By Emeka OMEIHE
There are issues thrown up by last week’s raid of some forests in Oyo State by the State’s Security Network Agency- Amotekun that should be of interest to the debilitating insecurity across the country.
The raid to clear the forests of all manner of criminals who hide there to unleash mayhem on the society, was billed to be conducted by Operation Amotekun in conjunction with members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association. In the course of the onslaught, three men alleged to be criminals were killed. The police confirmed three killings with some sustaining injuries even as other sources posted even a higher number of casualties.
But things turned awry when the Fulani community in the state claimed those killed were herdsmen and not bandits and kidnappers as alleged by Amotekun. They further alleged Amotekun did not carry them along while embarking on the raid even when they planned it together. The allegations and other issues raised generated so much heat. Some saw the altercation as another opportunity to renew their opposition to the setting up of that regional security network by accusing it of extra-judicial killings and other human rights infractions.
The heat was so much so that the state government and the commander of Operation Amotekun had to come public to clarify that those killed were actually criminals. In a statement, the Oyo State government said Amotekun launched six counter banditry, counter kidnapping and counter terrorism operations in four local governments with such groups as Amotekun, Vigilantes, Hunters and Miyetti Allah vigilante.
They claimed that some Fulani were part of the operation with the Seriki fully briefed and that those killed were criminals and not herdsmen as claimed by the Fulani community. We are thus left with claims and counter claims on the matter. It may be necessary for Amotekun to furnish detailed information on those killed and the encounter that led to their killings.
Such details are made more compelling by allegations from Oyo State government that vested interests bent on giving the security network a bad name will go to any length to ascribe ethnic coloration to the killings to frustrate the operations. That possibility cannot be ruled out even as some gaps in the operations of the outfit are also palpable. The government also claimed that some arrests were made and pieces of useful information extracted from those arrested and handed over to the police. It is vital that proceedings on all those arrested by Amotekun in the course of the raids are made public for us to have a proper reading of the issues traded.
The way things stand, it is now the words of operation Amotekun against the Fulani who claimed those killed are not criminals. But despite this dispute, one thing that stands out very clearly is that the raided forests have been the epicentre of the recurring banditry, kidnapping and sundry criminalities that had made life a miserable lot for people of that state.
If this is admitted, it would seem absurd that such a coordinated onslaught could be carried out without tracking down some of the criminals who had taken advantage of the bushes to levy war on the rest of the society. So where were the bandits, kidnappers and sundry criminals when the forests were raided? Or are we being made to believe that all those found in those forests had genuine business there? We raise these questions given the well-known fact that the forests provide devious sanctuary for these criminals to torment innocent ones in the society. In operations of this nature, it is to be expected that Amotekun should have some credible information before embarking on the raid.
No doubt, the criminals live in those bushes and carry out their nefarious activities using the cover of the bushes. It is also not in question that the raid was planned with the knowledge of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and the Fulani leadership in the area. The point of disagreement following unfolding altercations is the claim that Myetti Allah did not physically take part in the raid even when it was part of the plan.
It is not public knowledge if all those arrested inside the forests are members of the Miyetti Allah group. If they are, then it becomes a herculean task differentiating between the genuine herdsmen and those who hide in the bushes as herdsmen to perpetrate all manner of criminalities. That appears the crux of the matter. And that is where Miyetti Allah should be seen more helping out. Unless the forests’ arrests involved other criminals not linked with cattle rearing, the misunderstanding that arose from the raids will continue to be a recurring decimal.
For, much of the challenges of insecurity in the country hinge on the inability to differentiate between the genuine herdsmen and those that hide under the cover of herding to perpetrate all manner of crimes from the bushes. That has been at the root of the ethnic profiling which Miyetti Allah is not comfortable with. The solution is for the herders to rid themselves of those who have continued to give them a bad name due to the uncanny coincidence of their mode of operation with extant practices in cattle rearing in the country.
It is this conflict that has fuelled and sustained agitations for modern practices in animal husbandry as it relates to cattle rearing. And as long as we still focus on nomadic cattle rearing practices, so long shall we be incapacitated in flushing out criminals from the forests. Unfortunately, rising insecurity has put the government on edge.
The general temperament now is that the federal government has performed very poorly in this regard as life has become a verity of the atavism that characterized the state of nature. That is what is meant each time there are references to Nigeria as a failing or failed state. Something more drastic must be done to arrest the slide.
It is obvious the altercation emanating from the efforts of Amotekun to rid Oyo forests of criminals is at the root of the debilitating insecurity across the country. We need to penetrate the bushes. We need to have access to them, clear the forests and smoke out dangerous elements hiding there to commit all manner of atrocities.
If the herders cannot protect and insulate the forests from being a launching pad for all manner of criminalities, then they share vicarious responsibility for the activities of criminal elements operating from there.
But the Oyo raids produced yet, another intricate outcome when 47 Fulani men with guns and other dangerous weapons were arrested by men of Operation Burst- a joint security team of soldiers and police. Initial reports had it that the armed men were invited by their kinsmen for reprisals following the outcome of the raided forests.
The police confirmed the arrests even as they disclosed that those arrested wore “Vigilante Group of Nigeria”, uniform. The leader of the Fulani herders in Oyo state, Ibrahim Jiji corroborated this account when he called for the release of his men allegedly mistaken for criminals and arrested by security agencies. According to him, those arrested are members of the ‘Vigilante Group of Nigeria’ fighting banditry, kidnapping and robbery in the area. He claimed they were supposed to be part of the team to clear the forests and were on the way before Amotekun proceeded on the mission.
This disclosure is as interesting as it is intriguing. So we have ‘Vigilante Group of Nigeria’ in this country that bears arms and ammunitions and exclusively composed of Fulani men? Under what law do they operate- state or federal? The boldness with which Jiji talked about the group indicated that they have been operating without let or hindrance. The arrests throw up more questions than answers.
Since the issue is before the police, the public deserves to know under what law such a vigilante group purporting a national outlook operates. This poser is more compelling given the several unresolved cases of reprisal attacks involving herdsmen and their host communities. We may as well be inching towards resolving that riddle.
Source: The Nation