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Herdsmen killings: Government speaks from both sides of the mouth



ON Wednesday, while receiving the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in London, President Muhammadu Buhari strangely decided this time to blame the influx of Libyan gunmen into Nigeria for the unending killings many thought were perpetrated by herdsmen. He did not indicate that he had a rethinking of the subject, nor did he struggle to convince anyone that his previous thesis on the killings, and those of his security aides, do not brazenly and disturbingly war against his present convictions.

After the august visit, no one, not any of the president’s aides, has argued that he was misquoted. Here is how he apportioned the blame for the killings when the archbishop raised the issue of herdsmen/farmers clashes with him: “The problem is even older than us. It has always been there, but now made worse by the influx of gunmen from the Sahel region into different parts of the West African sub-region. They were trained and armed by Muammar Gadaffi of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram. Herdsmen that we used to know carried only sticks and maybe a cutlass to clear the way, but these ones now carry sophisticated weapons. The problem is not religious, but sociological and economic. But we are working on solutions.” The President then went on to suggest that “irresponsible politics” had been infused into the farmers/herders’ crisis, without indicating that had the clashes not occurred, and seemed to have defied all solutions, no one would have politicised the mater. Indeed, it is hard for the president to substantiate his allegation of politicisation, as the opinions of his security chiefs in the past few months will show presently. Worse, it is even harder for him to link what he described as the “sociological and economic” underpinnings of the clashes to his present thesis of Libyan gunmen influx. After all, that the so-called Libyan gunmen were encountered in the Boko Haram insurgency does not in any way imply they were behind, or were involved, in the herdsmen killings. The gunmen, assuming they were of a significant number, were nothing but mercenaries during the insurgency, just as the Goodluck Jonathan government also hired mercenaries from South Africa to fight Boko Haram. It is indeed becoming increasingly clear that the herdsmen killings have defied an answer because the Buhari presidency has been curiously unable to accurately decipher and explain the problem. Not only does the president give the impression he is finding it difficult to delink himself emotionally from the subject, he has also apparently not been able to assemble dispassionate and hard thinking security chiefs and advisers able to afford him deep and sensible analysis of a crisis that is threatening to completely undermine his presidency. It is also clear that the president has since his assumption of office vacillated between describing the killer herdsmen as foreigners and describing them as domestic troublemakers and militiamen. He is not helped by the initial impression angrily communicated by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, who during his 2016 Eid-el-Kabir message, argued against stereotyping Fulani herdsmen, most of whom he said were peace-loving and law-abiding. He had said: “All those so-called Fulani herdsmen, moving with guns, causing violence, fighting with farmers, are not Nigerians. These are foreigners coming into Nigeria to cause a breach of the peace of the nation. They are therefore terrorists and should be treated as such by the Nigerian security agencies.” It is apparently to this 2016 message of the Sultan that the president has finally returned last Wednesday in London. Meanwhile, the Sultan as well as Nigeria’s top security leaders have since moved on from this misleading perspective, not to say the president himself who in January this year described the herdsmen as fellow Nigerians. Here is what the president said on January 15, when Benue leaders and the state governor sought an audience with him over the killings: “Your Excellency, the governor, and all the leaders here, I am appealing to you to try to restrain your (Benue farmers) people. I assure you that the police, the Department of State Service (DSS) and other security agencies have been directed to ensure that all those behind the mayhem get punished. I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your countrymen. You can also be assured that I am just as worried and concerned with the situation.”If they were Libyan gunmen, it would be hard to justify the president asking for accommodation instead of military engagement, not to talk of looking for reasons both to justify the government’s pusillanimous approach to foreign invasion and misleading perspective, not to say the president himself who in January this year described the herdsmen as fellow Nigerians. Here is what the president said on January 15, when Benue leaders and the state governor sought an audience with him over the killings: “Your Excellency, the governor, and all the leaders here, I am appealing to you to try to restrain your (Benue farmers) people. I assure you that the police, the Department of State Service (DSS) and other security agencies have been directed to ensure that all those behind the mayhem get punished. I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your countrymen. You can also be assured that I am just as worried and concerned with the situation.”If they were Libyan gunmen, it would be hard