The Ministry of Defence side-stepped the main issue of punishing criminality on Tuesday when it opted for yet another committee in the face of continued killings and brigandage by Fulani herdsmen-militants across the country. A six-member “technical committee” inaugurated by the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, would among others, investigate the foreign involvement, social linkages and advise the government on appropriate solutions. What Nigerians, especially the victims of armed attacks, and the world demand, however, is strong interdiction and prosecution of the perpetrators and their sponsors in accordance with the extant laws.
Dan-Ali laboured to appear even-handed as he inaugurated the committee. Apart from unearthing the “extent of foreign involvement”, determine the “remote causes” of the “farmers/herders’ clashes”, it is to submit a report in three weeks to enable the ministry to advise the country’s leadership to “bring the senseless killings to an end.”
Anything to end the carnage is certainly welcome, but this committee does not address the crucial problem of punishment for crime. No fewer than 2,000 persons have been killed as well-armed herdsmen and accompanying gunmen swoop on villages, farms and churches to slaughter, pillage and maim across the country. Worst hit have been the North-Central states of Benue, Plateau, Taraba and Nasarawa, just as the new committee’s Chairman, Umar Ibrahim, an army brigadier-general, also identified Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara states in the North-West region as crisis points. But herdsmen killings have occurred with worrisome regularity also in Adamawa, Gombe and further south in Kwara, Kogi, Oyo and Edo states, among others. So proficient in murder and mayhem have the herdsmen-militants become that they earned the dubious distinction of being rated as the world’s fourth most deadly terrorist group on the Global Terrorism Index.
However, it is refreshing to hear Dan-Ali admit that the crisis has reached “a very disturbing proportion” hence the ministry’s decision to empanel a committee to “dispassionately” investigate it. But, had this committee been constituted when this administration took office in 2015, it could have attracted some confidence in the affected states and among discerning Nigerians. Now, it fuels only suspicion and a nagging feeling that it is a ploy to give the impression of action by a regime that has failed so far to act decisively against killer herdsmen. The cause of the crisis is already known and needs no new panel. What happened to the 16-man technical committee inaugurated in November 2017 by the Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd.) with similar terms of reference and a two-week deadline to file its report? In July 2017, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, had similarly inaugurated a Local Organising Committee on the National Conference for Livestock Development that he said “would help put an end to the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers…” and ensure that cattle roaming across the country comes to an end.
The worrying issue is that from President Muhammadu Buhari to Dan-Ali, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, to other top functionaries, we have heard mostly excuses for the mayhem. Indeed, the committee is superfluous to the extent that in numerous public statements and in outings at home and abroad, Buhari and his team have presented their versions of the remote and immediate causes. In a dramatic fashion that drew condemnation around the world, Dan-Ali, in January this year, attributed herdsmen attacks to blockage of some so-called grazing routes nation-wide and enactment of anti-grazing laws by some states.
While the security forces identified the influx of foreigners in the ranks of Boko Haram terrorists, however, no committees have been set up. Neither did the government waste time on committees to probe the influx of cross-border bandits rustling cattle and burning villages in Zamfara and Katsina states. Dozens of foreign fighters have been killed or captured in battle by determined military action in the North-East, while army battalions were deployed in Zamfara and Katsina, fortified with a recent presidential directive to be ruthless with the bandits and cattle rustlers.
We expect no less a resolve from the President, Dan-Ali and the security agencies against killer herdsmen rampaging freely with only tepid challenge from the state apparatus. All citizens deserve protection and rustled cows should not attract greater response than murdered humans and the 130,000 people estimated by the Red Cross to have been displaced by herdsmen attacks in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states.
The government should stop chasing shadows and do its duty: killer herdsmen should be stopped; murderers, vandals and arsonists, whatever they are, should be arrested and brought to justice. The cattle barons arming and financing the foot-soldiers should be exposed and brought to justice. There can be no justification for crimes: ethnic cleansing and mass murder are particularly heinous crimes. No remote or immediate cause justifies such recourse to self-help. After years of impunity, South Sudan moved against its lawless military and a court jailed 10 soldiers for rape and murder last week. In June, the United States Congress urged Buhari to act to stop the herdsmen killings. British MPs weighed in a month later, lamenting the inertia of the Nigerian authorities in the face of herdsmen impunity.
Nothing but the enforcement of the law will end the horrific violence. On January 20, 2012, a Kumasi High Court issued a “mandatory injunction” directing the Ashanti Regional Security Council to “take immediate, decisive, efficacious and efficient action to flush out all cattle in the Agogo Traditional Area,” where killer-herders had unleashed horror on the people. The High Court ruling, which the security agencies are implementing, states clearly that “the only exceptions are cattle that have been properly confined in the permitted locality.”
The Buhari government should drop its lethargy where the lives, property and livelihood of citizens are endangered and move against the criminals and their impunity. Committees cannot be substitutes for the security agencies doing their jobs. What the committee is being asked to “investigate” is within the statutory and professional purview of the security and intelligence agencies. Apart from the police, the State Security Service, National Intelligence Agency and the office of the National Security Adviser can readily supply the answers; Dan-Ali also has the Defence Intelligence Agency to call on. This committee diverts from the urgent responsibility of security forces deploying the overwhelming coercive resources of the state against killer herdsmen. The Presidency and the security agencies should rather fulfil first, their responsibility to deter crime and bring offenders to justice. In the case of the Fulani herdsmen terror campaign, they have failed badly.