By Musa Simon Reef
One of Nigeria’s cerebral columnists, Malam Mahmud Jega, has not only paid his dues, but commands remarkable readership across the country, especially in the North where his analytical prowess has become almost an awesome machine of intellectual coercion. To most of his readers, including yours sincerely, when Jega writes, there is little to add or subtract. His writings are always backed with facts and his sense of history is simply amazing. To me, he is one of the very few writers that can be trusted with the pen.
I have known Jega through his writings many years before I met him. Jega’s sense of humility is renowned, just as his observance of ethics of the journalism profession is unquestionable. Perhaps, that explains why I remain a regular reader of his column. However, for some auspicious reasons, I missed out on his January 15, 2018 column published in Daily Trust, titled, ‘This Thing Called ‘Killer Herdsman. (Click on link to read Jega’s article)
After reading a rejoinder to his article by Barrister Ballason Gloria Mabeiam, another columnist with Blueprint Newspaper, I was persuaded to read Jega’s entire piece. After going through the article, I was worried that the columnist’s piece was bereft of his insignia: thoroughness and absence of a roadmap on the way forward.
The greatest problem facing us as a nation today is not Boko Haram, which the Buhari-led government claimed it has technically defeated, but herdsmen’s attacks that have cast gloom on the nation’s life. In most parts of the North-central geo-political zone, including Southern Kaduna and some states in the North-east where these herdsmen have left hair-raising spectre of killings, bloodshed, tension and suppressed anxieties have become the order of the day.
Jega’s write-up is laced with historical dialectics of once upon a time peaceful herdsmen metamorphosing into present day ‘killers.’ However, the article is disturbingly mute on how we can clear away the current frightening clouds of present uncertainties hovering over our nation’s skies brought by these attacks.
From the writer’s column of January 15, there was the obvious attempt to justify the narrative that the continued murderous attacks on Southern Kaduna as reprisals for the post-2011 violence. His reference to migratory traits of herdsmen and their ignorance to conventions are non-debatable, just as the writer paints the picture of the ‘killer herdsman’ as someone who neither forgives nor forgets any offence unleashed on him by any community.
Not a few believe that many issues abound that clearly portray herdsmen as the most favoured group by the Federal Government. Many Nigerians are asking why billions of Naira are appropriated in national budgets for the development of grazing reserves. Why is the government so committed to ensuring the welfare of the pastoralists when they are also exempted from taxes? Some are wondering why government is not concerned with providing lands for spare parts dealers and poultry farmers. It is obvious that the seeming privileges for herders did not start with Buhari. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was said to have budgeted N100 billion for grazing reserves, but the Buhari-led administration is yet to discover how the fund developed wings.
And because herders have been seen as most favoured, it is normal for some groups to be envious of them. Instead of being taxed by government, they walk freely and sometimes engaged in destroying farmlands. They seem to be above the law as they walk and graze their cows oblivious of traditional and state authorities. How can government re-enforce the peaceful mien of the Fulani? Jega was completely silent on what government should do to the ‘killer herdsman’ in order to recreate the peace and respect for traditional authorities that were once his hallmark. Why must herdsmen be allowed to continue their migratory trait in a modern world devoid of any form of respect for farmers’ right to their source livelihood?
Let’s agree that the post-2011 post election violence started from the northern and spread to the southern part of Kaduna state. Over six years after, why continuing these attacks against the southern part that has lost nearly, if not over, 1,000 people and still counting? Has the ‘killer herdsman’ not attacked enough to revenge for his losses?
Nearly three years since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed reins of power; it is obvious the herdsmen have become more vicious in their blood thirsty mission. Despite the loss of lives in various parts of the country, the Federal Government is yet to send a strong signal of its commitment to deal with anyone involved in taking the lives of Nigerians in the name of herders/farmers’ clashes. Murder of anyone by anyone is criminal act, and government must rise up to its constitutional responsibility of punishing criminals involved in murdering Nigerians. The long arm of the law has been shortened in bringing to books people involved in herders/farmers’ clashes.
When cattle rustlers threatened Zamfara and some parts of Katsina and Kano States, among others, President Muhammadu Buhari, dressed in full war attire, deployed a military formation to end the ugly episode. However, when attacks by suspected herders continued in Southern Kaduna, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina was quick to say that military deployment was unnecessary as Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai was on top of the situation.
When the gruesome killings in Agatu, Benue State, attracted national and international outrage, they were not enough to inspire the federal authorities to deploy the military to bring the killers to book. Then, Taraba almost went up in flames over the anti-grazing law, and was soon followed by killings of herdsmen in Mambilla. A Federal Government’s delegation, led by Minister of Internal Affairs, General Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd), flew into Jalingo and quickly visited venue of the bloodbath, and thereafter returned to Abuja, after issuing empty threats to deal with the killers.
Considering the seeming levity government has displayed in dealing with these killings, it gave vent to potential killers to embrace the culture of violence. If the Buhari-led Government had re-enacted the serious posture it adopted in Zamfara on the issue of cattle rustling, the killings in Southern Kaduna, Benue, Taraba and Adamawa would not have been. Many believe that Buhari’s handling of ‘killer herdsman’ has not been strong enough to end bloodshed.
What the Buhari-led government needs to do now is to punish those denying Nigerians the right to live as enshrined in the country’s constitution. The allegation that those killing Nigerians are foreigners should be thoroughly probed in order to unearth the identity of these killers. As long as we show differences in opinions and reactions to these mindless killings, so long will the problem remain with us. There is also the need for government to tackle all forms of criminalities being perpetuated in the name herders/farmers’ clashes. Government must renounce its seeming lethargy and rise to the task of tackling these killings by herdsmen.
The problems that confront us as Nigerians are not beyond us to resolve. What we all need from our leaders is sincerity of purpose and the political will devoid of political sentiments. That explains why Nigerians, particularly patriots and journalists, should always tell the truth to powers that be in a bid to promote peace and never give up in the face of adversity.
Reef is the Editor-in-Chief of Forefront, and can be reached via: email@example.com