By Evelyn Usman and Victor Arjiromanus
Nigeria, is daily inundated with one form of insecurity or another, which effect leaves her citizens cringing in fear. From Boko Haram attacks in the North East, to armed banditry, kidnapping and communal clashes in other parts of the country, it has been a sad commentary for Nigeria.
Unfortunately, each of these attacks leaves in its wake a colossal loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties, as well as displacement of families, some of who are still in camps.
But the latest act of criminality bedeviling the country is that perpetrated by suspected herdsmen. Their latest onslaught resulted in the death of the second child of Afenifere chairman, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Mrs Funke Olakunrin, last week.
The 58-year-old woman was heading to Ore junction from Akure, Ondo State when the suspected herdsmen reportedly came out of the bush , firing sporadically, in the process of which life was snuffed out of her, no thanks to the bullet from the shots fired. It is the usual style of the herdsmen many of who have turned criminals and now using cattle rearing as a cover.
Her death sparked up protests from different quarters, owing to her father’s status, even though some prominent persons in the country , including security agents have said that those responsible were not herdsmen. But that was not the first time these assailants would strike, weather on that route or any other, across the country.
It is also not the first time Nigerians have been sent to unprepared graves by herdsmen. In 2014, for instance, the Global Terrorism Index report, said 1,200 persons were killed by herdsmen, a figure that headed the list of the most fanatical terrorist groups in the region, then, according to the BBC.
Their presence elicit fear in the minds of several persons in the host communities. This is not unconnected with the forceful way they colonize farm lands, destroying crops which took quality time and money to be planted.
Aside this, they even go as far as killing owners of farmlands who dare challenge, rebuke or attempt to chase them away from their vicinity, thus leaving their carcass to the birds of the air to feast on before they are discovered by their families. Women are not spared either, as there have been cases of rape of both married and single women. These have not only inflicted pains on the affected persons but have also made them to live in fear in their own homes. Farmers now run away from their farms.
These attacks which were first witnessed in the Northern part of the country, gradually snowballed into other regions.
There has also been brazen display of total disregard for relevant authority, by herdsmen, with cases of ambush of police stations. One of these incidents was an ambush of the Burukutu Divisional Police Officer (DPO), the Area Commander and the Council Caretaker Chairman, who were on assessment tour of villagers in Tom Anyiin and Tom-Ataan communities, Mbaya Tombu in Burukutu Local Government Area of Benue State, three years ago.
Another brazen display of disregard for constituted authority was in 2013, , after they audaciously attacked the convoy of former Benue State Governor, Dr Gabriel Suswam, at Tse Aekenyi in Guma Local Government Area of the state. The Governor had led a team of security men comprising the Army, Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Department of State Security Service, to take an assessment of the destruction caused in the area by the herdsmen, only to be taken by surprise by the rampaging herdsmen who had invaded over 72 villages and killed 25 residents in Ukpan, near Daudu. But the attack was repelled by security forces in the Governor’s convoy, who forcefully led a visibly surprised and angry Suswam back into his car, before zooming off.
As Nigerians were smarting from the effect of the fight between herdsmen and farmers in Benue state, their name (herdsmen) emerged again, in the news, with cases of kidnapping attributed to them.
News of these kidnappings was initially very rampant along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway and other expressways in the northern part of the country. Again, It snowballed to the South West where the latest killing of Olakunrin took place.
Two days before Olakunrin’s incident, a woman Mrs Olawumi Adeleye and her stepson, Destiny Paul, were reportedly abducted along Airport Road, in Osi town, Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State. They were driving in a Lexus car, from church, when they ran into some cows used by the herdsmen to block the road. The woman’s attempt to escape from the scene proved abortive as her vehicle was destroyed before she and her step son were taken to an unknown destination.
Also, an audio confession by a woman on how she , her husband and their nine –year-old daughter, who visited Nigeria from the overseas, were kidnapped by herdsmen shortly after Ijare junction, in Akure, Ondo state, went viral. She narrated how they were made to walk close to six hours into the bush, where she made herself a sacrificial lamb and became a relic for sexual museum, instead of her nine year-old daughter and her husband being raped. They were later released, after ransom was paid and have since returned back to their base overseas, with a vow never to return back home again. The woman said that even in death they should not be brought back to Nigeria again.
In May 2019, an orthopedic surgeon at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State,Professor Olayinka Adegbehinde, was kidnapped along the Ibadan-Ife expressway, on his way from Lagos.
In his case, he stated categorically in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, that his captors were Fulani herdsmen and that they had four guns with multiple rounds of ammunition as well as other weapons. He was however released after payment of N5million ransom.
Another woman identified simply as Sibiat, narrated to this reporter how she narrowly escaped being abducted by herdsmen between Ilesha and Ife , in Osun State, two weeks ago. According to her, “we were returning from a burial ceremony in Osun State when all of a sudden some herdsmen came out of the bush between Ilesha and Ife. In our driver’s bid to escape , our vehicle somersaulted, causing us to be trapped. They passed our vehicle and went to the next one, where they picked some passengers and whisked them away, through the bush”.
