At this particular juncture in the nation’s history it’s of utmost importance that people commenting on issues should mind their words. This is especially true if they hold high political office. More than anything Nigerians want peace and prosperity and nothing should be said or done which stands in the way of this. It’s often been asserted that Nigeria is blessed with every natural resource necessary for peace and prosperity except good leadership! The truism of this statement is becoming more apparent every day as the nation drifts towards being a failed state.
In the face of self-serving political leaders who have perfected the art of misgoverning and accumulating wealth, law and order continue to break down and citizens are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. This is especially true when it boils down to issues concerning Fulani cattle herders. The recent public spat between governors Ortom of Benue and Mohammed of Bauchi over the issue of herders bearing arms only served to highlight the lack of a workable national policy to address the issues surrounding the nature of the nation’s inappropriately structured cattle rearing business.
Mohammed and Ortom were at loggerheads over the simple matter of fulfilling their primary responsibility to protect lives and property of their citizens. Although the herdsmen issue has taken on national proportions Governor Ortom is considered to be in the “frontline” because ample evidence of the horrendous murder of Benue citizens at the hands of herdsmen is contained within mass graves proliferating in the state. The Benue State governor has complained severally that whenever his citizens are slaughtered in their homes not a whimper is heard from the federal government, but as soon as he takes action to reduce the death toll by giving the herders quit notice, then the Presidency itself springs to their defence.
Many opinion writers and commentators have insinuated that the herders, who habitually take the law into their own hands, have support from the highest quarters. Truth was given to this suspicion when Governor Bala Mohammed openly backed their carrying of AK47 assault weapons. He made the most outrageous defence of their breaking the law when he said herdsmen have no option other than to carry AK47 because the society and the government are not protecting them! He was not asserting the right of Fulani to carry AK47 rifles because no such “right” exists.
He was quite simply condoning illegality. The AK47 is an assault rifle used in warfare which only the military and security people are legally allowed to use. To be quite clear the extant law covering ownership of guns in Nigeria is the Nigeria Firearms Act 1990 which provides that no person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm or ammunition except such a person has a license from the President or the Inspector-General of Police.
Furthermore except in rare cases firearms licenses issued to civilians cover double and single barreled shotguns to be used for hunting or gaming. There are no laws whatsoever which empower any Nigeria civilian to bear military grade weapons.
It should have come to him as no surprise that negative reactions and condemnations came in thick and fast. Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State said Mohammed’s comments were “careless and despicable”. Former Kaduna State Senator Shehu Sani said that Mohammed was “baptizing infamy”. The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said the statement was a reckless invitation to anarchy. Indeed it was an admission of the federal government’s inability to carry out its primary function of guarding lives and property.
There are some who have called Governor Mohammed’s statement a “mistake” because statesmen should never make volatile statements. Others claim that he “never meant well” in the first place. Whether it was intentional or not, it defies belief that the governor did not consider the inferences of his statement. Nigerians are supposed to be equal and none can be deemed to be above the law. If carrying AK-47 is good for herders, then it is good for all Nigerians. It is trite that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Responding to all the negative comments Governor Mohammed’s Senior Special Assistant on Media said the reference to AK47 was to “put in perspective the predicament and desperation of those law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who while carrying out their legitimate cow-rearing business have become serial victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination’’.
This explanation holds no water whatsoever. There is no doubt that some Fulani are suffering injustice and fear of their lives, but unfortunately this isn’t unique to them. These days most Nigerians irrespective of their ethnic group or occupation live in daily fear for their lives. Not only herders but also Okada and Keke Napep riders, farmers, road and train travellers, taxi drivers, school teachers and hospital workers are all regular victims of armed attacks, robbery and violence. Indeed there is no business in Nigeria which has not suffered from violent and deadly attacks. This being the case if every affected individual is to take the law into their own hands and acquire an AK47 the end result would be a bloodbath! There is no reason why only the Fulani should be above the law of the land.
The implication of Governor Mohammed’s statement is that only Fulani need to be protected and shielded from attacks and not other Nigerians, and, therefore, their flagrant disobedience of the law should be condoned. It is worthy of note that neither the Inspector General of Police (IGP) nor the Presidency has called him to order. It defies explanation why they can’t simply caution all citizens irrespective of ethnicity to obey the law. Unless there is a hidden agenda why can they not advise Fulani to cooperate with law enforcement officers instead of taking matters into their own hands by forcibly occupying lands and terrorising innocent citizens? Governor Mohammed should behave like a statesman, and unless he has a hidden agenda he should apologise to Ortom and all other Nigerians.