After what seemed like a lull in their killing rampage, Fulani herdsmen struck again recently in Delta State, specifically, in Uwheru community, Ughelli North Local Government Area, killing about eight people. To cover up their heinous act, they buried their victims in shallow graves, but a search party raised by the community found the site and exhumed their bodies. Six of these bodies have been taken to the state Police Command.
The herdsmen, media reports say, had invaded a good number of farmland in the area with their cows. But the youth mobilised to ward them off, a derring-do the herders could not tolerate. They, therefore, regrouped and returned with arms and slaughtered their victims at different locations. What is intriguing is the lamentation of Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who also alleged that some soldiers aided these agents of death to perpetrate the act. He said, “The unwarranted attacks and killing of innocent locals in Avwon, Agadama and Ohoror communities of Uwheru Kingdom…and the wickedness of suspected herdsmen alleged to be aided by unidentified military personnel are mindless.”
This was neither the first nor the second murder spree in the state. Indeed, the scourge has spread to Ekiti, Enugu, Ogun, Anambra, Abia, Imo and Bayelsa, among other states in the South. Four persons were killed in the Iwoye area of Imeko-Afon LGA of Ogun State, when herders clashed with the local farmers resisting their open grazing in May last year.
Regrettably, Okowa’s lamentation is hardly the ideal response. Even if the soldiers he accused of aiding the mass murder succeeded in calming frayed nerves, such an atmosphere is usually transitory as herdsmen continue to see themselves as above the law. But with effective response and instrumentality of the law, the orgy of killing, kidnapping, destroying villagers’ farmland and illegal possession of AK 47 rifles can be checkmated.
In August 2016, Ayo Fayose, the then governor of Ekiti State, demonstrated such resolve. An executive bill gave birth to the Ekiti anti-grazing law, which eventually changed this macabre narrative. The killing of two persons in Oke-Ako community in Ikole LGA provoked the government’s bile. The new law outlawed grazing in some areas; illegal weapons possession and confined herders’ operations to between 7am and 6pm. Fayose was spot on with the assertion, “We have a right to life and to survive…” To achieve the desired result, he established enforcement marshals and made their phone numbers available to the public. By November, the Miyetti Allah in Ekiti State had succumbed and signed a peace pact with the government, promising to co-exist peacefully with farmers and residents.
Such pragmatic governance is imperative in every state where farming is the main occupation of the people. Perhaps, motivated by the success story of the Ekiti model, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, got the state assembly to pass an Anti-Open Grazing Bill in 2017. Despite the initial resistance and threats by the Miyetti Allah, government’s adamant posture is now yielding fruit. These outlaws should be treated for what they are: criminals. The Global Terrorism Index says Fulani herdsmen constitute one of the five most dreadful terror groups in the world and they killed 1,700 people in 2018 in Nigeria. In Enugu State, countless number of Catholic priests have been targeted, abducted or killed.
Under the Firearms Act 2004, certain categories of arms and ammunition in the hands of individuals are prohibited; just as it is unlawful to possess lethal weapons without licence. It beggars belief that all law enforcement agencies watch helplessly as herdsmen brazenly violate this law. This curious dimension played out a few days ago in Umuawulu community in Awka, Anambra State. Fulani community leaders had staged a walkout during a meeting with their host community and the police, following the discovery that four Fulani boys, suspected to be herders, were moving around with six AK-47 rifles hung on their shoulders. With imponderable defiance, the Fulani elders told the villagers that their people had the right to bear arms and dared them to do their worst. This is strange.
This impunity is at the heart of this murderous spell in virtually every state. It should be addressed. Virtually every Inspector-General of Police has ordered the mopping up of illegal weapons with little or no success. Cattle ranching in Brazil, China, the United States and Argentina, among others that rank tops globally in the cattle-trade business, is an international best practice, which Nigerian states should enforce to end this recurrent morbid experience.
Life is so sacred that nobody has the right to terminate it, except at the behest of the law. The dogged response of some states, especially Ekiti and Benue, to herders’ bestiality is the ideal in a country that claims to be a federation.