At the height of the bloody clash between the peripatetic cattle herdsmen and farmers in 2018, I wrote in my column of June 27 of that year and said that “Nigerians have simply become inured to these horrific killings, they seem to have been robbed of their sense of feeling and their nation tragically transformed into one that is truly beyond shock.”
That was after I had done a survey of the land and the country called Nigeria and had spotlighted the various killing fields, a sprawling theatre of madness from Jos Plateau to Zamfara plain land, from the valley of Benue River to the uplands of Taraba, all of them with the common denominator of an ominous descent into unimaginable bestiality, hopelessness of the people arising from the seeming helplessness of the security outfits and the remorseless audacity of the aggressors whose impunity was matched only by the depth of their bloodthirstiness.
It was the shocking level of anarchy that the country had descended to but which has continuously failed to shock the nation into action that gave cause for concern. Unfortunately, after some two years of official assurance and security deployment in the codename of various traditional dances, it has not stopped being a sore point because it has not failed to be worrisome.
In one chilly word: the gruesome killings have not stopped. As it was in 2018, so it is even now with an increasing propensity to become a national catastrophe.In all the flashpoints and in all the recorded cases, the story as told from time to time, was that cattle herdsmen who were in search of grazing land for their cattle trespassed the farmlands of native settlers and damaged their unharvested farm produce, ate them up and destroyed whatever was left. This resulted in the inevitable clash between them and the farmers who naturally would do everything to ward off the invading cattle and their stick -wielding herdsmen.
The herdsmen, on the other hand, driven out by desert encroachment and scanty availability of grazing land now had their back to the scaly mud wall in their desert environment.From this sorry situation, according to the existential legend, they were forced by inexorable economic imperatives to go out in search of grass anywhere, by any means possible. If they didn’t do so, says the narrative, their means of livelihood would be in jeopardy. Armed this time with AK 47, the herdsmen, who hitherto were well known for their austere life-style and meek disposition, were now transformed by the fortune of patronage and protection from stick-wielding into a band of modern day aggressors drawing strength from sophisticated armory.
The result, clearly, is the heightened insecurity across the nation. Various efforts to bring the situation under control have not yielded productive results. Appeal by President Muhammadu Buhari that herdsmen and the natives should learn to live happily and peacefully together seems to have fallen on unhearing ears, or the ears that were determined not to hear for the obvious reason that the presidential appeal, made in the wake of the massacres in Benue State, did not address the real issue and did not carry the desired empathy that such occasion required.
And so from Benue to Taraba and to Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina state, the crises have continued unabated. With the added dimension of soulless kidnapping for ransom, cattle rustling and banditry, the war has spread to the nooks and crannies of the country. The army was brought in and for some time, just for a few months of reprieve, when people thought they could now sleep in the night with their two eyes closed or travel by day, with the hope to get to their destination in peace and not in pieces, then there is a sudden eruption.
The new year is just one week old, but these marauders have begun to wreak havoc. Last Friday, some gunmen suspected to be of Fulani extraction invaded Tawari, a sleepy village community in Kogi Local Government Area of Kogi State while the people were sleeping. According to the reports, which were confirmed by police, not less than 23 persons were killed in cold blood. The killers were selective in the choice of victims and in the choice of the properties to be torched which included churches and mosques. Even the ward chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, in the community was killed as well as four children of the community Imam who came home for the New Year celebrations.
The story, as told by a spokesman of the community, was that a few days to the incident, gallant police operatives had killed four suspected kidnappers terrorizing travellers on the Abuja- Lokoja road and the community celebrated it. A few days later speculations were rife that members of the community blew the whistle against the kidnappers. In apparent retaliation, the community was made to pay dearly for vigilance and civic duties.
I had surmised in the column under reference that what would solve this problem was for the president to take a bold step, the kind that only he can take, to stop these senseless killings and bring the killers to book to teach the lesson that crime does not pay and that there is no reward for criminality. I had said then that the president was not being challenged to bring a stop to this lunacy because any one in his right mind had thought he was complicit in the perennial herdsmen- famers clashes, the perfidy that predated his second coming. Today, there is need to revisit that admonition. Let the impression not be created that some criminal elements are being treated with kid gloves.
Unfortunately, some criminals are walking freely on the streets today because they appear to have protectors in high places. Police high command routinely mops up arms and even revoke firearm permits as part of measures to curb crime. But, ironically, it is the criminals who retain their arms and ammunition. And some of them wield these lethal weapons in broad day light and the policemen are powerless to bring them to book.To show more seriousness, our gallant police officers should go beyond the mere rituals of parading the so-called criminals with weapons allegedly seized from them. Nigerians are more interested in their prosecution.
During the election in Bayelsa and Kogi states, the Inspector -General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, admitted that fake policemen apparently more suitably kitted and well-armed, overpowered his own men. In the circumstance, the public would normally be delighted to know what police have done since that incident to bring the fake policemen to book because if they are allowed to roam the streets unchecked, they can overpower unarmed innocent people on the roads or at home.
President Buhari, in his New Year letter to citizens last week, highlighted security as one of the cornerstones of his administration. The other two are the on-going diversification of the economy and “taking on the curse of corruption.” No matter his good intentions, the president can only do so much and not more because he possibly cannot be everywhere, all at once, policing everybody and keeping them in line, even if he is a superlative Sheriff.
That is why the administration runs on a system or ought to run on system with strong institutions. And that is why the president must continue to rely on capable men and women with strong commitment to good governance. Governance is not anchored on the whims and caprices of one man or a few men with incurable prejudices that are antithetical to nation building and national development. Needless to repeat therefore that those who are privileged to serve the public must be diligent enough to give reasonable account of their stewardship. That is the least they can offer.
By Yakubu Mohammed