By Vincent Akanmode/ THE NATION
It is just as well that Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, saw the need to “clarify” his widely reported assertion that herdsmen have the right to go about brandishing AK-47 rifles because they need to defend themselves. Amid the outrage provoked by herders’ killing of hundreds of innocent people across the country, Governor Mohammed declared at the closing ceremony of the 2021 Press Week of the Correspondents’ Chapel of the Bauchi State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists penultimate Thursday that herdsmen have no choice but to carry arms because of the insecurity they encounter while herding their cattle through Nigerian forests, particularly the attacks on them by cattle rustlers.
“The Fulani man is practicing the tradition of trans-human pastoralism,” he said. “He has been exposed to the dangers of the forests, the animals and now the cattle rustlers who carry guns, kill him and take away his commonwealth, his cows. He has no option but to carry AK-47 and defend himself because the society and the government are not protecting him.”
As it would be expected, his pronouncement sparked widespread anger, particularly in parts of the country that have been at the receiving end of the horror unleashed by killer herdsmen. Among those who expressed anger were two governors, Daniel Ortom of Benue State and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo, who have had to experience the herdsmen’s reign of terror firsthand.
Expressing shock and disappointment at Mohammed’s statement, Governor Ortom, whose government had to conduct mass burial for 72 Benue indigenes on New Year day in January 2018 after the terror unleashed by herdsmen reacting to the enforcement of the state’s new anti-grazing law, challenged the Bauchi governor to point out the law that permits herdsmen to carry Ak-47 rifles. Ortom wondered why a colleague governor who took the oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would take the lead in violating the provisions of the same constitution by calling for lawlessness. Governor Akeredolu, on his part, wondered what would become of the country if other governors encourage their citizens to carry arms in self-defence.
Impelled by the widespread condemnation of his statement, Governor Mohammed issued another statement on Sunday purportedly clarifying the earlier one in an attempt to justify same. But the so called clarification was nothing short of adding insult to injury; a specious afterthought so arrogantly tendentious to qualify as a ploy meant to call the bluff of the governor’s traducers. The significance of the statement is not the clarification it purports to seek but the realization on the part of Governor Mohammed that the earlier one was unbecoming of a statesman.
In the clarification statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mukhtar Gidado, the governor said his primary objective was to avert “the dangerous prospect of a nationwide backlash as tempers flared and given that the phenomenon of inter-ethnic migration is a national pastime involving all ethnic groups in Nigeria. By extension, the governor made it abundantly clear that it will be inappropriate to label any one tribe based on the crimes of a few members of the ethnic group.” He then added that the reference to Ak-47 “was simply (meant) to put in perspective the predicament and desperation of those law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who, while carrying out their legitimate cow-rearing business, have become serial victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination.”
The legitimate question that flows from the clarification is which part of Nigeria does not experience the air of insecurity for which Governor Mohammed is advocating Ak-47 for the Fulani, sometimes in worse dimensions? In Cross River State, for instance, hapless medical doctors have been the targets of kidnappers and armed robbers in recent times because their troublers perceive them as the most prosperous professionals in the state. Should doctors in the South-south state now carry arms because their lives are under threats of kidnapping and armed robbery?
As a journalist, I have lost count of the number of my colleagues who have been robbed, abducted or assassinated. In the recent EndSARS protest hijacked by hoodlums, both TVC’s and this newspaper’s offices were attacked by gunmen who also set fire to the buildings that house the two media organizations. Would these be justifications for media practitioners to carry arms? In Borno, Lagos, Adamawa and other states, there have been reports in recent times of schools invaded by insurgents or hoodlums to abduct students and teachers. The question Governor Mohammed should answer is whether teachers and school pupils should now carry arms because they desperately need to defend themselves in the face of the glaring failure of government to do so.
Clearly, Governor Mohammed has no one but himself to blame for the vitriol his infamous outbursts have drawn from well-meaning Nigerians. And he deserves no pity because his descent from the zenith of grace to the nadir of infamy was a personal decision. It is a form of misfortune that the good people of Bauchi State are saddled with a leader whose utterances can be so reckless in a matter that borders on national security.