Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has accused President Muhammadu Buhari of “impunity” in addressing recent killings by herdsmen in Benue and other states.
Mr. Falana said the president was giving the impression of favouring one set of people against another.
“I’m now bothered when leaders come out to make statements that give the impression that we either out to cover up serious criminality,” he said. “The government, the security forces know those who are carrying out these our problem.
“Since 1914, this is the first time in the history of our country that any group would go around, terrorising citizens with AK-47 rifle and they have not been crushed by the state.
“This regime, the Buhari administration, declared a war on insecurity in the country. He prides himself as having successfully tamed terrorism in the north-east. It crushed the indigenous people of Biafra. In the Niger Delta, a war has been waged against the militants. So, why are these guys allowed to go around killing people? Whether they are Nigerians or foreigners, you are simply giving the impression that the Nigerian state has collapsed. Because government anywhere in the world must monopolise violence. When you give that monopoly to a band of criminals, the government has failed.”
He accused the administration of thriving in the abuse of human rights of its citizens.
“The governments of Nigeria, including the Buhari administration, have contempt for the abuse of the human rights of the people. Why are we trying to single out killings by these bandits in this country? In December 2015, the Nigerian Army killed 347 citizens, you called them Shiites, they were Nigerians. No post-mortem exercise was conducted. The Army and the Kaduna state government buried the dead bodies in a secret grave, nobody has been brought to book. Between 2013 and 2016, 1800 people were killed in Benue state. We are being told that about 90 people have been arrested, none will be charged to court. When you have an atmosphere of reckless impunity promoted by the government, what do you expect?”
Mr. Falana also attacked some government officials whose assessment of the situation he said was ‘nonsensical.’
“When you ask Mr. Audu Ogbeh what is cattle colony, according to him, a cattle colony will mean a group of ranches. Why are you using colony as if you are giving the impression in a tensed atmosphere that you want to colonise a part of the country. It’s so nonsensical.
“Just last weekend, I had cause to call the National Security Adviser, one Major General Monguno, please I’m under pressure from around the world to look for twelve Cameroonians that were abducted by security forces in Nigeria over two weeks ago.”
He said the NSA asked him to come to Abuja for some explanations but to his surprise, Mr. Monguno left him hanging as he refused to answer his calls for days.
“I travelled to Abuja. Do you know that this gentleman refused to pick my calls? For two days I was in the hotel and I asked myself; even under the defunct military junta, do we go through this? I was once detained in prison in Jigawa, my wife got a court order to visit me and she visited me. Gani Fawehinmi was once detained in Bauchi prison, the wife went to court and got a court order to visit him and his doctors.
“Imagine a man is dying in prison: Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. You went there you allowed the SSS just show the man for one minute, 20 seconds. Meanwhile the wife who was shot at in 2015 who is carrying the bullet in her body has not been attended to by this government. You ask yourself what is going on. And I didn’t expect this from President Buhari in particular who had been a victim of illegal detention. When General Babangida detained him for three years, we came out to demand for his release. He has no respect for the human rights of our people and that is why this is going on.”
Against popular arguments that the practice of moving cattle from one place to another has been in place in times past, Mr. Falana said the practice is a recent phenomenon.
He added that the practice of ranching does not need a new law as it had been in place as far back as pre-independence era.
“Again, that an anti-grazing law, it is irrelevant. Nobody will be wasting its time enacting a law if you have ranches and we don’t need to go far to learn how to keep animals in this country. I laugh when I hear people say we have been doing this for hundreds of years, we must take this cattle from Sokoto to Lagos, from Maiduguri to Calabar, it’s primitive.
“In 1951, we had the first ranch in Nigeria, in Calabar, Obudu cattle ranch now, it’s been converted to Obudu holiday resort. The late Ahmadu Bello regime established the Mokwa ranch, the Obafemi Awolowo regime in the west, in the 50s, established the Akunnu ranch now in Ondo state. I was asking Governor Akeredolu, what are you doing with the ranch and he assured me that they are going to revive it. The late Governor Adekunle Ajasin of the old Ondo state established a dairy farm in Iko Ekiti. What do you expect the government to do? Revive the dairy farm. A pregnant woman was killed in Ekiti two days ago, it is a height of primitivity to kill a pregnant woman anywhere in the world but you can be sure nobody will be brought to book. The point I’m trying to make is, it is not our culture, for people taking cattle round the country, it’s a recent phenomenon.
“In the south west here, the late Obafemi Awolowo brought a specie of cattle from Argentina. They were locally bred and people had these animals. Nobody destroyed anybody’s farm until recently. And if you are taking a cow from Sokoto to Benin or Enugu, the rearer has to be armed because of cattle rustlers. The animal has to feed on somebody’s farm and rape has to be committed since the rearer hasn’t seen his wife for two or three months. Nobody does this again anywhere in the world. African countries have solved these problems by establishing ranches.
“This government has acquired 55, 000 hectares of land in 11 states as far back as 2016 and this government has announced through the Minister of Agriculture that all armed herdsmen in 2016, that has not happened, the ranches has not been established and that is why we are in this mess.”
He advised state governments to take advantage of the situation to benefit from would-be ranches users.
“The government has to be involved. Several states have to be involved. This government planned to ban importation of rice soon because the government has invested massively in rice production. Lagos state has an agreement to produce what we call lake rice. So, let people not distort what we call current historical reality. Some have been trying to convince the governors to take advantage this crisis. The south west alone consumes 10, 000 heads of cattle every day. Imagine if the states have ranch and abattoirs by the side. The government knows the solution but by setting up a committee now it is to deceive Nigerians.”
He stated that setting up a committee as is being done by the government will not solve the problem.
“A committee to do what? To find out how many people have been killed? To establish that we have been this problem for more than five years and nobody is addressing this problem.
He advised Nigerians to vote in people with the capacity of addressing the challenges facing the country in coming elections.
This piece first appeared in the Premium Times written by Kemi Busari