By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
IF urgent steps are not taken by the federal government to check killings by herdsmen who are ravaging many parts of the country, we will have a serious emergency on our hands. In the days to come, the menace of the herdsmen who have turned some locations in the country to their killing fields would surpass the nuisance of Boko Haram.
This menace seems to defy all solutions proferred by states, groups and individuals and is progressing geometrically. Last week’s attack on an Enugu community by the herdsmen that witnessed the gruesome murder of a 26-year-old seminarian, Lazarus Nwafor, among other victims, indicates that the nation is lying on the precipice.
Prior to the latest attack, other Enugu communities had been attacked. In reaction to the Ukpabi Nimbo attack, the Hilltop Club 82 Aba had called on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State to toe the line of his South West counterpart and outlaw the activities of Fulani herdsmen in his domain.
The group, in a letter signed by Tobias Chukwukerue Amara and Chikezie Aneke, Chairman and Secretary respectively and written to Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi said that it has followed developments in the state in recent times with a deep sense of concern and suggested thus:” As peace loving people we are impressed by your peaceful disposition in your reaction to the ugly developments.
On behalf of Enugu State indigenes in Abia State, we hereby express our heartfelt condolence to you and the good people of Enugu State on the death of our brothers and sisters in the incidents, and also convey our strong commendation of your actions thereto.
Your Excellency, we are of the view that the incidents call for sober reflection, and as it is said, once beaten twice shy. Therefore, it is our humble opinion that your people would be delighted to have Your Excellency toe the line of some governors in the South West, by outlawing the activities of herdsmen in your domain”.
Every now and then, it has either been either the call for the relocation of these herdsmen or outright ban on their activities from different quarters. A communique issued after a stakeholders security meeting held at Obehie in Ukwa West local government area of Abia State stated that the herdsmen have caused wanton destruction of farm crops and unconscionable raping of women and therefore directed the relocation of the herdsmen from the environment within 30 days in the interest of peace and security of lives and property.
The communique also called for the establishment of a functional neighbourhood watch in Asa clan and the reactivation and proper equipping of police formations within Asa for effective policing.
In line with the above call, Abia State government recently instructed and equipped security agencies in the state to ensure water-tight security around the borders and towns against any form of attack.
The state also directed the recruitment of more hands into the State Vigilance Services for onward deployment to the communities for community policing under the supervision of the Commissioner of Police. The law enforcement agencies were also mandated to search and screen all vehicles conveying livestock, food items and persons into the state from any part of the country. The law enforcement agencies are to extend these duties to markets and farm settlements where dealers are to ensure security.
The step by the state I will consider the most viable is the constitution of the Farmers/Herdsmen Conflict Resolution Committee. The committee, which is headed by the Commissioner of Police in the state, is made up of other heads of military and paramilitary formations in the state, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Myetti Allah and the Sarkin Hausa, among others.
The 10-man committee is to take measures that would forestall pastoral conflicts in the state by accessing information, identifying flashpoints and nipping crisis in the bud.
Similarly, when approached by the participants on the issue of the menace of herdsmen at workshops on Community Governance Mechanisms: Key Tools for Community Development and Fight against Corruption held at two oil bearing communities in Ukwa West, Mr. Ifeanyi Anyanwu, a programme officer with CLEEN Foundation proposed regular interface between the herdsmen settlement leaders and the community as a panacea to the incessant pastoral conflicts.
According to Anyanwu, the interface would provide a platform to iron out issues before they get out of hand.
The plethora of solutions enumerated here proffered by individuals and groups are viable but they are fraught with numerous limitations.One, the herdmen have been accused of recalcitrance in embracing meetings that would proffer peace.
This is evident in the communique issued by the Asa stakeholders where they accused the herdmen of being absent from the meeting after they were duly invited. In the argument of the stakeholders, such actions demonstrate hidden motive and portends a high security threat.
It will not be out of place to suggest here that the herdsmen have sources from which they draw their strength. And a peace or reconciliation attempt in which these sources are not brought into the picture may not yield the expected results.
Besides, as the herdsmen killings spread and expand, the more socio-political colourations they attract. If the herdmen menace is to be checked and checked for good, the presidency should demonstrate a strong and committed resolve to address it. As long as the appropriate quarters continue to pay lip service to it, the hope to put this monster called “herdsmen killings” at bay will be far-fetched.
This herdmen menace is a monster that should be put to bay and the time is now. A stitch in time saves nine!
*Ukegbu writes from Umuahia, Abia State