Except the federal government stops indiscriminate killings by herdsmen and militias, Nigeria risks becoming a failed state, warns Shola Oyeyipo
While the federal government has yet to wipe out Boko Haram insurgents, murderous herdsmen and militias are wreaking havoc daily.
Ordinary citizens and notable leaders are daily expressing lack of confidence in security agencies to stop the killings.
Not only are there suspicions that the army and the police are deliberately looking the other way while the killer herdsmen continue to perpetrate their heinous crimes, there is now a growing call for Nigerians to defend themselves against further attacks.
Miffed by the unchecked attacks on innocent Nigerians by herdsmen, former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), called on Nigerians to rise up and defend their states against the rampaging herdsmen.
He feared that if citizens did not defend themselves, they would soon be wiped out because he suspected that an ethnic cleansing was going on in Taraba and other parts of the country. He bluntly accused the armed forces of complicity in the killings – that they are providing cover for Fulani herdsmen to perpetrate the attacks.
He said: “The peace in this state is under assault. There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in this state and, of course, in all the riverine states of Nigeria. We must resist it. We must stop it. Every one of us must rise up.
“The armed forces are not neutral; they collude with the armed bandits that kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement. They cover them. If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one.
“The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State, it must stop in all the states of Nigeria; otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play. You have nowhere else to go.”
Though, the military was quick to counter Danjuma through its spokesman,Texas Chukwu, who in a press statement, referred to the General’s outburst, as “unfortunate,” and urged Nigerians to shun his advice, many people did not find the army’s reaction persuasive enough.
The army denied complicity in the attacks and urged Nigerians to go on with their day-to-day activities and be law-abiding, warning that anyone caught with arms and ammunition would be dealt with in accordance with the laws. “Every law-abiding citizen is assured of equal protection and security of their lives and property irrespective of his/her person”. It added.
While the army’s reaction to Danjuma is official and expected, there is however the urgent need to underscore the fact that his position is shared by many other opinion moulders. This has a far reaching implication for the polity.
For instance a former Director General of Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) and former Director-General, State Security Service (SSS), Chief Albert Horsfall, had earlier in February, alleged that “security officers are planning with the herdsmen or they are not doing their work to stop the attacks happening in Nigeria.”
According to him, they are either collaborating with them or the security people don’t just care.
“The president cannot fight the herdsmen on his own, but the people he send must wake up”, he added.
His suggestion was that President Muhammadu Buhari should compel heads of police and other security outfits to first collect all the guns in possession of the herdsmen.
Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka also feels it is ideal for the citizenry to protect themselves against the marauding killers where the security agents statutory saddled with that responsibility are failing.
Soyinka bemoaned the seemingly unchecked wanton killings perpetrated by the rampaging nomads, and blamed the escalation on the lacklustre attitude of the leadership to stop the killings.
Though he acknowledged that face-offs between farmers and cattle rearers have existed for many years, his present concern is that it is beginning to look as if Boko Haram is gradually infiltrating other parts of Nigeria.
Even before the attacks on the police headquarters and the United Nations building in Abuja, Soyinka had called attention of people in authority to the dangerous activities of the nomads, especially as he observed during his hunting expeditions.
Also bothered that the Nigerian security agents are not doing enough to stop the herders, Soyinka said: “We are bringing back the Ogun State Hunters Association (OSHA) and we will collaborate with police, military and other such organisations. When they see armed herdsmen they should report. If they are not disarmed, we will disarm them.
“I don’t want anybody to believe war has been declared. It is a civic protection. If the police do not take action, OPC, vigilante and other groups will consider it their duties to move into the spaces and disarm them. It should not be our responsibility but where there is some negligence we have to do it.
“We must demand of the security agencies to clean up the forests. Time should be set when armed herdsmen will be disarmed.”
He said the activities of the herdsmen on communities across Nigeria had reached “unacceptable and irresponsible levels,” and he described what Nigerians are experiencing with herdsmen as “new phase of terrorism,” and “new phase of colonialism.”
Though he acknowledged the achievements of the Nigerian Army against the Boko Haram terrorists but he said if efforts invested into other military interventions such as Pyton Dance and Crocodile Smile had been put into stopping the herdsmen, Nigerian couldn’t have had what it had on its hands.
While he agrees with the idea of setting up of ranches saying “setting up ranches should be accelerated,” as against colonies, he said in the meantime government should not make excuses for the killer herdsmen.
Though the Defence Minister, Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali, the National Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Maimala Buni, and some other pro-government persons were quick to caution Nigerians against the call to arm, which they feel is capable of undermining government efforts to restore peace and security in the country, quite a number of Nigerians are of the opinions that self-protection may be a likely solution to the attacks.
Even when the army was condemning Danjuma for taking his stance, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, Senator Shehu Sani, former Minister of Steel, Paul Unongo, the Yoruba socio-political and cultural group, Afenifere, Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign state of Biafra, MASSOB and Ohanaeze Youth Council, were in total solidarity with him.
On way forward, two respectable Nigerians, elder statesman and one of the leading voices in the South West region, who is a prominent member of the pan-Yoruba sociopolitical organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, and Nigerian politician, human right activist and former Liaison Offichaver to President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, have suggested what government should do.
Though not really hopeful that there could be any meaningful improvement under the current administration, Adebanjo said those perpetuating the killings should be apprehended and brought to justice. To him, that is the first and most important action that must be taking to avoid crisis.
“The way out is for him (President Buhari) to come out to say he is no longer supporting them. He has been one of their patrons. How can you say people are killing people in day light and there is no arrest? We have security; we have army and we have police!
“He gave an instruction in January, he didn’t know it was not obeyed in March and his Inspector-General of Police is still there. What other way to condone is more than that?
“They killed them in Agatu, they went back again there, not a single word of sympathy. It happened in Adamawa; all over the country. At a time they denied that they are not Fulani. Remember, at the beginning of this thing (herdsmen attacks) they were saying ‘why are you calling them Fulani?’ That they are coming from another country.
“Under normal circumstances, law and order would have broken down in Nigeria and Buhari must be told. How many people did IPOB kill before he declared them as terrorists? These are people who are shouting for their own autonomy in their own territory. He didn’t hesitate to declare them as terrorists but these are people that are known now – they are all over the country.”
Yakasai, on his part wants the administration to seek relevant opinions from stakeholders and put them to use to reverse the situation.
“Whatever problem you find yourself in, it is either you generate mechanism to deal with it or you invite wide range of opinions to galvanise and get them to develop some ideas as to how to handle the problem.
“My opinion is that since this thing (herdsmen violence) has persisted for so long like Boko Haram, I think the government ought to organise a stakeholders meeting involving the farmers, herders, the governors, National Assembly, academicians, political class, traditional rulers and public opinion moulders like the media people. You will put them together.
“There will be 1000 ideas out of which you can get 10, 20, 100 concrete ones that you can pick and apply them to solving the problem.
“So, my opinion is that it is not too late for the government to now organise a stakeholders meeting comprising all the people I mentioned before, including students, women; all of them. Let them generate ideas and put those ideas to writing by way of summary of the debate.
“The government will set up a small committee to sample these ideas, then advise the government on which ones are practicable.
“I think we will be able to get some ideas. Then we can have trajectory emerging from the discussion. This is my thinking because it is a problem, including the problem of Boko Haram, that we are yet to find solution to.”