In the past one month, the atmosphere in the country has been charged to a melting point, following the activities of herdsmen and the orgy of violence from some criminal elements among them. From the South-West to the East, South-South to the North and even to the nation’s capital, Abuja, the activities of herdsmen have occupied a high level of discourse, thereby causing tension and an impression that Nigeria was on the verge of implosion. The situation is not made better by the combustible comments from different leaders of the country, some of who took oath of office to protect the lives and property of Nigerians. We want to make it clear that the Constitution of Nigeria guaranteed that every Nigerian citizen is free to live and work in any part of the country he/she deems fit.
The same constitution also made it a prerogative of the government to protect the lives and property of Nigerians, irrespective of where they live, work or move to. Section 13(2b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) explicitly states: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Thus, it is expected that governments at all levels should be conscious of that provision and work towards its realization.
But recently, the issue of herdsmen and their activities seem to have relegated that section of the Constitution to a mere words on paper, with governments at different levels playing politics with the lives of Nigerians, while some sections of the security agencies seem to have forgotten that their main duties is the protection of Nigerians at all levels. May we state clearly that since time past, herdsmen have been in every part of the country without any fuss.
There are genuine herdsmen, who move around the roads with their cattle, herding them with sticks and whatever instrument they deemed fit, without any violence. But of recent, what has caused disenchantment in the country is the addition of guns – AK 47 – to the portfolio of some herders.
They followed it up with destruction of farmlands and other cash crops of locals, where they pass. That has left many Nigerians anguished, orphaned, widowed or maimed. What is, however, surprising is the tacit support given to these marauders, who obviously are not herders but criminals by some government officials and security agents. Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State is the most recent supporter of these groups. Not too long ago, the governor said that herdsmen had the right to carry AK-47 guns while in the bush.
His comment drew the ire of many Nigerians, among them are the Governors of Benue and Ondo states, Dr. Samuel Ortom and Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN). According to Mohammed, the herdsmen have the right to live anywhere as Nigerians, adding that the forests where they graze their cows belonged to nobody.
He said: “But because the Fulani man is practising the tradition of transhumans, pastoralism, he has been exposed to cattle rustlers who carry a gun, kill him and take away his cows, he has no option to carry AK- 47 because the government and the society are not protecting him. It’s the fault of the government.
“Nobody owns any forests in Nigeria, it’s owned by Nigeria. Under sections 23, 24 and 25 of the constitution, every Nigerian is free to stay anywhere. Anybody can speak anyhow but we are only exercising restraint.” We do not dispute Mohammed’s claim that every Nigerian has a right to live anywhere he likes. But his claim that the herders carry guns because they are not protected by the government or the people is just as mischievous as the claim that the forests belong to nobody.
It is a lie. We believe that the responses to his claim by both Ortom and Akeredolu are firm enough for him to know that he is not doing justice to his Fulani tribe with such outrageous claims. Ortom described Mohammed’s statement as shocking and disappointing, blaming him for what he termed ‘negative perception of Fulani herders’. Akeredolu, through his Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, condemned the statement credited to Mohammed. He noted that the Bauchi governor’s statement could lead Nigerians to the next level on the path to anarchy. Since then, other leaders, like the Northern Elders’ Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze and similar others, have joined the fray, taking sides. We are worried that Nigerian leaders are fiddling while the country burns.
We are disappointed that rather than isolating the criminality that is overwhelming the country, the debate has been on the Fulani. But we submit that the debate is not about the Fulani. It is about criminality. We hope that Nigerian leaders would be bold enough to deal with the criminal activities of the herdsmen and not reduce it to a Fulani versus Nigeria battle. Leadership requires tact, not careless, inflammatory and ethnic jingoism. It is now that leaders are needed to save the country from the looming danger.