Nigeria is apparently on the precipice. Except for the civil war years, the country has never witnessed the type of tension and bloodletting that have enveloped the polity in recent times. Different ethnic champions make incendiary comments and issue ultimatums, which are likely to threaten the peace and unity of this country.
The most recent example was the ultimatum a Yoruba activist, Mr Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, gave to the Fulani to quit Oyo State. At the expiration of the ultimatum, he actually stormed Igangan in Ibarapa North Local Government Area of Oyo State with his men.
Also, the recent directive by the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, to unregistered herdsmen to leave the state forest reserves drew the ire of different individuals and ethnic groups. The governor got support mainly from the South and condemnations from the North. Last week, the Chairman of the Kano Elders Forum, Bashir Tofa, issued a statement saying tension was beginning to brew and that if revenge attacks on Southerners began in the North, it would be difficult to control.
Similar tension is rising in the South East. In Orlu, Imo State, soldiers clashed with some youths believed to be members of the Eastern Security Network set up by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). There are different accounts of what led to the confrontation. Unfortunately, there were casualties.
The Department of State Services (DSS) has had cause to warn twice this year that certain state actors were bent on exploiting the country’s fault lines to cause ethno-religious conflict in some parts of the country. Good enough, the DSS has vowed to collaborate with other security agencies to ensure the safety of life and property of the citizenry. The ongoing scenario reflects the situation prior to the commencement of the Nigerian Civil War. There were hate speeches and rising ethnic tensions that were not doused.
The Rwandan genocide followed the same pattern. Ethnic rivalry between the Hutu and the Tutsi led to the killing of about 800,000 mainly minority Tutsi by the Hutu majority in 1994. The Hutu extremists had set up radio stations and newspapers urging people to weed out the cockroaches, which meant to kill the Tutsi. It took the intervention of the Rwandan Patriotic Front led then by the current President, Paul Kagame, with the support of the Ugandan Army, to restore peace in the country. Currently, Rwandans no longer identify themselves by their ethnic origin in official and unofficial communications.
The major reason behind the current rising tension in the country is the activities of some criminal herdsmen. From different forests, they launch attacks on innocent Nigerians. They kidnap some of them for ransom and kill others. This was the major reason Akeredolu asked them to quit the state forests. The current stereotyping of the Fulani can be traced to the activities of the criminal herdsmen. The abuse of open grazing has led to destruction of farmers’ crops, which has often resulted in the herders/farmers clashes in the North Central, especially in Benue and Plateau states. Such clashes are also common in some parts of the South.
In all this, the Federal Government appears oblivious of the enormity of the challenges besetting the country. At times, its interventions tend to escalate the situation rather than calming frayed nerves. A case in point is the furore that trailed its intervention in the Ondo herders’ issue.
We believe that the solution to the rising tension traceable to the incessant activities of criminal herdsmen in some parts of the country is for the government to muster the political will to ban open grazing in the country. Banning open grazing will make cattle breeders to embrace ranching, which remains the best way to rear cattle the world over. The South West and South East governors have banned open grazing. Benue State has equally done so. We urge other governors to do the same.
The rearing of cattle is a private business which should not be done at the expense of other businesses. It should also not constitute security risk in the country. Ranching is the modern way of cattle rearing and must be encouraged. Apart from making animals healthier, it will eliminate the clashes between farmers and herders. It has also become imperative to check the influx of armed herdsmen from neighbouring countries by adequately policing our numerous porous borders.