Non-state actors and the ungoverned spaces: Indications of leadership failure -Lateef Adewole

Suspected herdsmen kill 5 in Adamawa
Lateef Adewole
“On insecurity, there is a genuine cause for worry, both within and outside Nigeria. Apart from the civil war era, at no other time in our history has Nigeria been this insecure.” – Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Chatham House, Feb. 26, 2015).

Two days ago, in the course of preparing for today’s article, I stumbled on the speech delivered by the then General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) at Chatham House, London, on 26th of February, 2015, while he was in the opposition and canvassing for support to become the president of Nigeria. I read through it from the beginning to the end, despite having watched it at the time, and I almost cried. I asked myself; what actually went wrong?

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This question came to my mind because, the speech was so brilliant, detailed and touched on all prevalent issues at the time, even if some were slightly exaggerated. I thought that; had half of the content of that speech been implemented, Nigeria would have been on its way to Eldorado by now and not in the sorry state that we have found ourselves. What were projected as per the security situation, economy and anti-corruption, the three cardinal points of the APC manifestos, were completely opposite of what we have now.

I wish I could reproduce it here but it is there on the internet for interested readers. As I read it, it was as if the speech was written today by an opposition party candidate who is talking about the present government. Even at that time, the situation was not as bad as this. Is it the economy or the insecurity? When the president referred to the insecurity at the time as being challenging, the main concern of Nigeria then was Boko haram terrorists who were on rampage and occupied territories. Many were sold on those concerns.

Deal of the day

Today, large parts of territories held by Boko haram at the time have been recovered by our gallant military officers, a feat that actually started before the 2015 general election. However, contrary to the claims by the present administration that no inch of Nigerian landscape is under Boko haram, as often stated by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, that was found to be incorrect.

It is easier to postulate in the comfort and safety of Abuja where he and others like him reside, and claim all is well and peaceful in Borno. It is the people who wear the shoes that know where they pinch most. That claim was roundly refuted by no less a person than the number three citizen of Borno state; the Speaker of the Borno state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Abdulkareem Lawan. He said the whole of his LGA, Guzamala, his constituency, is fully under the control of Boko haram. He also said that he, with all the security paraphernalia available to him, could not visit his village in past three years. That’s instructive also because, he was still being re-elected despite the displacement of the residents in those communities. That’s Nigeria election for you!

So, apart from the Boko haram concern which is still very active, we have a bigger monster that is facing us as a country now, and it is on the verge of tearing the country apart as a result of mishandling by the government. It is banditry. This is another set of criminals who are deadlier and whose criminal operations are more vicious and preponderant. They are all over the country, unlike Boko haram terrorists who are confined to Borno state majorly and North-eastern Nigeria.

They are involved in a wide range of criminalities; Kidnapping for ransom, killing, maiming, raping, arson, destruction of communities and farmlands, and so on. As at 2015, despite the existence of such criminals, they were not as deadly, audacious and widely-spread as we now have. In the past five years, they have become bolder and more daring. They have taken over many highways, including one of the most critical roads linking the Federal capital to other northern states; the Abuja-Kaduna highway.

They have taken over many communities after killing them and displacing the rest. Many forests are occupied by them, which they declared as “no-entry zone” to security agents or anyone not approved by them. They now hold and control territories, not just at the fringes of Nigeria’s borders with other countries like Boko haram does, but many locations inside the country, even down south.

This must have informed the recent agitations across southern Nigeria about the presence of criminals in many forest reserves, who disguised as herdsmen, while they commit heinous crimes. We have witnessed these agitations in South-West, South-east and South-South. Women in Edo protested few days ago about the continuous kidnapping, raping and killing by killer herdsmen. They said they could no longer go to their farms. The worst is that, everyone accuses the Fulani herdsmen. But can everyone be wrong? “Res ipsa loquitur” (the fact speaks for itself).

Even when the federal government, under the leadership of President Buhari, has continuously denied the accusations against the Fulanis and even defended them many times, actions which put the government in bad light and led to insinuations that government is “supporting” criminals, all because they are of the president’s ethnic origin, and also the positions taken by many socio-cultural organizations and leaders in the north, many revelations proved otherwise.

Firstly, it was the number one Fulani in Nigeria, by virtue of his position as the Sultan of Sokoto, HRH, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, who said that out of every ten arrested bandits, seven to eight are Fulanis. As he said, there are criminals among other tribes as well. But the truth is that, the government is living in denial, maybe deliberately, or due to compromise, is responsible for indulging the criminal Fulanis who could be herdsmen or anybody.

Then, in the past one month, the revered Sheik Ahmad Gumi has been undertaking some of the most dangerous adventures of this time. Few weeks ago, the country was awashed with the news of his visit to the stronghold of bandits in the forest in Kaduna state. It was reported that he met over 600 fully armed Fulanis, who have created their own enclave in that forest. The revelations from there were heartbreaking.

