Herdsmen: Will the menace plunge Nigeria into a food crisis? (2)

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Herdsmen and their cattle in a farm

WILL the Fulani herdsmen menace plunge Nigeria into food crisis? Will Nigerians suffer starvation because the government has chosen to pamper the herdsmen (at the expense of the country’s food security) instead of reining them in? Why must land farming be sacrificed in order that cattle rearing may thrive? 

On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, the House of Representatives adopted a motion on the “Need to Stop the Entry of Herdsmen from other African Countries into Nigeria.” Moving the motion, the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, explained that “the House is concerned that those herdsmen who are militant in nature have consistently instilled fear in lives of local farmers and villagers living in the affected areas by the use of coercion, intimidation, brute force and extreme violence,5 in most cases, leaving a large number of persons dead.”

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

According to him, “the House believes that it has become necessary to lend a voice to Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje that a stop be put to the movement of herdsmen from other African countries to Nigeria, so as to curb the rate of crime and conflicts associated with their movements across Nigeria.”

The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) in statement (according to Vanguard newspaper of June 10, 2020) has equally endorsed Ganduje’s position.

“The position of the governor better appreciates the lawlessness of the armed herdsmen that has led to the loss of hundreds of lives around the country in recent years with the Federal Government turning a blind eye to these atrocities or making statements that tacitly encourage them. We still have not come to terms with the declaration by the President last year that Africans are free to come to Nigeria and obtain visas on arrival when he once identified Ghadafi militia men as a bulk of the troublers of Nigeria under the guise of herding. 

It is also worrying that while the police have been troubling those who own licensed guns to come and return them, herdsmen who carry illegal sophisticated weapons like AK-47 roam free all over Nigeria…The peace of Nigeria is currently under threat because of the activities of the herdsmen under whose roaming crimes of kidnapping, destruction of communities and killings of innocent people are taking place. We call on the President to rise to the duty of his office to protect all Nigerians and hearken to the call of Ganduje to halt these movements and prosecute those who are committing crimes against humanity under the guise of herding,” the SMBLF said in the statement.

Sometimes, it does seem that this distinction between “local” and “foreign” herdsmen is a clear diversionary ploy. No matter which of the groups (assuming such a distinction really exists) that is perpetrating the atrocities, Nigeria has sufficient laws capable of containing them, that is, if those laws could be allowed to work and deter crime. 

Whoever commits a crime, whether a foreigner or an indigene, should be arrested, tried and dealt with according to the law. That is how civilized societies function. Government should, therefore, muster the will to ensure the prosecution of all the herdsmen killing, raping and razing the homes of innocent rural farmers and destroying their farms.

It is sad that some states that have enacted laws banning open grazing have come under intense hostility. But more states should muster the courage to also make this law. They have a responsibility to protect their people and their sources of livelihood.  

A looming danger is that if government continues to watch as innocent people are attacked, violated and killed by herdsmen, the victims might one of these days resort to self-help and anarchy will engulf the country.

Already, following the killing of a 65-year old man, Mr. Uzoemena Eriaka, in his farm in Umuekpu, Agwa, Oguta Council Area of Imo State, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has asked the people to defend themselves against the relentless attacks from Fulani herdsmen, which have led to several killings of people and sexual abuses of women and girls. Vanguard newspaper of June 17, 2020, quotes Mr. Emeka Atama, the media aide to the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo as saying:  “We have been pushed to the wall. We have no other option than to rise up now, gird our loins and face the seemingly intractable insecurity.”

According to him: “The rampant killing and raping of defenseless people in their homes and farms has made it imperative for people to take all measures possible to defend themselves from these hoodlums. The rampant killing and raping of defenseless people in their homes and farms has made it imperative for people to take all measures possible to defend themselves from these hoodlums.

Communities should organise themselves and fight back these killers. It is unfortunate that the Federal Government stripped people of their means of self defence without providing adequate protection for them or ensuring commensurate disarming in the North, especially among herdsmen.”

 As more and more communities across the country brace up to defend themselves against the murderous attacks of killer-herdsmen, no one can predict what the country could be turned into. President Buhari should take urgent steps to rein in the Fulani herdsmen before they plunge the country into avoidable crisis.     

Well-meaning Fulanis should be worried by the consequences of the activities of the herdsmen given the unappealing image they are attracting to them. As the herdsmen parade themselves with this grand illusion that they are above the law, have they ever stopped to wonder how they would be able to sustain this unhealthy state of affairs without serious consequences which might even lead to bigger crises after Buhari had left office?

Why is Buhari not worried that his stance on the activities of Fulani herdsmen has irrecoverably destroyed the concept of “One North” as the Middle Belt now prefers to align with the South than maintaining what it now sees as an unprofitable “One North” arrangement that has not even in any way helped to halt the endless mass slaughter of their people? When will the core North realize what the activities of the Fulani herdsmen have cost it so much politically?

The Middle Belt has long enjoyed the reputation of the “food basket” of the country, but will they still be able to live up to this name with the herdsmen killing and driving their farmers from their farms and preventing them from cultivating? Will the usual vigorous and massive farming activities still be able to continue in the South? Will Nigeria be prevented from being able to produce enough food for herself because of these herdsmen?

No doubt, Nigeria is on the verge of being plunged into very serious food crisis. Buhari and those advising him should hasten to prevent this looming food scarcity whose effect is already showing in the market. Nigeria is bigger than the herdsmen and should not be subjected to avoidable hunger because a few people are protected from the just consequences of treating the laws that govern an orderly society with unqualified disdain.

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, a Nigerian journalist, writer, is author of  “NIGERIA: Why Looting May Not Stop.”scruples2006@yahoo.com; twitter: @ugowrite

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