With the worrisome dimension crime and unrest are taking in almost all the geo political zones of the country, it became not just imperative but unavoidably important to bring about certain security policies and programmes that would proffer solution to these insipient and divisive tendencies that tend to divide the nation along political, ethnic and religious lines.
At the borderline of these challenges were the dangerous persistent bloody clashes between farmers and herdsmen in almost all the major states in the northern part of Nigeria and in most states in the South. It was a moment Nigeria’s unity was threatened beyond measures and its foundation shaken that it required urgent security attention to return the country to one indivisible entity.
With these crises assuming alarming proportion in various states like Benue, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Taraba, Adamawa and Plateau states to mention but a few, all eyes were focused on the Federal Government to bring about workable policy and programme that will not only end the carnages arising from the unfortunate crisis involving farmers and herdsmen in these affected areas, but also plans to assuage the people whose loved ones were killed in the melee and also those whose only source of livelihood were lost in the crisis.
Fortunately, the Federal Government through the National Economic Council (NEC) inaugurated a special committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Chairman of NEC to look into these residual issues that have been precipitating and perpetuating the crisis in the affected states.
One of the first steps taken by the committee was raising a technical sub-committee with the governor of Ebonyi State and chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, Chief David Umahi as chairman with governors of Adamawa and Plateau states, Bindo Jibrila and Simon Lalong as members with Dr. Andrew Kwashali as Secretary.
The committee was charged to go round the affected states with a view to ascertaining the cause of the crisis and offer solution to curbing the crisis. With Governor Umahi as an international acclaimed peace builder as demonstrated in the final and amicable resolution of the Ezza and Ezillo communal war which started on June 8, 2008 in which many lives had been lost, the assignment hung on his shoulders was not too difficult for him.
Back home in Ebonyi State, Governor Umahi is not losing sleep over the possible clash between farmers and herdsmen in the state because he had earlier set up machinery in motion to take a very long measure in ensuring that such ugly trend does not surface. With the crisis seemingly defying every quick measure adopted to end it by government both at the federal and state levels, Governor Umahi was not oblivious of the enormity of the task entrusted on his bold shoulders not just to proffer a workable solution to ending the crisis, but also to protecting his own state, Ebonyi from either infiltration of the killer herdsmen or aggression from the al-ready tensed and angry farmers in his state. One of the first steps taken by the governor was the prompt setting up of a special committee on herdsmen and farmers in the state to oversight the activities of the herdsmen and their relationship with the farmers and the host communities.
While Governor Umahi was still away on a national assignment, the same problem which he was called up to assist the Federal Government resolve surfaced in his own state. It emanated from Akaeze axis in Ivo council of the state following a clash between farmers and herders, which left a farmer with severe cutlass injuries. A herdsman was also reported injured slightly in the clash.
The governor on return to the state quickly swung into action, by convening an enlarged emergency security meeting involving all security chiefs, leaders of the herdsmen and stakeholders of Akaeze community. The Fulani community was led by the Coordinator of Northern communities in the South-East, Abubakar Yusuf Sambo. At the meeting, Umahi gave everyone opportunity to explain what they knew about the clash.
One of the Ardos who spoke informed the governor that from their findings; herdsmen who migrated from Enugu State to Akaeze community were the perpetrators of the dastardly act. He said the migrants were the ones that allowed their cattle to destroy crops, which led to the clash and not the herders originally settling in Akaeze community.
The governor, after hearing from all parties, set up a 10-man committee to investigate the clash. Acting on the revelation of the Ardo, the governor also banned herdsmen’s cattle from coming into Ebonyi State from other states by foot. Some weeks later, another disturbing story filtered into the space that there was another clash involving farmers and herdsmen in Enyanwuigwe village in Igbeagu community of Izzi council area of the state. Acting on the said information, Governor Umahi immediately directed security agencies in the state to swing into action to ascertain the cause of the new crisis and report back to him.
