The federal government must take a decisive action against the developing pogrom in Benue, Katsina and surrounding states before the crisis envelops the entire region. Vincent Obia writes
The statement on Wednesday by a leader of the herders association blaming alleged comments by Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State against Fulani cattle breeders for the spate of killings in the state by the herders smacks of a rationalisation of the mindless massacre of the natives. The national vice president of the cattle breeders association, Alhaji Hussaini Bosso, said in Minna that Suswam, a Tiv, had declared war on the Fulani herders by saying they should leave the state. He also alleged atrocities against his people in the Middle Belt states of Benue, Plateau, and Taraba, where marauding herdsmen have killed hundreds of rural farmers in recent times.
â€œAll these atrocities were perpetrated by Tiv people. To our surprise, the police were aware, but did not do anything to avert the ugly developments. Not only that the police felt unconcerned about the matter, the respective governments of the affected states did nothing,â€ Bosso alleged.
He alleged that hostilities towards the cattle breeders were behind the recent bloody attacks by Fulani mercenaries.
Bossoâ€™s obvious excuse for the killing of villagers and destruction of whole communities is callous, shameful, and too extreme for civilised humanity. Nothing can justify the resort to murderous self-help and attempts at ethnic cleansing.
But, perhaps, more embarrassing to the country is the fact that comments like the one by Bosso, which clearly give useful clues to the sources of the insecurity in the land, are allowed to pass without decisive reaction from the federal government or the security agencies. This has encouraged people to engage in very heinous crimes with impunity.
The growing bloody clashes between rural farming villages and semi-nomadic Fulani cattle herders took a turn for the worse last week when gunmen on motorbikes killed more than 100 villagers in Faskari and Sabuwa local government areas of Katsina State. The killings took place in separate attacks on villages by suspected herders, which began on Tuesday.
The carnage in Katsina State happened about the same time another attack by raiding herdsmen in Uzza, Ayillamo, and Ayinbe communities in Logo Local Government Area of Benue State resulted in the death of 22 persons. This was just after rampaging invaders had sacked about 64 villages on the Daudu-Gbajimba axis of Guma Local Government Area of the state, killing about 37 persons.
On Monday, gunmen attacked the convoy of Suswam at Tee-Akanyi village as he went to commiserate with victims of the recent killings in Guma Local Government Area. The attackers succeeded in preventing the governor from accessing his destination through a particular route.
As if to worsen the cloud of insecurity that is trying to envelop the once peaceful Benue, soldiers that were deployed to the state were said to have refused appeals to provide security for the governor on his way to the communities, where his security personnel engaged in about one hour gun duel with the assailants. The soldiers allegedly claimed such operation was not part of their brief in the state.
What is happening in Benue State is similar to the trend in Plateau and Taraba states. It has extended to Katsina and Kaduna states.
The Nigerian state must demonstrate capacity to secure the lives and property of the citizens. The situation where groups within states take up arms against fellow citizens and explain their murderous acts away with impunity, while the security agencies look the other way, does not augur well for the country.
The federal government, which currently has monopoly of coercive instruments in the country, should intervene early in Benue, Katsina and the surrounding states to secure the states and root out the killers.
Failure to decisively deal with the spreading attacks by herdsmen could have the dangerous effect of encouraging groups that currently perceive themselves as victims of the raids to resort to the raising of their own militias. Already, individuals and groups from some of the affected communities have been ramping up threats of retaliation.
But above all, the foundation for an end to the misunderstandings breeding the current communal clashes lies in the people appreciating past shared values that had kept the various groups together as peaceful communities, rather than highlighting their differences.