By Julius Oweh
One of the security challenges confronting the nation today is the menace of rampaging herdsmen and the trail of blood and death left behind.
Today, the federal government seems incapable of reining in the excesses of these herdsmen and various states across the country are devising means of curbing this danger. True that the state governors are the chief security officers of their states but the constitutional provision that places the control of the police under the federal government made them lame duck in their domains.
The Ekiti and Benue states examples of anti-grazing laws have drawn flank and applauds from various sections of the country depending on the side of divide one stands. While that of Ekiti state has not faced any resistance, the case of Benue state has not only faced stiff resistance from the herdsmen and their supporters ala ‘accommodate your neighbours‘ but also resulted in the death of people at the hands of the rampaging herdsmen. This is very unfortunate for the peaceful co-existence of all stripes of Nigerians
It is against this tragic backdrop that the governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa on the 6th of February held a state holders meeting tagged ‘peaceful co-existence Amongst Farmers, Herdsmen and Host Communities in Delta State‘. It is on record that Delta State has its own share of harvest of death and disasters at the hands of the herdsmen.
In Abraka, a state legislator last year wrote to world body including the UN secretary-general and the American president on the menace of herdsmen in his constituency. There was also the terrible onslaught of herdsmen in the placid and rustic community of Ossisa in Ndokwa East local government area that attracted the attention of the state governor and subsequent visit and hostile reactions from the people.
And recently, in Patani and Ughelli, the herdsmen were on loose and women had to protest the activities of the herdsmen. Only few communities in the state, perhaps those in the coastal areas, which are spared the dangers of the herdsmen.
In the meeting which saw the presence of the state commissioner of police, traditional rulers, opinion leaders, the clergy, farmers and herdsmen, the state governor spoke truth to the federal government, saying in clear terms that Delta State has no land for cattle colony, adding that his people were even migrating to neighbouring Edo state for farming activities. The state helmsman also called on the federal government to come out with a clear cut policy direction on how to tackle the herdsmen menace.
This was how Governor Okowa put it :‘The Nigerian constitution does not allow anyone to graze on the farm of another person. It does not permit you to forcefully take over someone’s house but as we co-exist as a people, there must be mutual respect for one another. Whoever you are, when you engage in crime, the law takes it course. Some of those who are looking after the cows are so young that most of the times, they are not able to take decisions concerning the cows. As long as they carry arms and ammunition, there is a major security issue at stake‘.
The governor was not happy with a situation where people who are not members of the security services carry arms including AK 47 and urged the police and the security agencies not to be compromised in ensuring justice for all, saying that they should not allow the communities to lose confidence in their abilities to check crimes especially those committed by the herdsmen.
The governor in that meeting gave directive to the local government council chairmen to be up and doing and mint out security strategies to tackle the herdsmen menace. Governor Okowa said thus: ‘ In the next one week, we need to have an interventionist committee on security in all the local government areas of the state while we await a definite policy direction from the federal government. Chairmen of local government areas must ensure that names of the members of the committee gets to the secretary to the state government who is the chairman of the central coordinating committee and ensure that minutes of their inaugural meetings are also sent to the secretary to the state government‘.
Traditional rulers, religious leaders and farmers spoke on the need for government to urgently tackle the issue and lauded the government for giving the host communities and the cattle breeders’ opportunity to air their views. Some of them said that the situation has not degenerated into major crisis despite the issues of killings, rape of women and armed banditry by the herdsmen. A youth at the meeting blamed some greedy traditional rulers and community leaders for allegedly allowing unscrupulous elements among the herdsmen to come into communities after collecting money from them.
A representative of the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in the state, Mohammadu Okuti said that members of his association were very peaceful and those involved in killing and raping of women were not cattle breeders but terrorists committing havoc under the veneer of herding cattle.
While commending the government for hosting the meeting towards finding lasting solutions to the issue, he disclosed that members of his association do not willingly destroy crops of farmers and should that happen, the herders are made to pay compensate to the farmers. He personally said that when his cows destroyed some crops in Ughelli, the farmers were paid compensation. He advised the farmers and people of Delta State not to profile every Fulani herdsman as those destroying their crops or killing innocent people.
Honourable Reuben Izeze, a legislator in the Delta State House of Assembly representing Ughelli South state constituency argued that the proposed cattle colony by the federal government violates the Land Use Act. According Izeze, the law vested in governors of the state, the custody of lands on behalf of the people or inhabitants. Listen to his argument: ‘The Land Use Act already made it clear that all lands in the state belong to the inhabitants of the state and be held in trust by the governor on behalf of the people.
So, which land is the federal government seeking to designate as cattle colonies? It is a trite Latin principle of law that “nemo dot non quod habit“ which implies that “a man cannot give out that which he does not possess“. The nomadic ways of cattle rearing is obsolete and no longer sustainable under the present realities. After all, Nigeria does not produce more beef than Argentina and we have not heard of clashes between cattle owners and farmers over there in decades‘.
On the part of the Delta State Police Commissioner, Mr Muhammed Mustapha, he assured the people of the state that the police will never compromise the security of lives and property, adding that the police will always promote peaceful co-existence of all citizens in the state.
The ball is in the court of the police to match their words with deeds. It is a common sight that the herdsmen had jettisoned their sticks in herding cows for guns and these people must be brought within the belt of rule. There should not be double standard in the implementation of the law.
The one day peace meeting called by the governor is a step in the right direction. It is only hoped that the governor working with the local council chairmen and other key stakeholders shall make the state peaceful for the citizens and residents so that they can carry out their legitimate business. The meeting was simply living up to the constitutional responsibilities of governance – the security and welfare of the people.