While the report of the security chiefs led by the Commissioner of Police in state, Mr. Titus Lamorde, was being awaited, the news became clearer that it was not farmers and herdsmen clash that led to the death of three Enyanwuigwe community of Igbeagu in Izzi local government area of the state, rather, it was a case of a Fulani herdsman indulging in consumption of hard substance suspected to be hard drugs.
Not satisfied with the report of the cause of the killing in the community by a Fulani herdsman, who went berserk, killing three Igbeagu natives and one Fulani man, Governor Umahi convened an enlarged emergency security council meeting, with security chiefs, national leadership of Meyeti Allah led by Alhaji Bello Bodejo and stakeholders of the affected community were all in attendance. As usual, it was the herdsmen that first struck. A visibly angry Governor Umahi noted that the unprovoked killings must stop as he cannot withstand the sight of killings of Ebonyians under whatever guise.
He, however, warned that the incessant killings by herdsmen needed to be properly handled and addressed so as not to spark off war. He ordered herdsmen around the trouble community to leave temporarily until he was able to calm down the embittered villagers to avoid reprisal attacks. “The life of every Ebonyian is very dear to me.
This is a national problem; we don’t want our people to be continuously killed. We must use wisdom to handle this problem. It is very easy to say, I want all the herdsmen to leave Ebonyi but there are lots of implications,” he said. In the face of this challenge, governor Umahi has also adopted several approaches that seem to be bringing an end to these clashes. The state government has banned movement of cattle in the night.
The government noted that it has alerted security agents of such movements and urged the people of the state to take note of the ban and report any further movements of cattle at nights to the security agents. Part of the magical moves the governor made that has brought peace to the state between farmers and herdsmen was extension of free education to both farmers and herdsmen in the state from primary to secondary levels with a view to ensuring that both children of the farmers and that of the herdsmen have equal access to education. This move was highly applauded by the leadership of Miyetti Allah, which promised to take the message of the governor to other states as panacea to sustaining and enduring peace.
Umahi has equally directed traditional rulers in the state to register herdsmen within their communities with a view to knowing them more as well as hold regular meetings to resolve their differences. He also banned herdsmen from entering Ebonyi state without following due process. However, the most recent of Umahi’s efforts to ending farmers and herdsmen clashes in the state was the setting up of a committee comprising representatives of herdsmen, farmers, security agencies and the state government. The committee is mandated to check clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the state with a view to finding permanent solution to the menace.
In all these approaches so far adopted by governor Umahi’s administration, some unique strategies that have played immeasurable roles in the success of each of them are involvement of farmers, herdsmen and their leaders in every stage of their formulation. Constant engagement of the herders, farmers and their leaders in dialogue as well as meeting with them from time to time to agree on certain policies before implementation. And the appointment of some Fulani herdsmen into government as Technical Assistants (TAs) on herdsmen and farmers relations by Governor Umahi as another antidote to the farmers and herdsmen clashes in the state.
The committee, which is headed by the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr Cletus Ofoke, with the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Internal Security, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala as secretary also has security chiefs, members and leadership of Miyeti Allah, traditional rulers and farmers as members.
It was a solemn moment for both farmers and herdsmen and even security agencies to know that Nigerians must realize that the conflict between herdsmen and famers will never stop as far as cattle are allowed to move into Nigeria from ECOWAS countries with herdsmen unchecked. This was the first thing governor Umahi did in Ebonyi State by restraining the movement of cows from one place to the other in the name of grazing as well as banning grazing in the night.
Umahi is not oblivious of the fact Ebonyi State population is on the increase, whereas land is on the decrease due to climate change effect and given the fact that the state has a very limited landmass which has been taken by over 70 per cent of solid minerals, leaving an infinitesimal 30 per cent for agriculture, which is the mainstay of the state, it will be suicidal for the state government to fold its hands and allow the only source of her citizens’ survival destroyed by herdsmen.