President Muhammadu Buhari’s repeated assurances that he would end the outrageous killings in Benue State seem to be an empty boast. This is evident in the latest orgy of killings by Fulani herdsmen terrorists there. This week, the herders have slaughtered 19 worshippers, including two priests, in a Catholic Church parish and farmers in Guma Local Government Area. In spite of the atrocities, the President buries his head in the sand, with his aides issuing hollow press statements. It is obvious that, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Buhari has failed a key test of leadership – to secure the lives and property of the citizens – a key mantra of his election campaign.
In plain language, the latest killings in Benue are nothing but ethnic cleansing by the Fulani herders. In two incidents on Tuesday, herdsmen invaded St. Ignatius Quasi Parish in Ukpor Mbalon, Gwer LGA, during its 5am Mass. There, they heartlessly murdered two priests – Rev. Frs. Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha. One of the priests was reportedly beheaded. They also snuffed life out of 14 worshippers. Demonstrating the total breakdown of the country’s security architecture, later in the day, the attackers stormed a funeral ceremony in the area. They killed three persons, sacked the village and set 35 buildings on fire.
With the President cutting a picture of confusion and helplessness, 24 hours later, the terrorists struck in Tse Umenger in Mbadwem Council Ward and Mbakpaase in Saghev in Guma LGA and killed 22 persons, the House of Representatives heard at plenary. The daily bloodshed strongly suggests that under Buhari, Nigeria is sliding rapidly into anarchy. Why is this not obvious to the President, a former military general, whom, in 2015, the electorate entrusted with the onerous task of saving the country from insecurity?
Instead, insecurity has spiked dangerously, plumbing new depths with Buhari’s shambolic handling of the situation. His security chiefs, whom he has obdurately refused to call to account, display partisanship and incompetence. After the outrageous killing of 73 persons in Logo and Guma LGAs on January 1, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, trivialised the massacre by calling it a “communal clash.”
However, these killings are not communal clashes, as the IG and other security chiefs would want us to believe; they are part of a well-planned scorched earth policy. Desertification, recession of the Lake Chad and expanding national population, which have hindered livestock farming in the north, however, can hardly justify the ongoing carnage, with the militia attempting to occupy, subjugate or conquer other parts of the country. The herdsmen terrorists’ use of the pretext of grazing to maim, shed blood, sack farming communities and occupy their land should be stopped by the country’s security agencies.
The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, also turned logic upside down when he curiously claimed that Fulani herders were killing because the farmers blocked the pre-independence grazing routes that were used by the herdsmen. Among other absurd claims, Dan-Ali stated that the anti-open grazing law in Benue provoked the bloodletting. Now, is the Catholic Church parish, where Tuesday’s massacre occurred, sitting on a grazing route? Or, is the African Church, Logo LGA, where seven displaced persons were murdered in a fresh attack on Thursday morning, on a grazing route? It is apparent that Buhari and his men have run out of excuses. Their partisanship is palpable.
Sadly, the President compounded the tag of incompetence around his neck during the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in England. He claimed that the herdsmen killings were caused by the infiltration of Nigeria by terrorists trained in Libya by the late Muammar Gaddafi. But on returning home, Buhari said that politicians were behind the upsurge in killings. This is doublespeak and it beggars sound logic. If he has identified the culpable politicians, why not arrest and prosecute them?
The Fulani brigandage is festering because of inept governance, which permits herders to practise open grazing. This is an obsolete method that engenders violence. As we have repeatedly canvassed, open grazing should be outlawed and Fulani herders disarmed. Brazil, Australia, the United States and other Latin American countries rich in cattle farming adopted ranching as the solution to this malady long ago. Ranching developed first among cattle farmers in Texas in 1820. It was necessitated by the growing demand for beef. In Brazil, ranching was adopted on a large scale in the 1970s, especially in the Amazon region. It is the obvious solution, which the Fulani cattle owners are shying away from. To stop the killings, Buhari should implement the ranching policy in collaboration with states, local governments and cattle investors.
Ranching should be followed up by a good justice system. It is inexplicable that herdsmen kill almost every day and there has hardly been any known successful prosecution of the offenders. The Operation Cat Race, which the Nigerian Army introduced to check the massacres, is ineffective. A former Chief of Army Staff, Theophilus Danjuma, alluded to this in March when he accused the military of partisanship and asked Nigerians to defend themselves. Operation Cat Race has to be reviewed. A former Chief of General Staff, Ebitu Ukiwe, has also called for the immediate disarming of Fulani herdsmen.
Along with the fight against Islamist insurgency, the President should display candour, expertise and determination needed to stop the bloodletting.
By Punch Editorial Board