With hightened activities of killer herdsmen and kidnapping gangs igniting ethnic tensions, the nation’s unity is once again being sorely tested, writes Kingsley Nwezeh
For some years now the issue of the involvement of herdsmen in rampant killing and kidnapping of innocent citizens has taken the front burner and assumed a threat to national security and cohesion.
The security challenge has become a recurring decimal culminating in the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerians for ransom, raping of women and wanton destruction of property.
The history of cattle rearers or what we now know as herdsmen is a long one. It is traceable to the Bible.
The patriarch of the Jews, Abraham, a friend of God,
his son Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, were exceedingly wealthy herdsmen or cattle owners (Genesis 13:2: “And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold”) Owning cattle is a measure of wealth then and now.
Another prominent jewish figure, Job, was also wealthy and owned a lot of cattle and sheep. His wealth is measured in modern times to be worth $56 million in livestock.They were hardly associated with violence except when invaded or provoked by the activities of cattle rustlers.
The cattle rearing tribes are scattered across the globe with different approaches to herding cattle in terms of normadism and use of technology or ranching.
Herdsmen are in America, Armenia, Ghana, China, Europe Nigeria and other parts of the world because God created cattle and some particular tribes rear them especially for economic benefits.
Before now, the dominant narrative was that the clashes between herdsmen and farmers were the products of climate change which forced herdsmen to move Southwards in search of pasture, leaving a trail of blood and destruction.
There was also the narrative that there were cattle routes running across the country and established in colonial times, the distortion by road networks and other infrastructure, had resulted in clashes by herders and farmers.
The other narrative was that those responsible for the kidnapping and killings were Fulani herdsmen from other parts of Africa not the ones we know.
The narrative has since changed with strange herdsmen launching attacks and engaging in kidnapping for ransom, banditry, raping women and killing of Nigerians, giving it a political colouration, though the normal herdsmen could still be seen daily doing what they started from the Bible, engaging in what was assigned them, the only difference now being that they move on streets and near government offices where there are no grasses.
The activities of the renegade herdsmen is an indication of a hijack as herdsmen are known to wield sticks with which to whip cattle to line not AK 47 rifles or originally known to form kidnap gangs even with strong evidences of infiltration.
There are also arguments that with the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015, the once peaceful herdsmen became emboldened and started making demands for unfettered access to farmlands.
A large number of such herdsmen also trooped into Nigeria from Niger, Chad and Nigeria complicating the security situation in the process.
The nation has witnessed in recent years the killing of hundreds of people in Benue and Plateau States by herders and the slaughter continues unabated.
To many, it is now scary to imagine travelling by road to some parts of the country for fear of being kidnapped.
There are also cases of some of the herdsmen arrested by police recently donning military camouflage. Force Public Relations Officer and Commissioner of Police, Frank Mba, said recently that some arrested kidnap suspects were returning to the police a second time and in some cases, a third time, having being earlier arrested, charged to court, imprisoned and mysteriously released.
The Igangan Fiasco
Riled by years of provocative activities of such herdsmen in Igangan community in Oyo State, a youth activist, Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, had on January 22 stormed the acient town with his followers to eject the Sariki Fulani, Salihu Abdulkadir.
The fulani head was accused of complicity in the killings, kidnapping, rape and invasion of farmlands in the area. Members of the community claimed that payment of ransom for kidnap victims were usually passed through him.
In fact, residents of Igangan, had at a town hall meeting held last Monday under the auspices of the Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Ngozi Onadeko and the state government affirmed that over N50 million ransom was paid in the past five years.
Igboho had also given Fulanis a quit notice to leave Ibarapa land.
The villagers, had at the meeting provided facts, figures and photographs to support claims that the herders and their leaders were behind a spate of abductions in the area.
Governor Keyinde Makinde of Oyo State had also ordered the arrest of all those formenting trouble in the state.
Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu, had claimed that the Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, ordered the arrest of Igboho, which sparked further outrage across the country.
