The country, to say the least, is in turmoil. Who will free Nigeria from the yoke of banditry?
The proliferation of arms is taking its toll on the country. Government is overwhelmed. The tragedy is beyond the unresolved terror in the Northeast. Across the states of the federation, the fear of killer-herdsmen has become the beginning of wisdom.
They are armed to intimidate and plunder. They maim. They kill. They kidnap. They rape. They demand and obtain ransom. They are robbers. They threaten communities day and night. They are not even afraid of Covid-19 pandemic as they go about with their nefarious activities.
They are strangers in those locations where they torment their victims. Their cattle destroy farmland and crops. Curiously, they have mastered their routes in the forest. They know the bush paths more that the villagers. Their detailed identities appeared concealed. The queston is: where do they come from? Are the herders not employed by the cattle owners who now value profits from cattle rearing more than human life?
Now, there is, at least, a lead to the unraveling of the agents of provocation. Chief Sunday Adeyemo Igboho, largely perceived now in some remote areas as a liberator and hero of sorts, has alleged that these killer herders hibernate under the roof of known and identifiable herdsmen and other long standing settlers, who shield them from protesting villagers. Therefore, those who harbour them are pretenders and culprits. They are aiding and abetting crime. This serious allegation should be thoroughly investigated by security agents.
Although these settlers have been living in Yorubaland for decades, the activist is of the opinion that the argument does not hold water. The solution to herders/farmers clash, in his view, is that they should leave the Southwest along with their strange kinsmen. This is unfortunate as it can generate nasty thoughts and cripple cordial relations in an already tensed and fragile country.
This approach has been criticised by the cattle rearer association and some pro-herder groups from the North. Igboho’s quit order was a decree and a violation of human rights, they said, adding that nobody has the right to tamper with freedom of movement in any part of the country.
But, Igboho is not schooled in that aspect of constitutionality and constitutionalism. He is worried by the explanation that he can be accused of violating that same law that is being disrespected by kidnappers and killers who wreck havoc on his kinsmen. Thus, he is rationalising the crude method he had employed to defend his defenceless Oke Ogun and Ibarapa people. He neither remembers nor understands the law as the big regulator of relationship. For now, he only understands the tradition of self-help and the language of self-defence. Understandably, he enjoys the tacit support of majority of Southwesterners. In their thinking, if security agencies cannot offer protection, at least, Igboho can assist in wading off threats. Besides, Igboho has said that if Yoruba people in other parts of Nigeria are cohabiting peacefully with their esteemed hosts by clearly avoiding behaviours that are infuriating to them, Nigerians from other parts of the country have a duty to respect the customs of their new settlements in the Southwest. This seems logical, although it does not validate his inadvertent claim to being a monitor, moral tutor or an enforcer.
Since security agencies are largely failing to protect lives and property, self-acclaimed community liberators, venerable thugs and militants are filling the void. Some commentators have warned that many more emergency liberators and militant activists may spring up as victims of horror try to meet force with force when they are pushed to the wall. The new crop of activists are not lover of grammar and politico-philosophical quotations. They are only poised to attack enemies of their people. There may be no restraint or rule to follow is the retaliatory scheme. Excesses may be inevitable. This is also dangerous.
But, is the scenario avoidable? For how long can defenceless rural dwellers cope with the onslaught by strange and wicked visitors? When will self-defense not become an option of last resort? Is 21st century Nigeria not regressing into a state of nature?
There is a growing awareness about the menace of killer-herdsmen nationwide. Cries of despondency fill the air. Ethnic groups are girding their loins. It is up to the governors who are chief security officers of their states to now look inward as they search for solutions.
Few years ago, former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State raised the alarm about the dangerous activities of reckless herdsmen. His state was helpless. Things were getting out of hand. Therefore, he took an exceptionally controversial step to stem the tide. Fayose gathered patriotic hunters from some towns and villages for surveillance and policing of the hilly enclave. Their mandate was to seize any cow roaming the streets or destroying farm crops. It was said that one cow was apprehended and suya was made from it, to serve as deterrent. The herders’ representatives appreciated the looming danger to their trade. They avoided further confrontation. They had to negotiate with the government. They promised to abide by the rules and regulations outlined for grazing. There was respite for a season.
But, herders confronted the Ondo State government with a curious resistance that later failed when they were ordered out of the forest reserves that were converted into a den of kidnapping by bandits and killers masquerading as herdsmen.
Only an irresponsible governor would have refused to take the decisive steps taken by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. It is noteworthy that herders were even afraid to register in compliance with official directive. Now, they are moving out of Ondo State to become liabilities to their next point of call.
Last week, Nasarawa State government cried out that its border with Benue State had been invaded by strange herders. The Benue State government sent warning to the invaders that the law regulating grazing was still in force. Cattle were seized. Their owners are now negotiating to retrieve them back.
On Wednesday, Taraba State Governor Ishiaku Dairus cried out. He called for the liberalisation of gun ownership to enable citizens carry licensed guns. It is controversial. It generated a debate on whether Nigeria is ripe for it. Dairus’ assumption is that if armed herdsmen or kidnappers are aware that their targets have guns to defend themselves, they will ponder on the possibility of mutual assured destruction.
Benue State Governor Sam Ortom heaped the blame on federal authorities. He frowned at what he called Federal Government’s aloofness to the crisis triggered by the herders’ atrocities. He called for the arrest of the leadership of the cattle rearer association. He alleged that herders are motivated to terrorise people because they have the backing of the association.
Not even during the civil war was the entire country enveloped in anxiety and fear. Life is becoming harsh, nasty, brutish and short.
Historians will record that in the days of President Muhammadu Buhari, the component units of the fledgling federation complained to the central government in frustration that killer-herdsmen were on the prowl and the president lacked a speedy answer to the national emergency.
The security agencies, particularly the police, are handicapped. Policemen are few relative to the growing population. Responses to the emergency have come in form of regional disenchantment and complaints by distressed states across the six zones looking up to an ineffective, distant Federal Government that has monopolised security resources to the disadvantage of dependent states and agonising local governments.
The predicament underscores the compound failure of the Nigerian brand of “centralised federalism,” characterised by the tacit rejection of state police. It is an anathema; a carryover of unitarism of military period.
The solution is for states in each region to come together, as they have started doing, and promote joint security initiatives to salvage their trembling zones. Collectively, they should form a powerful lobby that will make the Federal Government understand that the push for regional or zonal security outfits has nothing to do with imaginary separatist agenda. If the states in each region pull their resources together to secure themselves, it is in national interest.
Decentralisation of security organisation and control has merits. With community policing, local governments, states and regions will profit from intelligence gathering. The security apparatus will be a product of the environment of operation. Local and state policemen will speak the language of the people. They are more likely to understand the terrain; its geography, sociology and general composition. Security agents are likely to demonstrate patriotism and show more concern because they have a sense of attachment to the environment.
The restoration of security was a cardinal campaign promise of the ruling party in 2015 and 2019. The bewildered nation-state looks forward to the fulfilment of the promise by the president. It is a core parameter that would be used to assess the performance of the government, now and in the future.
So far, the growing insecurity has created a deep hollow in the record sheet of the administration.