The recent claim by the Federal Government that the herdsmen ravaging farming communities in different parts of the country are not Nigerians raises more questions than answers. If anything, it has only further underscored the porosity of our borders and the poor handling of the country’s security.
It is, indeed, an alarm bell which can only indicate that Nigerians are not safe in their own country. It will be an even more dangerous situation if the herdsmen perpetrating atrocities in the country are aliens, and our Immigration and security agencies are handling them with kid gloves.
If, indeed, the violent herdsmen are foreigners, what are our security agencies doing about them? How many of them have been arrested and interrogated by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS)? How many are legal migrants? And, from which countries did they migrate to Nigeria? These are critical questions that our Immigration agency should be made to answer if Nigeria is serious about its internal security.
President Muhammadu Buhari must urgently demand answers to these questions. It is not enough to make these alarming claims as Heineken Lokpobiri, the Minister of State for Agriculture, did at a recent public hearing convened by the Senate as part of its investigations into the recent clashes between herdsmen and various communities in the country.
The atrocities of the herdsmen have been with us for a long while and the harrowing tales of sorrow in the communities they attack are heart-wrenching. In truth, there is hardly any part of this country that has not suffered from the onslaught of herdsmen. But, their recent attacks on the Agatu people and the Nimbo community in Benue and Enugu states, respectively, rankle. Not only were whole communities ravaged and sacked, hundreds were killed in cold blood in Benue State while many were displaced from their homes and ancestral lands. This has compounded the lingering problems of human and food insecurity, with their obvious adverse effects on the nation’s challenged economy.
Government, if it wants to be taken seriously, cannot continue to condone these acts of sabotage and threat to national security. It should determine the identity of these herdsmen and act decisively on the problem that they have become.
One interesting aspect of the government’s claims on the nationality of these violent herdsmen is its desperate quest to provide grazing routes, land and feed for their cattle. If, indeed, these killer herdsmen are non-Nigerians, why would the government commit public funds to the provision of grazing land for them? Even if they are Nigerians, why would public funds be committed to the private business of cattle rearing? The plan for the establishment of grazing routes has not taken into consideration the palpable fears that these rampaging herdsmen are eliciting in farming communities across the country. The routes are also clearly not in tandem with modern trends in animal farming, which is to have ranches for the business of cattle rearing. Cattle farms in the United States and South America clearly demonstrate the wisdom in having cattle in ranches to maximise their productivity and enhance security.
However, we advise the government to refrain from forcefully acquiring lands for the purpose of providing routes and grazing land for herdsmen. The Land Use Act of 1978 is very clear about the custodianship of all lands in the country. Moreover, government is aware of how it has always acquired land whenever it has use for it. In this very sensitive case, it must take the sentiments and overriding wishes of the states, various communities and the generality of the people into consideration. Through active engagement and sustained dialogue, a number of the present issues can be resolved. No one party, least of all, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, like it sought to do through its National Secretary, Baba Othman Ngeizarma, should insist on having its way in this matter.
All opinions – concurring and dissenting – should be properly weighed and interrogated before final decisions are taken by the government. The disclosure that about 10 states have already made land available for the purpose of establishing ranches is good news, if it is acceptable to the people of the states and not a unilateral decision of their state governors. But, this latter day trend of herdsmen going about their supposed trade with sophisticated weapons, including AK 47 assault rifles, is worrisome. It is the reason government must thoroughly interrogate its processes and tread softly on whatever solutions it has proposed to solve the perennial and seemingly intractable herdsmen/ farmers’ clashes in the country.
Government must be alert to its fundamental responsibility to protect lives and property. It must, in the light of the recent disclosure, refocus our immigration to adequately carry out its core responsibility of policing and securing our porous borders.