A group, Lansante Renaissance, recently posited that no fewer than 10 persons were killed and 25 others abducted by suspected herdsmen in the Ibarapa area of Oyo State in the last two years.
“The Fulanis have not been without pains, sorrows, and tears over the years. The people in Ibarapa are helpless, restless, and despondent over the activities of some unscrupulous herdsmen and criminal gangs that have been kidnapping, killing, and extorting money from helpless citizens through ransom payments.
“They invade our farms, rape our young ladies and women, destroy our properties, and recently became bandits and terrorists in our midst”, the group said.
Alleged Collusion with Security Personnel
There have also been unverified reports of strange helicopters that drop weapons for herdsmen domiciled in some forests in the southern parts of the country at unholy hours.
In the same vein, a Senator representing Ogun West Senatorial District at the National Assembly, Tolu Odebiyi, recently called on the federal government, the military and police authorities to investigate the harassment of his constituents by soldiers and herdsmen.
Penultimate week, the social media was awash with reports that the herdsmen allegedly engaged the services of some soldiers to beat up farmers in some communities in Yewa land in Ogun State.
The community was accused of stopping cattle from grazing over their farmland. The reports had it that many people in the area were beaten up and injured by the soldiers.
Senator Odebiyi had, in a statement through his media aide, demanded a thorough investigation into the matter. He also lamented the incessant attacks by herders in the area.
“It is morally wrong to allow herders to graze on people’s farms unchecked, to the point that law abiding citizens are rendered hapless. This sends a dangerous sign, in addition to undermining the credibility of the government,” he said.
Senator Odebiyi further called on the Brigade Commander of the 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta and the Commissioner of Police, Ogun State Command to probe the assault on the community.
The lawmaker said the investigation had become imperative “in order to stop the inimical, unpleasant and nasty situation reverberating around the Yewa villages”.
Governor Akeredolu’s Ultimatum
Unable to bear the activities of rampaging herdsmen in Ondo State, the state chief executive, Rotimi Akeredolu, had given herdsmen occupying Ondo forests seven days to vacate them or face the wrath of the law.
Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu, had weighed in by arguing that the forest occupants enjoyed freedom of movement in the constitution.
Some people also flew the kite of emergency declaration in Ondo as a way to advance their narrow interest.
But Akeredolu had stood his ground insisting that his goverment would not condone criminal herdsmen who use the forests as operational base for kidnapping, raping and decimation of innocent Ondo indigenes.
The altercation got to a point that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum had to intervene.
After a meeting with the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) it was agreed that a ban on open grazing including underage and night herding be effected. Both parties also agreed that kidnapping, banditry and criminality by herdsmen are signs of a failed government.
Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, had said that the meeting was convened to find lasting solutions to the incessant killings, kidnapping and crises between herdsmen and farmers in the South-west.
He said unlawful grazing must be stopped to avoid conflicts between the farmers and the herders.
“MACBAN should embrace and be committed to modern breeding process by creating grazing reserves and practice ranching to prevent cattle roaming about,” the communiqué said.
The communique further clarified that the Ondo State governor’s ultimatum was for illegal occupants of the forest reserves, saying the media misrepresented his directive.
“No one had sent anyone away from any state or region but all hands must be on deck to fight criminality,” it stated directing: “Criminals should be apprehended and punished, no matter their origin, class or status”.
Stakeholders have further criticed the unhealthy development of a conscious governance template that encourages ethnicism or takes advantage of a political position.
Speaking on Arise TV on the topic, “Conflict and Likelihood of Violence,” Col Tony Nyiam (rtd) who warned against the danger of granting unfettered access to suspected terrorist herdsmen in southern Nigeria accused Buhari of insincerity.
“For some time, I have always said that the president lacks the sincerity of purpose and political will. I say this because if you remember, when we had the same thing happening in Benue, one had to intervene and call the president, that the president cannot shy away from such an issue. We need to see him stop being nepotistic and taking sides,” he said.