Menace of the herdsmen
While a probe as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari into the latest killings in Agatu, Benue State, by rampaging Fulani herdsmen, might be in order, it amounts to a tepid response, a superficial scratching of an escalating national problem on the surface when such demands decisive action. The herdsmen of whatever ilk have become a menace, indeed, a pain in the neck of innocent Nigerians who are victims of their impunious killing and maiming. From the east to the west of Nigeria, Middle belt to the north lives are being lost while properties, especially farmland crops, and products worth billions of Naira are being destroyed.
The incessant attacks have spread ceaselessly to all corners and no part of the country is safe anymore from the marauding cattle rearers. A half-hearted or haphazard intervention, therefore, won’t solve the problem. What is needed is a comprehensive national solution that would address all the issues in order to avert a looming crisis.
Buhari’s order of a probe followed the brutal clashes between Fulani herdsmen and indigenes of some communities in Benue State, namely Akwu, Adagbo, Ayilla, Ogboju, Okokolo and Abugbe, which had been razed even before the latest orgy of violence. At least 36 people were feared killed while farm crops worth billions of naira and houses were destroyed. The Agatu massacre was still fresh when another set of herdsmen invaded Abbi community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State and unleashed mayhem on the people. Armed with machetes, bows and arrows and automatic rifles, including AK-47, the herdsmen took the community by surprise. Among the dead were a brother and a sister who were actually slaughtered in cold blood as they stood to defend their home. Nineteen persons were declared missing, while several others were wounded. Houses and several motorcycles were reportedly razed.
The involvement of the herdsmen in kidnapping, stealing, rape, killings has compounded an already dangerous security situation in Nigeria and their activities across the length and breadth of the country has become another national emergency that should be given urgent federal attention.
Unfortunately, except for the order on the Benue massacre, President Buhari has yet to make a serious categorical statement or gesture on what is, no doubt, an impending national crisis with potentially grave consequences. This lukewarm attitude is dispiriting given the fact that the President is well aware of the danger, himself having had to personally intervene in the herdsmen/local farmers face-off in the South west a few years ago. The president will do well to make a national statement as hundreds of people are being massacred in different communities across the country, otherwise his silence may appear insensitive or a trivialisation of the criminality of the herdsmen.
Appropriate action should be initiated to stop a fast degenerating situation. The police have a critical role to play, but Nigeria needs a Police Force that knows the localities and understands the people. The present federal police can hardly handle this problem and may actually aggravate it.
It needs to be emphasized that what the country is facing is a battle for economic survival and territory. Whereas the herdsmen need fields for their livestock to graze, the indigenous farmers, at the same time, need their land to cultivate their crops. When a farmer invests millions on his farm only to have them destroyed overnight by cattle, there is no better invitation to war. To create peace and harmony requires proper conflict management strategy and deep understanding of the sociological realities of the different communities. Above all, a responsible leadership should act fast to reduce tension before things get out of hand.
The problem between host communities and Fulani herdsmen has festered for so long without any concrete action. The desire of the Fulani herdsmen to have boundless access to grazing fields across Nigeria is unacceptable. Truth is that it is not possible to let the herdsmen traverse Nigeria with their livestock oblivious of the fact that there are indigenous farmers whose crops could be destroyed by the animals. There are modern methods of rearing animals, which is to have them in ranches and grazing reserves. But the designated enclosures have to be created in those states with the appropriate terrain and climate for animal husbandry.
State governments should, therefore, be encouraged to create these grazing reserves and ranches. That way, conflicts would be reduced and the economic benefits of agriculture to all Nigerians would be maximized.