Herdsmen: The imperative of self-defence

Herdsmen

There is a sense in which the murderous rampage of the so-called herdsmen and the allied killings in our country in areas where government protection is zero invites us all as a country to be at once creative and advance facts with vigour. 

A most disconcerting fact is, most Nigerians in public discourses tend to deploy religious, ethnic or political sentiments and political rhetorics at tables where addressing severe issues are raised. 

Even when confronted with fierce urgency of taking principled positions, there is more often the resort to near default expediencies with the result that so much is said and nothing is resolved.

The recent front burner recriminations over herdsmen carnage and bloody rampage must be taken to new pedestals, beyond usual primordial sentiments. We cannot feign ignorance of its magnitude or ignore its consequences. Lives have been lost, and many more live in huge apprehension of losing theirs or loved ones.

We must take a clinical look at the issue at hand with a view to finding a lasting solution to it. The state must guard the vulnerability of the lives of the people and the security of property of Nigerians, not just in Benue but nationwide, while the free killings in Benue provide ample module for addressing the issue at hand. 

Incidentally, the so-called herdsmen, who used to be harmless, affable and personable in their bucolic style, the type of lifestyle that would inspire idyllic epic, have suddenly lost the touch of humanity, and wrecking untold destruction on fellow humans.

These days, some bad eggs amongst them have traded their harmless sticks for AK 47s, arguably the deadliest weapon on the planet and in place of their charming rusticity, we now have wild beings whose presence evoke dread and portray a personification of mindless terror that creeps in by night to unleash death on innocent people in their sleep.

That this gory transformation is unveiling under the leadership of President Buhari gives it a twisted irony not helped by the President’s reticence and seemingly reluctance to act with alacrity and candour, especially with regards to having the perpetrators arrested and prosecuted. 

However, while the government takes its precious time to sort the priority of their engagement of this issue, the men and women of Benue, and all affected regions must take up the task of doing best to device a defense line against the marauders. Political dribbles must never cheapen human life.

Nigerians must by now accept that it is sadly not a safe bargain to leave the protection of their lives and properties in the hands of characteristically inept security outfits.  

Self-defence is a resort that has been successfully employed the world and even in some areas in Nigeria with success. It cannot fail now, and so it must be an option fed with supervision to communities in not just Benue State but all areas in Nigeria whose natives live in the constant fear of threats to their lives or properties. 

The renewed so-called herdsmen killings across the country must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Nigerians have had their right to life disrupted at the whim of killers who place premium on cattle over human life.

While the government gets the easy job of playing the sympathetic and concerned authority, ordinary Nigerians whose family and friends have died must undertake the tortuous task of laying their dismembered loved ones to rest. 

With the mounds on these new graves still loose and fresh, the survivors must overcome the lethargy of their loss and worry anew about the still real threat to their lives.

It is perhaps understandable then that the usual hand-to-the-chin theatrics of both state and federal governments, the reactionary yet temporal deployment of impressive looking weaponry and personnel to these areas will do quite little, if anything, in assuaging the survivors and curbing what has come to be seen as the 2015 post-triumphalism of the President’s tribesmen. 

What is more? The apparent absence of penitence and contrition as demonstrated by the authorities of the herdsmen suggest that a more radical and proactive solution must be preferred. Within the very letters of our constitution particularly it’s Sections 33 and 34 is embodied what has to be accepted as a pointer in the direction we must take as a country over this senseless killings. 

The said section provides and I quote verbatim, “The right to Life (and the) Right to dignity of the human person.” This right is immutable and it’s context demand that the State of Nigeria has a duty to enforce this right no more legitimately than a Nigerian has the implied right to see that this right is respected and protected. 

To be crystal clear, Section 59 of the Penal Code on the other hand reads as follows: “Nothing is an offence of which is done in the lawful exercise of the right of private defense.”  The Criminal Code in section 32 (3) provides, inter alia: “A person is not criminally responsible for an act or omission if he does or omits to do the act… when the act is reasonably necessary in order to resist actual and unlawful violence threatened to him or to another person in his presence.”

What the sections above aggregate to is pointedly expressed in sections 286-288 of the Criminal Code and section 62-66 of the Penal Code which, read independently and together, summarily grants an individual the right to use whatever degree of force is reasonable and mandated by the threatening circumstance to protect their lives or properties even if said force can result in bodily harm or death to the assailant. 

This is the body and soul of the principle of self defense provided for by our laws and upheld in a plethora of cases such as Akpan v. State, (1994) 9 N.W.L.R (part 368) at p. 347), but whose implications are lost on those it should rightly benefit.

The people of Benue state as with all exposed lands and territories within Nigeria must be made aware of this provision and its clear charge: do not leave yourselves vulnerable while romanticising government protection. Community leaders must undertake the urgent task of constituting vigilante groups, moderately armed and fit to withstand such incursions in the future until help comes along. 

There is of course the tendency to decry this as a case of pouring more fuel into a raging fire but such town criers must surely be aware of the near inefficiency of the tradition of post-crisis crisis management undertaken by the State and Federal Government. Something more ought to be done. I respectably also propose that community policing be made statutory and not an auxiliary resort. A cadet of natives is to be drawn up and weaponised to the specifics of each particular threat.

These cadet groups are not to be considered members of the country’s federal and state security outfits but nonetheless supervised and trained by the latter. They are to be managed by funds from the local governments containing them, and maintained on watchmen shift schedules. The times have changed; the dynamics of power and governance must adjust to the exigencies of the present.

Finally, let it be noted that very little success has been recorded by this present administration in the area of security and this is said mindful of the fact that insecurity is as real now as it has ever been in the country, technical victories regardless. 

The proposal for a local government-managed part-time force of natives is in itself not a judgment on the ineptitude of security outfits within the country saddled with the responsibility of securing lives, but one whose time has simply come, its necessity far outweighing any other considerations.

Dr. Ajulo, is principal partner, Kayode Ajulo & Co. Castle of Law.

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