Jonathan Ishaku

First, a caveat: I disagree with the narrative that the menace of Fulani armed herdsmen has continued because President Muhammadu Buhari is a Fulani. But I absolutely concur that the government under Buhari hasn’t done its best minimum to curb the security threat posed by it.

Part of the reason for the failure of the government to deal decisively with this phenomenon owes to the misleading counter-narrative of subsuming the terror under the metaphor of farmers-pastoralists clashes. This is not only misleading but self-serving by those who want to conceal the realities of the premeditated war of territorial conquest and its ethno -cultural hegemonic dimension within the deeply divided Nigerian society.

It is a political mischief to describe a situation in which villagers are invaded and slaughtered in their homes in the dead of the night as a clash. It is a misnomer to claim that the present killings going on in the countryside is a part of farmer -pastoralist clashes. They are not. We know that in the past such clashes arose from minor disputes ranging from cattle grazing on crops to contamination of water sources; these types of disputes were invariably settled between community leaders and Ardos. So how can we label these present-day invasions carried out with the aid of sophisticated assault weapons against unarmed villagers in the dead of the night as clashes?

The danger of this metaphor is that it leads to defective counter-terrorism strategies by the government. In several speeches by President Buhari not once have I heard him acknowledging the presence of herds men terrorism. The closest reference the President has ever made to this security challenge was within the framework of herds men -farmers conflict.

I can understand the President’s reluctance to ethnicise criminality by calling it a “Fulani” phenomenon but there is no hiding the identity of the perpetrators nor the fact that the matter has gone beyond clashes or mere conflict; it is a clear and present national security threat. Give it any name but name it we must. If not we will be running in circles like headless chickens.

Last week Plateau State was sent into mourning with the murder of a former Head of the Civil Service, Mr. Moses Gwom, and the killings in Ta’agbe, Bassa Local Government Area, which is the location of one of the oldest, most peaceful and beautiful tourist destinations within the West African sub-region, the Miango Rest House.

I know Mr. Gwom personally. I know him as a most peaceful gentleman per excellence. He retired a couple of years ago and unlike other retired top civil servants rather than hang around the city soliciting for contracts, briefcase in hand moving from office to office, Mr. Gwom retired to his country house in Wereh, a village after Barkin Ladi. His house is right by a decade-old military road-block with a reputation for keeping vehicle in endless wait. I have seen Mr. Gwom a couple of times crossing the road to his farm nearby; at one time I caught his attention and we waved.

Last week he was killed during what, from all indications, was an invasion by Fulani herds men terrorists. The question that crossed my mind was how such incident could have occurred right within the vicinity of a military zone. What actually is the value of such military presence if security could be so easily breached?

Not long ago I incurred the wrath of some friends of government when I suggested that government’s peace efforts should aim at building resilience within communities rather than the over reliance on the military. In spite of its singsong of return of peace in the state, the relics of past violence, including check-points, closed roads, curfews, etc, are all over the place. These, I argued, have stunted community self- recovery and self-confidence, frustrated efforts at community-owned policing, encouraged irrational fear everything is left in the hands of security task forces (STF) which times without number have proved incapable of tackling the challenges.
For more than a decade that the STF have been deployed in Plateau State, we have not heard of a successful operation during which these murderers have been successfully apprehended, prosecuted and jailed. I stand to be corrected. Even at the height of the crisis in Jos when a dozen, or so, armed mercenaries were apprehended within the metropolis, for reasons still unexplained, they were whisked off to Abuja and no one has heard of the matter again.

So why do we continue to place our fate in the hands of these STF formations? Don’t get me wrong; the Army plays a role, and has continued to gallantly do so, in tackling threats to national security. But their ability in fighting herds men terrorism has been limited.

The simple reason is that despite the evidence the armed herds men are not officially regarded as terrorists and therefore the rules of engagement does not permit the kind of action we forlornly expect. My argument is that if the STF cannot engage them they should be disbanded; this is where building community resilience comes in.

Another criticism I made concerns the seemingly reflex action of government to impose curfew at each and every sign of crisis. As with all reflexes such actions could be precipitate and ill-considered. Curfews in themselves are impotent strategies of counter terrorism; rather they offer asymmetric advantage to terrorists to exploit as every student of guerrilla warfare will tell you.

We saw this happening in Southern Kaduna not long ago. Terrorists exploited the cover of the night to intensify their attacks after Governor Nasir el Rufai imposed a curfew there.
The latest attack on Ra’agbe, in Bassa Local government area last week, took place at a time government had announced a 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew. Imposing curfew without additional security measures is an incentive to a terrorist group whose modus operandi is nocturnal attacks.

When will it occur to our governments to wake up to the reality of our present predicament and the imperative to change counter terrorism strategy? that our communities are under a siege? We need fresh ideas to survive.

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