Insecurity: The north-south rift sinks deeper

  • South bans open grazing, demands restructuring

Fred Ojiegbe

The worsening insecurity in the country and seeming sympathy of the federal government for the terror groups plaguing the country are stoking sharp polarization of positions between the southern political leaders and pro-north federal government of the country.

Anger is reaching boiling point in the southern parts of the country as communities and youth organizations begin to vent frustration on their own leaders for failing to protect their regions against armed herdsmen and terror groups that visibly operate above the law.

A youn Fulani herdsman poses with military grade submachine gun.

Instead, the security agencies that display weakness against deadly northern herdsmen are regularly unleashed against community vigilantes in the south; a situation that now threatens to destabilize the key urban centers in the south east and south southern parts of the country.

The Orace Today reports that spate of killings by armed Fulani herdsmen has spread from Northeastern Plateau State through Benue State, Ebonyi and Abia Sates to Imo and Rivers States. And the reluctance of the security agencies to arrest and prosecute the itinerant killer herders has given rise to separatist agitations across the communities in the southern states.

The situation has begun to tear social, cultural and political leaders away from the current administration of the federal government which is perceived to be indulging ethnic marauders terrorize southern communities.

In the northern parts of the country, insurgency and associated banditry have also been allowed to fester across the three key regions of North West, North East and North Central; posing great threat to southern regions of South West, South East and South South.

President Muhammadu Buhari and his security chiefs had, in response to public uproar against government’s inaction against violence in the country, entered emergency meeting but the outcome of the meeting took traditional pattern: no action against killer herders, but war against agitators.

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But just hours after President Muhammadu Buhari and his service chiefs declared military offensive against agitators in the Southeast and Southsouth regions of the country, governors of the 17 states in the south of the country rose with a different political proposition; calling for greater inclusiveness, devolution of powers and true federalism as the acceptable measures.

The governors who met in Asaba, Delta State, also joined the government of Benue State in North Central Nigerian in pointing at armed herdsmen as vectors of violence. They jointly banned open grazing as the potent measure against the spreading wave of insecurity across the country.

The Oracle Today reports that Nigerians were shocked when the President Buhari and his military chiefs declared on Monday that their only reaction to the growing insecurity in the country was to launch offensive against vigilante groups formed to protect to protect local communities against heavily armed herdsmen that have killed, kidnapped, maimed and raped villagers in the south.

The herdsmen attacks which started since Plateau State in 2015 when Buhari was first elected president have worsened and rapidly spread across the nation without any response from the security forces. The administration’s indulgence of the marauding herdsmen has taken unprecedented human tolls across the country in the past six years.

Anger is high in southern Nigeria over visible unwillingness of the federal government controlled by the All Progressive Congress (APC) to allow security agencies arrest, disarm and prosecute the murderous herders that have continuously marched southwards. But all calls and cries on federal government appear to fall on deaf ears.

Rather, security agencies are routinely deployed against local vigilante groups seeking to protect their communities against the formidable pillagers that have sacked villages and kidnapped men and women for ransom and rape in communities along their routes.

It is estimated that over 1,000 Nigerians die monthly in the hands of the herdsmen and collaborating criminal bandits that pillage the southern and northern parts of the country respectively.

On the parallel side the Boko Haram and Islamic State insurgents have sine 2015 rapidly expanded their operations and territorial coverage from their signature Northeast enclaves to Northwest and as far as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), raising fears over the vulnerability of the seat of power to seizure.

Earlier in the week, the presidency confirmed armed attacks on the residences of the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, and other officials. The reported attacks raised a spate of national outrage over the benevolent sentiments of the government towards raging terror groups in the country. 

Stakeholders were outraged that despite the worsening insecurity overwhelming the country, the federal government ignored the role of the herdsmen and focused on community youths agitating against the weakness of the security forces against the invading herders.

Erudite public affairs analyst, Professor Pat Utomi, reportedly declared that President Buhari’s government has lost legitimacy in view of its failure in arresting and addressing the prevailing security challenges of the country.

Fears are high in the south that any military offensive against vigilante groups would weaken local resistance against the marauding herdsmen and render the indigenes vulnerable to smooth invasion by merciless killers.

Herdsmen trained on use of sophisticated weapons

The emerging stage for bloodletting might have pushed the governors of the southern states who confront impatience and indignation from their subjects to quickly convene and take a common position on deteriorating security tension in the country.

