Chief (Dr.) Sylvan Olisanye Ebigwei (MON), consultant dental surgeon, is President-Emeritus, Aka Ikenga, the Igbo socio-political organisation. In this interview, he reacts to the menace of herdsmen in Igbo land and South of Nigeria generally. He says the government must provide a solution quickly to save the country from chaos. Excerpts:
The problem of violent herdsmen is unresolved. What do you suggest should be done?
It is a general and popular news all over the country right now, because though there have been cattle rearers from the time we were born, the present crop of cattle rearers have become a suspicious breed, whether they are truly Fulani herdsmen or not. In the past, they have not been known to be killing anybody. True Fulani herdsmen normally live with communities, peacefully, without killing anybody, and the community don’t kill their animals or the Fulani cattle rearers themselves. What is happening now is very strange. And I believe that government will look into it, whether these are really Fulani herdsmen or the offshoot of Boko Haram.
This destruction seems to have come with the APC government?
I cannot say it came with the APC government. It has been on even before the elections, but the tendency to cause mayhem in communities and sack communities was not there before. But it has taken a very dangerous dimension with the coming of this government. We are surprised that even the government has not said much about it, neither are they doing anything to stop these marauders.
The herdsmen carry AK47 rifles even in local communities. Why can’t the authorities identify those arming them?
That is the reason Nigerians are wondering, whether we have two sets of Nigerians. Those who are not soldiers or law enforcement agents, yet they carry sophisticated weapons. Imagine you and I, carrying rifles in our bag and parading the streets, what do you think the police or other law enforcement people will do to us? So, the whole thing is becoming very strange. We don’t know whether there are now two sets of Nigerians, some who have no gun licence, yet they carry sophisticated weapons and attack communities, sack them and occupy their land and nobody is asking questions. They are not being arrested. It is so strange.
Meanwhile, there are three Bills before the National Assembly, seeking grazing lands for these herdsmen. What do you make of these Bills becoming law in the country?
The law cannot stand because it is a call for anarchy in the country. Land is very sacrosanct to communities and giving it to total strangers by force, they are calling for civil war. And I will advise the government and even the states, not to pass such a law because nobody is going to respect it. People are ready to die for their fatherland. So, I think they are trying to step on the tiger’s tail. As far as I am concerned, it is not going to work and it will never work. What Nigerians should do is to see what other countries are doing – modernise cattle rearing. Let them modernize Sambisa Forest. The forest is a wide expanse of land, let them irrigate the place, plant the well known Brazilian grass and rear their cattle there. From there they can export their cattle in trucks to communities that need them. Not to take community land and give it to people who don’t belong to the area. If the present generation of Nigerians can stomach that, I don’t think the incoming generation will accept it, because these are things that are causing problems in Zango Kataf, Jos, and such other areas. Statistics show that in many communities where these people are strangers and they are given small piece of land, in no time they start to expand, and that normally leads to conflicts. So, government should not try forcing people to give off their land to total strangers because that will be a call to civil war.
Those who are sponsoring these Bills say they have sufficient number in both Houses to pass them into law?
Well, they should know that to every negative action there must be another negative reaction. One thing is to pass a law, another is to actualise it, because I don’t think any community in this country will cede their land to strangers under any guise. So, as we speak, several community leaders are meeting in Igboland. The Ohanaeze and the rest of them, are holding meetings, consultations because those Bills are not going to sail through. And if it sails through, it can never be implemented.
Now that they are killing people, like in Enugu and even in Abia State. Is it not possible to stop them from even coming to these places?
Yes, what is happening is that community leaders in these places are appealing to their people, particularly the youths, not to revenge. So, they are watching what government can do. But the waiting period must have a time frame. No community will allow their citizens to be massacred and fail to react. So, they are waiting for the government to do something. If nothing is done, every community will find a way to defend themselves. And you know what that means, chaos, civil disorder, irrespective of whatever the law enforcement people can do. They should know that there are many arms in people’s hands at the moment. Nigeria of today is not the Nigeria of yesterday. There are a lot of hidden arms. And since what the herdsmen are doing is nationwide, especially from the Middle Belt down to the south, there may be a coalition of efforts, synergy, among the southern Nigerian people and the Middle Belt to confront these people. And what do you call that? That could result in a severe civil war. And it can lead to the dismemberment of this country as a nation. So, the government should look further than now, with their political microscope to understand that what is happening now, especially over land, if this is not checkmated, it is going to lead to a severe crisis in this country that the central government cannot control.