President Buhari has to go beyond issuing condolence messages after each killing, to actually making sure that the killings do not occur again on his watch.
“The grievous loss of lives and property arising from the killings in Plateau today is painful and regrettable. My deepest condolences to the affected communities. We will not rest until all murderers and criminal elements and their sponsors are incapacitated and brought to justice”, Buhari declared.
But it could easily have been a copy and paste message--the same one issued after every killing involving farmers, locals or pastoralists.
More than 700 people have been killed by gunmen suspected to be of Fulani extraction in the ethnically and religiously diverse middle belt States of Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Nasarwa, Plateau and Zamfara since the turn of the year.
And after each killing, Buhari tells the nation that “We will not rest until all murderers and criminal elements and their sponsors are incapacitated and brought to justice” or extends his “deepest condolences to the affected communities”, until the next bout of killings. Then it dawns on the nation that “the murderers and criminals and their sponsors" have neither been “incapacitated” nor "brought to justice”.
It's been a spiralling cycle of killings and condolence messages that have no effect beyond the smartphones that issue them.
At the root of the killings is dwindling fertile land up north which means herders have to move further south for fodder for their cattle. A government that says it is on top of the situation should consider ranching across Nigeria a top priority. Instead, the presidency and the nation’s Defence minister Mansur Dan Ali often come across as being sympathetic to the cause of the herders and making excuses for the nomadic herders who hail from the president’s Fulani base. It is almost as though these herders can't be confined to a patch of grazing land because they are historically nomadic.
But nothing should be a constant in a fast paced world. Change is inevitable, they say. The Fulani herder who is born to trek the country can actually be taught to ditch that age-long open grazing practice for something as modern as ranching. It's not impossible. Anti-grazing laws should be seen as a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
President Buhari has to also make it a point of duty to show up in herders-farmers conflict areas immediately after killings like we just witnessed in Plateau. Leadership is about empathy and there are other ways to show empathy than issuing banal press statements.
The nation’s security architecture also has to be overhauled to function in such a way that these killings are nipped in the bud. Everyone already knows the flashpoints of this crises and the States that are most likely to be hit by the next set of hare-brained gunmen. How come security personnel are still caught on the back foot all the time? How proactive are our security personnel? Are we improving on our intelligence gathering at all? Do we really want to win this war against the killer herdsmen or gunmen? How many killer herdsmen or gunmen have been arrested and slapped with prison sentences, if only to deter others?
As the nation’s Commander-in-Chief, President Buhari has to do more than condoling affected families. The constitution says the security and welfare of citizens is the primary purpose of government. Buhari was elected president partly on the back of a campaign promise to make Nigeria safer and peaceful. So far, the president hasn’t delivered on that promise. He's badly failing at the one job we thought he was going to excel at.