Fulani herdsmen’s deadly attacks
The deadly dimension the ongoing onslaught by the Fulani herdsmen in the country calls for an urgent attention before it gets out of hand. Over the years, Nigerians have been generous to allow herdsmen to navigate their domain.
However, this has resulted to their farmlands being destroyed, family members killed, maimed and raped. The ugly trend is assuming frightening dimension. No doubt, the herdsmen have undermined the benevolence of their host communities and landlords through the invasion of communities such as Agatu in Benue State, the Gassaka and Bali local government councils of Taraba State.
It will be recalled that a former Secretary to Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, who is also a one-time Minister of Finance, was kidnapped from his farm in Akure, Ondo State, on his 77th birthday and held in captivity for about a week before the police rescued him.
In Nimbo, Enugu State, close to 50 persons were reported killed during clashes between the farmers and cattle rearers. Similar experiences were reported in Lagelu, Oyo State, and other parts of the country that have remained unreported. Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese was also attacked on the Benin-Ekpoma Road on his way from the 10th year anniversary of the enthronement of the Diocese of Uromi.
Although, there have been instances of cattle rustling and hence, the need for the herdsmen to adequately protect themselves from enemies. Despite this, there is the perceived government complicity occasioned by its disturbing silence in the face of the attacks. For instance, on the eve of one of the attacks, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State convened a security meeting based on an intelligence report of the imminent assault. Despite all assurances by the security operatives, the attack still happened!
A few days ago, I heard during a radio interview programme when a retired police commissioner admitted that he used to have such cattle under the care of herdsmen alongside other senior government officials, as a form of investment. What is playing out suggests that there are no strong indications that the nation’s security agencies are interested in either pre-empting or repelling the herdsmen.
Many times, the attackers were found to have massacred local farmers at will and with no hope of assistance. The herdsmen appear to wear a new toga of terrorism, having moved from mere carrying of bows and arrows, and sticks to possessing and flaunting deadly and sophisticated weapons, including AK-47 assault rifle, which they were found to have deployed against host communities. The herdsmen’s possession of arms in whatever form amounts to equipping them against their harmless and vulnerable Nigerians.
Because of the effrontery displayed by the pastoralists, many critics believe that the Federal Government was rather too late in giving definite and crackdown order on the marauders and this could be misconstrued as a tactical support to the activities of the herdsmen.
The nefarious activities of the Fulani herdsmen, if not curbed, can set the nation on fire in terms of ethno-religious crisis. The Federal Government should intervene without further delay and enforce the restriction on the use of firearms by sanctioning violators without any discrimination or fear while those found culpable in carrying out deadly attacks on innocent Nigerians should be punished.
Past efforts to reserve grazing areas for the cattle rearers have failed. These include those of the Mid-Western State to have a functional ranch in Ubiaja as well as the Eastern Regional government to operate the Obudu Cattle Ranch.
Similarly, series of legislation were proposed such as “an Act to provide for the establishment of the National Grazing Reserve (Establishment and Development) Commission for the preservation and control of National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes and other matters connected therewith,” which was sponsored by Hajiya Kure, who represented Niger South in the state constituency during the Seventh Assembly.
Also is “an Act to create a department of Cattle Ranches under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture or any such ministry overseeing the production and rearing of livestock including cattle and for other matters related thereto, 2015,” which specifically provides for “the creation of a department of Cattle Ranches under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture or any such ministry overseeing the production and rearing of livestock including cattle.”
Going by the provisions of the bill, the Department of Cattle Ranches is to perform functions such as, to “facilitate and or sanction the lease or sale of land by persons, communities, local, state and federal governments for the purpose of cattle ranches and inspect the establishment of ranches; register and issue ranching permits to all cattle ranches.” The bill simply empowers the Federal Government to alienate land by fiat for herdsmen.
Going by the current tension that has been generated by the attacks by the herdsmen, perceived lukewarm attitude by the security agents coupled with the late response of the Federal Government to the crisis, it is advisable that the continued movement of the pastoralists across states of the Federation should, henceforth, be discouraged. This should be done to douse the tension in the land.
Already, a cross-section of Nigerians including Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State have warned against establishing any such grazing zone law, saying it would run contrary to the Land Use Act.
The decision by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, to set up 50, 000 hectares of grazing reserves within six months, beginning with the North, before moving to the south, should be discouraged. Activities of the herdsmen should be limited to the North. Therefore, the decision of the government to acquire vast hectares of land in each state for cattle rearers through the proposed National Grazing Routes and Reserves Commission bill should be shelved. The idea of importing grass seedlings to grow improved varieties of grass that would meet the demand of herdsmen in the Northern part of the country is commendable.
Hence, the Fulani herdsmen should cooperate with the proposal of transforming their craft into sedentary ranches. Cattle owners should be encouraged to build ranches and put a stop to the era of wandering herdsmen. Such era seems to be archaic, belongs to antiquity and should be done away with, although the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has lately declared that herdsmen attacking communities were not Nigerians.
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Barrister Heineken Lokpobiri has stated that the government had settled for the creation of ranches as against grazing reserves across the country as a means of solving the violence against communities.
On the argument that the herdsmen have not violated any law in carrying out their business, the Gan Allah Fulani Association has come out to assert that the activity of the herdsmen hinged on their fundamental right to freedom of movement and association, as guaranteed by the constitution. This is true, but I think we should quickly remind the body that democracy only guarantees freedom so long as it does not violate the freedom of others and those breaking the law are apprehended and punished.
Already, there are intelligence reports allegedly linking Boko Haram and the Fulani militants, particularly, with regard to their involvement in organised crime. That is why nothing should be left to chances any longer. That is why the government should, therefore, waste no time in putting the excesses of the herdsmen under check without further delay.
Kupoluyi is of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State (firstname.lastname@example.org,@adewalekupoluyi)
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