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INVASION OF FARMING COMMUNITIES: Between cattle rustlers and killer herdsmen

By Charles Kumolu

BEFORE July 2015, cattle rustling had been a nightmare to cattle rearers across the core Northern states in Nigeria, but it only took a Federal Government directive for the problem to come to national attention.

Reportedly acting on a request by the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufia, to address the insecurity occasioned by cattle-rustling, President Muhammadu Buhari summoned a meeting to discuss the situation in the affected states.

At the Defense Headquarters gathering which had security chiefs in attendance, were the governors of Kaduna, Kebbi, Katsina, Kebbi, Nassarawa, Niger, Benue, Zamfara and Plateau states as well  as government representatives. All that were deliberated upon at the Abuja closed-door meeting gave birth to Operation Sharan Daji (Operation Sweeping of the Bush), a military task force with the responsibility of checkmating the incidents of ethnic killings, cattle rustlings and farmers-herdsmen conflicts.

A delighted Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, who coordinated the meeting on behalf of President Buhari had informed Nigerians that the task force had the troubled Northern states as its scope.

“I am quite satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. Obviously, for security reasons, we cannot discuss operational matters live on television. Farmers, people who have cattle can be rest assured that cattle rustling would be a thing of the past,” he said.

Indeed, this was seen as a salutary decision considering the magnitude of violence   herdsmen and cattle rustlers had visited upon the residents of the affected areas. And in line with its mandate, the task force commenced its work with successive arrests of cattle rustlers, armed bandits, among others.

Findings by Vanguard Features, VF, show that there is hardly any fortnight that the media is not awash with stories of successful arrest of cattle rustlers and armed bandits, especially in the North West and North Central states.

In the states of Katsina, Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara, criminal camps in the bush are often times dismantled, while livestock are also recovered in nearly same measures.

In fact, April was significant among the recent successes as troops of 1 Division Nigerian Army under the auspices of Operation Sharan Daji succeeded in clearing suspected armed bandits camps in Zamfara and Katsina states during the period. In Zamfara State, they raided and destroyed suspected armed bandits camps at Rafe and Ajah forests in Gusau Local Government Area. During the operation, the troops killed four bandits, while some escaped with gunshot wounds. The troops also recovered 5 AK-47 rifles and 11 AK-47 rifle magazine, 205 rounds of 7.62mm (Special) ammunition and 25 rounds of 7.62mm (NATO).

Armed Fulani-herdsmen
Armed Fulani-herdsmen

Following a tip-off, the troops carried out a joint operation in Faskari Local Government Area of Katsina State where they arrested 17 cattle rustlers who escaped from Zamfara State. The troops recovered 930 cattle, 210 sheep and 20 machetes.

However, the successes recorded in this task within a short period, further aggravated earlier anger of some sections of the country who felt that priority was given to cattle rustling rather than the massacre of natives by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

To some, the imperative that informed the decision to inaugurate the military task force should also have been applied in articulating a policy against the serial massacres by suspected herdsmen.

This mood, VF learnt, preceded the latest mass killings in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State by suspected herdsmen, as concerned Nigerians had cried out that the absence of a defined approach to the killings seems to have made the life of cattle appear more important or precious than human lives.

Such feeling was succinctly captured in a related piece titled: “When Men Die That Cattle May Live” by a former Presidential Adviser, Mr. Reno Omikri.

A socio-political consulting firm, SBM in another report titled: “Death And The Herdsmen”, had while analysing the response to the alarming scale of violence, observed thus: “It also speaks to the value placed on the Nigerian life by the government where a group of people kills other Nigerians with impunity, openly justify the killings as retaliation for grievances of cattle theft and the government does little or nothing to punish the killers or put an end to the killings. The number one thing that legitimises a government is the ability to protect the life of its citizen.”

A legal practitioner, Mr. Alex Aidaghese in “Agatu Siege and the Sins of Illiteracy: Balancing Cattle Rustling with Malicious Destruction of Commercial Farmland by Cattle Herders” also highlighted what many think of the attitude of the authorities to the issue. He said: “I bear no grudge against the Governors involved in the cattle rustling talk and the rescue mission spearheaded by the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force. And I have no reason to. Nevertheless, I find the contrived ignorance on the part of the stakeholders that encapsulates the highly documented atrocities of Fulani herdsmen in the rural communities outside of Kamuku forest over the years provocative and insulting to common sense. This is big business, guys. Lives are at stake. And when lives are at stake, you leave nothing to chance.

‘’More disturbing is the fact that none of these Governors who, without any doubt, have a good understanding of the principal employers of the errant herders, thought it worthwhile to organise and develop sustainable mechanisms aimed at diluting, and possibly, permanently eliminating the known hazards posed by Fulani herdsmen outside of their immediate enclaves.”

Another move that observers still consider a misplaced priority is the alleged plan for grazing zones across the country for pastoral herdsmen by the National Assembly, NASS.

Though the NASS had infamously denied having such bill before it in a move believed to have been carried out to douse public outrage, VF findings show that the public sees the proposed law as a prioritisation of cattle rearing against the wanton loss of lives inherent in the art of cattle rearing.

