Open grazing of cattle should give way to modernity
Apparently worried by the rising cases of killings, kidnappings, and banditry in his domain, the Emir of Muri, Alhaji Abbas Njidda Tafida recently issued an ultimatum to criminal herders to vacate the forests in Taraba State within 30 days. In a viral video, the visibly angry emir, who is also Fulani, said if the herdsmen, whom he identified as nationals of some neighbouring countries refused to heed his warning, they would be killed. "There is no way we will keep having sleepless nights in our own homes. The poverty we are contending with is enough for us to deal with," he said.
Even if the emir spoke out of frustration in a speech that may trigger jungle justice and consequent reprisal attacks, the anger is not out of place. But the surprise is that the federal government has kept mute despite the tension the speech has created in security circles. A similar order in January this year by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to criminal herdsmen occupying some forests in Ondo State generated howls of controversy. Both the Presidency and the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation condemned the governor that he had no right to issue such statement. In fact, they practically asked the band of bandits to stay in the forests and continue with their nefarious activities. This is the kind of duplicity that has become the trademark of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the Muri emir spoke out of concerns for his people. Despite his earlier calls for restraint on the prevailing herder-farmer conflict, there had been little or no progress. Many communities in his emirate are under severe and regular attacks from herders who occupy their vast forests. Under the guise of herding cattle, they destroy farms, kidnap for ransom, and commit all sorts of atrocities, including the raping of women and girls. In one such incident, some suspected Fulani herdsmen launched an unprovoked attack on two villages of Dori and Mesuma in Gashaka Local Government Area of the state and reportedly killed about 40 innocent men, women, and children. Women were raped. Several houses were razed, and many families rendered homeless.
Unfortunately, that has become more of a routine. Even though Taraba has joined other states like Benue and Ekiti in banning open grazing of cattle, the rate of crime is still surging, with security agencies hamstrung or compromised. Indeed, the former Chief of Army Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma who hails from the state, had repeated warned his people to defend themselves, a call the exasperated state governor, Darius Ishaku took up lately in a futile attempt at curtailing the overwhelming violence.
However, Taraba is not alone. Across the country, inordinate killings, and kidnapping for ransom are rife. In Benue State, killings and raping of women by some violent herdsmen are common in several communities. But the current situation where some herdsmen (mostly identified as non-Nigerians) traverse the length and breadth of the country with their herds to cause multiple discomfort to farmers and other innocent citizens cannot be excused or tolerated under any known law of the land.
In the absence of firm leadership on the security situation, the recent proposed enactment of the anti-grazing laws by southern governors was meant to protect residents of their states from the activities of violent herdsmen who hide behind grazing of cattle to perpetrate all kinds of criminality. Interestingly, many individuals and groups across the north are also of the view that open grazing of cattle should give way to modernity. What is left is for President Buhari to lead on the issue.