On Monday April 25th 2016, Fulani herdsmen attacked a village in Enugu state killing about 50 people, it wasn’t until Wednesday that the president finally reacted to this horrible massacre. To be more accurate, he didn’t actually address Nigerians directly but issued a statement through one of his spokespersons.Not only was I incensed that it has taken almost half a year for the President to finally react to the gruesome activities of these herdsmen; the press statement was rather underwhelming and full of same old rhetoric. I expected a strong worded personal response from the President himself- something along the lines of ‘We would deal with ‘violent’ Fulani herdsmen like Boko Haram’; after-all this was a president who said ‘pipeline vandals would be treated like Boko Haram’. But I wasn’t surprised, I mean human lives in Nigeria have absolutely no value, they are just numbers, ordinary statistics, that maybe assume some value during elections or when it’s time to share oil rents.
You see my anger with the President’s nonchalant attitude goes way beyond the Enugu attack. These herdsmen have been terrorizing communities across the country; In Plateau and Taraba they killed about 100 people in May 2015; in Adamawa about 30 people were killed in January; in Taraba about 50 people were killed in April alone not to talk of the famous Agatu Massacre in Benue where about 300 people were slaughtered. A report by SBM intelligence indicates that in 2016 alone there has been 21 attacks by these herdsman with the number of victims between 526 and 820.In addition to these killings, these notorious herdsmen have raped, kidnapped and destroyed farmlands in their host communities. Yet, on none of these actions has the President vehemently condemned these attacks. As a matter of fact, such a huge threat to national security is still being treated with kid’s gloves. Are we cursed to never learn from our mistakes? Isn’t there anything we can learn from the emergence of Boko Haram? Do we always have to wait for crises to escalate before taking decisive action?
How can the President be seemingly calm about an issue that concerns the security of Nigerians? Why do we always have to be reactionary to crises rather than be proactive? Why is it seemingly difficult for President Buhari to actually speak personally to Nigerians in an address or town hall format in times like these? Besides this herdsmen crises, the level of unprecedented sufferings Nigerians are experiencing with this recent economic downturn are more than enough reasons for the president to address us directly. Hearing directly from the President himself(press statement doesn’t cut it) signifies empathy, shows that we are not alone in our sufferings, reassures us and provides hope, no matter how fickle. Ironically, the president would rather organise town hall meetings abroad and address the press in China, UK etc – people to whom he owes no form of democratic accountability whatsoever; talk about priorities being misaligned.
Chances are that the administration is actually working behind the scenes to resolve these security and economic crises but we would never know if the strategies are not being communicated. As a matter of fact, the presidency has no choice as far as communication in a democracy is concerned. To the extent that ‘he is our employee’ , he owes us a constant account of how well he is managing his responsibilities.
But the deeper issue here is the extent to which the Nigerian state is able to protect the lives of its citizens. The primary responsibility of the state, per our constitution, is the protection of lives and properties within its territory. This is why the Nigerian state is ideally the only institution that has the legitimate use of force. Thus when it seems that the state has lost monopoly of this force to terrorists or militant groups; it begins to lose its legitimacy in the eyes of its people. This is why this crisis needs to be prioritized before it escalates and people are left with no choice but to take the law into their hands.
The president is the commander in chief of all the armed forces in this country thus he has enormous powers at his disposal. In the short-term it is important that these forces are deployed to protect the properties and lives of people in rural communities which are prone to being attacked by these terrorists. It is also important that all the herdsmen wreaking havoc are brought to book and made to pay for every crime they have committed. In the absence of this, we risk going back to the days of local vigilantes i.e OPC and Bakassi boys or to the extreme case where every citizen is forced to arm themselves.
In the medium to long term however, it is now very clear that we need to take climate change more seriously and embark on bold policy initiatives to tackle its adverse effects; as this herdsmen crises can also be seen as both a symptom and consequence of climate change in Nigeria. Desertification in the north has apparently led to a loss in arable land by about 35%, rainy season has shrunk from about 150 days a year to 120 and crop yields have declined by 20%. The consequence of this is therefore migration to the south and competition with farmers over land and other resources; thus it is easy to see how this has led to conflicts.
It is not too late to tackle this growing menace and with strong political will and technical know-how; it is very possible to keep these herdsmen in check. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration lost its legitimacy because of its supposed incompetence in dealing with Boko Haram amongst other reasons; how President Buhari handles this herdsmen crises could potentially make or break his regime.