Mahmud Jega’s “This Thing Called ‘Killer Herdsman’” made for some reading. This rejoinder appraises and raises fundamental questions to some missing links then proffers solutions. Jega began by acknowledging what we are all now agreed upon –that herdsmen have attacked rural communities in different parts of Nigeria in a well-established fashion: a village is surrounded in the dead of night, shootings are indiscriminate, anyone found is killed whether they be children, women or men while the rest of the community are made to flee.
The question is if we as unlettered security persons have taken into cognizance this pattern in Adamawa, Plateau, Benue, Southern Kaduna, Mambilla, Enugu, Taraba and all of the states these onslaughts have gone on, how is it that our security personnel have not been able to intercept this pattern and bring the attackers to account? Boko Haram is said to be an asymmetrical warfare as such difficult for the security agents, how then is a rehearsed pattern such a challenge for our security agents?
The writer also alluded that although communities feign innocence, the fact that the herdsmen leave thousands of villages along their routes untouched and sneak upon specific ones suggests that somebody in that community did something-either killed a herdsman or rustled some cattle. He further said that the herdsmen live in another age and they have different rules of engagement from the one most of us are used to-the ugly notion that when someone offends them, every member of the offending village woman, child, aged and infirm is fair game.
It is very difficult to wrap the head around what Jega describes as the herdsman’s different rule of engagement. If the intention was to present the herdsman as unintelligent or primitive, then that notion falls short for a herdsman whose trade makes him the most migratory of all people exposing him to several cultures and civilizations. At the very least, one would expect that if the herdsman does not live in our age nor understand UN Conventions, he certainly shares our humanity and bleeds red when cut and so should know the value of life. What is the price of a cattle rustled? How many human bodies bring to equilibrium the loss suffered by the herdsman?
It is therefore not only offensive to modern value system that anyone (herdsman or farmer) should go on a killing spree when offended. It is a rape on justice, a desecration of just dessert and a usurpation of the philosophy of the heat of passion rule. You don’t mow down a community when your cow is rustled or your family member is killed, no, you approach the justice system for redress. When cattle is rustled, the Law calls it theft and theft has a punishment in our Law books. When a person is killed whether by the herdsman or member of any community whenever or howsoever by persons other than the State, then the name for it is Murder.
To hit the nail, that thing we call herdsmen-farmer conflict is called Murder by a state where there is respect for the Rule of Law. When homes are burnt, the Law calls it arson. When property is stolen without arms or with arms the Law calls it theft or armed robbery. The Law, not humans should balance terror and when we think we cannot trust our legal system anymore then the thing to do is to collectively make a decision to shut down all security agencies, close down the legal system then go home and create our own kind of rules; but until then, the Law is the Law and the State cannot afford to be the enabler of crime by calling it less than what the Law says it is.
Taking Southern Kaduna as example for which Mr. Jega suggests that the killings there are as a result of the herdsmen losses in the 2011 post-election crisis; Mr. Jega may want to note that since 2012 there have been constant attacks in that area. Curiously, the 2011 post-election crisis did not begin in Southern Kaduna, it happened all across the country especially in the northern states. How many more of the killings of the Southern Kaduna people will appease the herdsmen and who will say stop when the killings reach the equilibrium? Are Kogi, Enugu, Numan, Mambilla, Benue, Plateau, Taraba also paying up the herdsmen 2011 post-election deficit? If not, why should Southern Kaduna be the sole place still paying for the 2011 post-election crisis which had indiscriminate casualties and for which even the Southern Kaduna people had so much losses of their own?
My point is to say those of us who write must be careful not to give any justifications even if unwittingly for impunity. The expression high-tech low casualty wars and low-tech high casualty wars does not apply in this instance because the ‘thing’ we are talking about by whatever name we intend to call it has raked up huge casualty to earn itself a fourth place in the Global Terror Index but ironically, the present administration does not see it lethal enough to give it the same name nor did the President deem it big enough to recognize it as a problem to address in his new year speech which Nigerians expected is the speech that will provide the compass for our national journey in 2018.
It is tasking to think that the herdsman does not know there is a North Central geopolitical zone, yet he knows how to handle an AK47 and will in the words of Jega “leave thousands of villages along the route untouched and sneak upon specific ones”. If Prof Wole Soyinka’s assertion is to be debunked on Jega’s basis that the herdsman does not know that Nigeria exists then it means he does not recognize the sovereignty of the Nigerian state which invariably lends credence to the assertion that the herdsmen who carry out the attacks are foreign mercenaries and if they do not ‘know a local, national or international boundary when they cross one’; who are the states supposed to provide the colonies for? Foreigners? Will they recognize the colonies if and when they see it? Is Nigeria not ceding its sovereignty to people it cannot hold accountable?
You know, this crisis of climate change, population pressure, influx of small arms and other causes are largely man made than natural and like all man-made disasters, they can be solved by men and women of good conscience who will not look for temporal decisions for long-term problems. China is turning deserts to green fields and agricultural zones. They make no discrimination as to forms of agriculture as such give a fair chance to all forms of farmers; Nigeria should do the same. Cattle rearing is a private business which does not entitle the government to tax since the Jangali tax system was abolished; yes, the government could facilitate an enabling environment for agriculture but in so doing must not complicate matters.
Take the colony proposal as example, Nigeria has a landmass of about 923,768sqkm. The proposed cattle colony is 10,000hectares per state which brings the total hectares to a huge 370,000hectares proposed to be given to cattle rearers only, how justifiable is that to other business owners and to the rest of the Nigerian community? In any case, this colony creation falls short of section 28 of the Land Use Act where Government can only take over land for overriding public interest. If the government wants to solve this problem and provide a level playing field, it can through the Bank of Agriculture, give interest free loans to all farmers but if it continues on the path of this cattle colonies, it must envisage a situation where pig owners, poultry owners, rabbit owners and all other animals on the animal farm demand for same and when that happens, what is good for Angola must be good for Uganda.
More critical is to look at the composition and efficacy of the Nigerian Security chiefs. Nigerians from all around the country have cried hoarse on the lopsided representation of Nigeria’s security chiefs –the Inspector General, the Army chief, the Air Force Chief, the Director for State Security Service, the Interior Minister, the Defence Minister and the National Security Adviser are all perceived to be from a single geographical area. The President may have his reason for having them but clearly the Nigerian people do not trust the arrangement. In Law we say Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. To make matters worse, these killings have gone on without a successful response by the present chiefs. The solution amongst others is to sack the present security chiefs and to bring on board competent replacement with national spread.
The government also must give as much attention to the victims as it does to those it wants to create the colonies for. The peaceful loss of a loved one is traumatic much more a violent one worsened by the memory of knowing the murderer is not brought to book or termed ‘unknown gunman’. There are victims who have lost husbands, wives, children, homes, livelihood; there are communities that have been sacked. Government must forestall these attacks and where they happen demand answers from the security officers in charge of those areas.
Government must also not roundup these murders, forget about them and carry on as though the lives of Nigerians mean nothing. The death of the paramount ruler of Numana and his wife in Southern Kaduna for example ought to have been unraveled by now. The deaths of all the other persons whether in Mambilla, Taraba, Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Birnin Gwari or anywhere at all need to be unraveled. The President should also show up in these troubled areas to atleast empathize with Nigerians, it is a basic human requirement for someone leading a country of human beings. The reality of what we are dealing with should leave such impactful conviction and presence of mind that we say no to these killings and the truth is, we don’t have a capacity problem but a will problem. It’s time to get the will to stop these killings.
Ballason is a legal practitioner and columnist with Blueprint Newspaper.