When value of cow outweighs human life (in herdsmen’s eyes), Plateau bleeds
As it has always been whenever and wherever they strike, tears and agony are usually the harvest. The recent visit of the Fulani herdsmen to communities in Plateau State has left the state in mourning mood.
In January, this year, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State chided his counterpart in Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom. At that time, Ortom and all Benue people were in a mourning mood over the massacre of over 75 individuals in some communities in the state.
Lalong in Ortom’s shoes
Lalong, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in an apparent display of good party man and wanting to please Abuja, had chided Ortom, saying he warned the Benue governor against implementing the state anti-grazing law that was passed by the state House of Assembly.
The Plateau State governor made the statement upon his return from Abuja where he had a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa.
“To be honest with you, I advised him (Ortom); I told the governor of Benue State when he was doing the law; I said ‘look, why don’t you tread softly, just be careful, take other steps before you start implementation.’
“But you see, states are different. His own concepts are different and for us on the Plateau, it is different. I said I will not do the law before implementation. I have not developed the ranching areas so Icannot go and say Iput a law, to stop who? If I stop the people, what is the alternative?”
This so-called advice by Lalong drew a welter of condemnation and criticism so much that he recanted and apologised.
But like every careless word that sticks, although the Plateau State governor has since tendered an apology to the governor and people of Benue State, the utterances in the first instance have not been forgotten, because it is said that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Yesterday, it was Benue, today it is Plateau State. Plateau has also had its own share of the misfortune of Fulani herdsmen attack. But the massacre of last week in the state was the mother of all the attacks it had ever suffered in the hands of the herdsmen. In a single swoop, over hundred innocent indigenes of the state were mowed down in a most horrendous manner.
Unconfirmed reports said the blood-letting was sparked by the alleged killing and rustling of several cows belonging to the Fulanis. The reports further stated that the killings were reprisal. However, some other reports alleged that it was a calculated attack that has both religious and political undertones.
Danladi Ciroma, chairman, the Northern chapter of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, said in the wake of the attacks that the killings were “retaliatory”.
“These attacks are retaliatory. As much as I don’t support the killing of human being, the truth must be told that those who carried out the attacks must be on revenge mission,” Ciroma said.
According to him, “Fulani herdsmen have lost about 300 cows in the last few weeks- 94 cows were rustled by armed Barom youths in Fan village, another 36 cows were killed by Barom youths. In addition to that, 174 cattle were rustled.”
Speaking Thursday on Sunrise Daily programme of Channels Television, Usman Baba-Ngelzerme, secretary-general, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, said the attack may have been perpetrated by some other groups that had nothing to do with his group. According to him, there are some other cow breeders that were not captured under the umbrella of Miyetti Allah, who have their own different organisations.
Baba-Ngelzerme however, said that his group had suffered so much in the hands of the people he described as enemies, and that they have suffered loss of cattle and lives as a result of unprovoked hatred.
He noted that the Fulanis and their host communities had co-habited for over 17 years and wondered why they should be fighting now.
Istifanus Dung Gyang, a member representing BaruLadi/Riyom Constituency of Plateau State in the House of Representatives, believes the attacks were purposely to annihilate the people and occupy their land. He wondered why government looks the other way while the killers have a field day.
“The issue at stake is simply an agenda of land grabbing. These attacks have been sustained over 10 years and in the process, villages have been overturned and the people displaced. People are massively killed and the lands occupied by killer herdsmen.
“Over four villages have been added to the 45 that have already been overturned and are under forceful occupation. It is simply a game to ensure that a cattle colony carved and the land is grabbed for grazing. This is the reason behind the killings that we are witnessing in this constituency. It is harrowing that over 200 will be killed in cold blood. This is very unfortunate,” he said.
Gyang also indicted security agencies, saying that even when curfew was imposed on the state, the merchants of death were still moving around, slaughtering people and setting their houses ablaze; he wondered what type of security agencies operate in Nigeria.
He insists that justice must be done and seen to have been done to the victims who have lost everything. He urged government to ensure that those who have owned up to the killings must be brought to book. He urged the security agencies to show professionalism in the discharge of their duties, calling on the international community to mount pressure on President Buhari to rein in the killer group, which has been rated globally as the 5th terrorist group in the world.
The lawmaker shared the same sentiment with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which wondered the relevance of the intelligence gathering by the Department of State Services and other security agencies if communities can be overrun and attacked and hundreds of people slaughtered and displaced without security organisations providing rescue efforts. It believed that the Nigeria’s security system may have been compromised.
Yinka Odumakin, a member of the Southern Nigeria Middle Belt Forum, expressed disappointment with the media, which he said may have misled the populace by its wrong narrative on the herdsmen’s murderous activities.
“The media must stop this wrong narrative that it is farmers-herdsmen crisis. There is nothing like that; it is purely Fulani herdsmen killing people. There is an agenda to kill people and take over their land. The time has come for this country to stop chasing shadows and face the reality by addressing the problem of nationhood. We must address the issue of restructuring of this country; there are some structural issues we must have to deal with,” Odumakin said.
