What gale of insecurity being currently experienced across country is a systematic and well-orchestrated spread of terrorism, writes Yusuph Olaniyonu
Between July 2011 and May 2015, when I served as Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Ogun State, the governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun made it a practice that most Sundays were devoted to traveling into the hinterland. The objective was to either identify areas that could be earmarked for one development project or the other or to inspect on-going projects.
For those of us in the small group, who usually formed part of the traveling team, it was a mixed grill of varied experience. While we got to know more about the state and plans of the government than our other colleagues, one also went through harrowing experiences.
We would leave so early and return to the state capital very late. We fed on bread, bean cake (akara), biscuit, soft drinks and water purchased by the roadside. The bad roads also made the trips very uncomfortable.
On one of such trips in the inner part of Ogun West Senatorial district, which the indigenes generally describe as Yewa, I believe it should be along Ilara-Ijoun area in Imeko Aron Local Government Area, our party ran into a Fulani boy in the middle of a long stretch of bush, herding many cows. The boy had on his head a colorful woven cap. He was definitely well dressed, smart looking and all by himself with the well-fed cows. He could not have been more than ten years old.
The boy’s outfit, and his courage in handling the animals with ease, obviously, impressed Governor Amosun. So, he tried to strike a conversation with the boy. The Governor then asked if any of us could communicate in Hausa.
None of us had the dexterity. As the Governor was lamenting in Yoruba how eight of us would gather and none could speak Hausa, Umar (if I remember very well, that is the boy’s name) heard and responded: “Mo gbo Yoruba (I can speak Yoruba)”, he said to the relief of all of us.
The governor had a chat and posed for a picture with him. In fact, we sent the beautiful pictures of the herd boy and the Governor to national newspapers and they were published. The young man got some naira notes as part of the exchange that evening.
After that day, those of us in the traveling party with Governor Amosun usually exchanged jokes among ourselves that if any top official of the state misbehaved, we would advise the governor to replace him or her with ‘Umar, the competent herd boy who had capacity’. It was our own way of demonstrating how fascinated the Governor was with the herd boy’s turnout that day in the Ijoun forest.
Fast track to February 2021, the same Amosun who is now a senator representing Ogun Central sat in the Senate chambers and listened to lamentations by his colleague, Tolu Odebiyi representing Ogun West, the area where we met Umar some eight years ago.
Odebiyi was sad, angry and exasperated as he narrated the criminal activities of the herdsmen in the various communities in his Senatorial District. Odebiyi recounted cases of rape, murder, arson and mindless violence unleashed on the host communities by the supposed herdsmen such that farmers could not go to their farms.
Also, in the night, residents sleep with one eye closed as they expect the invasion of their homes by the criminal elements that are believed to be cattle rearers.
Odebiyi was not alone in the outcry about the heinous crimes, which are being attributed to herdsmen across Ogun State and many parts of the country. The situation has degenerated to such level that state governors turned on each other and traded harsh words on the pages of newspapers over claims and counter-claims on the activities of the herdsmen.
Today, the security of our country is discussed and defined largely on the activities of the so-called herdsmen and their cows. Each time I play in my mind the video of Odebiyi’s vituperation on the floor of the Senate over the activities of the so-called herdsmen and the reports of violence they have unleashed across the country, my mind simply makes a flashback to that encounter we had with the pleasant herd boy, Umar.
Now, Umar must be a teenager or a young man. Can that friendly, confident, good mannered and soft-spoken boy truly have grown to become the monster that is being painted about herdsmen in Yewa and other places? From our short encounter, I could deduce that boy had never travelled out of the Imeko Afon LGA where we met him.
That area is his home. His neighbors are the people of that area. He speaks the language of the people and if he understands Fulfude or Hausa, it will be a second language. His first language is Yoruba. The women in that area know him and he probably once in a while plays with the Yoruba boys of his age around his abode.
How will Umar, eight years after our encounter with him, become so hateful of the only environment he has known all his life as his home and be ready to decapitate or violate the people among whom he has lived all his life?
What transformation will make that boy to rape women, set fire to homes, destroy food crop on the farms, kill or maim farmers and want to destroy the villages that he and his parents, perhaps, grandparents too, have all settled in and do their cattle rearing business without any disturbance over the years? What could have radicalised him to plot violence against his own community?
The hypothesis I am building here is that I do not believe Umar who is my typical Fulani man or herdsman, who has lived among the people of his host community for many decades, is responsible for the new wave of violence in our communities.
