Opinion: Buhari and the herdsmen by Paul Onomuakpokpo
In a seeming bid to douse his increasing credibility crisis, President Muhammadu Buhari has now belatedly realised the need to absolve himself of killings by herdsmen. No longer does he find comfort in his practised silence in the face of the citizens’ outrage at the atrocities being committed by herdsmen.
But Buhari’s newfangled disposition has failed to prove the fast-expanding camp of the naysayers wrong. Rather, what has become clear is that Buhari has bungled another opportunity to shore up his credibility. Thus, Buhari’s defence of himself ended up being a reinforcement of his history of incapability to meet the demands of his high office.
Clearly, Buhari has had many opportunities to convince Nigerians that herdsmen do not enjoy his sympathy as long as they stray from the path of doing their business within the confines of the law. But the citizens have often waited in vain for such a disavowal that should be an appropriate response to a bout of herdsmen’s lunacy.
The citizens have been witnesses to Buhari’s silence as herdsmen destroy the livelihoods of farmers with their cows, rape, maim and kill in different parts of the country, especially the south-south, south-east, south-west, southern Kaduna and the middle belt.
Consequently, the citizens are left with the impression that herdsmen perpetrate their carnage with support at the highest level of government. So, what has come as Buhari’s defence of himself against the allegation of complicity in the infliction of blood and tears on the citizens by herdsmen does not by any means redeem his credibility.
What was suspected to be the official protection of killer herdsmen was sufficiently evidenced by the response of Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai to them. El-Rufai is not the president. Nor is he a top Federal Government official charged with the responsibility of bringing sanity to murderous herdsmen. However, we could use El-Rufai’s response to understand Buhari’s position because the governor is a close ally of the president.
So, how El-Rufai responded would have been the same way the president would have reacted if he were in the same circumstances. When herdsmen unleashed havoc on southern Kaduna, they were neither arrested nor punished by El-Rufai. Rather, he admitted knowing the culprits and that he chose to pay them money as a means of placating them and stopping them from further attacks on their victims.
However, this has not stopped herdsmen from attacking and killing the people of southern Kaduna. Nigerians were shocked at the action of El-Rufai. But Buhari neither condemned the position of El-Rufai nor ordered his security operatives to arrest and prosecute the murderous herdsmen.
This is one of the reasons Buhari is far from convincing when he says that he is not responsible for the making of blood-thirsty herdsmen. Even now with the increasing macabre dimension of herdsmen’s criminality, there is no assurance that they would be punished. It is the realisation that under the government of Buhari they are above the law that herdsmen even have the audacity to be killing policemen. Yes, Buhari has deployed more security personnel to Benue State. But would this solve the problem? If the body language of Buhari is that these herdsmen should not be arrested and prosecuted, the security operatives would only operate in line with the expectations of the president.
Thus, while it is good that Buhari has deployed more security operatives to Benue, he must demonstrate his seriousness to rein in killer herdsmen by arresting and prosecuting them. There is no way these killers can escape arrest and prosecution if Buhari is serious with dealing with the danger they pose to the nation’s security. The leaders of Miyetti Allah are known to the government and its security operatives. Even Governor Samuel Ortom has suggested that those responsible for the killings are somewhere in Nasarawa State. The leaders of this group who threatened to make the law on the Prohibition of Open Grazing and Establishment of Ranches unworkable should be held responsible for turning Benue State into a killing field.
Buhari has not demonstrated a sense of urgency that the herdsmen crisis demands. The same Buhari who was quick at deploying soldiers and armoured personnel carriers to mow down mere flag-wielding members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has failed to take a decisive action against killer herdsmen. It was the same Buhari who deployed troops to liquidate Niger Delta youths for obstructing the production of crude oil through their agitations.
Indeed, the options are very clear to deal with the herdsmen. It is the insincerity of the Buhari government that has made the resolution of the herdsmen’s crisis seem elusive.
Now, the government is worsening this seeming elusiveness by a resort to sophistry. Or why is the government talking about holding conferences and cattle colonies when it is clear that the model that has worked in many other parts of the world that even have more cattle than Nigeria is simply ranching? Why does the Buhari government avoid this option if it actually wants to resolve the crisis in a way that the herdsmen would not gain some privileges to the detriment of other citizens, especially farmers? The insincerity of the Buhari government is further shown in its explanation that there have been clashes between farmers and herdsmen because the population of Nigeria has grown more than what it was in the past.
Does Nigeria have more population than the United States that is one of the biggest cow-producing countries of the world? If it is a large population that is responsible for the clashes, why are these countries not torn apart by similar herdsmen’s crises? As Ortom reminded Buhari, even in African countries such as Swaziland, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, ranching is the model of cattle rearing.
Buhari must know that the life of every Nigerian is as precious as his life and the lives of his dear ones like his children. He should be worried that Nigerians are being killed over matters that he could easily resolve. He should not wait until lives are lost before deploying troops and considering other measures that he should have taken earlier. In the same vein, the livelihoods of other citizens are as important as those of the herdsmen. He should not through his inaction or complicity encourage the herdsmen to continue with their business of cattle-rearing while destroying other citizens’ farms.
Besides, we must be alert to the ominous prospect that as long as the government continues to treat murderous herdsmen with levity, Benue may not be their most heart-rending killing field. They would extend their blood lust to more places. But Buhari and the herdsmen must discharge themselves of the illusion that the citizens would always allow themselves to be killed at will by the herdsmen.
After all, since the herdsmen cannot be tamed by law as being demonstrated in Benue, there is an increasing consciousness of the need for the next victims of attacks to prepare to defend themselves. And this may not consume only those involved in such a battle but the entire nation.