Alarmed by the mounting death toll arising from the gruesome attacks allegedly perpetuated by armed herdsmen on communities in Benue and Taraba States, among other neighbouring states, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka yesterday cried out that the herdsmen “have declared war against the nation”, citing their serial attacks on innocent citizens.
Soyinka, a renowned playwright and poet, also said the federal government was “culpable, definitely guilty of looking the other way while the herdsmen attacked communities without let or hindrance”, noting that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari “must indeed be held complicit”.
He expressed disappointment in the manner the administration has treated the nefarious activities of the herdsmen across the country in a statement he issued yesterday, stressing that this present national outrage was “over impunity”.
In a four-page statement titled: “Impunity Rides Again”, Soyinka said the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) did not come anywhere close to the homicidal propensity and attempt at dominance before it was declared a terrorist organisation.
While acknowledging that some progress had been made by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh in the last two and a half years in improved farm produce, the Nobel laureate in outright terms rejected the minister’s explanation that the federal government had neglected livestock farmers over the years.
He said citing government neglect as the rationale would make the herdsmen attacks sound like the full story, but applauded the plan by Ogbeh’s ministry “to empower and organise herdsmen and cow farming”.
“I am in a position to know that much thought – and practical steps – have gone into long-term plans for bringing about the creation of ‘ranches’, ‘colonies’ – whatever the name – including the special cultivation of fodder for animal feed and so on and on.
“However, the present national outrage is over impunity. It rejects the right of any set of people, for whatever reason, to take arms against their fellow men and women, to acknowledge their exploits in boastful and justifying accents and, in effect, promise more of the same as long as their terms and demands are not met.
“In plain language, they have declared war against the nation, and their weapon is undiluted terror. Why have they been permitted to become a menace to the rest of us? That is the issue!” he charged.
Recalling that he called upon the federal government a week ago to stop passing the buck over the petrol shortages, Soyinka said he never intended that a reverse policy would lead to “exonerating – or appearing to exonerate – mass killers, rapists and economic saboteurs – saboteurs, since their conduct subverts the efforts of others to economically secure their own existence, drives other producers off their land in fear and terror”.
“This promises the same plague of starvation that afflicts zones of conflict all over this (African) continent where liberally sown landmines prevent farmers from venturing near their prime source, the farm, often their only source of livelihood, and has created a whole population of amputees.
“At least, those victims in Angola, Mozambique and other former war theatres, mostly lived to tell the tale. These herdsmen, arrogant and unconscionable, have adopted a scorched-earth policy, so that those other producers – the cassava, cocoa, sorghum, rice, etc, farmers are brutally expelled from farm and dwelling,” he said.
He also cited the hideous massacre perpetrated by the herdsmen early in 2016, saying this same “Murder Incorporated” depicted a numerical climax “to what had been a series across a number of Middle Belt and neighbouring states, with Benue taking the brunt of the butchery”.
He lamented that a peace meeting was called at the time, attended by the state government and security agencies of the nation, including the Inspector General of Police, but the herdsmen attended – according to reports – with AK47s and other weapons of mass intimidation visible under their garments.
He equally recalled that the federal government neither disarmed nor turned back the herdsmen that attended the peace meeting with arms and weapons.
“They freely admitted the killings but justified them by claims that they had lost their cattle to the host community. It is important to emphasize that none of their spokesmen referred to any government neglect, such as refusal to pay subsidy for their cows or failure to accord them the same facilities that had been extended to cassava or millet farmers.
“Such are the monstrous beginnings of the culture of impunity. We are reaping, yet again, the consequences of such tolerance of the intolerable.
“Yes, there indeed the government is culpable, definitely guilty of ‘looking the other way’. Indeed, it must be held complicit,” Soyinka maintained.
Continuing, he asked: “This question is now current, and justified: just when is terror? I am not aware that IPOB came anywhere close to this homicidal propensity and will to dominance before it was declared a terrorist organisation. The international community rightly refused to go along with such an absurdity”
For the avoidance of doubt, Soyinka observed that the IPOB leadership is its own worst enemy.
“It repels public empathy; indeed, I suspect that it deliberately cultivates an obnoxious image, especially among its internet mouthers who make rational discourse impossible,” he said of the proscribed group.
However, the Nobel laureate said the conduct of that movement, even at its most extreme, “could by no means be reckoned as terrorism”.
“By contrast, how do we categorise Myetti? How do we assess a mental state that cannot distinguish between a stolen cow – which is always recoverable – and human life, which is not.
“Villages have been depopulated far wider than those outside their operational zones can conceive. They swoop on sleeping settlements, kill and strut. They glory in their seeming supremacy.
“Cocoa farmers do not kill when there is a cocoa blight. Rice farmers, cassava and tomato farmers do not burn.
“The herdsmen cynically dredge up decades-old affronts – they did at the 2016 Benue ‘peace meeting’ to justify the killings of innocents in the present – These crimes are treated like the norm.
“Once again, the nation is being massaged by specious rationalisations while the rampage intensifies and the spread spirals out of control.
“When we open the dailies tomorrow morning, there is certain to have been a new body count, to be followed by the arrogant justification of the Myetti Allah. The warnings pile up, the distress signals have turned into a prolonged howl of despair and rage.
“The answer is not to be found in pietistic appeals to victims to avoid ‘hate language’ and divisive attributions. The sustained, killing monologue of the herdsmen is what is at issue. It must be curbed, decisively and without further evasiveness,” he said.
Using the mismanagement of the Boko Haram menace under former President Goodluck Jonathan as a reminder, Soyinka stated that the former president only saw “ghosts” when Boko Haram was already excising swathes of territory from the nation space and abducting school pupils.
“The ghosts of Jonathan seem poised to haunt the tenure of Muhammadu Buhari,” he warned.
However, in reaction to the outrage expressed over the killings, presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, yesterday frowned at those accusing the president of condoning the massacres occasioned by farmers-herdsmen conflicts across the country.
Adesina, who is the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, in a video message he posted on his personal Facebook account, dismissed the insinuations that Buhari was condoning the killing because he is a Fulani man.
According to him, such killings by herdsmen predated the Buhari administration.
He said: “Something that is disturbing that I have heard about it is linking those developments to the fact that a Fulani man is president and so, he is brooking such kind of evil acts.
“I think that is very unkind. And I will try to back my position with statistics.
“In 2013, particularly, there were nine cases of herdsmen invading communities in Benue State alone and more than 190 people were killed.”
The presidential aide, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), also noted that in 2014, there were about 16 of such tragic developments, with more than 231 people killed.
He further explained that there was a change of government in May 2015, but between January and May 2015, there were six attacks which left about 335 people dead.
“Now, the question is, during that period, did we have a Fulani president? This is showing us that the issue of herdsmen attacking settlements, attacking farmers, attacking communities, is pure criminality and it is something that government must deal with.
“It is the duty of government to preserve the lives of the citizenry. It is the responsibility of government to maintain law and order and that this government is determined to do.
“Therefore, let nobody say that all this is happening because we have a Fulani president.
“We have had many Fulani presidents in the past and this issue of herders and local communities at loggerheads has predated this government,’’ he added.
Adesina appealed to all citizens to continue to support and co-operate with the Buhari administration as the government was poised to find lasting solutions to the conflicts.
According to him, the government is determined to get to the bottom of it and it will get done.