By Charlie Agbo
Dr Amanze Obi’s recent opinion article entitled ‘Fayose Confronts the Monster’ published in the Sun newspaper was a surprising departure from his time-honoured trademark. Over the years, he has earned a reputation for unassailable perspectives on issues to which he lends his respected opinion.
At issue is the Nimbo theatre of the killer squad known as the Fulani herdsmen whose outing on April 25, 2016 left several Nigerians dead, and scores of others injured. Justifiably disparaged by the persistent lethargy of the federal government and the specifically confounding indifference of President Muhammadu Buhari over the killings, Dr Obi had written, inter alia that “it is gratifying to note that Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State has departed radically from the complacency that we saw in Enugu State. Just a few days ago, we were told that the herdsmen struck in Ekiti State, leaving two people dead. Fayose could not accept this. He was appalled by it. He did not just condemn the murder in Ekiti, he also talked tough. Then he followed up the tough talk with concrete action. He has banned cattle grazing on Ekiti soil. He has told the herdsmen to take their cattle elsewhere. They are no longer wanted in Ekiti State. That is the order. That is the situation in Ekiti at moment”.
In the foregoing regard, it is important to put the records straight. For the avoidance of doubt, and very emphatically, there was no complacency in Enugu. Enugu lived up to its billing as the headquarters of the South- east states of Nigeria. Governor Ugwuanyi’s response to the Nimbo incident has been very widely reported to require being repeated here. What would have been the redeeming factor here is if Amanze was referring to the failure of the security forces to live up to expectation. But the tenor of his opinion insinuates complacency on the part of the governor.
Amanze knows that a state governor is constrained by the central nature of our security apparatus. It has not been helpful because it leaves a governor incapacitated in times of crisis like this. If the governor of Enugu state had control over security, in the sense of a state police, the Nimbo mayhem would not have occurred. Neither the army, the police, nor the para- military agencies like Immigration, not even the civil defence corps is directly available to him. Each had to seek authorisation from Abuja to act.
This state of affairs leaves the governor practically unable to take spontaneous action to arrest such dangerous situations. I align myself with the strategy employed by Governor Ugwuanyi in handling the crisis. We are running a very fragile diverse geo-political union that requires a lot of tact from the disposition of those wielding the authority of state. The governor knows that the relationship between the Igbos and the north is not exactly the same as the South-west and the north. The inexplicable silence of the president over this issue for so long is the chief cause of all this problem giving the impression that he protects the herdsmen. This is why the timid commissioner of police in Enugu would not act in an emergency because he was not sure whether he was to get the boot if he moved against the herdsmen he assumes are the president’s kinsmen. This is the level of imbecilistic depravity that has seized our security forces. So let’s take the blame where it belongs without shopping for a scapegoat.
But as grave as the situation is, we have to function within the realm of law. Governor Ugwuanyi has jolted the president out of his lethargy and reverie, so let us file behind constituted authority in seeking a solution to the problem. Once we have gotten the president committed, our collective interest is best served without anarchy.
The matter in issue is beyond the ‘’tough talk’’ Amanze attributed to Fayose. Fayose made a statement of intent which has no force of law, as evidenced by the fact that it had no legislative endorsement. The truth is that without the federal government, we may not be able to arrest the herdsmen issue. This is because the issue enjoys the pedigree of Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants, and even more, because it has an international string that complicates it further and takes it beyond the reach of state and local governments.
In an interview granted a national newspaper, on this same subject matter, published on Friday June 10, 2016, I posited inter alia that…. ‘There is a lot to understand in dealing with a very sensitive matter like this. When you say you have banned grazing in your state, you may not be able to ban herdsmen from using the roads, federal or state because they have a constitutional right to freedom of movement in so far as they are not in breach of the law. How do you walk the thin line between grazing and lawful passage? That is a time bomb. The duty we have is to stop the killing. Cattle rearing is not a sin. To the extent that there are herdsmen who are not criminals, we have a duty to protect them and their legitimate trade while vigilantly fishing out and punishing the criminals. You don’t ban exams because of expo. Because there are malpractices, you abolish examinations. That is the simpleton’s recipe, devoid of rigour, ideas or creativity. If governance were that unsophisticated, then you don’t need imagination to run it, nor do you need statesmen. Indeed, a software becomes requisite since there are no grey areas, only black or white. It is ab initio actionable to drive herds of cattle over people’s farms because it constitutes trespass in the law of torts and under the criminal code, there is provision to punish individuals who inflict such damage to property. To me these acts could extrapolate to willful damage to property because the law assumes you intended the logical consequences of your actions. When you drive cattle over sensitive crops, you reasonably ought to know that damage will arise. So it kind of amounts to surplusage talking about ban when the law has already taken care of these infractions. It is for the police to prosecute these criminals based on the extant law’’.
But beyond the foregoing, the governor of a state or the chairman of a local government cannot enact a legislation that purports to override or supervene an international protocol to which our country or any country for that matter is a signatory. By virtue of the ECOWAS Transhumance Protocol of 1998- the protocol of free movements of goods and services in West Africa- herders in search of pasture are allowed to move across borders upon fulfilling conditions laid out in the protocol. In other words, herdsmen from ECOWAS member states have rights of passage over roads, and unfettered rights of ingress and egress in so far as they fulfil the conditions outlining those rights under the protocol. And in a situation where you cannot distinguish between local and international herdsmen, any legislation as wished by Fayose is dead on contemplation.
There is strength in recognising that you have to rise above certain levels of provocation to attain the larger peace. It is the easiest thing to do to use the instruments of coercion because they are just there. The easiest inclination is: I will goad my people to war, I will goad them to poison cattle, I tell them to bear arms. The more difficult option is to reign in the people, take care of the enemy, achieve my objectives by protecting them and that is what Ugwuanyi has done. He has been able to call the federal authorities to attention. The naïve commissioner of police has been replaced with that erudite fine former police spokesperson, Emmanuel Ojukwu, a first class psychology graduate of UNN. The police is on road shows in the state, a lot of official security activities are going on in the state right now. Ugwuanyi achieved all that without drumming up sensation.
•Agbo, a lawyer wrote from Abuja.