Last week’s statement by the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, that tended not only to condone, but also justify the activities of marauding Fulani herdsmen, came to many decent Nigerians as shocking and least expected of a government official of such a high rank. His ignominious outbursts were laced with a high level of insensitivity and undisguised parochialism that could, perhaps, only have come from a spokesperson for the cattle breeders.
Coming out of a meeting of the National Security Council, Dan-Ali said, “If you go to Bayelsa or Ogun, you will see them (grazing routes). If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?” Displaying his bias further, he said, “Some people were caught with arms and they call themselves Forest Guards or whatever, with AK-47. There is nowhere in the country where arms are allowed to be carried apart from legitimate security forces.”
But it is difficult to defend the indefensible when the facts are not on your side. There is no doubt that what Dan-Ali said was a reflection of what actually transpired at the meeting, presided over by the President, Muhammadu Buhari. The obvious contradictions in the minister’s breath-taking arrogance could also not have been missed. Speaking in such a manner at the height of senseless killings and destruction of farmland by a group of armed itinerant herders across the country is most unfortunate. It is worse when the person making such a pronouncement is a government official of senior ministerial status. We are bemused that the minister who celebrated the arrest of some armed forest guards – Benue State employees who were enforcing the anti-grazing law – never saw anything wrong with the anarchic Fulani herdsmen who traverse the length and breadth of the country with AK-47 rifles. If he believes that only legitimate security forces are statutorily allowed to carry guns, how come, he, as Minister of Defence, and other security forces have not been able to disarm and arrest the AK-47-bearing herdsmen across the country?
Let us be clear: every human life is as sacrosanct as the other. As the Constitution acknowledges, every human being has the inherent right to life, liberty and security. This right shall be protected by law and not to be deprived except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. But with such a biased outlook to such a grave national security matter, it is not surprising that the cauldron of escalating violence and banditry by the herdsmen has not been addressed up to this moment. It is also easy to see why the government is widely believed to be protecting and condoning the activities of the herdsmen who seem to be accorded a special status in a country where other protesters are swiftly rounded up and branded “terrorists.”
If anyone needed proof that Buhari’s parochial, sectional appointments were dangerous to the country’s fragile unity, Dan-Ali’s obtuse rant has provided it. Samuel Afolayan, a retired vice-admiral and former chief of naval staff, recalls how, for over 10 years, Fulani terrorists have been repeatedly raiding and burning down part of his farm in Kwara State. A newspaper reported over 1,200 persons killed in Fulani attacks in Benue between 2013 and 2016 when no anti-grazing law existed, just as over 100 persons were slaughtered in herdsmen attacks on several villages in Southern Kaduna in March 2014, and many hundreds more since then. A former Minister of Finance, Olu Falae, has also suffered repeated vandalism of his farm in Akure, Ondo State; he was kidnapped in 2015 by the terrorists.
Like Miyetti Allah, Dan-Ali cannot reconcile himself to the fact that Fulani herdsmen are not and cannot be above the law, especially the anti-grazing laws validly made in Taraba, Benue and elsewhere. And if he and Fulani herdsmen have issues with the laws, they have the option of resorting only to the court, not to take the law into their own hands. Local and international reports reveal how armed Fulani terrorists move freely, conducting massacres and arson unchallenged for hours and deploying a lethal arsenal, including grenade launchers and rockets. A minister should be informed and objective.
Indeed, the Buhari government’s response to the Fulani herdsmen terrorism has swung from the tepid to the farcical. There is a strong feeling that the new wave of barbaric herdsmen killings is being sustained by the lopsided composition of Nigeria’s top security establishment in favour of the North. Apart from the Chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Olonisakin and the Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ibas, the President has appointed mainly Northerners to the top security echelons since his assumption of office. These appointments include, but are not limited to, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai; Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris; Director-General, State Security Service, Lawal Daura; Minister of Defence, Dan-Ali; the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; and Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau. Earlier in January, the President had appointed Ahmed Abubakar, who is from the same Katsina State with him and Daura, as the DG of the National Intelligence Agency. Why would the security establishment not turn a blind eye when herdsmen, who are of the same or related Fulani ethnic group as the President and most members of the NSC go on a bloodletting rampage? As we have warned time and again, this may be dragging the country into a maelstrom.
In case the President may have forgotten, Section 14 (3) of the Constitution recommends Federal Character in the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies. The constitution emphasises that it should be done in such a manner as to promote national unity, command national loyalty and ensure there is no pre-dominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or sectional group.
As the political head of the military, it is worrying that Dan-Ali endorsed the Fulani’s resort to self-help and flagrant lawlessness by his misguided and queer argument that grazing routes were blocked, asking rhetorically: “What do you expect to happen?” By saying so, he has approved the mass murder, rape and arson of the terrorists across the country. He has reinforced the alienation of large parts of the polity from the Buhari government. Public officials who serve in sensitive posts are expected to be discreet and sensitive. In view of Dan-Ali’s mindlessly provocative statement, he can no longer remain in office. He should resign or be forced out.