One of the issues that have dominated public discourse in recent times is the allegation that the Federal Government plans to pay N100 billion to herdsmen to get them to stop their spate of kidnappings and attacks on some farming communities and expressways in the countries. Although the Federal Government has since denied that any such plan is in the offing, the allegation followed a recent meeting between some security chiefs and some representatives of the herdsmen’s association, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN).
It is, however, interesting that even while denying the existence of any plan to make cash grants to the herdsmen, some of the top government security officials who attended the meeting have laced their denials with seeming justifications of such a payment, thereby suggesting a thinly veiled desire to pay the money, but for the likely resistance to it by many interest groups in the country.
Or, how else can Nigerians interpret the government’s explanation that the herdsmen are heavily armed and all efforts to stop them from attacking farming communities have so far not yielded the desired results? Does this not even suggest that they should be paid to either hand over their arms, or to stop the attacks?
Other top government officials have, however, explained that the government was only engaging the herdsmen and MACBAN the same way it would engage with the Yoruba and Igbo socio-cultural groups – Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The two groups expectedly immediately took exception to being categorised along the herdsmen association, whose members have been terrorising Nigerians in many parts of the country with their cattle and terrorist activities, with hundreds of people already killed by them in different parts of the country.
According to Malam Garba Shehu, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, who spoke for the government: “Miyetti Allah, like any other trade, community, ethnic organisation or interest group is a legal stakeholder in our nation and should be respected. We maintain that the government needs to engage all stakeholders and seek partnerships in building our country. The activities of Miyetti Allah do not represent selected ethnicities or Muslims only, but everyone.”
He went on to say that herdsmen should not be stigmatized, as there are criminals among every group in the country, both in the Northern and Southern populations. The government also emphasised the importance of agriculture in which the Miyetti Allah has been playing a good role in the country.
The Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, has also since followed up that government reasoning with copious details of the various efforts of the government to check the rising wave of criminal activities in the country and the achievements of the authorities in that regard. Sounding characteristically upbeat, he assured the nation that the evildoers would be beaten, and badly too, as the government was committed to finding drastic solutions to the security challenges. His list of government’s efforts in this regard include military initiatives such as Operation Puff Adder (Police), Operation HARBIN KUNAMA 3 (Nigerian Army), and Exercise Egwu Eke 3 (Nigerian Army), which were launched this year to complement Operations Sharan Daji (launched in 2016 by the Nigerian Army) and Diran Mikiya (launched by the Nigerian Air Force in 2018) to tackle bandits and other criminal activities in the North West of the country.
He also outlined the successes of the various campaigns, which resulted in either the capture or the killing of hundreds of the bandits since January and the destruction of their hideouts, with well over 100 hostages also rescued. The nation was also informed that aerial bombardments of bandits’ camps have been intensified, with a new Air Force Base, the 271 Nigeria Air Detachment (271 NAF Det), commissioned in Birnin Gwari in Kaduna this month to complement the Quick Response Group (QRG) established in Gusau in 2017. Even the Nigeria Police, between January 2019 and the first week of May 2019, arrested a total of 270 suspected kidnappers and 275 suspected armed robbers, with 105 assorted weapons and a large cache of ammunition recovered within the North West and North Central States.
The news of the rescue of so many kidnapped victims, including five Chinese who were kidnapped in Bobi, Niger State, but rescued from a forest in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna State, shows that the government is not uncaring about the county’s security challenges. The successes said to have been recorded with these military initiatives against the bandits indicate that the security agencies are already on the right track. The agencies only need to intensify their efforts in this regard and, with greater commitment and sincerity of purpose, the battle against the bandits could be won.
And, if the government is already on the winning track in this battle, then the policy of pacification of herdsmen with cash payments should not arise. Empowering such elements with such a humongous sum can only further strengthen them to launch even more serious attacks on innocent Nigerians, and possibly strengthen what is believed by some people as their suspected expansionist agenda.
It would appear to be basic common sense that the government does not need to pacify the bandits if it is winning and is confident of ultimately winning the battle to keep the criminals in check. It is unfortunate that the attempt to justify any payment to herdsmen and bandits terrorising the country is now being related to the payment of Niger Delta militants and the Amnesty programme implemented by the erstwhile Goodluck Jonathan administration to which the Buhari administration is said to still be committed to this day. While even this payment is questionable, albeit tolerable, in view of the massive contribution of the Niger Delta to the Federal purse and the need to secure the nation’s oil infrastructure, the idea of making any such payments to those who kill others at will, can hardly be justified by any standards. Such a payment will only succeed in making Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations. Even the claim that the herdsmen know and can handle the bandits who are sometimes said to be largely foreigners cannot justify the payment.
Willful killings and kidnappings such as some criminal herdsmen are perpetrating in many parts of the country should not be handled with kid gloves, especially as some of them have made it clear that they will continue to harass farming communities unless they allow them to continue grazing on their farmlands.
A case has also been made on the need for government to provide grazing zones with necessary facilities for herdsmen. Although the argument has been made in some quarters that the Federal Government has no business providing feed and other necessities for cattle which are the private properties and businesses of their breeders, the provision of grazing zones with cattle necessities could be a welcome development but for the fact that a large number of herdsmen are not even Nigerians, and it would be impossible for the Nigerian government to meet the needs of all herdsmen and cattle in the West African sub-region.
The way out, then, would be to make both herdsmen and farmers live within the laws of the land, with mutual respect between them, and a strict implementation of the nation’s laws against kidnapping, armed robbery and cattle poaching. Leaders of both groups should be made to see why they need to operate peacefully in the greater interest of the entire country.