By Josef Omorotionmwan
The activities of the new Boko Haram – the wave of barbarous hordes in the form of herdsmen – have reached a crescendo and all people of goodwill must feel perturbed by the ugly development.
In recent times, the activities of these evil men have assumed the status of a national emergency. We are today faced with the moral equivalent of war; and as a people and a nation, something must be done – and pronto too – for our collective peace and cohesion.
From the plains of Plateau, Nasarawa and Southern parts of Kaduna states, these dangerously armed marauders have increased in number, pouring southwards into Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Ogun, Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Enugu, Abia, Anambra, Delta, Edo and Rivers states.
They brazenly herd their cows into people’s farmlands and threaten the people with their deadly weapons at the slightest sign of protest. Some of them sometimes abandon their cows to engage in horrendous crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, murder and rape, often blocking the highways and inflicting life threatening injuries on their victims.
Their modus operandi is to openly brandish their sophisticated weapons anywhere and strange enough, not much is done by law-enforcement agencies; at least to enforce the law prohibiting the illegal possession of firearms, which the rest of society must strictly observe.
Truly, the herdsmen have been with us over the years with their funny straw hats and a command stick across their shoulders. What is most disturbing is that in the last one year, their numbers have grown in geometric progression along with unimaginable sophistication in their weapons of mass destruction.
In the last few months, it has been stories of a band of cowmen barreling through other people’s territories in a manner that portrays the legitimate owners as impostors.
One way of appreciating the enormity of the problems posed by the menace of the cowmen would be to examine a few cardinal incidents and put the associated violence in perspective.
One of them took place in Agatu community in Benue State where the Fulani herdsmen razed down the community, burnt down homes and slaughtered everyone in sight – young and old; male and female; and even raped the women before killing them. All these give them the true colour of a Boko Haram outfit.
Still more disturbing is the fact that these barbaric elements have the temerity to justify their primitive acts. The interim national secretary of their umbrella body, Gan Allah Fulani Association, Saleh Bayeri, said the herdsmen were right in attacking the Benue community as a vengeance for killing a Fulani man in 2013. He claimed that the Agatu people invaded the compound of Shehu Abdullahi, killed him and made away with 200 cows.
Evidently, this new branch of Boko Haram is enjoying the type of immunity that the original Boko Haram enjoyed in the beginning. Such impunity is coming from a band of criminals at a time when there is a sitting government and up till now Saleh Bayeri is walking our streets, a freeman? We have not heard that he has been arrested and tried for treason? Shall we also continue to assume that the group is faceless? When are we going to hear that the Gan Allah Fulani Association has been disbanded and its leadership summarily dealt with?
Another incident occurred in Okada area of Edo State, where the herdsmen killed a man without any evidence of provocation.
When the news filtered out, a storm of indignation burst forth. The natives lashed back and razed down the herdsmen’s settlement and everything in sight. That looks like a return to atavism and the old Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth but how much can you blame a community enveloped in total rage and bewilderment? This is invariably a direct result of government’s aloofness.
This nation is yet to recover from the shock of the recent attack in Enugu State where scores of innocent citizens were brutally slaughtered in cold blood.
The marauders have carried their acts of brutality to virtually every state across the nation and we cannot watch on helplessly.
The exigency of presidential intervention can no longer be played down because the tension across the nation is soaring. If the usual state of aloofness is allowed to persist, very soon, the Edo example might become the order of the day. People might be carried away by the apparent erroneous impression that self help is the best help or that might is right.
The President has condemned the escapades in the strongest terms. But words, no matter how strong, are not enough at this edge of catastrophe. The President must show by action that desperate problems demand desperate solutions.
The Boko Haram started in part of the North East; and we watched as it spread through an entire region. The current one is scattered across the country and we are watching until it envelops the entire nation. For all we know, if the sky falls, the problem cannot be for one person.
We hear there is a Bill before the National Assembly, seeking to mandate state governments to provide grazing zones for cattle. Ab initio, this is a dead letter. The Bill is a time bomb that will explode before its first reading. Legislators elsewhere do not introduce measures without due regard to the workability. For one thing, this Bill runs counter to the provisions of the Land Use Act. For another, it is against natural justice to confiscate someone’s land and transfer it to another to graze his cattle. That simply connotes a policy of live and let die.
But if we must continue to pander to the sacred cows status of these cattlemen – a role they have ably carved out for themselves – then, the Federal Government must quickly acquire the Sambisa Forest, which is largely regarded as no-man’s land and convert same to grazing areas for herdsmen. The wealthy ones among them can build ranches while those less endowed will still have abundant grazing routes.