Middle Belt Intelligentsia Declare Herdsmen Violence Greatest National Security Threat
Anger against herdsmen violence went up one notch higher yesterday with Middle Belt intelligentsia formally declaring “killing and maiming their hosts in the guise of grazing their herds” by violent herdsmen as the greatest threat to Nigeria’s national security and survival. The intelligentsia rated it as a menace with the potential to undo the fragile unity of Nigeria if not well handled. Community activists, government officials, academics and media practitioners who rose from a two day conference on “Herdsmen and Farmers Conflict in Central Nigeria” at the Benue State University in Makurdi rated Boko Haram insurgency and the renewed sabotage of oil facilities in the south-south as the other two such national security threats.
While declaring its belief and commitment to the Nigeria project, the intelligentsia, however, insisted the Federal Government should officially declare Fulani militia a terrorist group, saying the FG has the evidence to be able to do so. They have also asked the government at the centre to direct the armed forces to commence an onslaught on the militia in the same manner it is handling Boko Haram and chase them out of the central region. Chastising the FG, the northern political class as well as the international community for silence, it called on the United Nations to declare militia killings in the Middle Belt as genocide with the follow through implications.
In what amounts to the most comprehensive response from the region on the herdsmen violence in the past few years to the extent that it was held in a government owned university and attended across the political parties in an APC led state, the intelligentsia also demanded full compensation to all affected communities while asking the FG to expose, shame and prosecute sponsors and suppliers of arms to the militia.
The communiqué of the conference organised by the university’s Centre for Research Management declared herdsmen violence in the region as invasion to which it said the people’s response would not be to stand by and watch. “No one should tell a people who face existentialist threat to their very survival not to defend themselves”, it said.
Although the communiqué titled ‘Makurdi Declaration’ was careful to state that it had no malice towards Islam, the Fulani and the Muslim Ummah, it nevertheless described as worrisome what it called the perception that the Fulanis have some exclusive right to graze anywhere, calling herdsmen violence as existential threat because Fulani militia evict ancestral occupants violently and murderously in what it says is reminiscent of the Jihad.
Declaring bluntly that the Middle Belt does not have land for the settlement of people from other states and other African countries, the communiqué asked the FG to respect that position, asserting the right of the people to defend themselves. Putting what the communiqué called undeclared war at the foot of some unnamed power group using the militia to subjugate the central region in favour of an Arewa Republic in the event of any unfortunate break-up of Nigeria, the intelligentsia also alleged how attacks are coordinated with the support of government security forces, leaving indigenous people with no protection and vulnerable to migrants from Chad, Niger and other Fulani enclaves led by those it called Fulani youths born in the states where an attack is to be launched. Insisting that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association knows the sources and identity of the perpetrators of the violence in the area, the communiqué kicked against what it described as arbitrary arrests in affected communities.
Coming ahead or coinciding with a week of prayers declared by the Benue State Government in the aftermath of the latest round of herdsmen violence in Logo in the state in addition to the residual issues in Agatu killings, this communiqué is worrisome to many. Benue State was not only the experimental state in the peace initiative of the Northern Governors Forum, its Tiv nationality has just installed a new paramount ruler who has not even attended any meeting of the traditional rulers in the north. It seems the Northern Governors initiative ran out of gas even before it started as to have failed to prevent a communique such as this. When added to the spectre of hate speech in the land today and the level of fragmentation and acrimony especially along religious lines, some observers wonder why the Buhari regime appear unmoved or overwhelmed to move beyond rhetoric to action in re-assuring all. The fear is that deep seated reservations are being allowed to sediment to explosive level. The question is whether this is governmental incompetence or indifference or both?