A recent initiative of the governors of the South East, Nigeria banning unbridled movement of herdsmen in the region should be seen purely as a governance issue for peace and stability in the country. The policy instrument should therefore not be politicised by unscrupulous elements who feed our democracy with toxic criticisms.
In a bid to curb the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the South East, Nigeria, the five state governors in the region have banned interstate movements of herders. As a corollary, they also reinforced the existing law on weaponry by outlawing the use of arms by herders. These were among many decisions reached at a security meeting held the other day by stakeholders in the region, which was attended by Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika, Service Chiefs in the zone, and Ohaneze Ndigbo.
Gradually, by default we seem to have opted for handling security issues from a regional perspective unlike the monolithic approach, which the Federal Government and its agencies subscribe to. Security is primarily a local issue. To ensure stability and progress we must focus on true federalism as a sure way to disentangling the nation from the mess in which it has found itself.
Expectedly, there have been strident voices for and against the pronouncement of the governors with one opining that the ‘governors have no power ‘to ban movement of herdsmen and cattle’ and that what the governors have done is tantamount to ‘self-help.’ Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere along with some highly placed individuals and opinion leaders have weighed into the matter from different perspectives. While ACF has opined that it is yet to get the details of the governors’ position PANDEF and Afenifere have argued that the governors have carried out their obligations to their citizens, the people who gave them mandate. The truth is that the situation on the ground is very grave and all hands must be on deck to deal with the severe threat posed by the notorious, violent herdsmen.
Herders reserve the right to graze their cattle; but this must be done according to law and order and with respect for owners of the land. The current acts of impunity by which herders move into farmlands, destroy crops and plants belonging to farmers and move on to the next community is a recipe for, chaos clashes and deaths. No nation should tolerate such brazen acts. Different options have been recommended to avert the clashes. Doubtless, cattle rearing is a big business running into millions of naira. It makes simple economic and cultural sense for cattle owners to embark on ranching. The Federal Government appreciates this fact and so had attempted to provide a solution by introducing Ruga (Rural Life-stock) Settlement, which was roundly rejected by various Nigerian communities.
The government working with the cattle owners and other stakeholders should therefore seek new ways of grazing cattle. Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje has consistently offered land for ranching for any cattle rearers who are interested. The Sambisa forest home to Boko Haram insurgents, has also been suggested by other stakeholders because of its rich vegetation. Once cleared of the scoundrels of Boko Haram and secured by government, Sambisa forest could become home to thousands of cattle and save the nation from continuous bloodshed.
Other forms of insecurity have also dominated the scene across the country. Kidnapping for ransom is a permanent scare and the Federal Government seems to have run out of idea to curb the menace. Kidnappings now take place at random in towns, cities and along the highway. Criminal gangs operating in cells have instilled fear into the citizenry.
The Ibadan-Akure highway, Abuja-Kaduna and Sagamu-Benin highways are especially dangerous. Too many citizens have lost their lives to kidnappers. Certainly, we cannot continue to watch in despair while savages plunder lives and property. Elected officials must act. It is against this background that the action of the southeast governors can be appreciated.
Each constituent part of the federation should be constitutionally mandated to provide security for its citizens. The issue of state police in a restructured federal arrangement has been an option that we cannot totally run away from. Even the president, Muhammadu Buhari gave a nod to state police early in the year and the nation has been waiting for the implementation of this necessity in the land.
The central policing system in which an individual dictates policing policy and implementation from Abuja is an anachronism from the days of military misadventure in government. It must come to an end by devolving power to the federating units of the country.
The governors and other stakeholders should use the prevailing conditions to request and obtain the creation of state police. It is to be added that to some degree some states are practising another tier of policing as found in the vigilante groups and other paramilitary forms of security agencies. Let us legalise this federation project if we do not want the practice to force itself on the nation by default.
As for the ban on weapons, we call on the police and other security agencies to enforce compliance. The sight of herders carrying AK47 rifles instils fear and uncertainty. Some criminals masquerading as herdsmen have also exploited the situation to perpetrate criminal acts. Such brigands should be fished out. If, as alleged by the Seriki of Arewa community in Uvwie local government, Fulani herdersfrom Chad, Mali and Niger Republic known as Bororos are behind the spate of kidnappings in the country, the security agencies must rise to the occasion and rid the nation of these criminals. The narrative that the Federal Government is soft on Fulani herdsmen must be dispelled with vigour.
Finally, it must be reiterated that the nation is on the brink on account of the murderous activities of criminals against which the Federal Government seems to be inept, overwhelmed and confused. The time to act is now!