By Peter Duru
Major General Geoffrey Ejiga (Rtd.) was the 1st Commandant, Command and Staff College, Jaji, 1975-78, Adjutant General Nigerian Army 1978-79, Commander 3rd Armoured Division Nigerian Army 1979-81,1st Commandant General, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) of the army, Commander OAU Forces to Chad in 1982, Commander, Lagos Garrison, 1982-84. He retired from Nigerian Army as a Major General in 1984. In this interview, he spoke on the menace of herdsmen in the country and lots more. Excerpt:
What is your take on the menace of herdsmen in the country and recent killings in Benue state?
The situation is very disturbing, it all started in Agatu, and now it has spread to Guma, Logo and several local governments of Benue State. The very day I went to see what they did to Agatu people what I saw was very disturbing.
The way they are killing people in Nigeria, Benue State, in particular, is saddening. Now, the poor farmers in their villages that produce all the food that all of us eat in the big cities the people just go about killing them for no justifiable reason. They kill the women and children in the presence of their fathers and also kill the fathers. There is nowhere in the world that a nation can place animals above human beings. There is nowhere animals will go around eating the crop that the poor farmers worked so hard and suffered to grow. My view is that it is bad and I urge the federal government to stop it and stop it for good.
We must not allow these killings to go on. We must not allow Nigeria to disintegrate. I beg the government of Nigeria to stop it and stop it for good.
Do you honestly think that the open grazing prohibition law is the best option to check the menace of herdsmen in the state?
That law is the best option. The law went through the State Assembly, and it was subjected to debates. People from all spheres of life came and made their comments before it was passed.
Besides if laws are made by the state, and you are not for it, you have the option of challenging it in the court. And the court can throw such law away if it feels it is not amenable to the constitution. So nobody has challenged the law which was passed by the Assembly. A law that was passed by the Assembly that was not challenged obviously becomes the law of the state. And you know that those who passed it were elected to protect us. They make laws for the good of the state.
So the people have had their law to ensure the safety of lives and property. What do you want the people of the state and the government to do at this point. Year in year out, herdsmen go into the farms and eat up their crops and kill the people. Anything that will protect and save lives and solve the problem will certainly enjoy our support. In any case, I recall that the late Ape Aku during his time as Governor of Benue state also resorted to setting up of ranches and also encouraged people to take up ranching as well. That ultimately is the solution to the farmers/herders crisis.
The Fulani and all those who own cows must be encouraged and helped to ranch their cows. Like those of us who travel abroad, we see that their cows are ten times the size of the cow we have here. This is Just because they are ranched, they stay in one place and feed without being allowed to move about which enables them to do well. That is what we must learn to do in this country.
People talk about cow routes; the fact is that the population has increased tremendously for that to work. Even getting a place to the farm now is difficult. It is not like when we had free land everywhere. The population has increased, and that cannot work now.
It is feared that the continuous killings by herdsmen might lead to the disintegration of the country. Does that trouble you?
We have gone through so many things in this country. We fought a civil war, and many thought that war would break up the country, but we came over it. God has been merciful and kind to Nigeria, we have a crisis, and we always get over it. I don’t think it will break up the country, but we must also solve it because it’s a threat.
If we don’t stop it and we keep killing each other just like that, who will be left for the government to govern? We don’t have to allow these killings to go on. I don’t think we should allow Nigeria to disintegrate. We are better together.
Going forward, what is your advise to the generality of Nigerian as an elder statesman?
We Nigerians must learn to live together and stop these killings. I wonder why a Nigerian will take a knife and slaughter a human being like an animal. My advice is that people should learn to live together as their various religions preach.
We hear preachings in radio and television every day but we are not living it. My advice is that we should live what our various regions preach. We must live in peace and not go about killing each other.
My advice is that people should think about the country before themselves.