HABITUAL brutal killings by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State have created a major security quagmire. From the headline case in February, when the migratory herders murdered about 500 farmers in Agatu Local Government Area, to the reckless and frequent destruction of farmlands, Benue is one of the worst hit states in the North-Central zone. The barbaric narrative came out in bold relief again late in July: the herdsmen attacked Akombo, killing a school principal, Sam Wayo, his brother, Msugh Lim, and three other persons in a night raid. The bloodbath is sickening. In plain language, this is ethnic cleansing, a situation that calls for urgent attention.
It appears that the unstated motive of the Fulani campaign is to wipe out Benue communities and occupy their land, using cattle grazing rights and allegations of rustling as pretext. Once again, the Federal Government, which is in charge of security, has serially failed to meet the sensitive constitutional provision of securing lives and property. This is negligence on the part of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. By failing to take strong measures to rein in the callous herdsmen, he has provided fodder for those critics who say he is reluctant to act against the Fulani, his own ethnic group.
It is strange that Fulani herdsmen go about with rifles and assault weapons, with security men seemingly unconcerned. Yet, we want to remind Buhari that there is no special ethnic group in Nigeria. In the eyes of the law, all Nigerian lives matter. Benson Abounu, the Benue State deputy governor, said, “What we are passing through now is an emergency situation, which … may become a full-blown war. The Federal Government has not taken a definite step on the matter.” He is right to feel upset.
It is disturbing that, after the Agatu killings, the President has not personally visited the state, apart from issuing a belated message of condolence. This is not statesmanlike. Incidentally, he was in Zamfara State in July to personally launch a military operation against cattle-rustling with 1,000 troops grouped into a task force. By doing so, the President is giving the dangerous impression that the lives of cattle matter more than those of human beings. If protecting livestock earned such a strong response, how about human lives? Had he done the same in Benue, where herdsmen slaughtered 31 people in June in Vase, Ukum LGA and Dusa and Uzaar in Logo LGA, according to media reports, he would have sent out a salient message to the murderers. In all, almost 1,000 people have lost their lives to the Fulani in 2016 in Benue.
Therefore, it is time Buhari took urgent action against the herdsmen, whom the Sydney, Australia-based Global Terrorism Index described as the fourth most violent terrorist organisation in the world in November 2015. He should also visit Benue, where many are now technically displaced in their own land, and perhaps Adamawa State, where the Fulani have also taken their murderous campaign, slaughtering 30 people in Kondomum, at the weekend. Widely-circulated media photographs of the incident showed corpses lying on the ground, while children were fleeing the community in droves.
However, we urge Governor Samuel Ortom to force the issue squarely. He needs to urgently change his pacifist approach; it cannot work in the face of this unremitting carnage. Ortom should, therefore, form local vigilante groups to check the activities of the herdsmen, as some other state governors have done. This strategy worked against Boko Haram in the North-East zone when the governors and the military there empowered the Civilian JTF to combat the Islamists. It proved so successful that the Nigerian Army has now absorbed 250 CJTF fighters into the military.
In this outrage, the police have failed woefully. They have not been prosecuting the offenders; what manner of police are they? Thus, within the limits permissible by law, the people have the right to defend themselves against the impunity and genocide of the Fulani. They should not fold their arms and wait for succour that may never come from Abuja. The leaders of thought in Benue, the government, the civil society groups and, especially, the lawmakers at the state and National Assembly, should start compiling a dossier of the atrocities perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen, especially their sponsors. They should identify the perpetrators, arrest and prosecute them.
It is benumbing that leadership in Nigeria is still primordial. Conversely, in serious climes, the killing of one person is enough to galvanise the leadership into action. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, 29, in 2011, in Britain, provoked a government enquiry into why police killed him. Last week, French president, Francois Hollande, immediately visited the scene of the killing of a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, 86, who was murdered during a church service by Islamists. In July, the US president, Barack Obama, attended the funeral service of five policemen, who were killed by Micah Johnson, in what appeared to be an act of revenge. In Nigeria, Buhari and the national lawmakers carry on as if lives are not sacrosanct.
The President is not endearing himself to Benue people by his standoffishness. He should correct these obvious lapses of judgment. Fulani herdsmen are not a special breed, superior to any other ethnic group in Benue. In the interest of togetherness, we demand action against these murderers.