GIVEN the manner of the Buhari administration’s interventions in matters affecting the herdsmen in relation to other segments of the country since the administration’s inception in 2015, it is obvious that the crises that have been playing out on the issue in different parts of the country will at some point get to a boiling point. Before now, some south-eastern states had expressed displeasure with the way and manner some of these herdsmen have been conducting their business in their region. Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has had to shout himself hoarse on the same issue.
Now, it is the turn of Ondo State to come up with measures the state government deems fit to control the alarming rate of crime in the state, particularly kidnapping, which has become one of the new pastime of criminals in Nigeria because of its money-spinning capabilities, and more importantly, because of the Buhari government’s monumental failure to tackle insecurity.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State decided to take the bull by the horn. He rolled out measures to tame the monster and bring some calm into the state. These include asking herdsmen in the state’s forest reserve to leave within seven days, and asking genuine herdsmen to register with the state authorities. Moreover, there should be no more night grazing, among other measures. In fairness to the governor, Ondo State, like many other states in the country, has suffered the security deficit that has led to continual kidnappings, in some cases, of high profile persons, and according to the governor, security agencies have discovered that most of the kidnap victims are taken to the forest reserve where negotiations are made for their release.
It is visible even to the blind and audible to the deaf that the Buhari government does not have a handle on the security challenges. When a commander-in-chief only wrings his hands lamenting that he has given the security agencies the tools they need to tackle insecurity, (and the people are not seeing the result) and he does not know what to do next, then, there is a big problem. Even when people keep drumming the seeming solution to his ears, and the commander-in-chief is still not capable of decisive action, what he is telling people is to seek alternative ways to protect themselves.
Indeed, when Governor Akeredolu announced the new measures on Monday last week, anyone who has studied the Buhari government’s reaction to the issue would have expected what followed from Abuja. When it comes to herdsmen, the Buhari government is predictable. The matter is like when dry bones are mentioned in an Igbo proverb, old women are never at ease. It was as if the Federal Government had prior knowledge of what Akeredolu would come up with and already had a prepared response waiting, because the ink on the paper from which the governor reeled out the new order was yet to dry when Aso Rock declared that the governor lacked the powers under which he took the decision. It was what exactly many people had expected. Mind my words; I am emphatic on the Buhari government and not the Federal Government as such because President Buhari is not the first northern Muslim to rule Nigeria. What I do not know is whether other northern Muslim heads of state or presidents had as many herds of cattle as he does, or whether it is the latter that has made blood thicker than water by his government on the issue of herdsmen.
And there is no other confirmation of this than what we have seen: the characteristic taciturnity on the part of the president. When mum is the reaction from him as it has been since Tuesday when one of his spokespersons, Shehu Garba, spoke, then we must know that he has spoken well as far as the president is concerned. Otherwise, another member of the inner cabinet, irrespective of his portfolio, would have come out with the authentic presidential response to contradict the spokesperson’s position. In effect, anyone waiting for President Buhari to speak directly to the issue will only be like someone observing a crab by the river side to know when the crab will sleep; he may have to wait till thy kingdom come.
I doubt if the police and military hierarchies are not already gearing up to whip Akeredolu into line for his temerity to ask herdsmen (read Fulani herdsmen) to leave his state’s forest reserve. The governor ought to know, at least that in President Buhari’s time, herdsmen are king’s goats and, as untouchables, they have a right to rear their cattle anywhere unhindered, including the state house, because of the indispensability of their trade. Or, don’t Akeredolu’s people eat beef? Nigeria is probably the only place where you see cows walking majestically in national stadium, even in the Federal Capital Territory!
One thing the Buhari government does not seem to appreciate in all of these is that provision of security is the basic duty of any government properly so called. A government that cannot secure its citizens has lost its raison d’etre. This is basically one of the points Father Matthew Kukah was making the other day. President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the opposition in the Goodluck Jonathan era complained bitterly about insecurity; yet the country was still better secure under Jonathan. Insecurity has worsened now. That is the truth. And all the president has done now is to promise (for the umpteenth time) that Nigerians will witness better security architecture this year. One wonders for how long Nigerians will continue to live by promises. Only a few weeks back, terrorists took the war to the President’s home state of Katsina and even compounded the embarrassment by kidnapping hundreds of schoolboys from their school, on the very day he arrived the state on a private visit! Mercifully though, the boys have since been released. But when someone promises to lend you a cloth, you first watch what he is wearing to know whether he is capable of fulfilling that promise.
Let it be known that President Buhari cannot get for herdsmen what he could not get through the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) that he earlier wanted and through the bungled Water Resources Bill. As a matter of fact, the way the Buhari administration has carried the herdsmen’s matter on its head; it is going to be difficult for other parts of the country to see altruism in whatever the government pushes forward as policy to accommodate them. This is not even so that insecurity is worsening. Ondo State has said it has not asked Fulani herdsmen to vacate the state. Rather, they should leave the state forest reserve. If the state government had been blind to their existence in that place for long, now it can see. There is an emergency. So, it is nonsensical for any group to ask the herdsmen to stay put. And that is one of the problems with Nigeria; if the herdsmen do not understand the issues, those who do keep fuelling crisis unnecessarily instead of educating them. The forest reserve is the preserve of Ondo State; the Federal Government has no power over it. So, neither it nor those fringe groups seeking relevance urging the herdsmen to stay put where they are can dictate to Ondo State government or any other state for that matter, what to do with their forest reserves.
No responsible government would close its eyes and watch people destroy farmlands and other people’s means of livelihood in the name of cattle rearing. No responsible government would fold its arms when its forest reserve is being used for criminal activities. It is such lukewarm attitude to matters of security that is responsible for the food crisis we have in the country today. Whereas the Federal Government, through the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme and other initiatives pump a lot of money into all manner of agricultural schemes in the north only for insecurity (read bandits or terrorists) to destroy same. The government pumps in public funds again only for the farmlands to be destroyed and the farmers killed or kidnapped. We cannot afford to replicate that in other places unless we want to witness a major upheaval.
The truth of the matter has been observed by many people, and rightly so; and that is that if Nigeria survives the Buhari presidency in one single piece, then the chances of remaining one indivisible and indissoluble entity for some time to come, are high. The kind of audacity exhibited by herdsmen under the Buhari administration has never happened in Nigeria. This fuels insinuations that there is a hidden agenda in all of these somewhere. Somewhat, the way things are panning out, one may be tempted to believe this, seemingly incredible as it is.
Above all, the point needs be restated, that instead of trying to impose antiquated cattle rearing methods on people in a rapidly changing world, the Federal Government should begin to educate the herdsmen to be ready to embrace modernity. We cannot continue to move about with cattle, especially if that is beginning to create problems for us or compound our security challenges. Apart from the fact that it is no longer fashionable, it is being seen more as an attempt to create fiefdoms for certain people in other people’s domains. This is potentially explosive in any environment where land is a matter of life and death. It is much more so in a place like ours with all its mutual fears and suspicion.
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