At the moment, travelling on the highway in the South /West region of the country is considered unsafe owing to countless incidents of kidnappings along the route, especially in the early hours of the morning and at night.
Sometime in 2017 a 48-year-old Idemudia Charles, who was a staff of the Nigerian Breweries Plc, left his Lagos home on February 11, for a journey to his home town in Uromi, Edo State. He bade his wife goodbye with a kiss planted on the cheeks of his three children and a promise to be back three days later. Thereafter, he entered his car, a Sienna with plate number KJA 612 AW, still waving at his family members who stood at the entrance of the door until the vehicle went out of sight.
But he never lived to fulfill his promise to return after three days because he was kidnapped by some suspected herdsmen close to Ehor, Edo State. Unfortunately, he died in his captors den from a bullet lodged in his shoulder and forehead.
The latest of this onslaught occurred last Sunday in Alabata, Odeda Local Government Area of Ogun state, where a farmer identified as Rafiu Sowemimo, was allegedly stabbed to death by three herdsmen: Muhammed Adamu, Saliu Ismail and Saliu Adamu, in his farm. The suspects were arrested next day and are presently in Police custody.
Protest against herdsmen
With the presence of herdsmen in the South West region and resultant deaths, several calls have been made to the Federal Government to take a decisive step at addressing their excesses.
Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, RULAAC, Okechukwu Nwanguma, who also commented on activities of herdsmen, said,” herdsmen have been linked to hundreds of killings and mass atrocities across the country. They have been linked to cases of invasion of communities, rape and rated the third deadliest terrorist group in the world. “Government has not demonstrated that it is concerned about the high number of human lives and property destroyed by this bloodthirsty murderers and criminals. It has failed in its primary duty of guaranteeing security.
“Communities are now left with the only option of resorting to self defense measures because government has failed to protect them.
“Government said these herdsmen are foreigners. Yet, it has not ensured they are arrested despite their heinous crimes”.
Two months ago, some women in Ondo state staged a march on the streets of Akure, through the Deji of Akure’s palace , to protest what they described as take over of their homeland by herdsmen. They lamented the alleged rape, molestation and destruction of their farmlands and livestocks by the herdsmen. They further stated that hey could not travel because of the incessant kidnap by these herdsmen, adding that the state was no longer safe.
President Obasanjo too
Another eminent personality who spoke against these attacks was former President, Olusegun Obasanjo. While reacting to the death of Funke Olakunrin , by suspected herdsmen, he described the development as worrisome and tasked security agents to fish out perpetrators of the heinous crime. Also in his letter to President Mohammadu Buhari, Obasanjo, called for an urgent need to address insecurity in Nigeria ,saying that the nation was on “ the precipe and dangerously reaching a tipping point where it may no longer be possible to hold danger at bay “.
There have also been several calls on the Federal government to address the issue before it gets out of hand.
Northern leaders order herdsmen to leave the South
The deteriorating security situation took a turn for the worse Tuesday night, in Abuja, with the Northern Elders Forum NEF and the Coalition of the Northern Groups CNGs ordering Fulani herdsmen to leave the Southern parts of the country and return to the north where their safety and those of their cows would be guaranteed.
NEF’s Chairman, Prof Ango Abdullahi, in a conference , said the call became necessary upon realization that the lives of Fulani herders were put at risk due to the actions and utterances of some Southern leaders, especially since the death Fasoranti’s daughter, alleging that some leaders in the south were using the incident to instigate all forms of violence against the northerners.
President Buhari’s reaction
Apparently in a move to douse the brewing tension, President Buhari, in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, Wednesday, said, “All citizens of Nigeria are free to move and live within any part of the country they please, whether or not they are originally from there.
“In line with our country’s constitution, the government of Nigeria and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will protect citizens of Nigeria wherever they find themselves. No one has the right to ask anyone or group to depart from any part of the country, whether north, south, east or west.”
Porous borders have been attributed to the major cause of infiltration of herdsmen into different parts of the country, as herdsmen are known to traditionally roam freely across West Africa, thereby entering and leaving Nigeria at will. Also, herdsmen suspected to be responsible for the present acts of criminality are said to be non-Nigerians.
Security agents overwhelmed?
With this new trend of insecurity, security agents are again saddled with the responsibility of curbing it . To tackle it headlong, the Nigerian Army was charged with the responsibility of patrolling the South West terrain . This no doubt, further stretches the Army who is already contending with insurgency in the North East, pipeline vandalism with the Navy and other acts of insecurity in the country.
The Senate announced that it was proposing what it described as an inclusive National Security summit that would come up with very robust and far reaching resolutions on how to nip in the bud the current security challenges in the country, while the House of Representatives called for the need for Federal Government to install Closed Circuit Television , CCTV cameras on Nigerian roads to checkmate crimes.
Nigerians, are therefore waiting with keen interest and great expectation, the outcome of these moves , before this new trend of criminality tends to overwhelm government . Towns and villages in Benue, Plateau and even in Taraba have, in the past been overrun by herdsmen. Some of these places have been totally occupied by the herdsmen who have even renamed some villages. Many of their victims are in various IDP camps now.