By; PATIENCE GAPKONG
The frequency of religious and communal clashes, riots, conflicts and violence since 1980 to the present has reached endemic proportions. This is a reflection of a national crisis, a nation at the brink of collapse, and a nation in search of its own soul.
A nation cannot live with only an ethnic group, a religion or a particular race or creed. We are diverse with over 300 ethnic groups, different modes of worship and close to 200 million citizens in the country which can hardly be separated except by destruction from outsider or loss of integrity and attempts to dominate one ethnic group by another.
Any agenda set no matter how noble the intention, if not anchored on ensuring the safety of lives and security of citizens, is destined to fail. The security and the equal rights of the citizens in a nation are basis of the government, not based on the religion or the ethnic group where they come from.
Nigerians are deeply concerned and worried about this devilish act and need to device ways to bring to an end these crisis in the country.
These violence, conflict, crisis, riots here and there have rendered many Nigerians homeless and hopeless to achieve the goals of a “Home of Peace and Unity” as the code implies, without which these are useless and have been defeated in our nation Nigeria.
The relatives of men killed in the violence often evict widows from their farmland. Therefore, posts conflict economic and social disenfranchisement renders women and girls even more vulnerable to sexual and economic predation.
As these crisis and conflict among citizens increase frequently, so does human lives and property toll.
The increasing availability of illicit firearms, both locally produced and smuggled in from outside, worsens the bloodshed.
Over the past five years, thousands have been killed; precise tallies are unavailable, but a survey of open source reports suggests fatalities may have reached an annual average of more than 2,000 from 2011 to 2016, and over 5,000 from 2017 to early 2018.
For some years exceeding the toll from the Fulani Herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgency, tens of thousands have been forcibly displaced, with property, crops and livestock worth billions of Naira destroyed, at great cost to local and state economies, another development that women suffer more devastation from.
The reaction from Nigeria’s federal and state authorities, so far, has been wanting. Aside from the recent push against Boko Haram and military operations against cattle rustling, they have done little else to address rural insecurity in the northern parts of the country especially in Benue and Taraba states, where killing of innocent souls are still going on.
Federal security and law enforcement agencies have established neither early warning nor rapid response mechanisms; they have not arrested and prosecuted perpetrators of violence or offered redress to victims. As a result, both herders and farmers are taking matters into their own hands, further aggravating conflicts.
Nigerian citizens especially women and children are at risk because of the failures of the federal government to define a clear and coherent political approach to resolving these crisis, or even acknowledging its scope.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, which is increasingly viewed with misgivings by many in north central and southern states, should make it a priority to take firm and transparent steps to ensure better protection for both herders and farmers not only reacting on one side of the coin. Affected state governments also should better coordinate with federal authorities to reduce risks of violence.
Though the past government led by ex President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had, during his tenure in office, explored various responses, in April 2014, he inaugurated an inter-ministerial technical committee on grazing reserves, tasked with proposing strategies for ending the conflicts, the government set up a political committee on Grazing Reserves, chaired by then Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam.
The report issued by Suswam’s committee called for the recovery and improvement of all grazing routes encroached upon by farmers and recommended that the Central Bank of Nigeria release a total of N100 billion ($317 million) to the country’s 36 state governments for ranches construction.
The National Executive Council (NEC) approved these recommendations but Jonathan’s defeat in the March 2015 elections interrupted their implementation. Although the central bank was said to have released N100 billion to state governments, they failed to construct any ranches. On 19 January 2017, the House of Representatives set up a committee to investigate accusations that the funds had been looted and report back within four weeks. The committee’s findings remain unpublished to this day.
The present government should as well follow his successor’s strategies by strengthening security arrangements for herders and farming communities especially in the north-central zone and southern areas. This will make the governments and security agencies sustain campaigns against cattle rustling and rural banditry improvement of warning approaches, maintain operational readiness of rural based police and other security units as well as involving the community youth to fish out any offender, encourage communication and collaboration with local authorities and tighten control of production, circulation and possession of illicit firearms and ammunition, especially automatic rifles, including by strengthening cross-border cooperation with neighbouring countries’ security forces;
The government should as well establish and strengthen conflict mediation, resolution, reconciliation and peace building mechanisms, this should be done beginning from the federal, state and local government levels, and also affected by conflict.
If only the government values the lives of its citizens and properties of the nation for safety and peaceful coexistence, Nigeria will gain back it’s integrity as a “Home of Peace and unity” in diversity and women and children would be better off for it.
Miss Gapkong is a student of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri, Borno State