by Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive
The Boko Haram insurgency, and many perceived wrongs under President Goodluck Jonathan paved the way for a former dictator, Muhammadu Buhari, to be elected as the 4th democratic president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in the 4th Republic.
President Buhari campaigned on three objectives; anti-corruption, security and the economy. While he has made attempts through the EFCC to fight corruption, the other two have remained problematic for his government. The economy is widely regarded as not his forte, and was celebrated as someone who was going to deal with insecurity decisively, owing to his experience as a former military officer. That appears not the case, one year after his administration.
People often talk about the steady progress of the military against the Boko Haram terrorists as a sign President Buhari is succeeding with security, but it does not make up for the rising hostility of the herdsmen who are on a killing spree across the country; the renewed militancy/insurgency in the Niger Delta creeks which is bent on grounding Nigeria’s crude oil production to zero; the widespread kidnapping for ransom across the federation; the off and on clashes between a South East based separatist group, Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, and the security services which has resulted in the deaths of many, thereby creating a security problem in the East; and the military confrontation between the Shiites sect, an Islamist religious group, and the army in Kaduna state, which has remained an existential threat.
Of particular interest to the nation is the threat of the killer herdsmen to the corporate existence of Nigeria and the lack of a comprehensive approach by the Buhari administration to resolve the situation. These herdsmen have invaded farming communities across the country especially in the North Central, South West and the South Eastern states, hacking men, women and children to death, looting the communities and destroying same, with survivors left to a life time of penury and mental illness, as observed in Nimbo and Agatu communities in Enugu and Benue states respectively.
The herdsmen, largely of the Fulani ethnic stock, crisscross the West and northern parts of Central African countries, with their cattle in search of greener pastures, and in doing so, do not recognize or acknowledge borders. In short, they behave like one of the stateless peoples of the world and do not see the difference between Sudan, Niger, Chad or Nigeria, and consider all routes they pass through as a fair game for their enterprise, and any attempt to intercept or question their trespass is met with vicious resistance and death. In this trade of herding, they move around with AK-47 machine guns, which they often profess to be used against cattle rustlers, who usually attack them, but now use it on hapless communities who dare challenge them for allowing cattle feast on their farms.
Why is President Buhari, a Life Patron of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, incapable of stopping the menace of these killer herdsmen? Many citizens and state governments have expressed outrage at the federal government for not acting to curtail the attacks, which is now a recurring murderous invasion. The attacks have prompted some governors to form vigilante groups, arming them to defend the vulnerable farming communities, and yet the situation has worsened.
Part of President Buhari’s lethargic response to the problem can be found in his answer to journalists during the UK hosted Anti-Corruption Summit in May, 2016.
He had opined that the herdsmen, during the 1st republic, moved around with seasons and did not stay in one place and averred there were cattle routes and grazing areas which were officially gazzeted for the purpose. The former military leader, concluded by referring Nigerians to the study he did on the cattle routes and grazing areas as then PTF Chairman, charging the Governors Forum and the minister of agriculture to look at the report and come up with a solution. Nigerians also found out that the federal government earmarked the sum of N940 million for grazing reserves in the 2016 budget.
The above response was coming on the heels of herdsmen’s attacks that had maimed hundreds of citizens across the country which saw substantial destruction of properties, whilst the president kept silent until outcry prompted him to respond to the media. By proffering the above solution, the president kicked the can down the road, which may have emboldened the herdsmen to go about their business with more death and destruction, a proposal that has seen many representatives and governors of the south and north central states totally rejecting the president’s call for national grazing routes.
President Buhari fails to understand the country has evolved, and that Nigeria and Nigerians of the 1st republic are no longer the same entity and people of the 4th republic, which have regarded each other with fatal suspicion since the end of the civil war. The reasoning behind the president’s proposal negates the call for a law and order approach to the crisis, and the proposition by many influential citizens and governors that the business of herding be structured as a proper corporate business and, not one that visits death and destruction on vulnerable communities.
If president Buhari’s lethargy and inaction exacerbates the crisis, what about those he has entrusted with the internal, national and state security? It is very important to note that the president appointed two retired military officers to handle these roles. One, a former chief of army staff who was given the task of internal security as a minister of the interior, and the other a former brigade of guards commander who is the president’s security adviser, and also doubles as the coordinator of national security. The state security role was given to a former Department of State Service official, who was recalled from retirement.
These officials have not been seen in public trying to reassure the country on the steps to curb these attacks. They have remained silent like their boss at the presidential villa, leading to some conclusions in many quarters that Buhari and his security chiefs are either partisan or indifferent, knowing they are all from the same region, and the president himself, from the Fulani ethnic group. All we have seen are reports of infighting amongst these security chiefs and attempts to upstage one another on other roles of state and national security. It also calls into question the capacity, professionalism and patriotism of these officials, who cannot provide the president with wise counsel on a realistic resolution of these crises other than the president’s solution of returning to grazing routes.
Let it be placed on record that President Buhari, a former major general and head of state, one who campaigned on the very area of his strength is failing in this task of ensuring internal and national security stability. That the president often ignores or refused to acknowledge these attacks and the carnage on communities is even more worrisome.
The president must face the reality of the danger the killer herdsmen portend to the existence of Nigeria, and the fact that it provides ready ammunition for militants and activists in the South, who are also waging a low level war against the State. One can hope the president restructures his national security team if they are incapable of advising him to resolve these crises, or he should come to the full realization that he has to take another view towards the resolution of the problem, and not the national grazing routes proposal which has torn the country apart.