In obvious response to the state of insecurity in the country, different regional, socio-cultural and ethnic groups have held and are holding meetings on how to reduce the level of tension, fear and insecurity that is plaguing the polity. Social media has been bristling with distorted versions of the narrative, thereby compounding the situation and agitating the minds of hapless citizens. A former president, governors and traditional rulers in the South-west, Pan-Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF) representing an agglomeration of views from the South-south, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, governors of the South-east and the Middle Belt have all, at different fora, reacted to the different strands of the imbroglio which has engulfed the nation. Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), which Nigerians primarily saw as the arrowhead of cattle owners has metamorphosed into a political pressure group issuing statements with an insulting degree of arrogance and self-entitlement to the national patrimony.
In a sense, this has promoted heated and passionate discussions on the state and future of the nation. But the big questions are a challenge to national cohesion: who is the president listening to in this cacophony of voices? Where are we headed as a nation if a section of the federation can hold the rest of the country to ransom? Has the Federal Government showed enough sensitivity to the issues on the ground? Does the president know that his actions and inactions have promoted the narrative of a secret agenda that is deleterious to the people of the country? Why has it been impossible for the president or indeed the Federal Government to chastise or send law enforcement agents after the Fulani brigands?
At issue is the widespread palpable threat posed by the notorious Fulani herdsmen across the country through their violent and criminal activities on farm lands and highways, unleashing mayhem in geographical areas both contiguous to and far away from Fulani home states. Also at issue is the ‘Ruga’ plan of the Federal Government, which aims to create settlements for nomadic herdsmen in 12 pilot states across the country. Added to this riddle is the idea of water resources control, which a Bill before the National Assembly plans to enact into law.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari has explained that he feels pained by the level of banditry and deaths in the country, he has been perceived to be soft on handling this singular cause of national instability and angst. The venom and military brutality with which the Federal Government dealt with the IPOB protests in Aba and Onitsha is missing on the more vexatious Fulani plundering of life and property. Somehow, the government is perceived as clannish and removed from the realities of the day. This is quite dangerous at this time.
Security has virtually collapsed. The North East, which the President declared was technically out of the control of Boko Haram, has known no peace still. The morale of soldiers is low as attested to by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Buratai recently. In Zamfara State, brigands have had a field day destroying lives and property over gold mining. There is complete lawlessness in that state. Nigeria has never had this bad and scary, not even during the civil war years (1967-1970).
To aggravate an already tense situation, the Federal Government’s decision to create a special radio station for the herdsmen and the impression that it wants to force the Ruga settlements down the throats of states has not gone down well with citizens. In addition, the presidential directive that all licensed arms should be returned with no effort to disarm the murderous Fulani herdsmen is a cause for concern. What exactly is going on, the people are asking?
This is a route the president must not travel both for the sake of national unity and his own legacy as a two-time leader of this country. The country belongs to all of us and we are equal stakeholders in the geographical and economic fortunes of the land. The federal authorities should neither by design or default, create two countries within the nation. It is dangerous. It is a reversal on the gains, which we have made as a people in 60 years of mutual coexistence and understanding. It subverts the constitution and the mandate, which our president received from the 2019 elections. To put it bluntly, Mr. President is now perceived as a one-sided leader who places the economic interest of his kith and kin over the national project. This is the message of all regional and socio-cultural leaders who have spoken the minds of their people in the last three odd weeks.
While south-west leaders meeting in Ibadan demanded the creation of state and local government police as a way to check insecurity, Governor Samuel Ortom rejected the Federal Government’s plan to establish cattle colonies in Benue State. The Benue State governor argued that Ruga is a ‘gross violation of the ranching law in the state.’ Continuing, he asserted: “Benue State has no land for grazing reserves, grazing routes, cattle colonies or Ruga settlement.” On their own part, the South-east governors have firmly declared that their states “have no land for cattle colony, Ruga settlement, or in whatever nomenclature you want to call it.’’ President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo declared that the group “would resist Fulani vigilantes in Igboland.”
In the same vein, leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark declared that the call for Fulani vigilante in the South-east buttresses the “stance of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who had earlier raised the alarm on alleged plans to ‘Fulanise’ Nigeria” and that PANDEF fully rejects the cattle colonies in the South-south. These positions opined by regional bodies and leaders call for a review of the Federal Government’s approach to settle the so-called clash between herders and farmers. The issue is potentially explosive and sets the nation on a path of avoidable collision. In a federal state, the central government cannot and should not try to lord it over the constituent parts. Besides, the Land Use Act supported by a Supreme Court ruling, vests authority of lands in the states on only the governors. Only the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) land can be allocated by the Federal Government anyhow.
Against the background of this stiff opposition to Buhari’s approach to the security issue, we hereby advise the Federal Government to tread with caution and listen to the voice of reason. Cattle-rearing is a private economic enterprise and should be so treated as this newspaper has repeatedly noted. In a federation, the constituent parts are free to pursue their dreams but with respect for the other parts. Democracy is about the people, about leaders listening to the voice of the people from different backgrounds. Stiff-necked policies ultimately lead to resistance, passive or otherwise and this is unhealthy for the country. This may have been why citizens are gradually retreating into their ethnic cocoons.
The clincher is this: the Federal Government should retrace its steps on security and deal firmly with criminals with precision and objectivity. The security architecture of the country that is skewed in favour of one section of the country is too insular and socially incestuous and could lead to unintended consequences. Furthermore, two different committees, which he had set up, had recommended the creation of state police. No less a person than the president himself had spoken in favour of creating state police while receiving the Tony Ojukwu report on reforming the Nigeria Police. This is the time to act and allow the states, which can afford it, the introduction of state policing. Too many lives have been lost to brigandage from different savage attacks. Life cannot be replicated. Those who have lost loved ones live in trauma and fear. The governors are practically helpless on the matter until there is an amendment to the constitution that would invest the governors with the real powers of chief security officers. The regions must continue to push their views into the national discourse. There should also be synergy between and among the regions and constituent parts of the federation. That way we would build a consensus on most issues of national importance.
Finally, it is obvious that there are centrifugal forces battling for the soul and future of Nigeria with a view to creating a nation that we desire. These are patriots who have seen that a command and control approach to governance cannot successfully administer peoples with disparate and different ethnic backgrounds particularly in a democratic experiment. Sadly, there are also disruptive and retrogressive forces, which have constituted themselves into a cog in the wheel of progress.
A nation’s leaders should be able to strike a balance and reach a consensus to avoid a descent into anarchy. A review of our inherited federal model, which hinges on a unitary form of government, is a desideratum now. The signs are there for all to see and we call on the Federal Government not to play the ostrich at this time. The will of the people must ultimately triumph. Above all, a presidential silence on perceived threat to national cohesion and alleged Fulanisation policy by the Federal Government will be harmful at this time.