RECENT events in Agatu community of Benue State of Nigeria are alarming as regards the manner in which some suspected Fulani herdsmen have constituted themselves into a law enforcement agent, a court and execution officers in arresting, summarily trying, convicting and equally executing members of the community, who are not only supposed to be their host but also benefactors of their nomadic profession, for the ALLEGED “offence” of killing their cows.
The whole community has been displaced with about 7, 000 having fled their home and more than 500 killed in a short spate of time while heavily armed men believed to be of the Fulani sect still freely patrol the community unchallenged, as confirmed by the Benue State Commissioner of Police, Mr Paul Yakadi.
The suspected herdsmen have had a field day to raid and raze down not few than 9 of the 10 villages (wards) that make up the community including Okokolo, Aila, Adagbo Akwu, Omikuidi, Ocholoyna and Odugheho. This all went on freely and without interruption by any security outfit whatsoever. The villages are now said to be totally bereft of any social or economic activities. All the primary and post primary schools, health centres, worship centres as well as the police station in the area have been burnt down. The people have been turned to IDPs in their own home community.
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Much more worrisome and in fact strange is the docile attitude of the Federal Government to the inhuman and barbaric acts which have caused cry to the far ends of the earth. If anyone is in doubt that a new legal order is being established such may have a rethink with the very questionable slow response of security operatives to the bizarre situation in Agatu vis-avis the heinous crimes being perpetrated on the people of the area. We watch day by day how this government is engaged in passionate flagrant disobedience of humane civil laws and court orders in its acclaimed bid to fight corruption but it is very surprising that the same government has not even displayed any concern for the broad-day-light killings of the people of Agatu in execution of the death sentence passed upon the whole community by the herdsmen. We are beginning to feel strongly that this Nigerian government prefers recovering money than saving the lives of the Nigerian people. This is an attitude that we greatly condemn.
The attempt made by the government through the Inspector General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, to wade into the crisis has even left a lot to be desired. In a meeting of the Police chief with members of Agatu community and the Fulani herdsmen on Thursday March 10, 2016, the Fulani community through their spokesperson, Mr Ado Boderi, claimed that the crisis is a fallout of the killing of 10,000 of their cattle by members of the Agatu community. After such confession, the IGP continued with more words than action as become usual of the government and security operatives. The IGP said:
“I am in Benue State on the directive of Mr President on a fact-finding mission and to see if there is a way to resolve the crises.
We have enough security officers to end the ongoing crisis between farmers and herdsmen in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State.
We have deployed additional four units of police teams in the area to arrest the situation.
There is no way we can all live together without having disagreements with one another at some point; it is the way we manage the disagreement that matters.
Both the farmers and herdsmen must learn to cohabit with one another as nation or peace and progress of our people.”
(Emphasis ours). Are we serious? We are sure the IGP will not sound like this if the President of Nigeria had been killed. We acknowledge the fact that the solution to every crisis cannot be divested from its history. We equally do appreciate that order is the ultimate aim of law. We do however know that justice is the grand rule of lasting peace and order. The primary and most essential responsibility of the police worldwide and Nigeria in particular is not dialogue per se but investigation of alleged offences, arrest and prosecution of alleged offenders. Section 4 of the Police Act Cap P.19 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, confers on the police the power to prevent commission of crime, apprehend offenders and conduct prosecution of criminals.
How would a 21st Century Democracy react like that to such brutal murders as occurred in Agatu and describe it as “disagreement”? Even in the societies on the frontline for animal rights, human rights still rank higher let alone fundamental rights that have priority till eternity comes.
In the hierarchy of fundamental rights, the right to life is not only most fundamental but also the basis for which others exist. Shelter, food and clothing exist at the pleasure of life and not otherwise. It is not sheer coincidence therefore that of the Fundamental Rights entrenched in Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution, the Right to Life is first and foremost as provided under section 33.
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The recognition of the right to life is a global trend and not just a national phenomenon in Nigeria. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly via Resolution 217, A (III) of December 10, 1948 has in its Column 1 covering Articles 3-11 the Right to Life accorded its priority. Article 3 is very emphatic:
“Every one has the right to life liberty and security of person.”