In the late hours of Sunday, June 24, 2018, dozens of gunmen attacked over 11 villages in three local government areas in Plateau State – Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Jos South. After the attackers had had a field day and left unchallenged, over 200 people, mainly children, women and the elderly, had been brutally murdered in the most gruesome manner imaginable. Hundreds of houses were destroyed while those who could escape became homeless and swelled the ranks of Nigeria’s growing list of internally displaced persons. Although the Police had initially put the casualty figure at 86 and other groups quoted numbers between 100 and 250, we consider the figure of over 200 people given by Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, as authentic given that it was the product of a rigorous evaluation of the carnage in the affected villages.
It was the latest in an increasing series of bloody attacks on farming villages by the same group of people that are never shy to acknowledge their terror attacks – Fulani cattle herders. True to their character, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, the official handler of cattle herders, owned up to the attack, alleging that it was a reprisal over a purported rustling of 300 cows. And their association’s leader vowed that there will be more killings for as long as their cows are rustled.
We unreservedly condemn the attack. It is callous, cowardly, ungodly and a direct affront on all the virtues and principles Nigeria and its peoples subscribe to. But did the attack really come as a surprise? We are not surprised. In fact, the attackers only lived up to their promise. The cattle breeders had pointedly opposed the anti-open grazing laws enacted by some state governments to curb the destruction of farmlands and crops. They had promised to make the states ungovernable unless the laws, validly enacted by the states, are withdrawn.
If the actions of the perpetrators of the attacks are condemnable, the reaction of the federal government, especially those of President Muhammadu Buhari and his Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, is appalling. At the end of every previous attack, Dan-Ali who had become the unofficial spokesman of Miyetti Allah group, had always insisted on the suspension of the anti-open grazing laws. In effect, the minister whose portfolio falls within the purview of securing the country has, by his consistent patronising comments after every unprovoked attack on villages, encouraged the cattle herders to continue in the murderous campaign.
However, the reaction of President Buhari when he paid a visit to Jos to meet with leaders in Plateau State is a display of abject lack of emotional intelligence in dealing with a crisis situation. Addressing the leaders at the town hall meeting, the president railed over the fact that he and his administration are being held responsible for the deadly attacks. He vainly resorted to flaunting his dubious self-claim of success in combating insecurity in the country. Ultimately, President Buhari all but told his audience that he no longer has the capacity to protect them when he asked them to pray for the attacks to cease. It was an abject display of crass naivety, insensitivity and helplessness.
Contrary to what he thinks, as president, his primary responsibility is to secure the lives and property of citizens. If he fails in this irreducible minimum of the attributes of a state as is seeming the case, his government has failed. Yes, the president is responsible for the unchecked carnage in Plateau, Benue, Adamawa, Taraba and Zamfara states.
By tenaciously holding on to the narrative of seeing the attacks as “clashes” between cattle herders and farmers, the government is only laying the foundation for a tepid and detached approach to the crisis. By deliberately failing to acknowledge the situation for what it truly is – a reign of terror – the president and his kitchen cabinet is, perhaps unwittingly, indicating where their sympathies and priorities lie. In retrospect, the February 22, 2018 directive by the Inspector General of Police for all unlicensed weapons to be recovered may have only succeeded in recalling the firearms of ordinary citizens. There is no indication that the exercise affected the murderous herdsmen who have rather intensified their attacks on defenceless farmers and villagers.
We reject the federal government’s classification of the attacks by the herders as clashes. It is a campaign of terror to displace the farmers, an exercise in land grabbing. Such narrative is akin to playing the ostrich. President Buhari must acknowledge the attacks by Fulani cattle herders, his kinsmen, as a terror campaign and initiate appropriate measures to rein them in. For unknown reasons, the president continues to retain confidence in his security chiefs. There is no evidence on ground to justify such vote of confidence. Rather, after unchecked escalation of the crisis, it is crystal clear the security chiefs are no longer capable of discharging their duties effectively. In rejigging Nigeria’s security apparatus, which we believe is imperative, the president must jettison his obsession with identifying with only people of his kin, stock and faith. He should be broad-minded and appoint people from diverse ethnic groups, kin and faith to give the security council the plurality essential to inspiring the confidence of the entire citizens.
It is hoped the president realises that he is running out of time to remedy the ship of state which is now on a cliff hanger. It is time for him to be a statesman and a president for all.