After interminable foot-dragging over the rising insecurity in their territory, South-West governors and leaders have finally woken up to the need to take strong measures to protect their people and property. Their recent preliminary meetings will eventually pave the way for a full summit to deal specifically with the menace of Fulani herdsmen/militants, whose rampage of murder, rape, kidnapping and violent robbery has made many parts of the region unsafe. Though unpardonably long overdue, the governors, opinion leaders and all other stakeholders should address the issue with utmost urgency and take extraordinarily strong action to stamp out crime and flush out undesirables in their midst.
Indeed, until now, South-West leaders have been grossly insensitive as Fulani herdsmen/militants lay waste to parts of Lagos and the five states uncoupled from the defunct Western State. So precarious has the security situation become, and so audacious the Fulani marauders, that some major highways in the geopolitical zone are stalked freely by kidnappers, rapists and armed robbers. Farming and travelling have become hazardous as have other commercial and social activities. Crime statistics show that of the 134,663 crimes reported nationwide in 2017, Lagos in the South-West, accounted for 50,973 cases or 37.9 per cent. Though not as bad as in the northern states, the region has had its fair share of ethno-religious violence — Sagamu, Ile-Ife and Okokomaiko — while gang warfare, violent transport union tussles, political thuggery and creeping religious intolerance are captured in a report on the zone by the Institute of Economics and Peace. Most worrisome in recent times however has been the menace of Fulani herdsmen/militants and sundry criminals.
South-West governors, sadly, allowed the situation to degenerate. But meeting in Abuja, the governors of Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun states agreed to a round-table conference with other stakeholders in response to the insecurity in the zone and to promote rapid development. An alert to South-West governors by several pressure groups that the region was under siege was allegedly ignored. The Oodua Peoples Congress complained that a letter sent eight months ago to the six governors to empower it to act was similarly treated. A mini-summit organised by Afenifere in Osogbo, Osun State, came out with a communiqué calling on the region’s governors to form a joint security council.
Kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and attacks on farmers have risen astronomically from a few, isolated cases. True, this has become a national phenomenon that has left the police flat-footed, worrisome, however, is the reality that victims report that their attackers are often Fulani militants/herdsmen. Clearly, these bands of marauders have expanded their rapine from the North to penetrate deep into southern Nigeria. Fear and uncertainty have gripped residents and many now hesitate to travel.
The remote areas are particularly also unsafe. The Yoruba Council of Elders claimed last month to have identified “1,123 cells belonging to armed herdsmen” across the region which, it added, were well organised and linked via a network. Researchers claimed that forests in Yorubaland were infested with criminals, some of whom had military uniforms, sophisticated arms and well organised camp sites. Prominent citizens, among them, an elder statesman, Olu Falae, monarchs, academics, professionals and businessmen, have been kidnapped. Survivors report rape, torture, robbery and murders by the kidnappers.
Really, desperate times call for desperate measures. As constitutionally designated chief security officers of their respective states, the governors should eschew partisan politics and sentiments, but rise to the occasion by taking extraordinary measures to protect lives and property. Former Ekiti governor, Ayodele Fayose, showed the way by spearheading and enforcing an anti-grazing law that substantially reduced herdsmen encroachment on farms and criminality in the state. Today, its neighbour, Ondo, is under siege by brigands on a kidnapping, rape and robbery spree. Anti-open grazing laws should be enacted and rigorously enforced in the South-West states. Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, insists that it was the adoption and enforcement of such a law that helped reduce the Fulani herdsmen rampage in a state that was once the epicentre of the herdsmen atrocities. This is what federalism entails. Following on the example of Texas, two-thirds of American states adopted strong measures (including more policemen, cutting edge technology and vigorous prosecution) in the 1980s and 1990s to combat high crime rates and the crack cocaine epidemic. The Indian state of Maharashtra enacted new laws to combat organised crime in 1999.
This is the time to justify the huge security votes governors draw from the treasury. Ibrahim Magu, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission acting Chairman, has just alleged that some state governors stealthily promote insecurity in their states as a justification to inflate their security vote. Last year, Transparency International claimed that the President, 36 governors and 774 local government chairmen across the country spent $670m (N241bn) yearly on security votes, which they never accounted for. The report said the “veil of secrecy protects many officials who misspend security votes, channel them into political activities or embezzle them outright.” People should begin to hold their governors accountable for any breach of security in the state.
Indeed, while pressing for the establishment of state police, governors should organise vigilance agencies, working with other security agencies, community associations and volunteer groups to locate and smoke out criminals. Open grazing should be outlawed outright. Cattle owners who cannot take to ranching should take their business elsewhere. The Fulani menace has been highly politicised, thereby rendering the police ineffective in tackling it. But criminality is criminality; governors should not care for the ethnic origin of felons, but enforce the law with an ironclad resolve. There should be no room for appeasement of any interest inimical to the lives, safety and prosperity of the citizens.
Cooperation and joint initiatives among the states and also with neighbouring states such as Kwara, Kogi and Edo, are essential for success. Intelligence and efficient deployment of technology will help as victims report the sophistication of some of their abductors.
Governors should also step up cooperation and assistance to police and other federal security agencies, while fortifying their state-run vigilantes. Prompt and efficient prosecution of arrested felons should be a priority; our police commissioners are fond of parading suspects and weaponry seized, but are short on prosecution. The full weight of the laws on murder, trespass, robbery, terrorism and arson should be applied to offenders.
Securing the South-West is an urgent task; time for hand-wringing and rhetoric is long past; governors should roll out and immediately commence implementation of short, medium and long-term action plans to stamp out kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and invasion of farms in the region.
(The Punch Editorial)