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Herdsmen attacks: A national security failure

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As the National Security Adviser, you have to be grossly incompetent to not know how the Fulani herdsmen (yes, they are herdsmen and they are Fulani) conduct their raids. If you knew and just refused to do something about it, anything that would stop these mindless, gory massacres of unarmed innocent Nigerians, then you are just asinine or unpatriotic or both. And if you have laid everything out for your boss, in this case, the President, and he does not have the political cojones to do what he is required by law to do – that is, the protection of the lives and properties of Nigerians, the President has failed.

It must amaze and confound anybody with a scintilla of security awareness – how much more, national security awareness – that there are people roaming around the entire country with illegal weapons, even if they are not killing people with it. No serious security-conscious person, how much more, one with statutory responsibility and obligation to prevent such acquisition in the first place; and the confiscation of such weapons and prosecution of culprits, will sleep well at night knowing that the country is awash with such weapons. But what is even more galling is that the culprits are killing people in dozens, almost daily, and everybody who is getting paid to act is wringing their hands and praying to God to help them. Come on!

This is not the first time I will write about terrorism and national security matters. And each time I deal with these topics, I don’t just wail. I proffer solutions…practical solutions. But each time I write, I get a couple of ignorant feedbacks from some people that I believe have vested interests in the perpetuation of these heinous crimes questioning my qualification to address such issues. It wasn’t until after Jonathan left office that we received validation about what we had suspected all along – that our military leaders were diverting funds meant for the military to personal pockets; that discipline and respect had taken flight from among the echelons – top to bottom, and that our armed forces had been reduced to little more than the Boy Scouts. We are here now. It is what it is. What should we do to solve this problem?
First, I believe that Boko Haram, as an entity, has not gone anywhere, just like Al-Qaeda never went anywhere. Just because Boko Haram is no longer making videos doesn’t mean they disarmed, disbanded and went home. Definitely, they did not surrender to anybody. So, we have to assume they are still very much around. Knowing that you have a problem and being able to identify and categorize the problem are critical first steps in solving the problem.

Which leads to my second point: if Boko Haram has not gone away, it most likely morphed into a marauding group or several marauding groups with loose affiliation (or no affiliation) to a central command. In other words, no command and control entity at which Nigeria and its neighbors could direct conventional firepower. If there is no known commander, no headquarters, no uniforms, no barracks, who then is Nigeria fighting? And the territory that these attackers occupy span southern Niger Republic, to most of northern Nigeria, through to central Nigeria, to the northeast (including the infamous Sambissa Forest), northwest Cameroon and southwest Chad. This is a pretty darn huge swath of land with various weather, vegetation and topography, making it almost impossible to neutralize the enemy. Most serious analysts will recognize this and begin to think of ways to solve the problem. Wringing hands and folding arms are certainly not some of the options.

General Abayomi Olonishakin, Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) and Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), with possibly Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, Chief of Air Staff (CAS) need to take a series of helicopter rides across the areas mentioned above. If they do that, here is what they would discover:

Thousands and thousands of cattle being herded in different groups all heading from places like Maradi, Zinder and Differ in southern Niger, southward to northern Nigeria. These cattle, if you look further, are coming from Mali, going through the northern plains of Burkina Faso and entering Niger through its western border. The herders have enough sense to bypass Niamey, the capital of Niger and even avoid towns like Tillaberi and Dosso so that they would not incur the wrath of the people there. They skirt the edges of other major towns and head south into Nigeria.

There is no physical barrier whatsoever preventing these cattle and their herders from crossing any of the aforementioned countries and from entering Nigeria. Where there are physical border posts, most of the cattle do not go through them. They just grazed through the non-delineated international borders. In other words, Nigeria is losing tons of revenue on import duties from those bringing into the countries hundreds of thousands of these cattle on a daily basis.

Throughout their peripatetic ambulation from Mali or Burkina Faso or Niger, these herders do not carry weapons. They carry sticks and occasionally cutlasses. Certainly, no AK-47s. Yes, they ravage people’s farms along the way but they do not encounter serious pushbacks.

And before anybody writes back to me asking how I know this, listen carefully: I know because I have personally witnessed it. I have done the tedious work of following the cattle and learning the issues. I have put my feet on the ground in these places. So, two of the simple, obvious questions that these three senior officers should be asking include:

Why are the herders carrying weapons in Nigeria when they do not carry weapons in all these other countries through which they have travelled?

From where are they getting these weapons?

The answer to the first question is easy: The herders do not encounter serious resistances when they move through farms in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. And even when they enter northern Nigeria, they are tolerated. Why? Cultural affinity. There are absolutely no physical or cultural differences between the Tuaregs, the Fulanis, the Zarmas or the Hausas of Mali and those found in Southern Burkina Faso, northern Ghana, northern Togo, northern Benin and northern Nigeria. They are nomads. When you see these people with their cattle, you do not see women with them. How do you think they satisfy nature’s call? Of course, they TAKE (without resistance) young girls that they find in the villages and settlements along their routes. Some of those settlements and villages – dirt poor with nothing…with people…human beings…literally scratching dust for food, living in thatched roof huts…in hot, dry, almost-prehistoric conditions, depending solely on seasonal plants and fruits that grow in their area during the short periods of rain – are all too happy to offer their women to these men who bring goats along with their cattle. This is not fable. This is hard fact that I personally encountered in some of these areas.
To be continued tomorrow
• Abiodun Ladepo, formerly on the staff of The Guardian, is a Nigerian patriot and he writes from Ibadan, Oyo State


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