By Emeka Chiaghanam
Since the mid-80s, Nigeria has not known absolute peace because of one socio-political, religious or ethnic crisis, which has continually threatened the peace and stability of the nation. At one time in the 80s, it was attacks on other ethnic nationalities residing in the northern part of the country for reasons not clearly stated.
The first major threat to the country’s unity after the civil war was the early 1980s, Maitatsine riots that erupted in northern Nigeria. The radical Islamic sect took to the streets of Zaria proclaiming their brand of Islam to be superior to every other one, including Christianity. The sect perpetrated the Kano crisis of December 18-29, 1980, which led to the death of 4,500 civilians and security personnel and later spread to other towns and cities in the North, claiming more human lives and property.
The Shehu Shagari led government believed that aliens infiltrated the country that they pose a threat to national security and as a measure, called all the foreigners to leave Nigeria, a situation that caused tension with neighboring countries and international communities. Pope John Paul II called it “a grave, incredible drama producing the largest single and worst human exodus in the 20th century.” The United States State Department described Nigeria’s action as “shocking and violation of every imaginable human right,” among other criticism that poured in.
Expulsion of foreigners did not stop further socio-political, religious, or ethnic crisis, for example, the Zango-Kataf Riots of 1992 in Southern Kaduna over the local government decision to relocate the market to a more populated Christian area. Though, tension between the two communities had been long-standing. The conflict claimed 60 lives and in May that year, another riot broke out with heavier casualties. The violence soon spread to the city of Kaduna, where several churches were burnt down and Christian ministers killed. The violence left over two thousand people dead with 60,000 people fleeing their homes.
In December 1994, the city of Kano made headlines, when Muslim fundamentalists beheaded Gideon Akalika, an Igbo trader, and had his head paraded on a spike on the streets of Kano after he was accused of desecrating the Koran by inscribing some blasphemous words against Mohammed in his shop at the Sabon Gari area of the city. The state witnessed more riots that are religious inclined in the years that followed. In 2002, Plateau State boiled with religious and ethnic conflicts that threatened the peace of the state and by extension the country.
Then the Boko Haram insurgency emerged threatening to tear the country apart. When the sect displayed its might, bombs exploded like bangers, suicide bombers had field day, the population in trepidation. The militant Islamic group sought the imposition of Sharia law in the northern states of Nigeria, and to turn the country into an Islamic State. Boko Haram horrendous activities went beyond killing of Christians and destruction of public properties to killing of fellow Muslims and crossing into Cameroun, Niger and Chad.
Now, it’s the Herdsmen invasion across the country. The peculiarity of the herdsmen menace, unlike other religious and ethnic violence which centred in the northern part of the country is that they invade farmlands from Middle Belt to the South with their cattle destroying farmlands, and any opposition is met with death threats. Further challenge, in several instances had led to killings and sack of villages.
Many farmers argued that if cattle were to graze, it shouldn’t be on farmlands. Most victims have seen their labour and resources destroyed in minutes. The herdsmen and their supporters claim that they have no grass in dry season for their cattle, yet they have the large irrigated areas scattered across northern states.
In traditional Igbo setting, domestic animals are not allowed to stray for a reason; it could do havoc to farmlands. In Igbo towns and villages where they breed livestock; particularly goats, where there are no available forage for the goats, they are taken to the bush (none farmlands) and tied to a post to graze. When the animal stray and is caught by others, the owner pays a fine to have it back. This check ensures that farmlands are not destroyed and such douses any clash or violence that it may it thrust over farmland vandalism.
With the North massive landmass and large scale agricultural practice, annual produce like tomatoes, eggplants, onions and other crops, with the bulk shipped down south, how much farmlands has the cattle destroyed. Ever since the herdsmen threat began, there is no record of their invasion of farmlands or clash with core northern farmers, who are predominantly Muslims and they have the biggest farms in the country. Does it appear with the largest farms in Nigeria they want to wipe out the farms in the South? Does it mean the herdsmen are sponsored to make sure other regions have no farm produce?
The herdsmen activities drives wedge on the country’s unity. The sponsorship of Grazing Bill in the National Assembly by some northern politicians, where each state of the federation is expected to map out land for cattle colony does not sit well with many Nigerians. Southern states and Middle Belt States opposed the move. The situation splits the country the more.
Why allot portion of lands to the herdsmen for their cattle to graze on? Why not give livestock colony to other ethnicities? Igbo people breed goats. Does it follow that the federal government will make land available for goats to graze in every part of the country? If such could be granted given the small landmass of the south, many people agreed it would work out for the herdsmen. Some southern states breed other types of livestock. Don’t they deserve a bill that would allow enough land across the country where they could establish a colony for their livestock?
More worrisome is the bearing of firearms. Why are the herdsmen allowed to bear arms, where by law, as civilians they are not allowed? The arms employed by the herdsmen have become their source of strength to get away with impunity. The question is; who is arming the herdsmen. Their weapons; AK-47 are simple to operate as the gun is sophisticated. An AK-47 rifle at the black market goes for N452, 200. When people of other ethnicities are caught with arms, they are arrested, what happens to the herdsmen?
For herdsmen to bear AK-47, could there be ulterior motive behind the surge in their nefarious activities? Could it be that they are sponsored for other reasons, which are not known to the rest of us? Many Nigerians are worried. Like the canary that dances to drumbeat from an unknown place, for the herdsmen impunity, could forces somewhere make them to flex their weapon of death? The herdsmen were not known to bear guns years back rather than sticks to give direction to the cattle and daggers to ward off attack from dangerous animals.
The arms they employ make killings and destruction of properties easy.
The herdsmen battle with Benue farmers in December 31, 2017, into the New Year day, left 71 Benue farmers dead. Federal authorities appeared to maintain taciturn on the trend that is about engulfing the nation, until public outrage followed. The Inspector General of Police, Abraham Idris, described the violence as communal clash which he later retracted. The Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre, (VATM) said herdsmen attack across the state has killed no fewer than 500 people and displaced 300,000.
To save the nation from impending disaster, as it is the duty of any serious government to protect lives and property. Where evil is perpetrated, the offenders should be brought to book the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Reverend Paulinus Ezeokafor, has advocated ranching as solution to the incessant herdsmen attack in the country.
Ezeokafor, said that developed countries that had small landmass, adopted ranching in their meat supply, thereby confining cattle rearing to enclosures, yet achieving quality and quantity in meat and milk production.
In the same vein, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekeremadu, encouraged governments to go a step further to invest in constructing and leasing out modern ranches, which has such benefits as the production of healthier animals, production of better products, provision of employment, added value to the farm products, and promotion of peaceful co-existence, among others than nomad cattle breeding which threatens the unity of the country.