Terror nomads and official consent – By Louis Odion, FNGE

President Muhammadu Buhari

I received an agitated call a fortnight ago from the most
unexpected quarters. It was a response to the column written on the plague of
trigger-happy herdsmen festering across the land.
The caller, a successful entrepreneur-cum-polemist and
understandably a southerner, frowned at the writer’s tone which he considered
too conciliatory to the murderous nomads and, according to him, indulging
official indifference with a reluctance to use harsh words. 
Honestly, I had thought the nation was already dragged into
the perimeter of danger and the moral obligation of the columnist is exercise
utmost restraint in the circumstance; not inflaming passion any further.

In the said piece, one had enjoined the president not to
leave the nation in doubt where he stands at this grave moment. One wrote:
“Now is the time for President Buhari, himself a cattle farmer, to go
beyond the normal call of duty to stave the dangerously growing perception that
seeming official lethargy – if not indifference – to the continued killings is
dictated by the spirit of kinship he shares with the rampaging herdsman or that
the nomad’s renewed audacity, this genocidal reflex, feeds on the opium of expected
solidarity from the top.”
Louis Odion

But with the latest pogrom in Enugu on Monday, one now feels
compelled by a sense of shame to admit that the blood of the innocent is
probably on those of us whose circumspection, ordinarily a respectable gesture
of moderation, would have inadvertently stirred in the victims a will not to
resort to self-help, naively hoping a bunch of unreconstructed savages could be
overpowered with the show of civility. From what is now known, the aggressors
seem emboldened all along to scale up their barbarism by every turn, aware the
rest of the society are unwilling to lift a finger. The latest killing of 48
citizens in Enugu in cold blood was totally avoidable had the various security
agencies under federal command been alive to their duties.
Sadly, the villagers of Ukpabi Nimbo saw their own assassins
coming days ahead. But the authorities failed to take steps to shield them.
Coming barely a month after the Agwu 76 were abducted by “unknown
soldiers” from the same Enugu and held hostage in Abia for protesting the
herdsmen’s excesses, nothing could be more provocative. Among the latest
casualties was of a fresh graduate, Eze Patrick Okechukwu, who just passed out
from the NYSC few days ago, and an octogenarian who, at such fragile age, must
have looked forward to a peaceful transition. 
Their spokesman, George Ajogu, put things in perspective Tuesday
when the state officials joined them to count their dead: “Had the
security agencies responded appropriately, this would not have happened. (The
herdsmen) did not take us unawares, we knew they were coming. Because we lack
security, the Fulani come here and tell us the land is theirs. They tell the
farmers to kneel down and they rape the women in front of their husbands.”

Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Enugu State Governor

Elsewhere in Obiaruku in Delta State the following day, the
ubiquitous armed herdsmen also went on rampage. No fewer than eight farmers
were seized from their farms in apparent retaliation of alleged killing of four
cows in the locality. The captives were only released later in the afternoon
after the youths had mobilized. 
Given the brutality of the slaughter and the intensity of
destruction of homes (including churches), it was clear the Enugu attack was
carefully planned and clinically executed. Strangely, the president only broke
his silence Wednesday after the deed had been done. It apparently took the
outrage expressed from a section of the country over the latest killings before
the Commander-in-Chief formally deemed it necessary to direct a crackdown on
these killing gangs. The message was delivered by Information Minister Lai
Mohammed. 
But considering the gravity of the issues now raised, the
least expected is Buhari speaking directly to the nation. In the circumstance,
timing is every thing. The message and the messenger arrived almost too late.
The burden of guilt over the blood already shed is therefore
more on the president who seems unable to read or appreciate that the growing
epidemic of murder, its geographical slant, the attendant ethnic eruptions and
social disruptions do not just undermine his credibility as a unifying leader
but also the stability of the nation at large. It is high time he realized
there has to be a country first before he can be addressed as a
president. 
The other day, the government did not consider it out of
place to liken pipeline vandalization to terrorism, putting the saboteurs on
notice they would henceforth receive the Boko Haram treatment. So, why was it
so difficult for the president to come out openly and read the riot’s act to
the band of murderers who undoubtedly constitute much bigger threat, in fact
seemingly hell-bent on putting a sharp knife on the last strand of the already
threadbare gaiter tremulously latching the nation together? Really, the
impression thus unwittingly created is that the oil flowing in the pipeline is
more treasured than the blood flowing in the veins of the citizens.
On Tuesday, the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, lent
his weighty voice to the popular clamour for a decisive step before too late:
“It behoves on the Federal Government to be more serious on the issue so
that it doesn’t become another Boko Haram on our hands.” Though, he
believes the AK-47 -wielding herders are not Fulani but “wandering and
migrating tribe of people going everywhere.” If indeed they are
“foreigners”, then the puzzle: why is it so difficult for the
Nigerian state to frontally take the supposed “invaders” out?
What the latest Enugu massacre again underscores is the
gross inadequacy of the nation’s current security architecture and the
imperative of one that is responsive and responsible to local need. Today, the
security forces in every state are not answerable to the resident political
authorities. Even in the hour of emergency, Abuja’s order is still considered
superior to that of the state governor. It explains why the state security
meeting summoned by the Enugu governor Sunday following credible intelligence
that something sinister was afoot ended up in vain. Various pledges of
commitment made by the local heads of all the security agencies at the meeting
(said to have dragged till early hours of Monday) were of no consequence when
the attackers struck at Ukpabi Nimbo few hours later.

Gov Ajumobi of Oyo State

Much more fundamental is the alienation of the security
personnel themselves. In perpetuation of the unitarist credo of military rule,
officers are deployed outside their ethnic origin. In the moment of temptation,
most then naturally view conflicts from ethno-religious lens. It probably
explains why when the villagers of Ukpabi Nimbo cried out for help for days, no
one seemed to have understood their language. 
Sadder still, on Wednesday, I read an article in The Nation
entitled “Ranches or prison for herdsmen?” written by Sale Bayari,
the Secretary-General of the cattle farmers known as Gan Allah Fulani
Development Association (GAFDAN), and my heart sank. In case Bayari was
speaking for all members, then more troubles still lie ahead. So far, the only
silver lining in the dark clouds was the assurance that the stakeholders and
the relevant authorities had narrowed down the options to either setting up
ranches or grazing reserves to fix the perennial clashes between herdsmen and
farm-owners. 
Given deep cultural complexities of the country on top of
pervasive ethnic suspicion, the consensus is that the option of ranch will be
more feasible for now. But Bayari argues passionately that the herders would
settle for nothing other than grazing reserve. Curiously, this seems to be
Buhari’s own thinking, with the Agric minister announcing few weeks ago that
arrangement had been concluded to import improved grass seeds to cultivate the
proposed 50,000 hectares of grazing reserves within six months.
Plausible as he might sound, Bayari’s argument hardly takes
into account the sensibilities of other ethnic stakeholders, particularly
people of the Middle Belt and the entire south who view the idea of setting up
grazing reserves across the country today as a dangerous seed that will, in
foreseeable future, germinate into a Fulani take-over of the Nigerian space in
entirety, thereby fulfilling jihadist Othman Dan Fodio’s expansionist vision
more than two centuries ago. 
Much as Bayari is free to dream of grazing land without
borders, fear of possible acculturation harbored by others can however not be
wished away.
Perhaps, a taste of what to expect came from Oyo during the
week. Without mincing words, Governor Abiola Ajimobi declared not an inch of
his state territory will be ceded to Buhari’s grazing reserves: “This is
the time to call a spade a spade. Those clamouring for creation of grazing
zones across the country should have a rethink. It is against the Land Use Act.
It is against the law of natural justice to seize people’s land to cater for
someone’s cattle.”
Obviously, Buhari now faces the first real acid test that
may potentially define his presidency. 

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