A Punch Editorial:
There is a sense in which it can be said that those entrusted with the sacred duty of securing lives and property in this country have failed abysmally. The recent massacre of innocent citizens in Plateau State reinforces this failure and is a poignant reminder of the harvest of senseless deaths recorded since this administration took over power in 2015.
Last weekend’s security breach that claimed more than 100 lives in 11 Plateau State villages followed a litany of assurances from President Muhammadu Buhari of the capacity and willingness of the security apparatus to defend the citizens. Given the predilection of the police for understating casualty figures, the number could well be closer to the 200 deaths claimed by the villagers themselves.
With such a high casualty figure and more than 50 houses burnt, perhaps only countries in a state of war suffer such magnitude of losses in one day. From the accounts of events, the herdsmen fingered in the killings were armed with sophisticated weapons; and they sacked village after village with practically no resistance. No one else but Buhari and his security chiefs should be blamed for this horror.
Since the turn of the year, the Middle Belt areas of the country have witnessed a bizarre series of killings, starting with the 73 slaughtered in Benue State on New Year’s Day. The most provocative was the killing of 19 worshippers, including two priests, inside a Catholic church building. A compilation by a national newspaper put the number of violent and avoidable deaths by non-state actors in that part of the country at 901 as of April this year. This is double the number of British soldiers lost in 15 years of combat activities in Afghanistan, which is put at 453 by a report quoting the country’s Ministry of Defence.
Mass burials are fast becoming a commonplace in that part of the country. Yet, the Buhari government remains perilously clueless. The impression is created of a commander-in-chief who does not set targets for his security chiefs, and therefore finds it difficult to evaluate their performance.
The President does not help matters with his awkward and out-of-context comments concerning this very serious but divisive national issue. In Jos, on Tuesday, he wondered why he should be blamed for failure to stop the rampaging Fulani militia. “There is some injustice in these aspersions,” he said. When a President chooses the scene of mourning after a national calamity to lament a perceived injustice done to him, it leaves much to be desired.
Buhari had, during a visit to the United Kingdom, also spoken about the attackers coming from Libya. This he repeated, although in a modified form, when he said, “But the present herder, I am told, carries AK-47 (instead of sticks)….” This is dodging the issue. What happened in Plateau and has been happening in other parts of the country is criminality bordering on ethnic cleansing.
Buhari got it all wrong from the beginning of his administration. If anything has defined Buhari’s failed presidency, it is his parochial and clannish approach to government. This accounts for his disastrous handling of the Fulani herders’ carnage. What a few had always suspected about Buhari’s ethnic inclination is now becoming known to many with great shock and horror. This essence is dark and ominous.
How can it be explained that, with the exception of the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; and Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin; all other members of his security council are from the northern part of the country. They include the President himself; Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau; Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris; Director-General, State Security Service, Lawal Daura; and DG of the National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Abubakar; as well, two of the three military service chiefs, Tukur Buratai, Army and Sadique Abubakar, Air Force, are from the North. There is no way this can help for national security.
Buhari’s handling of the Fulani herdsmen terrorism has not only revealed his sectionalism, but also demeaned the Presidency. Perhaps, the President’s lack of decisiveness is the body language that the security forces have been responding to in states currently under the spate of attacks. This is why a former Chief of Army Staff, Theophilus Danjuma, told Nigerians to start defending themselves as relying on state protection would see them killed “one by one.”
It is surprising that members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria have not yet been rounded up after claiming the attack was in retaliation for the killing of 300 cows “in the last few weeks.” Officials of the association have been quoted as saying, “Since these cows were not found, nobody should expect peace in the areas.” Horrible!
Buhari’s drab and narrow understanding of the Fulani killer herdsmen is perilous. The attack on Plateau has proved that appeasement is not the solution to the Fulani herdsmen terrorism in the country. It should be noted that Simon Lalong, the state Governor, has been bending over backwards to accommodate the herdsmen, in line with Buhari’s exhortation. He condemned states that had passed anti-grazing laws and even went ahead to provide land for ranches. Yet, his state was not spared.
The role of security agents in this matter is questionable. Therefore, there is no better time for Buhari to crack the whip. On matters of security, it is always dangerous to be reactive when you should be pre-emptive. Promising to put pressure on security chiefs to stop the killings, as Buhari said, is not the way to go; at this stage, he has to ring the changes and bring in fresh hands with fresh ideas. The present crop of security chiefs have proved to be ineffective and should be changed. But in replacing them, there should be a conscious effort to reflect the Federal Character principle in a country of diverse religious and ethnic groups. They should also be capable of coming up with the goods.
When a team is constituted from a narrow corner of the country, their opinion is not likely going to reflect the larger diverse interests. Idris, Daura and Dan-Ali no longer deserve to be at the sensitive posts. Buhari should replace them today.
Miyetti Allah’s ethnic cleansing agenda is threatening the country’s corporate existence. Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate, says “what is the ultimate destination of these new imperators? The answer is unambiguous: Land. The seizure of land, either for seasonal grazing, for the lordly passage of cattle or for permanent settlement.” There is a strong reason for the President to reshuffle his shambolic security apparatus instantly.
But first, Buhari’s partisan understanding of the Fulani killer herdsmen agenda has to change. If, as claimed by the cattlemen, people stole or killed their cattle, the perpetrators should face the full weight of the law. The same should apply to those who shed blood, whether they are from Libya or from Iceland. And if he also feels that politicians are stoking the savagery, he should not be afraid to seize hold of them and make them to face justice.