Some 15 of the 17 governors of the South East, South West and South South zones of the country agreed in Asaba, Delta State, that open grazing of livestock which forms the basis for bloody clashes is banned in southern parts of the country.

The ban on open grazing leads other far reaching decisions of the governors who for the first time discarded political party boundaries and threw their weight behind calls for restricting of the country towards stronger regional autonomy and whittling of exclusive federal powers.

President Buhari’s administration of the federal government, unlike his predecessor’s, is vehemently opposed to devolution of powers.

The governors who distanced from calls for dissolution of the federal union were also firm on the need to address issues that threaten national unity. They therefore called for justice, fairness, equity, oneness, and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity.

Chairman of Southern Governors Forum, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, declared that whereas the people of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria they need guarantee of their security.

“Southern Governors expressed very grave concern on the security challenges currently plaguing the nation and strongly urged that Mr. President should address Nigerians on the challenges of insecurity and restore the confidence of our people.

“We observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals, and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security.

“Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria.

“(We) agreed that the progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation leading to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism.

“In view of widespread agitations among our various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements, the Federal Government should convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency,” Gov Akeredolu declared after the meeting.

The governors condemned the exclusion of the southeast and south south zones of the country in the debt funded infrastructure development programme of the Buhari administration, and called for urgent rehabilitation of old seaports and development of new ones in the Eastern part of the country to ease pressure on Lagos roads.

They pointed out that establishment of ports in other states of the federation would create new jobs and boost productivity across the country.

They recommended that in deference to the sensitivities of the various people of the country, there was need to review appointments into Federal Government agencies including security agencies “to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogeneous.”

The governors also expressed concern over proposed national lockdown and opted for coordination with federal government on strategies for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Oracle Today reports that there was massive movement of immigrant bandits during the previous national lockdown, raising suspicion that another lockdown might ease movement of insurgents and bandits to the southern parts of the country.

President Buhari had in the past been accused of exporting banditry to the south through his unpopular proposals for cattle routes, ruga and cattle colonies; all land grabbing measures allegedly meant to redistribute immigrants allowed into the country through his governments free visa programme for African countries.

The southern governors urged President Buhari to convoke a national dialogue and take urgent steps to restructure the country and create institutions that legitimately advance practice of true federalism.

The Southern governors, however, observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South.

“Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot); recommended that the Federal Government should support willing States to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems,” Gov Akeredolu clarified.

The joint position of the southern governors only amplifies the chorus of condemnations that trail worsening insecurity, economic gloom and maladministration of the country under the Buhari presidency.

The Joint Action Civil Society Coalition, comprising numerous organizations championing the cause of good governance in the country, is calling for mass actions across the country from May 26 against perceived government’s sympathy for invading herdsmen and insurgents that the group claims to have killed about 2,000 citizens in the first quarter of 2021.

The group has in a statement called on Nigerians to participate in the peaceful rallies that would precede the May 29 Democracy Day celebrations to express discontent against government’s failure to stop terror groups from Killing Nigerians.

Part of the programme, according to the statement is the commemoration of the 4th National Day of Mourning and remembrance of victims of mass atrocities scheduled for May 28. The group advised citizens to boycott all Democracy Day activities on May 29, 2021 in protest against the deplorable state of the nation’s democracy.

“Following its sharp increase of 43 per cent in mass atrocities in 2020, Nigeria has continued to experience a decline in security across the nation. In the first quarter of 2021(January to March), we recorded an all-time quarterly high of almost 2000 fatalities from mass atrocities incidents across the country,” the group stated, adding that the figure has increased with escalation of violence in the past weeks.

They pointed at the unending war in the North-East, attacks on peaceful protesters by security agents, and the rampant terrorist activities that include mass murder, rape, maiming and kidnapping of Nigerians including women and children.

They also listed rising incidents that cost innocent Nigerian lives to include terrorist herder attacks on unarmed farming communities and reprisal attacks in the face of government inaction and failure to bring the terrorist herdsmen and their funders to justice.

The coalition pointed out that large scale terrorist attacks in the North West are “irresponsibly tagged by the government as ‘banditry’ in a bid to downplay their criminality.”

The coalition condemned government’s amnesty offer to terrorists, saying: “This is tantamount to funding and supporting terrorists, encouraging murder and the decimation of the Nigeria’s gallant troops and amounts to treason against the Nigerian state and people.”

What has become clear is that the growing insecurity and anti-south posture of the Buhari administration is driving the country to serious political crises capable of threatening national unity.

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