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OPINION: Marauders, Herdsmen and Fellow Nigerians, By  Owei Lakemfa

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – There is anger in the land. The horrific massacre of people in the Ukpabi Nimbo Community in the Uzo-Uwani, Enugu State has put the country on the boil. Coming on the heels of similar attacks in parts of the country, Fulani leaders in the area had alerted the inhabitants that some herdsmen were camped nearby ready to attack. The  Uzo-Uwani Local Government Caretaker Chairman, Mr. Cornel Onwubuya told the press “Some Fulani  leaders told us that the herdsmen were camped very close to our community” He took the logical steps of informing the Governor who is the chief security officer of the state and the State Police Commissioner. Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in turn convened a meeting of the State Security Council  where the heads of the security services assured him that the attack will not take place. But it did.

There are two primary conclusions I draw from this scenario. First is the failure of the Nigerian state which despite being put on notice, could not defend its citizens against a handful of marauders. The second is that the invaders are external as the local Fulani community spied on them, and provided timeous and useful information that could have led to apprehending the criminals before they struck. So we may be dealing with two sets of Fulani; the peaceful and law abiding who owe their loyalty to the community, and the external invaders.

There are three basic assumptions in the attack; that the criminals are herdsmen, Fulani and Nigerian; all three suppositions can have  margins of error. Unfortunately, the emotion-charged reactions have not given much room for critical analysis, and  the insensitive statements credited to the  Northern State Governors and Senators  have further complicated matters.

While our attention is  focused on the Nigerian Fulani herdsmen, we might be missing clues that these marauders might be  a trained insurgency force, like the defeated Chadian rebels who in the 1990s operated along the Lafia-Makurdi  road. This might also be true of the bandits operating today on the Lokoja-Okene road who once put Okene in a lockdown and were strong enough to attack a long military convoy.

It is  historically true that  crop farmers settle and cultivate the land while herdsmen are mobile and tend to live off the land, however, humanity has since transformed into ranching, but  we are stuck in the past.  There is nothing inherently evil in the herdsman; some of my favourite Biblical figures; Abel, King David who wrote beautiful poetry in a collection titled PSALMS and, the Three Wise Men  to whom the birth of Jesus was first revealed, were all herdsmen.

To me, the wanton killings and the sway of criminals is reflective of the Nigerian state which is unwilling and incapable of checking impunity. A state exists to provide security  of lives and property, and deliver basic needs and services to the  citizenry. In return, the people  cede part of their sovereignty and even pay taxes. Where a state fails to meet its basic obligations, it becomes a failed state. Nigeria is not a failed state, but it is failing  in providing some of the basic services of a state. For instance, it is incapable of policing its borders thereby leaving the country open to a deluge of foreigners fleeing conflicts in Libya, Mali, Darfur and Central Africa. Nigeria virtually does not  produce arms, yet illegal arms flow freely like the River Niger. How do so much  arms flow into a country that has Customs, Immigration and  a mass tribe of  security agencies? It is a failure of the state.

The Lake Chad has virtually dried up and Chadians, Cameroonians, Nigeriens and Nigerians who  farm and graze in the Chad Basin are propelled southwards in order to survive. The  failure of the Nigerian state to envisage and tackle this,  and the increasing challenges of desertification  and climate change, is palpable.

For decades there have been continuous bloody battles between pastoralists   and crop farmers from Zamfara to Sokoto, Taraba to Benue. It is the failure of the Nigerian state to check these widespread massacres that has led to the spread of mass killings to the South.

The loud cry for people to arm and defend their homes against marauders is logical and understandable, but it is no solution. At best, we can achieve a balance of terror. The rise or proliferation of armed ethno-religious militia will be a greater danger. Already, some  states especially in the South are in the grip of cultists and thugs to the extent  that it is virtually impossible  for simple electoral contests to take place. In some states, we have the hegemony of the armed and dangerous, the greedy and the unprincipled; the supremacy of  the bullet over the ballot. This, from Bayelsa to Rivers State has bred a culture of inconclusive elections. Elections are due in Edo State next September, and the unfolding scenario points to another bloody, and possibly inconclusive election. To mix this with the rise of armed communities  and militia, is to endanger the people themselves.

The Government has the primary duty to disarm and bring to justice, invading marauders and local cultists, armed pastoralists and armed local thugs. We cannot express outrage against invaders while dressing local war lords in legislative, gubernatorial and ministerial toga.

Those who shout ‘To your tents, oh Israel!’ or ask  each Nigerian to paddle his canoe, may not understand that there is  no part of  our country  that is monolithic. In fact, the North is  more fractious than the South which has some ethnic cohesion in the West, East and large parts of the Niger Delta.  But even these are not immune to internal  conflicts, including bloody ones. There is also a tendency for countries that breakup, to face bloody internal  contradictions like we are witnessing in South Sudan. So what we need is to build a strong  Nigerian State.

Nigerians  need to clear any  cobweb  in their heads, put on their thinking  caps and map out  the way forward. What is clear in my mind is that we must  put an end to impunity whether by marauders or thieving politicians; cultists or religious bigots.


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