Thursday, September 15, 2016 1:06 pm
By Bola Bolawole
On Friday, May 20, 2016, assailants believed to be Fulani herdsmen attacked Oke-Ako in Ikole local government area of Ekiti state, leaving in their trail death, sorrow and tears. It was not the villagers’ first encounter with the marauders; previous efforts to attack the town had been thwarted with some of the aggressors arrested and handed over to the law enforcement agencies. The attack of May 20th was, therefore, reprisal attack against those who foiled the previous efforts. At this time, Fulani herdsmen’s atrocities had become nationwide; their impunity and violent dispositions had attracted attention even internationally, to the point that the herdsmen have been classified as the fourth most vicious terrorist group in the whole world.
PDP’s Gov. Peter Ayodele Fayose, a frontline critic of the ruling All Progressives Congress and President Muhammadu Buhari, was in Port-Harcourt for a meeting of his party when the attack took place. On his return to Ekiti, Oke-Ako, scene of the dastardly act, was his first port of call on Monday, 23rd May. He spit fire, so to say. He rallied the entire community and promised them the wherewithal to repel any such attacks in future. He immediately provided the local hunters with cash and utility vehicle to give teeth to his backing. He also promised a law to clip the wings of the herdsmen. On Monday, August 29th, exactly three month after he had made the pledge, Fayose delivered as he signed the “Prohibition of Cattle and other Ruminants Grazing in Ekiti, 2016” bill into law.
Passed by the Ekiti State House of Assembly, the law prohibits herdsmen to carry arms in the state. Anyone who flouts the law will be charged with terrorism. Grazing activities within the state would also be within a stipulated period of 7.00am to 6.00pm and at designated locations by the state government. Errant herdsman would have their cattle confiscated as well as be made to pay compensation to damages incurred by farmers and or others whose property may have been wilfully destroyed by the herdsmen’s activities. Offenders are also liable to six months’ imprisonment without an option of fine. Before Fayose signed the bill into law, the Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Kolawole Oluwawole, had read its provisions to an auspicious gathering of traditional rulers and chiefs from all over the state, who had been called in Fayose’s continuing efforts to deepen his grassroots support in Ekiti.
It is intriguing to me as an observer of political happenings in Ekiti that the APC, which used to be the ruling party in the state, appears to have completely abandoned the field to Fayose. If the trend continues, what I have heard people refer to as “16 – 0”, which means PDP winning all 16 local governments without the APC winning one in the last governorship election, may repeat itself again in 2018. That, however, is discussion for another day.
As would be expected, the Ekiti grazing bill has been applauded as well as riled. Powerful and influential political as well as socio-cultural groups in the South have given kudos to the law. Afenifere, Ohanaeze Youth Council, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Campaign for Democracy, and the Civil Liberties Organisation have, through their officials, backed the law. As would be expected, other organisations and groups from the North, such as the Arewa Consultative Forum, Jamu Nate Fulbe Association of Nigeria, and the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum have kicked against the law. Those in support believe the heinous activities of the herdsmen must be curbed; they even counsel other states ravaged by the herdsmen to take a cue from Fayose. Those against the law argue that it violates the freedom of movement of the herdsmen and their right to pursue their business activities without let or hindrance. Both contenders have their strong and weak points.
It is heartening to note that the due process of public hearing was followed before the bill was arrived at and that all opposing views were canvassed. So, everyone had a say, including those not comfortable with the law as it eventually came out. It is important that their views have been made well known to the appropriate quarters. Two of such views which I consider germane and which may have to be looked into in future is the one that says herdsmen caught with weapons will be treated as terrorists. Is this an over-kill? Maybe they should be tried for the possession of illegal arms; but we must not lose tract of the fact that the herdsmen, because of their atrocities, have been declared the fourth most vicious terrorist organisation the world over.
This is where, I think, Ekiti got its justification from. I, however, reject the plea that herdsmen be allowed to carry light arms such as “dagas” and bows and arrows. These are vicious enough arms and must not be tolerated. The second area of disagreement is the ban on night travel by herd and herdsmen. Day travel will be cumbersome and disruptive of social and commercial activities. This may be so; but night travel had also provided cover for attack on communities. We may all decide to suffer some inconveniences to protect life and property until a solution is found to this problem.
Ultimately, what these areas of disagreement point us to is that the solution to this problem lies in having ranches for herd and herdsmen. They do not have to roam about; and they will be secure within the confines of their ranches. But can we blame Fayose for coming up with his own solution when the right thing is not being done and the Federal Government had also maintained criminal silence over the menace of the herdsmen while flexing muscles with pro-Biafran and Niger Delta militants? Is Fayose’s half bread, even if that is what it is, not better than none at all?
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