In respective of some merits of the bill which would have made it possible for land to be mapped in every state for grazing, Nigerians are still resolute against it in the light of the constant tales of violence occasioned by activities of suspected herdsmen. To many, that was yet another pedestrian response to the growing national security threats posed by the frequent mass killings attributed to pastoral Fulani herdsmen.

VF recalls that the latest attempt at creating grazing sites through the instrumentality of the law was not the first, as the Federal Government had a technical committee on the issue in the last dispensation.

Like the current general mood, most segments of the society toed divergent lines on the matter, resulting in the fate that befell the work of the committee which was headed by then Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako.

Indeed, the dissenting voices and mixed feelings trailing these supposed official responses were found by VF to underscore the argument that the government which is empowered by Section 14 sub-section 2b of the 1999 Constitution to ensure the security of lives and property, seems to lack concrete work plan on the matter.

That the Presidency in a move termed belated, ordered the Chief of Defense Staff and the Inspector General of Police to secure all communities under attack by herdsmen does not make sense to them.

In the thinking of this section,   some of the solutions conceived by concerned authorities are either pedestrian or apathetic to the monstrous proportion of the incipient anarchy occasioned by activities of suspected herdsmen.

Founder, Civil Society Initiative for Constitutional Democracy, CSICD, and Member Peace and Conflict Initiative, Mr. Ifeanyi Okwuonyechee, thinks in that direction, as he noted that the crises at hand require more than knee-jerk response.

‘’What we have seen as responses from the authorities smack indifference and aloofness to the dangers at hand. Of course, the problems did not originate in this dispensation but it has got to a head this time, so we expect an explicit and coordinated response, not just a belated marching order, ‘’he told VF.

Shedding light on his assertion, he regretted that the seeming absence of a defined response mechanism against what has evolved into systemic mass murder, Okwuonyechee that Nigeria is confronted by yet another alarming security challenge.

Writing in ’Nigeria’s Next Security Challenge Is At A Tipping Point and Could Be As Deadly As Boko Haram’ on Quartz Africa, Mike Amaza in a piece which largely substantiated VF and Okwuonyechee’s argument, pointed at the failure of successive governments at having concise response to herdsmen/natives clash.

He also did not spare the present government of blames regarding the manner of response to the challenge, even as he stated thus: ‘’President Muhammadu Buhari’s order for an investigation into the attack more than a week after is late, but still a much better response than that of previous administration who did not as much offer a statement when the clashes occurred in same area last year.”

Furthering, his assertion, Amaza said: ‘’The warring sides continually exploit the inability of the Nigerian government to maintain law and order as has already been seen in the early days of Boko Haram. Successive governments have been unable to end the violence whether it is by tackling its immediate or remote causes.”

A retired Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav also thinks that the issue of solution to the budding intractable crisis, has not been treated as a subject of national priority.   Tsav, whose home state of Benue had been severally attacked by the rampaging herdsmen, opines that crisis of this nature require more than marching orders to security agencies.

While cautioning against profiling criminal elements who may have infiltrated the ranks of the herdsmen Fulani, he wants the government to consider it imperative of unearthing the reasons why the Fulani have taken arms against the people.

‘’It was good that the President gave orders for the suspected herdsmen to be flushed out but we must go beyond that. The government needs to find out why the Fulani have taken arms against the people because the Fulani had lived peacefully with host communities in the past,’’ he stated.

Supporting his position, he declared thus: ‘’The Fulani have no right to be killing people; that is why the government must urgently look into the violence entirely because the past government looked the other way when Boko Haram started until they started killing so many Nigerians’’.

A political appointee, who pleaded anonymity, found Tsav’s assertion worthy, as he told VF that the need for solution is not being approached with the urgency it deserves.

‘’A denial approach or face-saving response will further accentuate the problem. That is even why we are at this point and same thing is happening. We were witnesses to Agatu and now the South East version has evolved,’’ he noted.

He further said: ‘’Whether they are called Fulani or not does not matter here, it behoves on the appropriate government quarters to rise up to this national security challenge.’’

However, Chairman Legislative Alliance for Accountability, Dr. Hassan Danturaki, is optimistic that the present government would not trivialise the need for definite response.

‘’I am one of those, who call a spade a spade. While I think the government is acting rather very slow on the matter, I’m sure that this administration will end this pattern of violence. I am not in doubt. But that cannot be achieved by circumventing the real issues, ‘’ he told VF.

Notwithstanding, the implication of the generality of VF findings is that the government which is empowered by Section 14, sub-section 2b of the 1999 Constitution to ensure the security of lives and property, seems to be treating the matter with kid’s gloves. Hence, the alarming proportion and pattern of the attacks.

The situation was largely summed up by SBM in ‘Death And The Herdsmen’ to the effect that: ‘’The response from the government and the security institutions do not show a clear understanding of this fact. Worse, they show a lack of will to pursue the protection of Nigerians from this threat. This has emboldened the herdsmen and has won more and more to their cause. Success in their rampaging endeavours has granted increasing legitimacy to their methods amongst those who might have remained antagonistic to such violence within their ranks.’’


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