On the reasons for the killings, he said: “This is about cow business. Those people value their cows above their own lives. So, how do you expect them to value other people’s lives? It is not possible.”
He advised the Federal Government to jettison the planned establishment of ranches across the country, saying that whosoever that wants to build ranches should follow due process, by applying for land and paying for such land. It is his view that grabbing people’s lands in the name of establishing ranches is undemocratic and high-handed.
Is it a religious issue?
The pattern of the Fulani herdsmen attacks in all the states across the country appears to have some religious tinge, which is why some analysts describe the push as a jihadist agenda.
Alfred Okom, a Jos-based businessman, told BDSUNDAY that religious consideration was at the centre of the attacks.
“Look at the pattern, whether it is in Adamawa, Zamfara, Benue, Niger, Taraba or Plateau, the target is the Christian community. Remember, they invaded a Catholic Church in Benue last April and slaughtered two priests and other parishioners. In Adamawa, they have killed many Christians and burnt Churches. They carry out open killings of Christian faithful in the full glare of people and nobody challenges them. In the latest attack on Plateau State, they killed many people in the Church and burnt down many worship centres. The question is, what has Church got to do with grazing and herdsmen? But because they have an agenda to convert, by force, everybody to Islam and acquire more territories, they take advantage of a weak government or a government that may be sharing that agenda, otherwise this shouldn’t be happening in any country ruled by human beings,” Okom said.
The Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) shared Okom’s sentiment in its response in the wake of the Plateau killings.
It said the people were killed in Plateau because they were Christians. It claimed that the killings were aimed at eliminating Christians in the middle Belt to pave the way for Moslems to dominate the area.
Buhari: On a familiar turf
President Buhari was his usual self last Tuesday when he paid a visit to Plateau to commiserate with the people. Like he had canvassed when he visited Benue some time ago on the same score, he told the people of Plateau to learn to accommodate others and “live peacefully to ensure that violence does not rear its head again.”
The President was quoted to have said: “We commiserate with the families of the victims of the unfortunate incident, and use this medium to appeal for peaceful coexistence among the various ethnic groups in Plateau State.
“We also solicit the support of the media in advancing peace in the state and call on affected people not to take the laws into their hands as the federal government is already taking necessary measures to bring the perpetrators to book. We believe that at the end of the day a lasting solution will be found to the problem.”
However, critics say that this tune which the President always sings has a way of precipitating violence. They say that as the Commander-in-Chief he has everything it takes to end the crisis once and for all.
The critics pointed out that the President has always made such statements and given such assurances which never worked.
They accuse the President of setting the stage for anarchy when he made his lopsided appointments of the security chiefs, where almost all of them except one, come from the same part of the country and almost same religion.
“What has happened is that his security chiefs look at his body language before they react to any emergency,” said an analyst who preferred anonymity.
“It was this reason that the Inspector of Police refused to carry the so-called order to remain in Benue until he was directed otherwise, during the massacre of over 70 people there some time ago. The President told the whole world that the IG disobeyed him, yet nothing happened. So how can you take such a government seriously? We may not have seen the last of these massacres; nothing tells me that we are not going to witness more horrendous episodes. And when they happen, we return to our usual reaction- we sigh, wring our fingers, let out some curse words, and government, as usual will condemn ‘in the most strongest term this wicked and mindless act’, and after few days we return to the status quo. What a nation!” the analyst further said.
A disturbing situation
Speaking with BDSUNDAY recently in an exclusive interview, Ayo Opadokun, a former secretary of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and the convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER), had blamed the Federal Government for the worsening state of insecurity in the country, saying that the lopsided appointments and attitude of the security chiefs may have given fillip to the unfortunate state of affairs in the country.
“Come to think of it, I never imagined that it will come in my life time that the Nigerian security and intelligence will fail abysmally and will pretentiously not be able to deter herdsmen from killing and exterminating communities from their land and taking over their land and the Nigerian state has failed to be able to stop it and stamp it out completely in spite of the loud promises made by President Buhari. I even wonder why the Nigerian presidency has led itself to be so distrusted when his own minister of defence, his own interior (internal affairs) and the Inspector-General of Police claimed that the events in Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa and Adamawa were communal clashes.
“Ordinarily, if there is sense of justice, equity and fairness; in this age, if there was nothing behind it; if there was nothing more to it; if there were no personal interests residing in the Nigerian security and intelligence and the presidency, all those ones ought to have been retired immediately to assure Nigerians that we are still together,” Opadokun said.
“But come to think of it how will that happen when you have a Nigerian security council where the president who presides over is from Katsina; the director of state security is from Katsina, and you also now have the newly appointed director-general of National Intelligence Agency also from Katsina. With all these, how can other people from other parts of the country be assured that they are safe?” he further said
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