He said many of the bandits are just foot-soldiers who look so tattered and unkempt, despite the hundreds of millions of naira they have collected in ransom money. That the money actually goes to their sponsors who live in towns and cities, among us, and probably in government at different levels. Nothing was heard about it from the government at federal or state since then. Likewise, the Northern Elders Forum, other northern groups and individuals, have been mute.

As if that was not scary enough, then came Wednesday, Sheikh Gumi embarked on other life-threatening journeys into two dreaded forests in Zamfara state. They are in Shinkafi and Gummi local governments. To summarise the reports of his visits to the two forests, they are in the “worlds of their own”. The bandits were said to be so many, between 700 and 1000 in number in the camps. They are well fortified with mordern arms and amunitions. They hold and control the territories. There are villages under them whose residents have accepted them and given their sovereignty to them. It was said that Sheikh Gumi had to be granted permission of entry before he could step into those forests, just like getting a visa to enter another country. That’s what our country has been turned to. They are also Fulanis.

It is surprising that we have not read any comment from the Northern Elders Forum, Alhaji Bashir Tofa and others who have been stoking the crisis in the South-West with their inciting comments. They criticized the people of south-west for wanting to rid the region and their forests of criminals, irrespective of their tribes. Now that the wind has blown and the fluff of the chicken has been exposed, they have suddenly gone quiet. Would they have preferred that the people keep quiet and do nothing while being killed as it is now commonplace in the north?

All this while, when people accused the Fulanis of being responsible for many crimes being committed all over, some people were quick to tell us they are not from Nigeria. So, all these Fulani bandits that Sheikh Gumi has been meeting and preaching to, for them to embrace peace, where are they from? I hope no one will be stupid enough to still tell us they are from Niger or Mali or other countries. Otherwise, that will mean there is no government in Nigeria again, considering the conditions they gave for peace to reign.

When I read that they are asking the federal government to do to them as did to the Niger Delta militants, I was shocked. They asked that they should be “provided means of livelihood including jobs, working capitals, entrepreneurship training, building clinic and schools for them as well as sending them to overseas schools like it was done to the Niger Delta militants”. All these because their cattle were rustled, was the reason why they took to crimes. That’s ludicrous. If everyone whose poultry was raided, whose business was burgled or shops vandalized was to take to crime, Nigeria would be a den of criminals.

Also, Niger Delta, from where the crude oil which provides over 70 percent of the national revenues to the federal account, which is shared by all, including the northern Nigeria, have every right to demand for compensations due to the destruction of their ecosystem. They could not farm or fish. Their water, land and air are polluted. They get afflicted with all kinds of diseases as a result. How they have managed these interventions is another kettle of fish.

What are the contributions of the “private business owners” called herdsmen to the federal purse in taxes? How does government operations affect their lives negatively like the Niger Delta people? These are questions that must be answered by those who asked that they be given bailouts, including some southerners who do that out of religious sentiments. They believed they are fighting for their “brothers in Islam”. Sheikh Gumi has made us to realize many of them are ignorant of what Islam even is. All what they do are against Islamic principles.

Had similar actions like undertaken by Sheikh Gumi been what the northern elders have been doing all these years, the situation would not have degenerated to this state of anarchy in the North. To want others to also keep quiet like that is callous. 600 bandits did not happen in one day, it was gradually over time. They move into the forests in the guise of herdsmen while their leaders defend their right to occupy the forests. They claim that their cows were rustled, begin to arm themselves and start to terrorize the communities, committing crimes. They established a “government” of their own in those forests.

Now that the Sheikh has started the peace move, we hope government will live up to their responsibilities, stop burying their heads in the sand, accept their failures and start acting responsibly. No one is against giving support to herdsmen but it has to be within the acceptable constitutional boundaries. Emphasizing on continuing the archaic methods of rearing cattle in nomadic ways, at the detriment of others is unacceptable.

Governor Ganduje, also a Fulani, has always proffered alternative solutions to the herdsmen but they seemed uninterested. He offered the forests in Kano to them to move into but they refused. He recommended banning the movement of cattle from the north to south, which destroyed farmlands in their wake and created crisis, they refused. These are enough for other tribes to suspect more sinister motives behind the insistence on occupying the forests across the country. It “smells” like invasion and colonization.

It is high time northern leaders removed the logs in their eyes before seeing the pecks in other people’s eyes. They need to help their people in tackling the security challenges facing them. The government should wake up to their responsibilities, take back and take charge of many ungoverned spaces all-over the country. They should not allow non-state actors take control of the country any longer, except there’s more to it than meets the eye. When criminals are arrested, they should be swiftly prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others. Human blood cannot continue to be used to water the grasses that cows feed on. That will be evil.

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God bless Nigeria.

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