June 27, 2018

A minister in the eye of the storm

Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali

By Danasabe Michael

ONCE again, Alhaji Mansur Dan Ali, Minister of Defence, has demonstrated his characteristic insensitivity to the feelings of thousands of people who lost relations, homes and other material belongings to the murderous adventures of the herdsmen militia groups in some states in the North.

On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, Dan Ali shocked Nigerians, particularly, the traumatised survivors of the mass attacks and killings by herdsmen with the suggestion that the law prohibiting open grazing passed by Taraba, Benue and Ekiti states governments be suspended as precondition for the killings to stop. He offered the suggestion on his way out of a security meeting held at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, suggesting, perhaps, that this may have been the decision taken at the meeting.

Whether the minister was speaking for himself or for the meeting where he was coming from is not really the issue now. The issue, and which is the subject of this article, is the need to draw the minister’s attention to the lessons that he ought to learn from the loud voice of rejection of his suggestion by Nigerians. The minister deserves all the not-so- honourable names he was called in the National and state assemblies and by many other groups in the process for daring to make a suggestion that gives the impression that he enjoys the mass killing of innocent people in Taraba, Benue, Adamawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Zamfara, Nasarawa and Kogi states by Fulani herdsmen.

The Minister’s suggestion was meant to mislead the public into accepting that the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law passed by Taraba, Benue and Ekiti states is the reason for the massive attacks and killings of people by herdsmen in some Northern states. This is a fallacy. The truth which the minister laboured fruitless to turn on its head is that the law on Open grazing prohibition is not the reason for the killings. It is rather the solution for the problem, a step taken by the states that passed the law to end the crises between farmers and herders. The motive of the killings belong somewhere else. That is the reason the killings are also being carried out in states such as Kaduna, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kogi and Zamfara, the minister’s home state, which have no such law in place. It is therefore not surprising that the National Assembly, state legislatures and the governments and people in almost all states in the federation rose with a unanimous voice of condemnation and rejection of the Minister’s obvious attempt to distort facts that are in the public domain in favour of the murderers who have sent about 14,000 people to their early graves since 2012. It is this insincerity on the part of those who should provide the right leadership to end the crises that has helped to encourage the killings.

The Ministry of Defence under the watch of Dan Ali has only paid lip-service to the problem of insurgency in the country. The minister has been unable to do something really meaningful to stop the killings. On several occasions, the Taraba State Government drew his attention to the deteriorating state of security in the state through letters sent to him from the Governor’s Office in Jalingo. He never acknowledged the letters nor took any step to protect people from being killed. Complaints about the conduct of soldiers deployed to the state were ignored by the Ministry of Defence, only for the Minister   several months later to deny ever receiving any of the letters.

His present suggestion on the Open Grazing law is an attempt to trade off a law duly passed by the Houses of Assembly of the three states for the herdsmen’s acts of lawlessness and brutality against the country and its people. This is wrong and unacceptable. It shows that he does not even see anything wrong with the killings being carried by the herdsmen. That is the reason the killings are unlikely to stop soon. It is good that the National Assembly, some state governments and the general public reacted the way they did to his suggestion. They have spoken very loudly against the obviously wrong and unpopular suggestion. Dan Ali should take the message back to those who sent him with the hideous and obnoxious idea. The generality of Nigerians want him and his security council members to do the right thing now to stop the killings.

Nigerians want them to show a lot more sincerity and commitment towards ending the killings. These have been in deficit on the part of the present leadership of the country. That is the reason the herdsmen move around with large cache of arms and ammunition without being detected. That is also the reason planes loaded with arms drop them for the herdsmen in designated areas and the planes are never arrested. It is also the reason herdsmen are never arrested even after their attacks and killings. All of these point to one fact: that those who should stop the killings are enjoying and encouraging it. The demand which the minister has made  as  precondition for stopping the killings is unacceptable to the generality of Nigerian and they have said so very loudly.

My own suggestion is that the Minister and others seeking to protect the interests of herders on this matter should spend some time to study the contents of the Open Grazing Prohibition Law as passed by Taraba and other states. The law, contrary to those who have been on a mission to demonise it, is not against the interest of the herders or their trade. It is rather a piece of legislation aimed at modernising the old and dehumanising habits of wandering through the forests for thousands of kilometres in search of pasture for their animals. Ranches which the law provides for is today the best globally acceptable method of pastoralism. The old ways of the herdsmen are now obsolete and a big burden on land resources that have become inadequate due to the growth in population. The Fulani elite should not keep away these truths from the herdsmen. They should help in liberating their people from the old and tortuous methods of grazing that have denied the herders and their family members of even the most basic social facilities such education, health facilities and good drinking water.

Members of the Fulani  elite groups who are, in fact, the real owners of the animals that the herders move around for grazing, should do something to improve the conditions of these poor herders they are exploiting. They must not continue to suffer eternally for their masters – the elite owners of the flocks. They should be allowed to have a taste of the comfort that the ranches being proposed under the Open Grazing Prohibition law is promising. Those fencing them away from vital information on the benefits of ranching are, indeed, the enemies of the herdsmen.

*Mr. Michael, a public affairs analyst, wrote Jalingo, Taraba State.