Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State has taken the bull by the horns. Some three months ago, I had cause in this column to commend him for standing up to be counted among men. The governor had then charged at the Fulani herdsmen, who murdered two indigenes of Ekiti State on Ekiti soil in the name of grazing. For Fayose, that brigandage and effrontery from the herdsmen was unacceptable. In a momentary fit of anger, the governor announced that cattle grazing had been banned in Ekiti State.
However, after the initial outburst, Fayose retreated into his shell. Three months after, he has resurfaced with something more enduring; something that carries the force of law. The state House of Assembly has passed a bill regulating cattle grazing in the state. The bill, which was signed into law a few days ago by Governor Fayose, seeks to check the excesses and criminality of Fulani herdsmen, who have become the latest monster in Nigeria.
Under the grazing law, any herdsman caught with arms while grazing will be charged with terrorism. The law has also ruled out indiscriminate and uncontrolled grazing. Government has allocated certain portions of land to the local government councils for grazing activities. The time allowed for grazing is 7am to 6pm daily. Anybody found grazing on portions of land not allocated by government for such activity will be made to face the wrath of the law. There are other provisions of the law all of which seek to ensure that grazing is devoid of any form of criminality.
I commend the Fayose example. It is practical governance in action. It mirrors Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, which teaches that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In pure physics, it means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. If we wean this Newtonian postulation of its scientific barbs, we will be left with an interventionist policy action that interprets and defines our situation.
Today in Nigeria, we are faced with a situation where everybody is scared stiff of a lethal object called AK47. Everybody is complaining that the Fulani herdsmen are wielding this weapon indiscriminately. But nobody has stopped to ask questions about how they acquire them. Why and how does the Fulani herdsman have free and unfettered access to sophisticated weapons of war? Many suspect that the herdsman is armed by the many retired military officers of northern extraction, who own the cows that he roams about with. If this is the case, we also need to ask questions about how the retired officers acquire the guns. In a situation where the Nigeria Police does not have sufficient guns to operate with, it beats the imagination that herdsmen can boast of large cache of arms that battalions of soldiers cannot boast of. This is strange, indeed.
The fact that nobody is after the herdsman and his criminality rankles the more. Why is he such a sacred cow? Why have the camps and hideouts of the herdsmen not been invaded by security agencies with a view to making arrests and dispossessing them of the dangerous weapons they wield? This question is reinforced by the fact that we are all living witnesses to the intolerance of our security forces. They do not tolerate the unarmed Biafran agitator. He is killed freely for stepping out in the streets to protest. What about the Niger Delta agitator? He is the implacable enemy of the state. He must be mowed down by the security agents wherever he is found. But in the case of the Fulani herdsmen, the security agencies do not care a hoot about what they do. The herdsman is law unto himself. Our government does not see anything wrong with the illegal possession of firearms by herdsmen and its indiscriminate deployment as an instrument of suppression and coercion. In other words, it is legitimate for the Fulani herdsman to bear arms that are illegally acquired. But it is unheard of for a non-Fulani Nigerian to wield an ordinary machete. AK47 has, therefore, become the new instrument of terror. It is the edge the Fulani has over the rest of the country.
What then should be done? Should the rest of the people clasp their hands in desperation and wait for redemption from heaven? Governor Fayose has addressed the issue by refusing to turn the other cheek. He has confronted the menace by telling the rest of us that we are all equal stakeholders in Nigeria and, therefore, should refuse to be oppressed by our fellow countrymen. If we accept that, then we will not permit a situation where a section or group will ride roughshod over the rest of us.
One of the reasons impunity has continued to reign in Nigeria is that the section of the country populated by Christians is given to turning the other cheek. That is why they do nothing in the face of extreme provocation. Somehow, the passive disposition of the Christian Nigerian has become a source of derision by his intolerant aggressor. That is why he is freely assaulted without consequence. That is why the Fulani herdsmen have been intimidating and killing them at will.
Significantly, the government of Ekiti is halting the rampage and brigandage of the herdsmen. It has put in place a mechanism that will make the herdsman to retrace his steps. With a faithful implementation of the law, the herdsman will have no place to hide. He has to operate within the ambits of the law or face the music. If the law is faithfully implemented, it will no longer be murder as usual by the herdsman. What Fayose’s government has done is to drive home the point that action and reaction are equal and opposite. One will necessarily neutralise the other.
The Fayose approach is also a case of taking one’s destiny in one’s own hands. When some other states of the federation were attacked, their response bordered on helplessness. They did not know what to do. The best they could think of doing was to appeal to the Federal Government to come to their rescue. This is infantilism of the worst order. That is what cowardice can reduce a government to. A coward nevers grows up. He is always looking for a father figure to protect him.
We saw this infantilism in Enugu State when Fulani herdsmen massacred an entire community. There was no backlash. That is why they have continued to return to the same Enugu State to kill. One day, the entire state will go on exile. They will be refugees in other states. If we had had a response from Enugu the other time, the herdsmen would have retraced their steps. But now, they are emboldened more than ever before. Enugu has become a canon fodder in the hands of the herdsmen.
It is really naive for any one to expect the Federal Government to come to its rescue in matters like this. A federal government that is so dangerously ethnocentric cannot suddenly become fair-minded because some ‘infidel’ has appealed to it for rescue.
Since some states of the federation, which are being ravaged and assaulted by the rampaging Fulani herdsmen do not know what to do, I invite them to borrow a leaf from the model adopted by Ekiti State. If they do, the menace of the herdsmen will soon be a thing of the past. But it takes just one thing to achieve this noble objective: Courage.