in Plateau State.