The Monster of Militant Herdsmen, Kidnappers and Oil Thieves

The deafening cheer that followed news of a ceasefire deal between the federal government and representatives of Boko Haram was not unexpected. It showed Nigerians are really fatigued by the unending heart-breaking news of killings, maiming and destruction of property by insurgents in parts of the north. The spontaneous reaction to the deal is also a clear pointer to the insurgents and those that are currently feeding fat on their activities that Nigerians would want their days to be numbered quickly!

I really don’t mind if the insurgents choose to be more hardened, as we are seeing. But I know that change is constant and that the only human institution that rejects change is the cemetery. If Boko Haram and their leaders expect to remain relevant in the Nigeria of tomorrow, they must of necessity agree to lay down their arms, embrace the wind of change or remain in chains. It is also true that they may decide to maintain their current position and ultimately get deadlier, but this will be the surest route to their destruction. A highly respected pastor in Nigeria and General Overseer of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), Dr. Daniel Kolawole Olukoya, had said in one of his numerous sermons that there are two categories of people in the arena of change.

The first set of people, according to him, are those who see the light and accept change as an integral part of life, while the second category have those who feel the heat before embracing change. He concluded that, in all, no one experiences progress without change! My simple interpretation of this is that: if you are a Boko Haram sponsor and obviously not happy with the calamity the ongoing insurgency has caused Nigerians, you must change to make progress. Similarly, if you are a government official – president, governor, etc, and you have not done enough to thoroughly reign in insurgency, you just have to see the light and change. In any case, Boko Haram is already on the fast lane to extinction. If you like, it is quietly seated in the departure lounge of its existence, their renewed onslaught, notwithstanding.

But a more ferocious monster waiting to happen if complacency remains our model of tackling insecurity are the growing activities of Fulani herdsmen across the country, kidnapping and oil thefts.

Unknown to millions of Nigerians, the Fulani herdsmen presently kill scores of Nigerians unreported on a daily basis, especially in the Southern parts of the country. There is hardly any forest in Edo, Delta and the South-east that these traditionally friendly young men are not found. I describe them as traditionally friendly because going back in time; one recalls that the relationship between these herdsmen and farmers is legendary. I remember vividly growing up in my village in Edo State, one of the exciting moments, especially at the farm areas, was the cascading movement of the herdsmen and their cows each time they came around in search of ‘greener’ pastures.

I also recall with nostalgia the conviviality associated with their arrival in our community – they had always struggled to engage themselves in some form of interaction with the locals by deploying sign languages and other gestures to pass their desires across. For example, if they needed some water, they would simply dangle their Jerry cans at the locals, and stuffs like that. There was no friction, not any that I can easily recall as I write this. The first Hausa word – aboki – that I heard and spoke in my life was learnt from the herdsmen. Because, any time they came around they would joyously say ‘aboki’ and a reply from us in the same form, would instantaneously be exchanged with them. They were not hostile. They did not bear lethal weapons like the AK-47 that they freely wield today.

These modern day herdsmen, I mean those that wield AK-47, have destroyed farmlands in Kaduna State and killed hundreds of villagers in the process. They are also in Taraba State! Wukari is a theatre of war. They move in, Kill at will and retreat. What about Benue State? They have engaged the Tivs in that state, moved over to Nasarawa where they are presently causing mayhem on a regular basis in three communities. Plateau, sadly, is in their pocket! I am not certain that the governments, security agencies and other local authorities can conveniently put a figure regarding the lives already lost to the numerous clashes farmers there had faced, and still facing in their relationship with their legendary neighbours, the herdsmen.

The herdsmen, in desperate search for rich pasture for their animals, routinely get into people’s farm lands; destroy the farmers’ source of livelihood in the process, how be it unintentionally. The friction point is when the farmers complain. What follows from the account of farmers, is harassment and possibly attacked. They are now increasingly drifting to the southern states with the attendant menace that follow such movement. For instance, there have been allegations of rape, destruction of farmland and attempts to overrun communities leveled against them.

Although the federal government, in partnership with state governments, is disposed to seeking a lasting solution to this with its planned N100 billion national grazing project, the activities of the herdsmen, if not vigorously and urgently checked, could get the powerful owners of the cows and the poor farmers and their state authorities into a widespread bloody battle. As I write this, can I announce that farmers in Igbanke, Edo State, now loathe going to their farms. Why? Armed herdsmen have taken over their farmland. Motorists are also stopped and robbed with reckless abandon along the Agbor-Uromi Road.

Besides, of a greater evil are the growing activities of kidnappers in the South-west, South-south and South-east. The kidnappers, like death, are respecters of no body. The latest victim of VIP kidnap is the former NBA President, Okey Wali. These criminal activities gaining ground on a daily basis is thriving largely due to the complacency of the residents that clearly know the boys, but would not speak out for fear of being kidnapped! A vigilante arrangement to arrest the situation was put in place by the state government, alas! There have been complaints of non-payment of stipends as promised them. This has equally compounded the situation as the guys hired to watch over the community have literally abandoned their duty post.

Oil theft is really one crime that can economically crumble the country. Oil thieves, like drug barons, could successfully drive any government crazy. In the case of Boko Haram, a government could ask for loan to procure military hardware to push back the fighters, can we possibly do that to check oil thieves? A stitch in time, saves nigh!

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