APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun
The continuous violent attacks by suspected armed Fulani Herdsmen on many communities in Nigeria and the seeming helplessness of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to tackle the menace are gradually becoming campaign issues as next year’s election approaches.
One of the hurdles the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari will face as Nigeria enters the preparatory year for the next general election is the menace of Fulani herdsmen that has escalated since 2015 when the incumbent administration came to power.
Apart from negative public perception that the administration has not been able to pull the country out of the economic hole that the erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) plunged it after 16 years of being in power, the issue of national security is also a moral deficit APC will face in the next election campaigns.
In its manifesto during the buildup to the 2015 election, the APC promised to urgently address capacity building of law enforcement agents in terms of quantity and quality as critical elements in protecting lives and property.
The party also promised to establish a well trained, adequately equipped and goals-driven Crime Squads to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militancy, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide and gave assurance of embarking on widespread consultations to amend the 1999 Constitution to enable states and local councils establish Community Police to address peculiar security needs of each community.
According to the party, this would mean setting boundaries for Federal, State and Community Police through new Criminal Justice legislation to replace the Criminal Code, the Penal Code and the Police Act.
But almost three years down the line, the activities of armed herdsmen have placed a question mark on the sincerity and determination of the APC to provide adequate security and protection to lives and property of the citizens.
The herdsmen crisis has continued to hunt Nigeria and so far, hundreds have been Killed and many more have been turned into refugees in their own country while the Buhari government does not appear willing to initiate any forceful action against them despite its promises on national security. The herdsmen are rather requesting for grazing routes across the country to provide permanent feeding ground for their cattle.
Because of the nomadic nature of the herdsmen, they move from one place to another in search of pasture and in the process, frequently trespass farmlands owned by locals in their host communities, destroying crops and valuables.
Attempts by farmers to prevent them from causing havoc are met with stiff and violent resistance. Most times, the farmers are overpowered, injured and killed, while others are evicted from their homes.
Sometimes, the herdsmen are accused of taking these opportunities to steal, rape, raze houses and kill innocent members of the communities they pass through.
The headsmen also have their own side of the story, which borders on cattle rustling by armed bandits who steal their cows and hostile communities who loathe the nomads for ethno-religious reasons.
Just about a month after President Buhari was sworn in, the herdsmen attacked Motokun village, Patigi local council of Kwara State as well as Oro-Ago community in Ifelodun council.
It was also reported that the herdsmen attacked Ninji and Ropp villages in Plateau State and killed 27 persons while the same group reportedly murdered about 70 Christians.
In September 2015, Onitsha Ukwuani community in Ndokwa West council of Delta State was under an attack, which left about three persons dead. Similar attack was carried out against Oghonogbo, a boundary community between Edo and Delta State where a middle-aged woman was allegedly raped and subsequently killed by three suspected Fulani herdsmen.
In November same year, suspected herdsmen allegedly invaded Ulaja and Ojeh communities in Dekina council of Kogi State and killed about 22 persons who were either on their way to the farm or already in the farm. Similar attack was witnessed in Abejukolo; headquarters of Omala council when suspected herdsmen hacked down a couple on their way to the farm.
One of the activities of the herdsmen that attracted serious outrage particularly from the Southwest was the kidnapping of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SFG), Chief Olu Falae, on his 77th birthday.
In March 2016, suspected herdsmen also allegedly attacked some villages in Agatu area of Benue State, killing no fewer than 50 persons in an orgy of violence a few days after President Buhari directed the setting up of a panel to find out the root cause of the attacks and proffer a lasting solution. Barely a week earlier, more than 100 people were killed in the same community.
Only three days ago, about 50 persons were allegedly killed in some communities in Logo and Guna local councils of the state, which seems to suffer most in this kind of banditry.
While the brutality of these violent attacks are all over the country, the Middle Belt states, because of their location on the routes to the southern cattle markets, historical political links and religious differences, suffer the most of the banditry prompting some of the states to enact anti-open grazing laws to restrict the activities of the herdsmen.
Speaking on the havoc unleashed on villages in Demsa, Lawmurde and Numan councils of Adamawa State, former Speaker of the state legislature, Kwamoti Laori, urged regional and global bodies to declare the area as ‘emergency region.’
The lawmaker said the members of the communities could no longer rely on the Nigerian government or the sincerity of the security agencies to handle the situation or provide the necessary security.
Lauri also blamed the face off between farmers and herdsmen in the state on unguarded statements by some opinion leaders in some Northern states, who he said include notable emirs and leaders of the country.
The former Speaker said that while the only solution to the crisis remained justice, there was also need to explain that the crisis was not a religious one.
According to him, “The heinous killings in Adamawa State are not caused by religious differences. The situation would not have gotten to this extent if not for the unguarded statements from some respected opinion leaders that had been found to incite the people.
Also speaking on the latest Benue killings, Governor Samuel Ortom who could not hold back his tears, said the assailants attacked communities in two councils of the state between Monday and Tuesday, saying out of the number of those killed; nine were livestock guards who were to enforce the state’s anti-open grazing law.
With the endless list of attacks on several communities across the country and government’s inability to bring the perpetrators to book, the ruling party may find it difficult to convince the electorate in most parts of the country to vote for it in the next general election.
It must however be known that the challenge of herdsmen/farmers clash has always been in Nigeria and it is therefore unfair to conclude that the Buhari administration created the menace.
But the development and the fact that the administration does not appear to be doing anything to curb it, is fuelling speculations that Buhari, being a Fulani himself, has placed a huge moral burden on the APC government. The president’s seeming nonchalant attitude to the scourge has also been identified by the opposition as one of the reasons for the continued impunity and boldness of the attackers.
And as the clock ticks towards next year’s election, the determination or otherwise of the administration to rise up and tackle the menace frontally, will become a big issue during the campaigns.