By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
About a week ago, in exercise of his rights as Chief Law and Security Officer of Ondo State, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu ordered herdsmen to vacate all ‘government reserves in the state within seven days’. Stating that the order was a reaction to the upsurge of criminal activities linked to some Fulani herdsmen in the state, Akeredolu declared ‘it is my constitutional obligation to do everything lawful to protect the lives and property of all residents of the State’. The governor also banned night grazing and outlawed ‘under-aged grazing of cattle’. The declaration was made during an interactive meeting with the leadership of the Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities in the state held in a conference hall in the governor’s office. The Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bolaji Salami and state Commandant of Amotekun Corps were also in attendance.
As far as the eyes can see and the ears can hear, this is a lawful order. It brought joy to hapless citizens of the state who had suffered intimidation from the scoundrels. I am sure commuters through the highways of Ondo State were happy with the pronouncement. There were what appeared to me to be spontaneous public demonstrations urging Akeredolu not to back down. Akeredolu did not order all Fulani herdsmen to quit Ondo State. That would be illegal. The quit order was to the herdsmen who live in the forest and routinely burst into the highway to kidnap and kill. Have we taken a count of persons who have been maimed or killed in the killing spree?
How could any sane person fault this order? What are the other governors waiting for before securing the lives and property of residents in the domains? For, as we know, the menace of these hoodlums masquerading as herdsmen is felt across the country. My kinsmen in Uwheru Delta State were slaughtered by herdsmen last year. These herdsmen are still in the bushes of Uwheru, forcing farmers to pay a toll before they can access their farms in their God-given ancestral lands!
The usually sleepy-federal-government-on-security-issues woke up from slumber through the voice of Senior Special Assistant to the President Mallam Shehu Garba and advised the ‘state government to tackle all forms of criminality but not breach the rights of herders in the state’ and that ‘insecurity is not alien to any group, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith’. Did Garba deliberately and mischievously misunderstand the governor’s directive? Or is he simply keying into a preconceived ethnic agenda which the incumbent powerholders in Abuja have been accused of perpetuating? This in the 21st century?
Of course, some different stakeholders have joined the fray. Northern Elders’ Forum, Oduduwa Elders, Ondo farmers, and Miyetti Allah have made statements for and against the order. Sadly, they have all taken sides along ethnic lines. In other words, the country is further being split along ethnic and religious lines. Governors in the view of herdsmen and their supporters do not have the right to order criminals to vacate the forest. Which leads me to the real point of my essay: do you order criminals to leave a property or you go in to flush them out? It is for this reason that I worry about the so-called order. Is it a flying kite to draw attention to the problem? Does Governor Akeredolu have the means and equipment to flush the recalcitrant criminals out of the forest if they disobey his order? Is Amotekun up to the task?
While the hullabaloo caused by Akeredolu’s order still ruled the airwaves, another unlikely hero, Sunday Igboho, sprang up in Igangan in Oyo State. In his own case, he ordered ALL Fulani herdsmen to quit the community. He took umbrage at the death of Dr. Aborode a prominent citizen who was murdered supposedly by herdsmen while returning from his farm. Igboho has collided with Governor Makinde over the order which contravenes our accepted mode of engagement in the country. Yet, Igboho has become a hero of sorts!
History teaches us that kingdoms, empires, and nations usually do not collapse suddenly. There are often remote and immediate causes of the fall of kingdoms. Indeed, in a 2019 letter to President Muhammadu Buhari Alafin Oyo Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III recalled one of the remote causes of the fall of ancient Oyo when he said among other things: ‘I recall with sadness that the old Oyo Empire disintegrated because the slave trade introduced insecurity that made all other activities which had supported and enhanced the prosperity of Oyo to decline’.
The nations and ethnic groups which constitute Nigeria have managed a fragile relationship since independence, without one ethnic group blatantly lording it over others. We once went to war when the Igbo felt oppressed in the country and declared the Biafran Republic. All the other ethnic groups joined the war to quell the secession with the slogan ‘To keep Nigeria One is a task that must be done! I doubt if the current government can muster national support if one of the federating units were to secede now. The federal government must proceed with caution. The dramatic upsurge in the impunity of Fulani herdsmen is a recent thing. We all grew up with herdsmen grazing next door. They avoided farms and were friendly. Not the current crop of herdsmen. Is the impunity a fall out of Fulai being at the helm of affairs in the country? Will they hold power forever?
The federal government should not play the ostrich. Should not carry on as if they do not get security reports about what is really going on. If the government does not address it now, it would be sowing a seed for future discord. Be sure that a Pharaoh who does not know Joseph will arise. It would from then be a different story for the murderous scoundrels who have raping women in their host communities, kidnapping people, killing men and women who ‘challenge’ them.
The Sunday Igboho challenge and popularity in Oyo State is a fall out of perceived government’s partisanship in protecting Fulani interest at the expense of the national interest. For example, why ask federal troops, funded with taxpayers’ money to escort cattle herders into a community where they are not welcome? The soldiers then use wires to flog outspoken locals. This is how discontent spreads. Nigerians, both in the north and in the south are not happy with the kid-glove-handling of the Fulani herdsmen menace. Igboho has become a hero. Across the land, people are asking for more Igbohos to arise. You do not need to go too far. Just monitor popular reactions to Igboho’s illegal order. Folks do not bother themselves about the legality of the order. The herdsmen follow no known order, the people say, why should anybody follow any in containing their nuisance?
Governor Akeredolu’s order therefore is the result of exasperation and the need to respond to a permanent threat to life and property. The impunity in the land is a timebomb for chaos and breakdown of law and order. That was how Ojukwu rose to folk heroism in the prelude to the May 30, 1967 Declaration. The federal government should learn from history. We do not want or need another Ojukwu. But some conflicts just spiral out of control when badly managed by the parties involved. The federal government, using the instruments of state, has already created room for the popularity of and need for Akeredolu’s order. The same attitude has given rise to Igboho and could create many more. Of course, Igboho will be promptly arrested and perhaps jailed. But let us be sure that it will only be a beginning of expression of open anger and disobedience. We do not want an anarchic situation. One Facebook commentator Bukky Olajide summed it up when she observed: ‘when the government fails, individuals take over!
Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393 and firstname.lastname@example.org