Presidency’s flip-flop on herdsmen’s killings
Receiving the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who visited him at Abuja House in London on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari said the spate of unprovoked killings by Fulani cattle herders was the handiwork of militants trained by late Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi, and now unleashed on Nigeria seven years after his death.
According to the president, the herdsmen whose killing spree took alarming dimension since he became president three years ago were trained by Gaddafi who was killed in October 2011 when his regime was overthrown by rebels.
President Buhari’s pronouncement has elicited shock and condemnation from many Nigerians. It was the latest in the series of rationalisations by the president and his inner circle of the ongoing killings. In the wake of the most prominent bizarre killings in Benue State involving the over 72 lives, the president, while receiving a delegation of leaders from the state, urged the governor to “try and accommodate their neighbours.” In effect, he saw the killers as people that ought to be integrated into the Benue society.
Previously, his Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, had blamed states that sought to curb the indiscriminate destruction of farms by enacting anti-grazing laws for provoking the killings. Similarly, the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Audu Ogbeh, had blamed what he said was the encroachment on grazing routes and reserves for the killings. Even the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, even admitted paying the herdsmen to stop them from killing peaceful villagers and farmers. In fact, every official of the presidency that weighed in on the issue had all but exonerated the herdsmen and routinely blamed farmers and the indigent people for ostensibly “provoking” the killings.
To cap it all, the umbrella group of Fulani cattle herders, the Miyetti Allah, had repeatedly owned up to orchestrating the killings and had given conditions for discontinuing the heinous act.
However, the latest flip-flop on the brutal killings is one too many. It is shocking that the president chose a foreign land where he usually prefers to address serious issues on Nigeria to make his latest rationalisation of the murderous attacks. Given his access to intelligence briefings, it is benumbing that intelligence agencies would suggest that the late Libyan leader is now responsible for Nigeria’s major security challenge seven years after his death.
President Buhari’s tone, choice of words and body language in his London delivery suggested that he is either helpless to stop the killings, unwilling to address it or that it is a phenomenon Nigerians have to put up with. Whichever reason is uppermost in his mind, he did not try to allay the fears and concern of the people or inspire them to have faith in the ability of the government to secure lives and property. Rather, what emanated from him is a limitless capacity to blame others for a challenge he had told Nigerians was a mere irritation when he was seeking their votes.
His allusion to late Gaddafi throws up more questions, given the positions he had taken earlier. At what time did he realise that the killer herdsmen who by the latest episode of his blame are non-Nigerians were truly foreigners? When he urged the people of Benue State to “accommodate” their “neighbours”, was he seeking the safety of the victims of the attacks? By proclaiming the killers as Gaddafi-trained, is he suggesting that they are better motivated and equipped than the Nigerian military who have been battling the militants? With Miyetti Allah having repeatedly associated itself with some of the killings, is President Buhari suggesting that the group could have recruited the “Libyan-trained” killers?
To tell Nigerians from London that the scourge of murderous campaigns on defenceless farmers and rural dwellers by a group he had used state apparatus to defend are now foreigners is mischievous. With that singular action, President Buhari has given Nigerians cause not to trust him and his government on any serious issue. The regular refrain from him and his personnel has been that the attacks would soon be curbed. With no arrests or bold move made to get the killers accountable for their actions from the federal government, the president is now telling Nigerians live with the spectre of “foreigners” roaming the countryside, killing and maiming in an unrestrained manner.
If there was any doubt on the veracity of the admonition by Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, a former chief of army staff who recently stated that Nigeria’s security architecture has been rigged to protect the marauders and perpetuate the killings, President Buhari’s latest rationalisation has dispelled such misgivings.
Nigerians should take heed to Gen. Danjuma’s admonition and gear up to defend themselves, their property and their lives. The president’s statement has generated an air of helpless and resignation among the people. The betrayal of the people which is what President Buhari’s statement amounts to should give fillip to the ongoing clamour for the restructuring of the country, especially on the need to devolve power to the states and the creation of state police.
While the process is on, every state governor should initiate measures to protect their people from the marauders who increasingly feel emboldened by the body language of the presidency.