Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) takes serious note that on August 25th, 2021, the Senior Special Assistant to the President(Media & Publicity) Garba Shehu, on behalf of the President Muhammadu Buhari, issued a statement condemning and vilifying Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State for his firm stand on the killings by killer herdsmen in his state in particular and in Nigeria in general and worsening insecurity in the country.
The Presidency’s statement as usual was as acerbic and caustic and one-sided as they come, and once more justified the killings by the killer herdsmen. The Presidency accused Governor Ortom of complicity and incitement of ethnic and sectarian hatred and violence, liking the Governor’s statements to that of Hutu’s leaders which unleashed genocide on Rwandans years ago. Their words: “Ortom takes the cheapest and lowest route possible by playing on ethnic themes – and in doing so knowingly causes deaths of innocent Nigerians by inciting farmers against herders, and Christians against Muslims.”
HURIWA wishes to state without equivocation that Governor Ortom has not said or done anything untoward, and has been speaking the minds of millions of Nigerians concerning the poor handling of farmers-herders conflict and other forms of insecurity in the country. In fact, Ortom’s position is also in tandem with the position of Southern Nigeria governors on the subject matter, who have resolved to enact anti-grazing laws in their 17 states.
The federal government fails to accept that the aggressors have been the herders who move their cattle to the farms, destroying them and on many occasions, maiming and killing the farmers. This is precisely the crux of the matter. The farms do not go to the herders; it is the AK47 wielding herders that move to the farms with their cattle.
The position of the Presidency has been that open grazing of cattle is part of the right of Fulani herders to move freely in Nigeria as part of their constitutionally guaranteed human rights of all Nigerian citizens. Yes, free movement of the Fulani herders is constitutional but moving with their herds wherever they want is not constitutional or lawful.
Let it once again be reiterated: Indigenous Nigerians have never had any problems with Fulanis who they have cohabited with for centuries. For example, Umaru Altine, a Fulani man from Kano, was voted Mayor of Enugu twice in the 60s by the Igbos, a position he held for about 8 years.
The position of Ortom must be put in the right perspective and clearly understood. Open grazing by cattle is no longer in practice even in most African countries. So, it is strange that the federal government is insisting on it and equating it to the spare parts business, a trade line the Igbos in Nigeria dominate.
Comparing open grazing of cattle or cattle rearing to spare parts business is most unfortunate and ethnic profiling of sort. The Federal Government needs to be reminded that spare parts dealers rent their shops and buy their land where they ply their trade, which the Fulani herds have refused to do. Instead, they deliberately lead their cattle everywhere they please, making the cattle feed on people’s farms thereby destroying the farmers’ and thereby generating the conflicts that have claimed thousands of lives as they do so.
Like Ortom has rightly observed, Fulani herders are being pampered by the federal and some state governments, and their cattle have been equated to human beings and Nigerian citizens by the federal government which is insisting that herders have the right to move wherever in Nigeria with their cattle. This wrongheaded and dangerous policy has made the herders to move their cattle to trample not only on farms but also to march through major cities and highways in Nigeria, including the surroundings of the Abuja Presidential Villa
On the issue of grazing reserves, HURIWA wishes to also state that, in line with informed legal opinions, and going by the express provisions of the Land Use law, which is now part and parcel of the constitution, the Federal Government has no lands in the states of Nigeria, except in the federal capital territory. What this simply means is that the over 300 grazing reserves set out to be revived by the federal government is illegal and ill-advised. Governor Ortom threatening to challenge that decision of the federal government in court is therefore in order and patriotic, and vilifying him based on it is simply also out of sync.
The partisan nature of the federal government in dealing with herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria has been largely responsible for the exacerbation of the problem. Days ago, while not condoning any form of killing, be it reprisal or otherwise, the federal government rose stoutly to condemn the killing of purported Fulani travellers in Jos, Plateau state but never uttered a word when the Iregwes an ethnic group in the same Plateau state were killed, which provoked the counter killing, which elicited the federal government’s action.
The question Ortom and many Nigerians are raising, which resonates with the majority of well-meaning Nigerians, is: how come the federal government is incensed only when killings affect Fulani herdsmen and never feel concerned when it involves other ethnic groups in the country? It is fundamentally important to point out to the federal government that the lives of all Nigerians matter, not only the lives of the Fulanis. Let it also be known that psychological research has it that; one way of destroying any place is to apply laws differently to citizens – where some are punished and some rewarded for the same offence.
The selective actions of the federal government, especially on security matters is worsening insecurity in Nigeria and can be seen in almost every federal government policy and actions. While Terrorists are pardoned, rehabilitated and reintegrated without passing through any judicial process in Nigeria, unarmed political agitators like Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho are hounded and hunted down even outside Nigeria and dragged through the courts on charges of treason. How come that the same federal government finds it difficult to classify bandits and killer herdsmen as terrorists they are, even as classified by World Terrorism Index which lists Herdsmen as the 4th most brutal terror group in the world?
The federal government sense of selective justice is most prevalent in the handling of herders-farmers conflict and that is what Governor Ortom is saying. The federal government ought to be concerned with the escalation of insecurity which is seen in growing fault lines and expanding ungoverned spaces to the point that Boko Haram, which the same federal government is pardoning its members, is hoisting flags in parts of North East, appointing governors and collecting taxes.
Ortom is right in stating the fact that bandits and terrorists are being emboldened by the partisan and selective sense of justice on the part of the government. Governments of Nigeria have been negotiating with these bandits and terrorists, and paying ransoms which is now making their kidnapping for ransom business more of an industry. The bandits have grown to the point that they can now take off any security outfit in Nigeria, to the point of invading the Nigeria Defense Academy, killing two officers and abducting an army major just days, to say nothing of the over 100 students kidnapped by them and kept in the bushes for weeks now.
Fact is: vilifying or and demonizing Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State will not solve the nation’s worsening insecurity which has now become an existential threat to the nation – a very clear and present danger. The solution lies in the federal government running the country the way and manner a nation ought to be run and not taking sides with killers.
HURIWA also calls on the federal government to rescind its decision to revive the moribund grazing reserves and allow cattle rearing to remain a private concern that it is, and encourage the states that wish to go into ranching to do so, as Kano State, Bauchi State and one or two others have already embarked upon.
Let Governor Ortom be. The federal government should secure Nigeria and Nigerians from the invading killer herdsmen, terrorists and bandits, a good number of whom are not even Nigerians. Securing the nation is one of the two cardinal reasons why governments exist. Both are glaring failures in Nigeria.
COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: NATIONAL COORDINATOR: HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA). 26TH AUGUST 2021.