AFTER few public officials, especially the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Solomon Arase, had suggested that the herdsmen troubling Nigeria were of foreign origin, President Muhammadu Buhari has in far away London finally succinctly addressed the matter. The herdsmen are indeed foreigners, he said, and those responsible for pillaging communities would not go unpunished. No one complains any longer that the president addresses salient national issues during his foreign trips. Perhaps the ambience is responsible. Neither Mr Arase, who has vigorously defended the thesis, nor the president, who has just latched on to the strange idea, has presented incontrovertible proofs showing how foreign attackers could penetrate Nigeria so deeply with foreign cattle unchallenged, knew the terrain so well, and had such lasting disagreements with many local communities that their famed ‘long memory’ prompted them to unimaginable bestiality.
This sad and inconsistent thesis is compounded by the president’s intriguing response in Katsina to the issue of herdsmen trouble and agitation for Biafra. Speaking at the Emir of Katsina’s palace during his last visit to the state, the president seemed to find a tenuous link between the herdsmen crisis and the Biafra agitation. Said he: “I always say the civil war was fought for the unity of Nigeria because then we hadn’t even discovered oil, let alone enjoy it. But two million people were killed. The way the Sahara is advancing, with Boko Haram, growing number of people, and uncertainty over rainfall, in a land where we fought civil war leading to the death of about two million, for someone to just say he will chase us out? So where do we go?” It is not clear whether the president was misquoted. If he was not, he should like to clarify who the ‘us’ are that Biafra agitators want to chase out. Was it the rest of Nigeria? That would be untenable. Was it herdsmen or people living in the Sahelian belt? It was no doubt a curious and worrisome statement to make.
So far, the herdsmen problem has assumed terrifying dimension only because government officials have demonstrated incompetence or conflict of interest. They claim the herdsmen are foreigners, and attribute their arms to the crises in Mali and Libya. Yet, leaders of cattle rearers associations in parts of Nigeria have owned up to fomenting reprisal attacks on the grounds that local populations and angry farmers provoked them. This was clearly the case in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State where herdsmen recently sacked many farming communities. What is also clear from the statements of the herdsmen is that the Fulani think like a transnational people operating like musketeers. An attack against one is an attack against all. They may come to one another’s aid; but it does not absolve local herdsmen of blame and responsibility. It is reckless and preposterous for any Nigerian official to make claims that even local herdsmen find ludicrous and specious.
AS if the trouble from herdsmen is not enough, it is mystifying that the president is inexpertly handling the Biafra problem as well. Regardless of this column’s opinion of Biafra, he has repeatedly counselled that Biafra is an idea that cannot be crushed because of its location in the minds of its adherents. To tackle it would require much more than diatribe, threats and federal might. If Biafra military campaign were to be triggered today, its militants are unlikely to engage in open and direct confrontation. Its proponents would embark on the Iraqi, Afghanistan and guerilla-type of campaigns. It would be a cruel and unwinnable war. Is that the road Nigerian leaders want to impulsively travel? The problem is that there was no closure to the civil war. No amount of blackmail to the Igbo young who were not born before the war will eradicate the idea of Biafra until the country restructures and finds a closure to the recurring nightmare.
And just as the whole country had transformed into a seething cauldron of troubles, the government caps the crises with a hike in fuel price from N86.50/l to N145/l. They’ll probably get away with it, and the unions, which are angling for negotiations, will have an ineffectual response. The economic imperatives on the ground do not favour the sustenance of former price regimes and paradigms. But what if the naira further plunges in value and crude oil prices begin to rise strongly? Can anyone guarantee there would be no further rise in prices of fuel and other goods? No one trusts the government to embark on a scientific and systematic response to the expected pauperisation of the people, whether the response comes in terms of palliatives or in terms of organised economic measures to shore up wages and employment. There is no history of that kind of salutary response in these parts. And it is not clear whether this government, which is groaning under old and retrogressive political and economic paradigms, can unleash the creative potential within all Nigerians.
Nigeria is facing its worst moment of angst since the civil war. The problems are multifarious and spreading, but the language of the federal government is disturbingly full of threats and violence, making it hard for them to summon the honesty, ingenuity and realism needed to successfully tackle a problem poised to get worse in the coming months and years.

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