to justify the president asking for accommodation instead of military engagement, not to talk of looking for reasons both to justify the government’s pusillanimous approach to foreign invasion and to explain why Libyan gunmen would leapfrog over borders and come right smack into the middle of Nigeria to levy war. It is even much worse that there seems to be no coordination at all between the president and his security chiefs. If last Wednesday the president could blame Libyan gunmen and not the local herdsmen for the attacks and killings, how does he explain the statement by his top police officer, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, who on January 5, a few days after the New Year’s Day massacre in Benue suggested that the crisis was communal, as if that justified the lack of capacity, indolence and poor expertise demonstrated by the law enforcement agencies. Shortly after meeting the president on the Benue crisis and other security problems, Mr Idris had told the press that, “Obviously it is a communal crisis, for herdsmen are part of the community. They are Nigerians and are part of the community; are they not?” Then, continuing, he had shocked reporters by saying, “Let’s use the example of Benue, you know most of these states where you have several languages, you know it is an issue of communal misunderstanding. I think what we should be praying for is for Nigerians to learn to live in peace with one another, I think it is very important.” Two disturbing facts come out of the IGP’s conclusions. First is his rhetorical question about the nationality of the attackers, whom he described as a part of the community. And second is the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness which he exhibited before the public when he asked them to pray for peaceful co-existence. But if the IGP prevaricated very badly, the perspective of the Defence minister, Mansur Dan Ali, was even more flabbergasting. Speaking with reporters on January 25, more than three weeks after the Benue massacre, and shortly after he joined other security chiefs to meet with the president on the crisis, he rationalised the herdsmen killings in the following befuddling manner: “Whatever crisis that happened at any time, there has to be remote and immediate causes. What are the remote causes of this farmers/herders crisis? Since Independence, we know there used to be a route whereby these cattle rearers use. Cattle rearers are all over the nation, you go to Bayelsa, you see them, you go to Ogun, you see them. If those routes are blocked, what happens? These people are Nigerians, it’s just like you going to block river or shoreline, does that make sense to you? These are the remote causes. But what are the immediate causes? It is the grazing law. These people are Nigerians, we must learn to live together with each other, that is basic. Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave, finish!” First is the fact that the Defence minister in company with other security chiefs just came out of a meeting with the president in which apparently the terrifying issue of the clashes were presumably discussed. Second, the minister twice described the attackers as Nigerians, perhaps to emphasise the Nigerianness of the herdsmen whom many were beginning to say should be forced out of the country for bringing so much trouble. And third is the simple and unambiguous fact that he attributed the clashes partly to the passing of anti-open grazing laws by Benue State and others, without saying why Ekiti State, which was the first to pass a law on the matter, had not witnessed the scale of barbarity experienced by Benue and others. Indeed, the IGP, after first recanting and apologising for describing the clashes as communal in origin, was to later identify with the Defence minister’s explanations. Said Mr Idris on February 28, shortly after honouring an invitation by the House of Representatives: “It will do us good if we avoid the hasty formulation and implementation of such laws (anti-open grazing laws) across the country in the interest of peace and unity.” Perhaps the president did not anticipate a question on the herdsmen/farmers clashes and the horrendous bloodletting that has accompanied it. But even if he did not anticipate such a question, had his security team looked at the problem dispassionately and approached the crisis as patriots in whose hands the levers of power have been deposited in trust, they would have since come out with a sensible and practical understanding of the problem, and devised workable solutions. But as his London outing suggested, and in particular his response to Archbishop Welby’s question on the herdsmen crisis, it is profoundly disturbing that the government simply does not appear at all to have an understanding of the nature and course of the crisis. With no understanding in sight, there does not seem to be any prospect of a lasting solution. In an election year, the people must be poised to force the president to address the issue to the country’s satisfaction. But much more critically, in the same election year, the Buhari presidency must be quite apprehensive that this issue, particularly the chaos in the presidency’s approach to the cancer, could very well complicate the president’s re-election chances.
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Herdsmen killings: Government speaks from both sides of the mouth Herdsmen killings: Government speaks from both sides of the mouth Reviewed by Comr Richard on Saturday, April 14, 2018 Rating: 5

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