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Abuja: Getting more serious with herdsmen

By Itunu Ajayi, Abuja   |   16 October 2016   |   2:28 am
Arrested cattle at the premises of the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency (AEPA) PHOTOS: ITUNU AJAYI

Arrested cattle at the premises of the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency (AEPA) PHOTOS: ITUNU AJAYI

The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), which in the past tended to give tacit grazing rights to herdsmen, who brazenly roam the city centre, and challenge other city dwellers with impunity, appears to have suddenly woken up to its responsibilities.

The rampaging herdsmen had at different times claimed that since the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) met them in their natural abode, they must always have their way. To them, rather than leave their habitat, the city, which met them there would have to give way.

For lengthy periods, deadlines were given for them and their cattle to leave the city, but all to no avail. While this scenario played out, residents continued to lament their helplessness in the face of the impunity displayed by the dagger-wielding herdsmen, who also brandished other dangerous weapons.

In the last two weeks, another deadline handed down by the minister of the FCT, Muhammad Musa Bello, got the same response as the previous ones, as in a swift reaction, the herdsmen said that they don’t have anywhere to go to. Consequently, the grazing continued.

Even though the development did not surprise residents of the city, it elicited reactions from the Senate Committee of the FCT.  At a meeting the committee held with the minister and officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency (AEPA), on September 26th, the committee put the minister on the spot, and instructed him that any cow seen roaming the city should be slaughtered.

A visibly angry chair of the committee, Dino Melaye, told the minister and his team to go purchase knives if they had none, and commence the slaughtering order.

Addressing the minister, Melaye said: “The Senate as an institution is not happy at how Fulani herdsmen continue to move their cows across the city centre, which we are aware you gave directive against sometime ago.  From now on, get knives and ask your men to slaughter cows found in the capital city, or prosecute herdsmen seen with cows in the city centre with a fine of N50, 000 per cow. This order must be carried out.’’

Of course, the minister, his team and residents knew that towing that line would only succeed in making the FCT a place where different groups would clash daily. So, in order to avert a bloodbath, slaughtering the cows became a less-fancied option.

According to the acting director of the agency, Mrs. Omolola Olanipekun, slaughtering cows in the FCT would have led to the loss of innocent lives, even as Nigerians desire to see an end to existing clashes in other parts of the country.

Her words, “We don’t want a repeat of what is happening in other states, we don’t want loss of lives because of cattle.  We have met with the cattle rearers and they have promised that they would try and get their people off the streets, but unfortunately, they did not fully comply. We have been arresting them and we discovered that there is another group that we have not met. We are preparing to meet with them and let them know that we don’t want cows in the city. If we start killing them (cattle), like the senator wants us to do, they would react and we don’t want bloodshed here. Very soon, I promise, the cattle would be where they are supposed to be.”

True to her promise, and in carrying out the minister’s order that the agency should rid the FCT of cattle immediately, 36 cows and 38 sheep were impounded, while 16 herdsmen have been arraigned and convicted before the Sanitation Mobile Court.  The herdsmen were penalised by the mobile court, which imposed fines ranging from N3, 000 to N7, 000 on them.

No cow was slaughtered, but those arrested have been made to face the consequences of their actions, as they have paid various fines to serve as deterrent to others, with serious warnings to them to desist from grazing their cattle in the city.

The steps taken so far notwithstanding, residents are of the view that the exercise might lose steam over time, just the way other actions of government have.

One of them, Mayor Moses, said the FCT administration had in the past packed beggars away from the streets only for the beggars to return after only a few days.

He, however, added that if the onslaught on the herdsmen can be sustained, then the FCT would have passed what he described as test of time.

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