For decades, herdsmen, who migrated from other parts of the country have lived peacefully with their host communities and become a part of the communities. Along the line, there have been disagreements over destruction of farm crops by straying cows. That is not unexpected as many other professions or vocation would create clash of interests in their bid to survive.
For example, hunters and farmers also disagree as the hooting and noise by farmers on the farm could chase away the targeted game of a hunter. Even doctors and other para-medical staff fight over control of dominance of the hospital environment. And each community has also devised peaceful means of resolving the clash of interests.
However, this sudden wave of high criminality being attributed to herdsmen is unprecedented. And it is for this reason that I believe we are all being lazy crediting the invasion of the farms and violence against our farming communities as the mischief of some herdsmen.
What we are seeing is the systematic and well planned, orchestrated and articulated spread of terrorism across the country. And the earlier our security agencies see this new wave of herdsmen violence as the mutation of the Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), the better for their strategic planning to counter and defeat these evil forces.
The men who rape, rob, set fire on villages, destroy farms, kidnap and demand ransom and decapitate farmers in our food growing communities are not the herdsmen of Umar’s ilk. Umar that I saw eight years ago or his older brothers and parents remain the jolly good fellows that are Yoruba or whatever is the tribe of the area they reside.
They are just mere victims of a grand plan by terrorists to spread violence, raise money for their destabilising activities, distract security agencies and further sow discord in our country.
It is wrong for security agencies and our political leaders to keep on separating Boko Haram insurgents in the North East from the terrorists, who were wrongly termed bandits but specialise in kidnap and cattle-rustling operations in the North West and North Central or engage in kidnap, robbery, rape, arson and murder in the Southwest and South-south.
They are all specialised units of the same group. They are merchants of terrorism. Their objective is the same: to destabilise Nigeria and wipe it out of existence. Their sponsors are the same.
What we are witnessing is a product of some sophisticated planning. Various cells of the terrorist group work in different areas under different guise and using different tactics, but all serving the same purpose.
The fundraisers among the terrorists are the ones kidnapping for ransom, robbing people of their money and rustling cattle that are later sold in exchange for cash. The money they realise goes into buying more arms and ammunition and keeping their operation going. Or how else are they funding the ceaseless attacks in the North East?
Our security agents should call a spade a spade. Terrorists are terrorists. Simple. Calling them fanciful names like bandits, cattle rustlers, kidnappers, highway robbers and herdsmen will only confuse the security agencies in their response to this merchants of violence against our country.
A lot of the highway marauders from Mali and other West African countries could have sneaked into Nigeria through our porous borders. They then disguise as herdsmen and operate violently.
It could be the reason some victims of violent robbery operations report that their attackers speak certain language, which is common across West Africa. The objective remains the same. These marauders fund terrorism operations across the region.
Sultan Saad Abubakar of Sokoto, a man with security background and good access to intelligence report, has also expressed the same view that the same group of terrorists is ubiquitous in most of the security crises across the country. An ex-service chief has also said something to that effect.
In fact, at a time last year when almost all the major markets in the country were experiencing fire disasters, I was tempted to think that it was a calculated spate of arson being executed as part of the terrorists’ grand plan to ground the Nigerian economy through rendering prostrate our commerce.
Let me at this point make it clear that my position is based on simple rationalization and logical interrogation of events. I have no access to any fantastic intel or operational plan of any terrorist group.
Similarly, I do not pretend to know more than the trained eyes or minds in the security services. Neither do I seek to teach them their jobs. In fact, my position can be taken as part of the frustration of a concerned citizen.
However, I must sound a note of caution on the dangerous trend in which the confusion created by the herdsmen-farmers or indigenes clashes across the country, and more recently in the Southwest zone is now turning top political office holders into agents of disunity.
Many top political office holders are making irresponsible, divisive and incendiary statements directed at courting certain sections of the country or certain constituencies. This is unfortunate. I urge such politicians of convenience to beat a retreat.
What is needed now is for people to gather in homes, offices and other meeting places to discuss how we got here, how we can get out of here and where we should move to. All this grandstanding and posturing to be politically correct in support of the Presidency, the North or South and by a group of people will only exacerbate an already bad situation.
If the plan of the terrorists is to cause confusion in our society, people in leadership positions should not make it easy for them or help them to drive the destabilisation campaign.
Long Live Nigeria!
––Olaniyonu, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja