WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
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A National Grazing Reserve bill was sponsored in 2016 at the parliament to address the herdsmen-farmer conflicts. The Bill did not survive due to opposition from different stakeholders. Those that opposed the Bill hinged their rejection on the provisions of the Land Use Act of 1978 which vested all powers related to the regulation of ownership, acquisition, administration, and management of Nigerian land with the state governors. Thus, the Land Use Act is an Act of the National Assembly remains a binding legislation unless amended. Some State governments and their representatives at the parliament have always opposed any attempt to establish grazing reserves in their domain. They consider it to be usurping the constitutional powers vested in them.
In reaction to increasing conflicts and mass killings resulting from seasonal pastoral movements, the government in 2018, as a matter of policy approved a 10-year National Livestock Plan at a cost of about 179 billion. The plan would culminate in the establishment of 94 ranches in 10 pilot states of the federation. Again, state governments, especially in the South and few in the North Central areas rejected the proposal on the grounds of not having enough space for such projects.
As part of measures to end the persistent conflict between herdsmen and farmers in various states, governments at state level began enacting legislations prohibiting open grazing in their state. This they hope would reduce the risk of herdsmen destruction of farm lands and the associated conflicts. Benue, Ekiti and Taraba states are leading this opposition by enacting state laws prohibiting open grazing. On 22nd May 2017, Benue state enacted the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law (2017) and its implementation began on 1 November 2017. Ekiti and Taraba states have also signed Bills prohibiting open grazing in their states. This makes open grazing under any guise, an illegal activity punishable by law. This measure being against the spirit of the federal constitution in that it violates the right of the herdsmen to movement and carrying out their business became a problem on its own. This is despite the unambiguous provisions in Chapter 4, Section 41.(1) which says “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.”
To logically understand the current politics behind the herdsmen/farmers saga and unravel conceptually the elements behind the unholy manipulation of the same mostly for personal gain, I will dwell on a couple of relevant discussions. Some months prior to the 2019 elections, in Benue and its boundary states, the all-round media was agog with the news of herdsmen/farmers clashes which graduated to herdsmen bandits attacks on armless and innocent dwellers. There seemed to be no need for investigation, every attack which of course was commonplace was the handwork of the Fulani herders.
Herdsmen/farmers clashes are a reality of our body polity but the politicking of the menace is even a bigger menace. At that time, no one remembered the existing Tiv/Jukun perennial conflict or the existing armed robbery, kidnapping, and individual political thuggery/assassination attacks. The political space was robustly occupied and the PDP was gaining entrance into the state on the back of the hyper-publicized herders’ attacks. The strategy worked; PDP won the state. Funny enough, the farmers/herdsmen clashes stopped with the victory; the herdsmen suddenly have no reason to lead their cows into the farms in Benue State anymore. To most of us outside, peace has return to Benue State.
The Fulani herdsmen that were reigning terror in the entire “ political middle-belt” before the elections have all “vanished and relocated” to the Southwest in preparation for 2023. Today, the reality of the security of Benue and Taraba states does not trend online; we are no longer bombarded with the conflict between the Tiv and Jukuns and the incessant attacks and killings after the elections. Killings persist but there is minimal political interest in linking them to herdsmen so we don’t hear about them. Sarcastically, some men were caught after the elections dressed like herdsmen. Sometimes around February 24th, 2019, Sub-sector commander of OPWS in Gwer West Local Government Area of Benue State, Flying Officer Mohammed Abubakar, ascertained the fact that members of the state Livestock Guard who dressed in military uniforms attacked the Agapbe forest settlement where they engaged in cattle rustling leaving dead bodies behind.
Another referencing issue is the spate of killings ongoing across the 23 Local Government Areas of Rivers State. The insecurity in the state calls for so much concern. It began from the riverine areas but has now engulfed the entire settlements in the state. People are moving around and out of the state to escape the dastard and seemingly uncontrollable killings. The magnitude and ferocity of these killings surpasses what is happening in all other parts of the country including the much touted herdsmen attacks but it is not trending. Rivers State has since become the crime capital of the South-South. Men, women and children are killed in their rooms, in the streets: in the last three months, the state has reported about 172 murders and Nigerians are not bothered. Nigerians hardly hear or talk about it, why? Probably because it does not project the fulanization and islamization agenda. They would not benefit anything politically from it. The media houses would not sell spreading unpopular news.
We overlook the past not because we forgot but because it would not support our evil agenda of the present. It is in this country that we witnessed the political assassination of Chief Bola Ige on December 21, 2001. It is in this country that we witnessed the murder of Chuba Okadigbo, a former President of the Senate on the 25th, September 2003: we are also witnesses to the assassination of Funsho Williams on the 27th July, 2006; Harry Marshal on 5th March, 2003; Ayo Dramola, a governship hopeful in Ekiti on the 14 of August 2006 and the endless gruesome murders at that time under the rulership of a certain president.
Today, we don’t forget to christen every kidnapper, hired killer, rapist, ritual killer, bunkerer, and even 419ers as Fulani herdsmen sponsored by the current president. We choose to forget desperate tendencies of Nigerian politicians and the fact that all the aforementioned killings were politically motivated by men who are all still alive today and have not repented.
The role of the media in disseminating the propaganda of the ethnic profiling of crime and criminality in Nigeria is a more worrisome development associated with the menace. The social media, electronic media and more seriously, the print media being the most appalling, dump unconfirmed news information around the country with impunity.
Consideration for national peace and unity is never a factor. We are in an age of money reporting and Yellow Journalism; doing the bid of the highest bidder. What has become of the third estate of the realm? The recent rejoinder by Prof. Soyinka to the reportage of him criticizing the President tells the whole story. When a print media of great repute will go down low to the point of appealing to the money bags and serving the purpose of those bent on destroying the nation, what do we expect from others including the uncensored fake news and hate speech on the social media? The targets now are stories that sell, what arouses the emotional sentiment and bigotry syndrome of the people, but not the quality and candour of the content.
I have not been able to come to terms with a logical explanation for the reason a sitting president would choose to make the country ungovernable for himself. Who does that? Few weeks ago Pa Fasoranti led the Afenifere group on solidarity visit to the President: that makes him an ally of the President. On what basis would the same president turn around to increase the population base of his enemies? When Obasanjo was struggling with farmer/herder clashes in 1999, was Muhammadu Buhari behind the clashes? When poverty-bred kidnapping became a norm all over the South during Obasanjo, was Muhammadu Buhari behind it? How does the president suddenly become the mastermind of the crimes overnight? How easy is it for an individual to Islamize and fulanise a nation with a strictly and effectively legislated checks and balances ( and Representatives of all the ethnic nationalities in the NASS)?
The truth is that those behind the killings and several others across the country, and of course the same people behind the many islamization propaganda know very well that the president is innocent and bothered by the situation, hence, to end the menace, we must all work together. The driver of the car conveying late Olakunri told the security and everyone around at the first statement she made that the killers were on mask. The young girl who was in the same vehicle with them and witnessed the incident corroborated the driver’s statement. The young girl further said the men on mask did not utter any word. These statements logically implied that the killers cannot be literally identified nor could they be said to belong to any specific tribal denomination since they did not talk and subsequent arrest by the police revealed who they are ( far from being fulani)
Less than twenty minutes after the dastardly act, elements within the country eroded the media with the story of herdsmen being the perpetrators of the act. This was echoed via Fani Kayode’s Tweeter handle and Nigerians bought into it, and, more worrisome, media houses whose responsibility is to investigate before reporting joined the train. Even the FBI has never been that effective in crime investigation and reportage.
On July 6th, 2019, at Iju, near Ota, Ogun state, Mathew Sunday, Samuel Olaniyi and Uchenna Olewunne were arrested with fresh human skull by the operatives of the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) which is lead by the super corp DCP Abba Kyari. If the victim had been the son of a big man and the perpetrators not caught, I am absolutely sure it would be herdsmen responsible. Days later, masked men killed the daughter of a prominent man and it is Fulani responsible.
Throughout the history of Nigeria, the Benin-Ore road has been a menace to travellers. Unabated travellers are put at the mercy of armed-men who wrecked untold havoc on their victims. There was no ethnic profiling all along but fear and desire to see an end of the menace.
Today, the menace is reported like it began yesterday. Hatred for the current president and his tribe has turned all perpetrator of evil on the road to herdsmen. They looted our treasury when they had the opportunity to tackle head on the insecurity and other menace . Now that they are without access to the commonwealth and survival has become difficult for them, they are pitching us against the government and one another, creating cold war and hatred between us so as to both get away with their sins and fight their way back to power.
PDP and its presidential candidate in the 2019 election spewed much lies and propagandas before the elections; one that showed the extent of desperation of the party to feed the populace with nonsense as long as it generates immediate hatred for the Buhari-led administration: one of such is when Atiku addressed a press conference before the elections and claimed his party had intercepted a team that the APC sent to China to perfect the operations of a phone like device to be used to jam the card readers. He claimed they actually are in possession of the device and some of the boys. What happened later? Dust was raised, sympathies were received and the episode died out.
Nigerians were the fools for it. Why should we be manipulated and fed with junks at will by these people, at will. There was no device, they intercepted nobody, yet they called a press conference to tell Nigerians home and abroad the lies fabricated by their campaign strategists. To what end?
There is also the drama that ensued when the President was sick and receiving treatment abroad, a certain governor came on the media and told Nigerians he was in possession of evidence that the president is dead. He “threatened” the presidency giving some days for them to break the news to Nigerians or he would be forced to release the evidence. Not too long after that, the President returned hale and healthy back to the country and office to resume his duties. What did we do? We were not bothered that these individuals fooled us once again.
Again there is the situation where the same individual, as a governor, in a bid to fool us once more and garner sympathy and support to win election for his surrogate, went all out in bandages and crying on the floor that he was attacked by the police and tear-gassed when nothing of such happened. The following day he was on his feet campaigning to win again. What did we do? We did not consider it necessary to raise the issue and condemn the act in its totality.
The list is endless. These men, the politicians, surviving purely on free money from loot and political offices would do anything to get close to the seat of power. They would kill, maim, brew insecurity, turn us against one another on all fronts but more seriously, they would do anything to discredit and make the country ungovernable for the sitting government. That much we are witnessing now but with recklessness and lack of feelings for the nation at a magnitude we have not witnessed before.
I say this with all confidence: against the support of these people and in the midst of antagonisms, we fought insurgents /bandits and we are still fighting assiduously and Nigeria will be the victor ; we fought economic downturn and bad recession and won; we fought a party bent on destroying the country economically and won. Same way, certainly, we will win the war against insecurity/ corruption and put to shame those behind it.
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!