Fred Itua, Abuja
A fortnight ago, the unthinkable happened. The National Assembly, located at the Three Arms Zone, Abuja, had some unfriendly visitors – cows. The visitors, numbering over 100, strolled into the well-fortified premises with unquestionable audacity.
Their pilots, Fulani herdsmen, led them into the no-go area. They bypassed the first and second gates. They were heading for the main building, apparently to witness the day’s proceedings at the Red and Green Chambers, when security agents, who were hitherto snoring, suddenly woke up. They hurriedly went for the gate and locked it.
Motorists and other road users, had to wait for the cows to have their right of way before embarking on their journey. Despite the presence of over 250 security agents attached to the National Assembly, cows had a free ride.
The above scenario is a daily occurrence in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. From the highbrow Central Business District, to Aso Drive in Asokoro, Kubwa to Nyanya, herdsmen and their cows ply their trade unhindered.
Since 2015, when the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari stepped in, the herders have become bolder. In front of the expansive Federal Secretariat, they ply their trade. Parts of the route leading to the Presidential Villa, herdsmen are found there grazing.
Despite repeated promises by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), to step in and stop the open grazing, it is yet to move a muscle, three years after. Instead, it looks the other way, while residents who now live in fear, are warning that the bloodbath in some parts of northern states, may soon spill over to Abuja.
Residents who have taken to social media and other platforms to express their misgivings are questioning the job description of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB). For them, AEPB leaves the real deal and pursues shadows.
Everyday, AEPB officials harass petty traders. They arrest and shame them openly. Their goods are seized and sometimes destroyed. In Abuja, AEPB officials harass and arrest women at night who they tag prostitutes. There have been unconfirmed allegations that some of the arrested women offer sex in exchange for their release. Others who are unlucky, face trial and are charged accordingly.
The brazen display of force by AEPB officials and their willing allies, are repeatedly condemned by residents. Emmanuel Ogbeche, Editor, Abuja Inquirer, in one of his Facebook posts, threw jibes at AEPB. He said rather than carryout their statutory responsibilities, by ensuring that herdsmen and their cows are not allowed to ply their trade openly, they go after petty traders and prostitutes.
He wrote: “Last night at Wuse II, I saw operatives of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, (civil defence, police, and thugs I call them) raid roadside sellers and seized their goods. No problem if they were really enforcing the law.
“Just a few hours before then, I had encountered cattle on the Wuse-Kado-Gwarinpa Road. So you know, the AEPB has an out-station by Kado. The cattle herders graze almost daily on that major road without molestation. But it is not so for petty traders struggling for daily survival.
“The AEPB Act 1997 Act No. 10 of 1997 Statutory Legislation Applicable Area of the Federal Capital Territory stipulates that the board has the mandate to regulate all infractions including keeping of animals and pets. So why is the FCTA through the AEPB fixated on hawkers and not animal husbandry that we now find cows even in Three Arms zone? One Nigeria bullshit!”
Media aide to the FCT Minister, Abubakar Sani, reacting to Ogbeche’s post, insisted that residents must assist government in ensuring that herdsmen are not allowed to move around the city with their cows: “With profound respect sir, the AEPB Act, just like the Police Act gives you the power of arrest. Until all of us as citizens begin to play our roles as stakeholders in the Abuja project, the buck passing won’t stop. So sir, next time you see any infraction, perform your civic duty and law enforcement will takeover from there. So lets get started.”
Director of AEPB, Baba Lawal, told Daily Sun, that his agency “is empowered by law to arrest street hawkers. Whenever they are arrested, they are arraigned before Magistrate court, where they are tried.”
On activities of prostitutes, he said a case was instituted against AEPB some years back: A judgment was given against the agency. Since then, AEPB has not been directly involved in the arrest and prosecution of prostitutes.”
Another respondent, Evelyn Dadu, who was more forceful in her intervention, said the only solution is to ensure that the current government is voted out in 2019. She warned that if the current government is allowed to return, the open grazing in Abuja would not stop:
“If you vote in these people again, you will know that what you are seeing now is a child’s play if compared to the terror they will unleash. Vote wisely and educate the people around you to do same. If they depend on rigging schemes, someone will be better than them in scheming. May God give us genuine, intelligent and hardworking leaders in Nigeria.”