By Professor Moses Ochonu
President Buhari needs to act decisively on the spreading, brazen murderous mayhem of herdsmen if he does not want to be consumed by the Goodluck Jonathan syndrome. When Boko Haram was escalating their attacks and brazenly occupying territories, former president Jonathan was aloof, convinced that the terrorists were a creation of his political enemies seeking to destabilize his government.
We know the result of that presidential negligence; we know the cost of that miscalculation. Buhari has been silent and aloof as herdsmen have rampaged through communities, killing, maiming, destroying, and forcefully occupying farmlands and deserted communities with their cattle.
No one in his government, not even the security agencies, will act against these AK-47-wielding herdsmen terrorists challenging state authorities in multiple areas unless they get a cue from the president. With a president unwilling to take on his murderous nomadic kinsmen, the end of this story can only be imagined.
Like Jonathan, it appears that Buhari is downplaying the threat posed to Nigeria’s fragile unity by the herdsmen and may even believe, like his predecessor did with BH, that the murderous herdsmen phenomenon is a political invention of his enemies. I recall fanatical Jonathan supporters urging the former president to let the Northerners kill each other to exhaustion and not act to save people who did not like or support him and who may have even created Boko Haram. When Chibok happened and he realized that he had been misled, it was too late.
A few pro-Buhari extremists are already blaming the herdsmen mass murders on “fifth columnists” and even “IPOB.” Is IPOB responsible for the five years old herdsmen murderous campaign in Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Taraba, and Benue?
Some of the president’s northern supporters are saying that it is a lifestyle of the nomadic Fulani to bear arms to protect their cattle. Really? Should a lifestyle supersede the constitution and our criminal codes which forbid civilians from owning, displaying, and using military grade weapons? What would happen if farmers across the country adopt this “lifestyle” of open arm-bearing? Did the herdsmen evolve this lifestyle in the age of AK-47s and automatic weapons? Does this “lifestyle” include establishing militias who invade and sack farming communities and take over their lands? Did the herdsmen’s ancestors practice this violent “lifestyle”? Does a “lifestyle” authorize taking the law into your own hands and resorting to mass murder?
It is a cardinal principle of natural justice that one person’s freedom or lifestyle stops when it curtails or undermines that of other members of society. At that point, it threatens the social fabric and becomes an illegal affront on all of society. In a modern, constitutional society, the so-called lifestyle of a nomadic minority or any group for that matter cannot override or threaten that of others. If it does, society dissolves into anarchy.
The tension in the land is thick, and you cannot blame folks in Benue, Taraba, Edo, and now Enugu–the latest theaters of herdsmen violence–for surmising that the herdsmen are emboldened by the inexplicable inertia of the presidency. You cannot fault them for thinking rightly or wrongly that presidential silence is complicity and toleration. And you cannot fault them for speculating that this silence/inertia is informed by the common ethnic identity of the herdsmen and the president.
Yet this is not an ethnic issue per se; it is a Machiavellian political one. The president is clearly captive to the political interpretation of what is going on, instead of viewing it with the lens of humanitarianism and statesmanship.
If these mass murders were being carried out in the Northwestern states, both the Hausa and sedentary Fulani kinsmen of the herdsmen would be urging decisive military action, but in Nigeria unless violence touches us directly we are indifferent to it and chalk it up to politics and invent conspiracy theories for it. As it was in the Jonathan era with BH, so it is now in the Buhari era with the menace of herdsmen. PMB should learn from what happened to Jonathan on Boko Haram and disregard his political and primordial instincts, otherwise these new, twenty-first century herdsmen will become even more emboldened in their terrorism.