These, indeed, are strange times for our beloved nation. Harsh economic realities coupled with incessant fuel scarcity, unemployment, inflation, hunger and poverty have continued to make life tough for the people. To complicate things, insecurity has become a major source of anxiety. Terrorism is alien to our culture. But, recent occurrences have since altered the equation. This is no thanks to the dastardly acts of the Boko Haram sect. In the first half of 2014, Boko Haram killed more than 2000 innocent and hapless civilians, in about 95 attacks.
Sadly, as the war against Boko Haram makes appreciable progress, out of the blues came yet another menace of a different kind, but with an equally potent capability to coldheartedly waste human lives. Take the back seat, Boko Haram! Enter the vicious herdsmen.
From Agatu in Benue State, Akure in Ondo State, Bukuru area in Plateau State, Oke Ogun area in Oyo State, Gassaka and Bali local government areas in Taraba State to Nimbo in Enugu State, rampaging herdsmen seem to be on a mission to draw blood. And, blood they are getting. Everywhere they go, sorrow, tears and blood trail them. Curiously, they operate in such audacious fashion that makes a mockery of our national security arrangement.
Sadly, as was the case at the outset of the Boko Haram insurgency, the dastardly acts of these reprehensible herdsmen have not really been accorded the requisite handling by appropriate authorities. This brings us to the thorny issue of modus operandi of Fulani herdsmen. The odd thing is the kind of riffles being reportedly used by rampaging herdsmen across the country. What could be the source of such dangerous arms ammunition? If there is, indeed, a source, then, like BokoHaram, there would definitely be sponsors. If there are sponsors, the next puzzle is: what could be their motives? Could it be that purported skirmishes by herdsmen across the country are just clever ploys by some ‘evil genius’ to further throw the country into prolonged chaos? Could it be that recent upsurge in herdsmen atrocities is being orchestrated by some ‘powerful’ people with sinister intent to derail the country?
The implication of the foregoing is that appropriate authorities need to methodically investigate the recent increase in the reprehensible activities of herdsmen. It is vital to emphasise that military or police action alone might not suffice to thoroughly getting rid of the herdsmen’s challenge as it is with other such thorny security issues in the country. Sufficient intelligence must be gathered to really understand their motives, sponsors (if any) and grouses. It has been argued that the herdsmen’s ‘insurgence’ is being spearheaded by rascals from neighbouring countries. This claim must be properly verified and appropriate action taken if it is found to be real.
If not quickly tackled, the implication of herdsmen ‘insurgence’ on food security in the country could be calamitous. Constant encroachment of farmlands by herds of cattle will no doubt affect the output of crops coming from the north; the region is relied mainly upon for the provision of foodstuff and fruits in the country.
In Jigawa State alone, more than 70 cases of conflicts have been recorded since the beginning of the 2015 farming season. These cases bordered on encroachment into farms by cattle and farmers’ misuse of cattle routes. The situation is not different in Nassarawa and Benue States, the food baskets of the nation as herdsmen persistently engage farmers in feuds which often result in serious causalities on both sides. While farmers accuse the herdsmen of farm land encroachment, the latter blame the farmers and members of their communities for rustling their cattle. Unfortunately, the friction, if not properly checked, could have adverse effects on food security in the country.
But as frightening as the issue appears, with the required political will, it could be logically addressed. There are options to address it. To avert future bloody clashes between herdsmen and farmers, the Federal Government should creatively strategise with relevant stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the problem. One thing that can be done to reduce the tension is to establish grazing zones across the country for the herdsmen. Once this is done, government should ensure that the herdsmen strictly comply with the grazing zone arrangement. This would, no doubt, greatly reduce friction over land resources. Equally, concerted efforts should be made to address the armed cattle rustling rings reportedly wreaking havoc in the northern part of the country.
Considering the fact that this year will understandably witness an increase in political activities, we cannot afford to treat the herdsmen crisis and, indeed, other such complex security issues in the country with kid gloves. Costly goofs such as the unfortunate comment of the Inspector General of Police in the wake of the recent bloody herdsmen’s attack in Benue State must be avoided. We already have enough troubles as a nation; compounding them will not do anyone any good. Every logical step must be taken to ensure that this crisis does not degenerate into a full blown ethnic confrontation. This must not be allowed to be the case. In view of our multi-ethnic and cultural composition, we must clinically tackle every tendency that could further threaten our fragile unity.
Appropriate government channels must be used to stop the crisis from developing ethnic or religious interpretations. This is where effective public enlightenment strategies come in. Strategic dissemination of information is key because we live in a country where people thrive on taking rumours and half-truths as the truth. But then, universally, wherever the people could not access official information, they make do with whatever information is at their disposal. This, of course, is dangerous to the well being of any nation.
On a final note, before the herdsmen crisis transforms into another Boko Haram menace, thereby complicating our peculiar socio-economic and political situation, now is the time to decisively deal with them. If Boko Haram had been effectively addressed from the outset, perhaps, it would not have metamorphosed into the monster that it is right now.
According to Aristotle and Plato, what it takes for evil to triumph in a given society is for evil to continually go unpunished. Therefore, appropriate government agencies must rise up to the occasion by reprimanding the naughty herdsmen and their promoters. We have had enough of impunity in the country. This is the time to act determinedly against every group and sect that could further aggravate our country’s security situation.
Ogunbiyi writes from Ministry of Information & Strategy, Lagos