When Fulani cattle herders resumed their killing spree in Benue State with over 50 of the armed men invading the village of Omusu in Okpokwu local government area on Monday, March 5, 2018, leading to the brutal murder of 26 people, mainly women children and the elderly, it did not quite come as a surprise. In the aftermath of the now infamous massacre carried out on January 1, 2018 in Guma and Logo local government area of Benue State where over 73 people were killed by marauding Fulani militants, the response of the federal government and its agencies, especially the police was at best an indicator that the killers enjoyed unofficial immunity.
The federal government had been given advance notice of the premeditated attack by the governor of Benue State, but curiously, no measure was taken to avert it.
On the contrary, the response of the federal government was tepid, off-handish and dismissive. President Muhammadu Buhari did not visit the people while the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, when he met with leaders of the grieving communities derisively classified the attacks by the cattle herders as communal conflict.
By pointedly failing to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of the crime, the authorities had merely set the stage for further and even more vicious atrocities. The Presidency and its operatives preferred to rationalise the killings, a move that created the impression before the perpetrators that they enjoy official protection. For the victimised communities, they are left thinking that the security architecture has been rigged to leave them unprotected.
The federal government and the police should hold themselves responsible for the fresh killing in Benue State. Unfortunately, the fresh killing was preceded by the visit by President Buhari, albeit reluctantly, to Taraba State, one of the theatres of unrestrained killings by Fulani militants.
Speaking in Jalingo on Monday, the president said the number of persons killed in herdsmen and farmers clashes and other violent attacks in Mambilla Plateau, Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State, and Zamfara combined are more than those who lost their lives in attacks in Benue State. For a visit which was ostensibly to condole the people over the killings, the statement was insensitive. In a time of grief, a leader ought to show empathy, kindness and understanding when meeting with the victims and their family members.
The world is characterised by conflicts orchestrated under the guise of religion, territory and self determination. In every unfortunate incident leading to deaths, it is always up to leaders to be the chief mourners and lessen the pain on the citizens through direct and prompt condolences visits where they spread the message of hope. More importantly, they commit to ensuring that perpetrators of crime and killings are brought to book.
At no time during his visit to Jalingo did President Buhari commit to giving the victims of the attacks justice. In fact, when he commented initially on the killings, the president never assured the people that security would be mobilised to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. In the absence of such commitment, the victims are left forlorn.
For the police, its inspector general has betrayed his oath of office. His poor choice of words in categorising the massacres as well as the way he over reached his office and authority when he asked states which had enacted laws to ban open grazing of cattle to nullify the law is unbecoming of a chief law enforcement agent. Despite the criticism that trailed his initial pronouncement, Idris still upped the ante by proclaiming that states who banned opened grazing should first provide ranches for cattle herders before enforcing the law.
Given the undisguised unwillingness of the police to rein in the Fulani marauders with the presidency in complicit aloofness, the federal government may be, perhaps unwittingly, setting the stage for a prolonged and deeper crisis.
Nigeria does not need this, not now, not ever. The president and his minders should rise above primordial inclinations and stand up for the enthronement of law and order. As most of the victims of the attacks are farmers who are progressively displaced from their agrarian communities, sooner than later, the country may have to contend with a debilitating shortage of food.
As a Fulani himself, President Buhari has by his body language, pronouncements, actions and inactions exposed himself to allegations that he favours his kith and kin, rightly or wrongly. Such impression leading to crucial elections coming up in 2019 does not bode well for the well being of the country.
He should impress it on the cattle herders that their lifestyle has no place in modern society neither is it the responsibility of government, federal or state, to provide for their businesses. More importantly, he should release the hand break on the police and direct them to apprehend and prosecute any herder that attacks farmlands and engage in wanton killings. Anything short of that may precipitate unimaginable crisis in Nigeria.
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