Herdsmen offensive and the collective indecision

Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom

There is seldom anybody who will claim that mass death still evokes shudder in Nigerians. Not since the emergence of the vicious Boko Haram suicides, and more recently the bumbling, but ruthless, Fulani herdsmen.

Both have exposed Nigerians to unqualified goriness that has robbed them of the shock of carnage.

Before this time, mass death was not a common occurrence in Nigeria. Where there was mass death, it was a case of mishap resulting from plane crash and the like. It was few and far between and the attendant pain was not as severe as in the carnage occasioned by death in the hands of the criminal gangs.

At least, the loss was taken as an act of fate. Whereas the pain from the carnage is made worse by the arrogance of the blood-letters. They show no remorse and their response to public outrage has been more carnage which is inflicted at the least provocation.

The death of over 70 persons allegedly killed by the Fulani herdsmen was a case in hand. Nothing, since the death, has suggested remorse.

The umbrella association of the cattle herders – Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria MACBAN – has not made any public statement suggestive of regret. Rather it has made it clear that the problem may persist unless either of two things was done.

One was that the Anti-Grazing Act signed into law by the Benue State government must be rescinded. The other was that a land must be provided for the herders to rent if the act was not rescinded. Where neither could apply the possibility of a peaceful coexistence was difficult.

The Weekly Sunrise newspaper of January 15, 2018 reported the Association as saying, “We are not against that law, but he (Governor Ortom) has to provide a land for these people before implementing such a law. If there is no land, there is a problem.”

It is strange that the Association could not express any remorse over the carnage it unleashed on Nigeria. In the papers, on radio, on television etc it was a hardening of position. Perhaps this position more than anything else united Nigerians in outrage against the herders. The rage was so consuming that the unity of the country for the first time has come under serious threat.

No Nigerian, however, indifferent to the activities of the herdsmen, was not incensed by the carnage. More disturbing was the seeming incapability of security agencies to rein in on the offenders. Or where that was difficult, nip further occurrence in the bud since the pattern of attack has not changed since the carnage.

Curiously, in each of the attacks that left scores dead, no one has been made to face the music. No strong condemnation from the Federal Government. Because of this not a few Nigerians have continued to ask questions.

Why has it been difficult to bring the culprits to book? Why was the herders association, MACBAN, which claimed to challenge the case in court, impatient to wait out the decision of the court? Why take laws in their hand? What does the spilling of innocent blood of the Benue people, nay Nigerians, intend to achieve? Will that not encourage the spilling of more blood?

It may be difficult to get all the answers but suffice it to say that the dead did not deserve the fate. There is no justification for the carnage whether it is in Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Ondo, Enugu or any other place for that matter. What is important is that an end must be brought to the unrestrained bloodletting.

Though the Miyetti group from their statement did not inspire much confidence of an end to the carnage, yet every hope is not lost. Understandably the impunity with which the carnage has been carried out in the last few years could only encourage such boldness.

But that is not to be. The federal government must learn not to sweep things under the carpet if it intends the carnage to stop. It should also be proactive. It is on record that since the carnage nobody has been made to pay for the unrestrained bloodletting. If no culprit or culprits is made to pay for the unrestrained violence how will the carnage stop? It will only add to the frequency of the occurrence as well as the magnitude of impact.

Sadly, after each occurrence and a few days of mass hysteria, the problem is forgotten. Nothing would be heard of it again. This situation is not helped by the silence of some prominent elders from the North whose voice would have made some difference. Imagine where they weigh in to address the problem. But like the federal government they have done very little.

There is perhaps very little to be done to halt what is obviously Nigeria’s march to dismemberment if the federal government fails to act decisively. Many Nigerians are as confounded by the carnage as the inaction of the federal government.

The failure to protect the lives of Nigerians in the hands of the herdsmen whose value for animal is worth more than human beings, sucks. It is still doubtful whether indeed all the carnage is committed for protection of the life of a cow. This is because some of the states since the carnage had some rapprochement with the herders on how to settle dispute arising from loss on either side.

For example, the government of Anambra State under Chief Willie Obiano had such a committee set up with members drawn from the leadership of various communities in the state and the Miyetti Allah. They mediate between the host communities and the herders on event of damage to either farmlands or cattle. And so far the committee has discharged the office well and averted crisis in the state. It is not likely that peace will elude the state except the committee no longer sits or is incapacitated by internal crisis.

However, there is strong indication that the carnage might be caused by a more compelling need. The idea of a grazing colony, bandied around since the Benue crisis, appears to confirm it.

Similarly, the carnage was more to subjugate and dispossess rather than avenging dead cattle. But it will serve everybody better if the idea of ranching which is the practice elsewhere in the world is adopted. Nigeria will be saved untimely disintegration.

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