Beyond the South-West-herders’ peace talk
The commonsense approach to stem the crisis of inter-ethnic proportion brewing from frequent perpetration of crimes by killer herdsmen across the country may be necessary, but it is not sufficient to tackle a more determined criminal gang camouflaging as Fulani herders. Incidentally, that approach summarises the result of talks by stakeholders, following the tension prompted by the one-week ultimatum issued by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State for unregistered herders to quit forest reserves in the state. Besides the consensus that the threats are real and the potential damage uniform to all, it is time to join hands to expose murderous contingents in forests, separate law-abiding Fulani herders from rampaging kidnappers and bandits, and erase doubts suggestive of official complicity in criminal atrocities.
To some extent, the agreement by Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) to work with South-West governors and security agencies provided limited relief to efforts to douse tension. It was a productive engagement and consensus that illegal occupants of Ondo forest reserves should vacate, put an end to night grazing and collectively fight criminals. Similar peace talks were held at the Aso Villa, with Oyo and Ondo governors and Ooni of Ife taking turns to meet with the President on security matters.
But this matter is far from closure, going by daily reports of kidnappings, banditry, rapes, farm invasions and harassment across the interior. As fingers keep pointing at Fulani killer herdsmen, the herders rarely defend allegations other than make a case for freedom of cattle grazing. The Nigerian Police Force has shown absolute incapacity to remedy these atrocities. It is, therefore not surprising that the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), among others, are displeased with the peace parley, describing it as a media smokescreen that will further embolden criminals. Surely the mounting threats and tension portend no good omen for the affected regions and the country.
State actors must admit that the agitations are a clear indication of pervasive lawlessness, borne out of failure of governance to provide security and welfare for the people, as enjoined by Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Such negligence in government circles is a shame on public officeholders. Forest invaders did not encroach overnight. What happened to the old Ondo Forest Guards? All the corridors occupied by aliens and forests fall within the jurisdictions of local councils. Some traditional rulers receive rents and royalties from commercial exploitations of the resources.
Constitutionally, all citizens of Nigeria are entitled to settle, live and move freely anywhere and everywhere in Nigeria without any fear of rejection or discrimination. However, the rights to freedom of movement and personal liberty are subject to laws which can be enacted under Section 45 of the Constitution to derogate from these rights in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.
When the supreme provision is juxtaposed with the Land Use Act, 1978 which in Section 1 vests all lands within the geographical territory of a state in Nigeria to the governor; with consequential powers to grant or revoke licences or right of occupancy “for overriding public interest,” the law is on the side of Akeredolu’s orders. And he has further support from the Ondo State Forestry Law regime (Forestry Law of Western State and National Forestry Policy, 2006). The state government and others across the region should ensure the full implementation of this law in the interest of peace and orderliness in the region.
Nevertheless, it is pragmatic to support official law enforcement agencies with an active regional security apparatus to enforce the law, defend the people and their means of livelihood. Even with their limitations, state governors must take full charge in tackling insecurity to avert proliferation of both criminals and emergency ‘‘freedom fighters’’ that have a tendency to become militia sects and a bigger albatross in the near future. This is the time for the South West to roll out its Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Operation Amotekun full-scale to quell criminal infiltration and deal with their accomplices. The governors must also work assiduously towards having their state police, in order to fully secure lives and properties of their people.
The President’s quietude in this saga is ominous and dangerous. Being a Fulani, a cattle breeder and patron of herders, he has a greater duty to all Nigerians. If President Muhammadu Buhari deems it civil to breed his cows in ranches, why not other herders, for the sake of peace and a united Nigeria? It is a shame that Nigeria has worsened on the world fragile state index, occupying 14th position globally and ninth in Africa. The President should be bothered that the lives and means of livelihood that he was entrusted to nurture are being destroyed and all hands are poking at his Fulani herders’ clan. As President, he should call herders to order, compel them to operate by rules of their hosts for peaceful coexistence and deal appropriately with criminal elements within them. His continued cower silence would only signify consent to the atrocities.