By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
A DAY after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, announced Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the winner of the July 14, 2018, governorship election in Ekiti State, a video of Fulani herdsmen brazenly parading their cows on the streets of Ado-Ekiti went viral on the social media. Reports say the video was shared on Facebook by one Isaac, the younger brother of Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, the outgoing governor of the state.
In a comment accompanying the video (reproduced unedited), the younger Fayose wrote: “Fayemi was rigged in on Saturday against the wish of Ekiti people. Today, Fulani herdsmen have the boldness to rear cow on the street of Ado Ekiti. This is pathetic! This is scary. I pity Ekiti and her people!”
Now, I have not met Dr. Fayemi, but those who know him closely have spoken so glowingly about his urbane, harmless nature, and the intellectual soundness and general sense of decency that distinguish him from the horde of strange characters that encumber our political space. A few years ago when, as an incumbent governor, he was defeated by Mr. Fayose in the governorship election of Saturday, June 21, 2014, he did not hesitate to accept defeat and congratulate the winner.
In a broadcast the next day, Sunday, Fayemi said: “I have just spoken with my brother, Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, congratulating him on his victory. In a few hours from now, I would be meeting the Governor-elect to discuss the future of our dear state and how we would work together to institute a smooth transition programme.” I should think that he was the first Nigerian governor to show such an edifying gesture after being defeated in an election.
But since Fayemi’s victory, (which some reports say did not elicit widespread jubilation in Ekiti), I am yet to see any signs in his post-election statements that seem to indicate his significant appreciation of the uniqueness and magnitude of interests that collaborated to elevate the election to a very hot item on the table of many national and even international watchers of Nigeria, perhaps, as no other governorship election in Nigeria’s recent history.
It would amount to stretching naivety beyond its malleable limits for anyone to choose to view the Ekiti election as just another contest between two candidates of two major parties and those of some minor ones. Even Govenor Fayose himself whose personality received considerable play in the election to the extent of threatening to overshadow the candidate he supported, his deputy, Professor Kolapo Olusola, seemed along the line to have also been dwarfed out as a major factor in the election.
The Ekiti election for many Nigerians had graduated to a contest between two major blocks, namely, those who feel that they have an inviolable right to forcefully acquire and occupy other people’s lands, destroy their crops and contain any resistance by indulging in pogroms and destructions, and another set of people who are firmly opposed to such a savage expansionist agenda. No matter what impression anyone had about Mr. Fayose, he had won the hearts of many Nigerians when he became one of the first governors to boldly insist that herdsmen will not be given any opportunity to extend their destructive exploits to Ekiti. He then matched his words with action by signing into law the Ekiti Anti-Open Grazing Bill and equally underlined his resolve to ensure that the law was duly enforced despite the threats and disparagements that landed on him from some quarters.
Before then, Nigeria had almost degenerated to a state of war. Nigerians suddenly found themselves in a country where value for human life had dropped to a level no one had imagined was possible in a society inhabited by non-savages, where people lived each day unsure they would be alive to see the next hour. The herdsmen’s disdain for the laws that govern organised society had emboldened them to almost daily commit mindless atrocities with utmost impunity. Because many farmers have now been displaced from their ancestral communities and access to their farms brutally blocked by these herders who have converted the farms cultivated with millions of naira to grazing fields, the prices of food items in the country today have risen so much beyond the reach of many Nigerians.
The Muhammadu Buhari regime has been largely unsuccessful in all its attempts to conceal its accommodation of these herdsmen despite the murder and destruction they unleash almost every other day with unparalleled remorselessness. The fact that the government has stubbornly continued to refer to the antagonisms, invasions and killings of innocent people by these terrorists as “Farmers/Herdsmen clash” – a callous euphemism that grossly misrepresents and downplays the obvious genocidal agenda of these herders – has continued to fuel the impression that there is much more to these unprovoked attacks than just looking for grazing fields.
Classical government theorists tell us that any legitimate government must at all times retain monopoly over the instruments of force, violence and coercion. In other words, it must be able to contain renegades who might rise up any day to unleash mayhem on society and threaten peace and security of lives and property. Failure to effectively respond to such a basic challenge is usually rewarded with loss of legitimacy.
Of course, many Nigerians are not fooled by these obviously hollow claims. For them, this lame attempt to plead helplessness can only be another weak effort to betray an unwillingness to rein in the killers. This is reinforced by the rude fact that till date, despite the thousands of people murdered by these herders, there is hardly a single report that any of the killers is in custody, standing trial or has been legally punished for his hideous crimes against humanity. That is the sad state of things in Nigeria, and even the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, and other stakeholders in the cattle business who have been quoted in the media advancing reasons why the killings have continued to occur, are walking about free. We are yet to read reports that they have been invited to explain what they know about the killings and their relationship with the killer-herdsmen whom they are always quick to speak for.
Now, given this ugly state of things and the fact they featured prominently in the Ekiti campaigns, Dr. Fayemi should have by now been seen working hard to repair the obvious damage these issues had inflicted on his reputation and perception among the people. Are the fears that they might colour the policies and programmes he intends to pursue as Ekiti governor, if he eventually wins the court cases against him, real or imagined? What is he doing to allay the already strong fears that his victory in Ekiti belongs in actual sense to the advocates of the abrogation of the anti-Open Grazing Law or those who would now believe they could flout it without consequences?
Will Ekiti people soon wake up to the benumbing reality that the relative peace and security of lives and crops which they had enjoyed under Fayose have suddenly evaporated before their very eyes? Is there a possibility that very soon, the herdsmen would begin to attack the hapless Ekiti people with fury and vengeance once Fayose is out of the way? Indeed, despite his glowing antecedents, Dr. Fayemi, by the company he has chosen to keep in the pursuit of his political career, stands in danger of being badly branded in the event of his inability to convincingly address these questions and fears. These fears could, therefore, be the reason for the coldness in many hearts when a nice man like Fayemi was announced winner of the election.
*Mr. Ejinkeonye, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.