By Ikechukwu Amaechi
TO all perspicacious Nigerians, the meeting between the Federal Government and leaders of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, in Birnin Kebbi on Friday, May 3, was bound to be controversial no matter the outcome.
For starters, the meeting was discriminatory. Why would the government meet exclusively with herdsmen in the face of the country’s mounting security woes even when it claims to be looking for solution to the intractable farmers-herders’ debacle?
Could the exclusion be a subtle acknowledgement by the government that the herdsmen are the villains in this borderless war of attrition? Could it be, therefore, that the powers-that-be wanted to use the mechanism of an exclusive close-door meeting to warn the herders to have a change of heart before a no-nonsense General Muhammadu Buhari mounts the saddle for the second time as the president?
Could it be that the high-powered delegation led by Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau, a Fulani and retired four-star General, with the acting Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Muhammad Adamu; Director-General, Department of State Services, Alhaji Yusuf Bichi; Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Alhaji Almed Rufa’I, as members – all of them Northerners and Muslims of the Hausa-Fulani ethnic stock – went to admonish their kith and kin in the wake of the embarrassing kidnap of the district head of Daura, the president’s hometown and father-in-law to his aide-de-camp, Alhaji Musa Umar, a retired Customs officer, on Wednesday, May 1, that enough was enough; Buhari has had enough of the nonsense and would no longer take it?
Alhaji Musa was violently abducted from his Daura residence on the fateful evening by four gun-totting men in the presence of his bewildered and scandalised kinsmen while the president was on a 10-day private visit to the United Kingdom.
Many Nigerians blame Buhari, rightly or wrongly, for the country’s security mess because of the government’s inexplicable lethargy in taking action against the perceived merchants of violence who hawk death on the streets of Nigeria in broad daylight.
Or could the meeting be as a result of the government’s realisation that Nigerians have, indeed, wronged the herdsmen and used the opportunity to assuage their hurt feelings, hence the need to shut out all other stakeholders?
None of these questions was answered at the end.
Dambazau said the parley, which lasted for over five hours, was part of a regional action plan on security and steps taken by the FG to tackle clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country.
Both Adamu and Kebbi State Governor, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, who hosted the meeting, followed Dambazzau’s obfuscation gimmick.
Adamu, the police boss, said the issue of insecurity in the country was beyond the ken of herdsmen and farmers, insisting that some nameless “criminals have infiltrated the crisis and we should cooperate and deal decisively with the culprits…”.
To Bagudu, the meeting “shows the seriousness of President Buhari’s administration in tackling the security challenges in the country.” How? He didn’t say.
But the take of the MACBAN president, Alhaji Muhammad Kiruwa, gave the clearest hint on the idea of the meeting and the thinking of fellow herdsmen.
“This is the first of its kind in the history of this country for the president to direct his security aides to interact with an aggrieved party to air its views,” he said, assuring that the meeting “will serve as a foundation for peace between the herdsmen and farmers and among the Fulani themselves.”
Really? How and when did the table turn and the herdsmen are now holding the bloody end of the brutal stick?
If the MACBAN chieftain sincerely believes that his people are the aggrieved, who, in his thinking, are the aggressors?
Is it no longer a fact that herdsmen have been on the rampage since 2015, taking kidnapping, since they jumped into the egregious loop, to the next level? Today, a trip on the Abuja-Kaduna expressway just like any other major highway in the North West region is tantamount to a death wish.
A few days ago, Adamu painted a grim picture of the havoc being wrecked on Nigerians by bandits, noting that over 1,000 people had been killed and a lot more kidnapped in Kaduna State alone.
The atrocities are so heinous that about two years ago, the World Terrorist Index, a global terrorism tracking body, designated Fulani herdsmen the fourth most dangerous and deadly terrorist group in the world.
Last week, an Obafemi Awolowo University lecturer, Professor Olayinka Adegbehingbe, was kidnapped and later set free after paying N5.045 million ransom.
The villains, according to the orthopedic surgeon, were herdsmen.
“The people who abducted me were Fulani herdsmen,” he disclosed adding: “They had four guns and multiple rounds of ammunition as well as different dangerous weapons.”
The kidnappers demanded N30 million before settling for N5.045 million after intense negotiation. And the beleaguered professor’s story strikes a very familiar chord.
So, what changed? When did the herdsmen transmute from being the aggressors and villains to become the aggrieved and victims?
If the herdsmen believe, as their leader would want us to, that they are the aggrieved, what then are their conditions for peace? Could that be what last Friday’s meeting in Birnin Kebbi was all about? Ideally, the idea of reconciliation would have been between the herdsmen and farmers with the government mediating. But since the farmers were excluded from the meeting, could it be that the herdsmen hold the entire nation culpable for the “crime” against them and a contrite Federal Government went to apologise on our behalf?
If so, did MACBAN accept the apology? If yes, on what condition(s)?
These questions were carefully avoided by MACBAN, the Federal and Kebbi State governments after the Birnin Kebbi meeting.
But hardly had the dust of the meeting settled before news filtered in that the government actually offered the herdsmen N100 billon to be paid over a period of two years to sheath their murderous sword.
MACBAN was actually said to have demanded N160 billion but climbed down after a hard bargain to settle for N100 billion. Now, this is no longer individuals paying ransom to herdsmen in order to secure their freedom like Prof Adegbehingbe and thousands of other Nigerians do every day but the government, the sole custodian of the instruments of coercion in a modern state kowtowing to violent dictates of non-state actors.
In any other country, this news, whether true or false, would have elicited commensurate outrage and demand for probe. Not in Nigeria.
Aside the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, which described the alleged ransom as a constitutional crime, there was eerie silence until IGP Adamu, on Tuesday in Abuja, dismissed the story as a hoax, a figment of the wild imagination of some social media adventurers.
As absurd as the idea of the government paying ransom to terrorists to dissuade them from harming innocent citizens might sound, many Nigerians still remember the confession of Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, in December 2016 that his government had traced some violent, aggrieved Fulani to their countries and paid them to stop the killings of Southern Kaduna natives and the destruction of their communities.
Could it be that the Federal Government has decided to adopt el-Rufai’s template in solving the intractable problem?
After all, it could be argued and reasonably too, that herdsmen have successfully kidnapped Nigeria and the only way out of the morass is for the government to do what ordinary Nigerians have been doing over the years – quietly buy back their freedom and move on.
The difference is that this time around, the government is being proactive. Having realised that it is not winning the war, isn’t it better it pays the ransom on our behalf, in advance, rather than allowing every Nigerian through the trauma?
Some say it is a new low for Nigeria. I disagree.
My only worry is whether the armistice will hold and for how long.