By Denrele Animasaun
‘I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.’-Angela Y. Davis
The recent death of scores of people over three states in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba was caused in part due to the state’s new ban affecting herdsmen and farming communities. This resulted in the deaths of over 80 people and it left thousands displaced. Benue’s contentious ban on open cattle grazing was implemented in November and, of course,those affected in particular,the Fulani herdsmen registered that the ban was unfair and unequally bias towards them. Crucially, the ban was not thoroughly researched and nor were any impact assessment carried out. The state hurriedly implemented the ban without consulting and considering how it would impact on these communities. Sadly,the chicken definitely has come to roost.
These erroneous actions have evidently caused loss of lives and livelihood. The state governor has to take full responsibilities for these unnecessary deaths.
And it was not helpful that the army deployed to these areas after the tragedy described the deployment to the areas was to- “stem the menace”. The only menace here is the governor stoking the fear and disregarding the needs of the herdsmen and the safety of all the citizens affected.
The Benue’s information commissioner, Lawrence Onoja, tried but failed to defend state’s ban: “Our economy in Benue State depends on agriculture; take that away and we have a serious problem.”
I believe, there couldn’t have been more serious problems than they have at present. Let’s be absolutely clear here: the ban contributed to the mass deaths. The Presidency addressed the killing of about 200 Fulani herdsmen and cattle in various attacks across the country that “every life is valuable. “President MuhammaduBuhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, LaurettaOnochie commented on why Nigerians are silent on the death of herdsmen while crying about farmers and residents killed, shewrote: “Every life is valuable.
“No one has a right to take any life. She went on: “However, we are all silent on the murder of over 200 Nigerians. We are all caught up in the unfortunate loss of Nigerians on one side of the coin ONLY.
“The other side of the coin with over 200 lives lost suffers in silence.”
A life is life ,no matter whom. We cannot pick and choose,what affects one also affects the other.
In May 2016, I wrote: Let’s tighten our borders to stop the illegal grazing atrocities:Nigeria has become like the Wild West, with guns blazing bandits, coming into town and leaving dead people and damaged properties in their wake. Where is the law and where is the sheriff? This is so wrong, totally wrong. It is shocking to witness the incessant spate of attacks by the Fulani cattle herders and the wanton loss of life and livelihood.When something is wrong, it is important that we stand up and say so.
The silence from some quarters is worrying and this is not the time to take sides on religious and tribal lines. Good people do not let bad things happen.The government have got to take action, if these bandit herders cum militias are indeed citizens of Nigeria then, they have to abide by the law like everyone else and if they are not Nigerians then, they have no business, no right to be roaming Nigerian soil without care and no fear of repercussions.
When will the government safeguard the safety and uphold the rights of Nigerians?For as long as I can remember, there have always been skirmishes and squabbles between the Fulani herdsmen and local people but this, is a whole new level.In the past, whenever there is disagreements over the use of essential resources such as farmland, grazing areas and water between herders and local farmers are said to be the major source of the fighting, it was usually settled so why now and who up the ante?.It is well established that Fulani herders are semi nomadic and they often travel hundreds of miles to seek fresh pasture for their cattle. This development is new and macabre; they are acting in an audacious manner trespassing into people’s land and the movement is more inland, arming themselves to the teeth and like locusts, destroying everything in their path. This is very troubling and it should set alarm ringing like an invasion.
The herdsmen have said that they need the rifles to defend their cattle from cattle rustlers and to protect themselves from being robbed of their cattle.They travel hundreds of miles in large numbers with their cattle in search of pasture. They are often armed with weapons to protect their livestock, there seems to be more than meets the eye. What exactly is going on and the government should fortify the borders or, at most, there has to be consequences for errant herdsmen who trespass on other people’s land. At the moment there does not seem to be an enforceable law to deter them from committing grave atrocities and there has to be a dedicated grazing areas and plans to ensure areas set aside like ranches for resting cattle with herdsmen,vetsfor the cattle with dedicated government or NGO officials to administer the programme and oversee the welfare of the animals. And in my column : EACH ONE, TEACH ONE,I mentioned the need to plant more trees last week, but it seems that those who are planting trees or crops are targeted by some herdsmen, trampling on their land and crops to graze their cattle.
If farmers and their crops are destroyed, it has a knock on effect on everyone: lack of crop means inadequate food or expensive food out of the reach for most Nigerians. This concerns us all and not just those who are killed, maimed or displaced by the herdsmen.
The death toll that the armed herdsmen left behind should not and cannot be swept under the carpet. No, it is not acceptable nor should it be condoned by anyone, no matter where they stand in the political/religious or tribal spectrum. What is bad is bad.