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Herdsmen Attacks: A national security failure – Part 2

By Abiodun Ladepo
20 March 2018   |   3:31 am
The herdsmen know these routes. They’ve been through them before. In fact, they’ve probably sired one or two offspring during previous visits. The villagers are probably relatives. While they lean more towards Islam, they are not even close to being religious…certainly not staunch Muslims.

Fulani Herdsmen

The herdsmen know these routes. They’ve been through them before. In fact, they’ve probably sired one or two offspring during previous visits. The villagers are probably relatives. While they lean more towards Islam, they are not even close to being religious…certainly not staunch Muslims. They don’t settle long enough in one place to build a grand mosque. And they don’t engage in proselytization. Those who say they care more about their cattle than they do about their children are dead right. All they care about are their cattle. When a herdsman is on the move with his cattle, meandering through the bushes (and people’s farms), he is with other grown-ups or older teenagers. The only time you see children (pre-teens) with them is when they are near a settlement. So, there is no resistance at all when they come through these areas where they share the same culture with the locals. Therefore, they do not need weapons in these areas.

But the deeper south they go in Nigeria, the more resistance they encounter. Nigerian farmers are beginning to resist the nonchalant ravaging of their crops. Also, western education has spread deeper into northern Nigeria. And so has Christianity. Fewer parents now want their girls to be impregnated by an absentee man, especially parents in places south of Niger, Kaduna, Plateau, Gombe and Adamawa states where Christian and Western mores have taken hold; and where these herdsmen seem to have been trapped. These have occasioned a dearth of “easy” girls that they could just TAKE. How then do you persuade a virile herdsman who has been living in the wilderness with cows for months, and who has not had a woman for the same period, to not forcibly TAKE a vulnerable young girl?

In anticipation of these resistances in Nigeria, the herdsmen got smart; they started acquiring all sorts of weapons as soon as they entered Nigeria, including the dreaded, easily-available, low-maintenance, standard-issue-for-many-countries-military, assault rifle – the AK-47. I have seen hundreds of cattle and their herders moving in the direction mentioned above without a single weapon. It is when they enter Nigeria that they acquire weapons and willfully brandish and use them. They may be itinerant people, unsophisticated in the ways of static Nigerians; they are not stupid. They know that they have one of “their” own at the helm of affairs in Nigeria. He will not support the kind of shoot-at-sight order that was recently issued by a regional police chief in Ghana to deal with Fulani (yes, they were identified as Fulani) herdsmen that were destroying farmlands in the Ghanaian Konongo area. (By the way, since that order was issued in January this year, there have been no further destruction of farmlands. And no herdsman has been seen with a weapon more lethal than a cutlass – meaning, word got to the herdsmen in the bushes!)

Nigeria has to deal decisively with any and all kinds of security threats. Herdsmen armed with a weapon found with cattle eating crops that don’t belong to the herdsmen must be treated like an armed robber. There is no difference in what both do. They take things that belong to others with the threat and/or the actual use of a weapon. They should be shot at sight if caught in the act. And if not caught in the act, they should be arrested and prosecuted. Believe me, once a few of them have faced the wrath of the law, the word will get to the rest in the bushes. And they will conform just like they have in Ghana.

This is not the kind of mission for which the Nigeria Police Force is equipped or trained. As much as I abhor the use of our military for internal, law enforcement issues, this is something the military can and should do. The Federal government should label these attacks as Terrorism…which is what they are…and embark on a strategic re-orientation and re-organization of the military to combat it. Our military’s current posture and organization do not mirror the potentially existential threats that we currently face. Our military’s current Tactics, Techniques and Procedures – TTPs – are archaic and should be revamped to reflect our long and short-term threats. We are not likely to be invaded by Cameroon, Chad, Niger or Benin. And we are not saber-rattling with any country that could come at us from across the Atlantic. So, why do we still have formations equipped and trained to defend against such conventional battles that aren’t likely to happen while terrorists like Boko Haram and herdsmen are running rings around our military and making mincemeats out of us?

We need to redouble our efforts at training for guerilla warfare – for that is what is needed to fight enemies that have no easily-identifiable command and control structures, no uniformed fighters, no static locations like barracks and no heavy fighting vehicles. We need to triple our efforts at intelligence collection, collation, analysis, dissemination and actuation.

Our military should be deployed in large, overwhelming and intimidating numbers, to the vulnerable areas of our borders to support the customs and immigration personnel. They should be supported with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) otherwise known as drones, that can operate at all times of the day in identifying and tracking people, cattle and weapons illegally entering our country. These are not cheap ventures. But with our Senators (109 of them) earning roughly N1.5 billion monthly, the members of the House of Representatives too not too far behind them, and all the ungodly perks going to members of the Executives at both the Federal and State levels, somebody with strong political cojones, integrity and strength of character can find the funds to do it. And I am sure members of our military will be glad to be so engaged. Every military officer worth his/her salt will be proud to defend the territorial integrity of his/her country (with his/her life, if necessary) as long as he/she knows that others, like the country’s civilian leadership, are doing what they are supposed to do.

I threw my support behind President Buhari in 2015 with the expectation that he would protect Nigeria and Nigerians from humiliating attacks like those we are now seeing. I thought he would repair the damage done to the military by his predecessors and build on the good they have done. Sadly, after three years, it would seem like the president has taken his foot off the pedal and the military has return to the old slide. It would seem like we have run out of ideas in the national security realm. This is very sad. I would do anything to be a fly on the wall, listening to Buhari’s national security team giving advice on how to deal with these security challenges. What advice are they offering?
• Abiodun Ladepo, formerly on the staff of The Guardian, is a Nigerian patriot and he writes from Ibadan, Oyo State