By Rommy Mom Esq, President, Lawyers Alert
Institutionalized Government historically evolved from persons within a geographic entity abdicating their rights and putting same in a system that would collectively protect and provide for them under terms and conditions known as the State/Government. The situation in Nigeria is no different, where all our rights are placed within the protection of a Government that is supposed to provide, protect, and fulfil these rights, mostly referred to as Human and/or constitutional rights.
Rommy Mom Esq
Central to the issues of Human rights are the right to life. While other rights are no less important, they can only be enjoyed where the right to life is secured. Lately in Nigeria, the right to life has been precarious with regard to protection and provision.
The previous Government showed complete ineptitude in the protection of Nigerian lives with particular reference to Boko Haram. It can be argued that President Buhari rode to power largely on this plank, promising Nigerians his administration would protect this cardinal right i.e. right to life. Based on this premise, Nigerians voted him in. Lawyers Alert, like most Human Right Organizations at the time, identified President Buhari as the preferred candidate for Nigeria based on his plans and where the country was headed at the time.
Today, the question is, has President Muhammadu Buhari delivered on the mandate of securing lives and property? And also in the process of so doing, have good intentions and empathy been evidenced?
With regard to Boko Haram, before Buhari came in to power, Kano, Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Taraba, Plateau, Yobe, Borno and the Federal Capital Territory were massively compromised by attacks orchestrated by the terrorist group. Bombs went off regularly, adherents of the 2 main faiths, Islam and Christianity worshipped in fear and school children were either murdered or abducted in the face of Government helplessness. Never to be forgotten: the Buni Yadi massacre in Yobe state and the abduction of almost 300 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno state.
To President Buhari’s credit, Boko Haram is now barely operational and even so only in Borno State where it originated. Equally in the South-West and South-East, unrest and insecurity, have been reasonably contained. In fact, a large number of the abducted girls have also been recovered, relatively safe and sound. These efforts must be acknowledged and commended.
HERDSMEN AND BENUE BASIN
Sadly and most disquieting however, in the Middle-Belt region and the Benue basin, gruesome carnage has held sway and is gradually gaining a frightening momentum courtesy of a band of brigands referred to as herdsmen. Farmers, most of whom are located in rural areas and mostly subsistent farmers, are caught off guard, sometimes on their farms, other times in their communities and slaughtered by the dozen, ostensibly in “land grab” pursuit for grazing. While these attacks did not begin with Buhari’s administration, the killings appear to have escalated dramatically under Buhari’s watch.
Rather than comprehensively addressing the issue and protecting citizens’ right to life, the Buhari administration is exhibiting the same helplessness Nigerians experienced with the Jonathan administration’s handling of the Boko Haram threat.
For instance, Jonathan chose not to visit Borno even as Boko Haram ruthlessly plundered its way across most parts of the north and gradually earned a reputation as the most vicious terror group in the world. By the same token, President Buhari is yet to visit especially Benue, the state most pillaged by herdsmen. In fact, a recent state visit that took him to neighboring Nasarawa state on the 6th of February, 2018, somehow neglected to include a stopover in Benue as part of the itinerary.
No pussy footing on this, the responsibility of protecting lives lies squarely with the Federal Government of Nigeria given that all the security agencies in this Country are Federal in nature and take orders from federal agencies/President and not the State Government. This leaves the State Governments very vulnerable as they have no power. Yet, the Federal Government is yet to make adequate security arrangements in the affected areas for the protection of lives and property, even while these so-called herdsmen have a field day in the massacre of Nigerian citizens in the most gruesome manner.
Some State Governors in a bid to address the situation have passed anti-open grazing law in their States. Others have called for ranching while, pleading with the Federal Government to protect their people.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
The Federal Government response, sadly, has been tepid, and even as we speak, entire communities in Benue are being decimated and the people displaced as a result.
Federal security agencies have alleged that there are elements of Islamic fundamentalist / terrorists masquerading as herdsmen. If this is true, the Federal Government has not bothered to show some clarity in this regard in the spirit of accountability to the people. If the security agencies are accurate, then the Federal government is approaching the issue in the most casual manner given the lessons of Boko Haram.
A second response from the Federal Government is for security agencies to ask State Government to suspend validly passed laws i.e. Anti-open grazing laws. This is not only shocking but rather absurd. That this suggestion would come from security agencies is a clear manifestation of their reluctance to call a spade a spade. In effect, the State Governments would have to suspend laws or their people would continuously be killed. This suggestion is shameful as these laws were actually passed to mitigate the situation. The problem, therefore, can’t possibly be the laws.
Security agencies, especially the Police are becoming increasingly partisan, with the Police Public Relations Officer openly calling the Governor of Benue State a drowning man during a talk show on Channels. Lawyers Alert completely supports the Resolution of the House of Representatives calling on the Inspector General of Police to resign. Offices are not just meant to be occupied, but to be occupied for functionality. The functionality of the Inspector General’s office is in question and we call for his immediate resignation in line with the House of Representatives resolution.
President Buhari’s non-responsiveness to the situation by staying largely quiet, refraining from making assurances to the people of Benue people in line with his mandate to protect them, is sad.
On the whole, the implications of what is happening in Benue is massive. The entire Benue valley/basin is now an unsecured environment wherein farmers can no longer go to their farms. IDP camps have become a regular feature even as Benue remains in the top 4 states with a high population of IDPs as reported by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. According to the IDMC, Benue has approximately 85,393 (eighty five thousand, three hundred and ninety three) displaced persons and these are even figures from 2015.
For a Government that prides itself on the need to diversify our economy in favor of agriculture and food security, its response to the crisis exhibits either an abject lack of commitment to that pledge or dismal ignorance of the vital role Benue plays in the agriculture sector in Nigeria.
Another implication of what is happening in Benue is the apparent notion that herdsman are somehow above the law. Instead of arrest and prosecution, we have security agencies requesting that laws be suspended or repealed.
Equally irksome is the suggestion of establishing “cattle colonies”, mooted by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh. With regard to this idea, Lawyers Alert posits that the issue of cattle ranches and colonies, be totally suspended in States like Benue, at least until the menace of herdsmen is traced to its roots and destroyed. Healing, rehabilitation and reconciliation should be the only priorities at this time.
Most importantly, there must be a holistic approach to the issue of marauding herdsmen and loss of lives in the Benue basin. A solution would have to be thought through with the active participation of communities and stakeholders.
Lawyers’ Alert therefore calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to visit Benue, commiserate with the people, and show the political will to resolve the lack of security in the Benue basin in much the same way the Boko Haram menace was tackled.
Benue certainly deserves that.