Herdsmen attacks: When government ceases to exist

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*Buhari

It was Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743-July 4, 1826), third President of the United States who declared: “The first duty of government is the protection of life, not its destruction. Abandon that, and you have abandoned all.”

Jefferson whose reign spanned 1801–1809 had sought through the above quoted statement to place the preservation of human life (above all other considerations) as the primary essence of any government. Put differently, the definition of a government is that of an establishment granted the powers to defend or protect the lives of its citizens.

As a spate of unchallenged murder of thousands of human lives by Fulani herdsmen spread through various Nigerian states and communities, it is perhaps apt to draw the attention of President Muhammedu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) government to Jefferson’s definition of a government.

Without doubt, the Buhari-led government since its inception, and judging by the manner it has handled the carnage (the loss of lives and property) perpetrated by vicious Fulani herdsmen across the country, has left no one in doubt that it either lacks the capacity or is not prepared to discharge its primary duty to the citizens by ensuring that their lives are fully protected.

Indeed, there abound thousands of families today in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, and Taraba states and some fringe local communities in Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Cross River, Edo, Ondo and Oyo states, who are mourning the loss of the their loved ones to the herdsmen attacks.

The latest, the murder of about 73 persons in Benue State, has perhaps drawn the strongest condemnation from within and outside the country to the gross incapacity of the Buhari government to protect its citizens.

Being a Fulani himself, and a grand patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Buhari has left many Nigerians with no other choice than to conclude that all his government does is wink at the atrocities committed by the herdsmen.  A kind of “that serves them right” response appear to be the message the government sends out each time the herdsmen strike in any part of the country.

And those who hold this view are not without some premises. Take them on a conversation and they will cite how Buhari was very decisive in mobilizing the Nigerian military to quell threats to his government by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). In the case of the later, the government even went a step further to declare it terrorist group, even when it was never recorded against them that they had slain thousands of lives as done by the herdsmen.

Many have not also forgotten how Operation Crocodile Smile destroyed Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State to hunt down Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo,  hounded out NDA members and in the process destroyed Egbesu Shrine and took the Leopard which is the symbol of Gbaramatu deity as a booty.

We are also witnesses to how the Nigerian Navy patrolled the high seas and waterways in the Niger Delta to forestall oil bunkering, turned the creeks upside down and destroyed ‘better life’ refineries and arrested the refiners in the process. Nigerians had also expected government to unveil something like Operation Anaconda Kiss in the middle belt without avail.

Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has ranked Fulani herdsmen as the fourth worst terrorist organization in the world after Boko Haram, Islamic State of Iraq and the

Levant (ISIL) and El- Shabaab, and the second deadliest terrorist group in Nigeria after Boko Haram, yet the federal government has kept on insulting the intelligence of Nigerians by claiming that the herders are just a criminal gang.

GTI said in 2013, the herdsmen killed around 80 people in total – but by 2014 the group had killed 1,229. The former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, released statistics on the killings and the destruction by the Fulani herdsmen in four states– Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Benue – in 2016. In only one year, according to the general, Fulani herdsmen killed 2,500 people and displaced 62,000 people in the four states.

The states lost $13.7 billion and 47 per reduction in their internally generated revenue.

In Benue State alone, 12 out of the 21 local governments have been attacked by the murderous herdsmen; more than 1, 800 people have been killed and more than 500 houses destroyed during the attacks.

In spite of the high toll they inflict on local civilian populations, the federal government has continued to play possum. At its convenience, it tells the world that the herdsmen are not terrorists as they do not claim territories adding that it is difficult and/or almost impossible to track them down for they kill and relocate because of their nomadic nature.

As revealed recently by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, a peace meeting was convened in Benue State, attended by the state government and security agencies of the nation, including the inspector general of police. The herdsmen too attended – according to reports- with AK47s and other weapons of mass intimidation visible under their garments. They were neither disarmed nor turned back.

Government has neither denied nor confirmed the report. And the same police chief is now telling the world that what happened in Benue State on the New Year’s Eve and continued into the wee hours of January 2, 2018 was a communal conflict. To worsen the situation, Governor Samuel Ortom has pointed fingers at the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Houre (MAKH) and called for its arrest, yet government has neither arrested the MAKH officials nor shown any sing that they will ever be invited for interrogation.

This brings us to the issue of sophisticated weapons used by the headsmen in their attacks.

That toothy, skinny and cracked heel boy who rears cows in the median of a highway in Delta State or that tall and lanky old man whose herd invaded Ohovbe Primary School Ikpoba, in Okha local government area of Edo State and disrupted classes and sacked pupils and teachers does not have access to AK47 assault rifles; he cannot even afford the gun at the cost of $550, $800 or $1000 depending on the barrel quality, iron and furniture type used.

Who is providing the herdsmen with arms? Definitely highly placed and moneyed men who are sympathetic to the herdsmen are behind the arms supply. What is government’s response to this development?

Government’s lackadaisical attitude is further demonstrated in its response to the assault launched by herdsmen on communities in the North Central.

Government was swift to dispatch the military to bring down Gbaramatu Kingdom and destroy ‘modular’ refineries in the creeks of the Niger Delta but even when Ortom got intelligence report that the herdsmen were planning attacks and informed the security agencies, they (security agencies) went to sleep.

While we do not support criminality in any form, we believe that a law that is selective in implementation or an action that is discriminatory in execution is evil and should be discarded. Or, is the government unaware that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?

Irked by the carnage in Benue, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie wrote: “A truly responsible government acts proactively. Treating matters of security with levity does not form part of the job description of a Commander-in-Chief. When Nigerian citizens are slaughtered like cows, as we saw recently in Benue State, in a recurrence of herdsmen’s butchery, those who lead us must be held accountable. For when they took the oath of office, they promised to uphold the Constitution of our country. But a government that fails to protect the citizen cannot convince Nigerians that it is alive to its responsibility.”

Not only Okogie but also an avowed supporter of the Buhari administration and chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) professor Itse Sagay, has carpeted the president saying he has been slow in dealing with Fulani herdsmen.

“Unfortunately, there has been a major rise in attacks by Fulani herdsmen in various parts of the country, during which they have slaughtered people, raped women, destroyed farms and burnt down villages.

The federal government has been slow in dealing with these Fulani Herdsmen, who have now emerged as the new face of terror”.

That arms are imported into the country daily is a clear indication that people might resort to self-help to ward off the invasion by AK47-bearing vicious herdsmen.

The Ekiti State government has armed hunters in the 16 local government areas of the state and put them on red alert in preparation for any invasion by militant herdsmen; the spiritual leader of Tiv Nation, Paul Unongo has threatened to form an armed group to deal with killer herdsmen; the armed wing of the Oodu’a People’s Congress (OPC) is in the works; Ekpe Ikpa Ukod, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Egbesu Boys, among others have regrouped.

To prevent a situation in which everyone resorts to doing anything they think necessary for preserving their own life because of failure of government, Nigerians want a revalidation of the dud cheque “I belong to everybody, I belong to no one.”

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