The right to life is the most important of the fundamental human rights. Life provides the fulcrum, the foundation upon which other rights revolve and are claimed. Human rights are only for the living and we claim rights because we are human. Freedom of expression, movement, religion and the right to personal liberty are all products of life and they are meant for the living. Indeed, it could be averred that all other rights are meant to enhance the right to life and make it more liveable and dignified. As such, every effort to protect the sanctity of the right to life deserves the attention of the government, the private sector, civil society and the international community.
Section 33 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides that: Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria. A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary – (a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property: (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or (c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
This right is replicated in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and in plethora of regional and international conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory. Indeed, to show the seriousness with which sanctity of life is held, the emerging jurisprudence is for the abolition of the death penalty across the world.
However, the respect, protection and promotion of the right to life have come under several denials in Nigeria. The attacks on the right to life have come from virtually all directions. From the criminal elements of armed robbery, kidnapping to the outright denial of the Nigerian statehood by Boko Haram and now, to the Fulani herdsmen attacking communities; it is becoming an open killing field in an undeclared war. This discourse is more concerned on the spate of killings by herdsmen.
The scenario is usually about nomadic herdsmen taking their cattle, goat and sheep on a rampage across farms and gardens of settled communities, eating up and destroying the farms in the process. The complaints and protest of the communities and farm owners are treated with disdain and reports to law enforcement agents yield no fruits. Sometimes, meetings convened by state governors, local government chairmen or even the police also do not solve such disputes and complaints.
Most times, in the search for pastures and being clearly the offending party, they unleash mayhem, killing, looting and burning of towns, villages and large parts of human settlements. In some parts of the South-East, they have been reported to have raped women who went to the farms. They strike at odd hours and even when they strike in day time. Nigerians are meant to believe they usually vanish into thin air. No one is arrested, tried nor punished and a cycle of impunity is established. This has been the norm from the Middle-Belt, the South-West, South-South, to the South-East and it seems to have accentuated under the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The latest media reports from the Agatu killing fields in Benue State is mind boggling, suggesting that it was planned and executed with clinical precision with hundreds of people killed. As usual, the law seems to be silent. Let me reiterate that the basic obligation of government is the protection of lives and property and any government that fails in this regard loses its right to expect obedience from citizens who have a right to protect themselves from marauders. Self preservation is the first law in nature and it is a natural instinct. How many more people will have to be killed and how many more human settlements will be erased before the Federal Government takes decisive steps to stop this madness?
When it seems that there is discriminatory enforcement of laws as seems to be the case, this strikes at the foundation of governance. The basic tenet of justice and governance is to treat like cases alike; all Nigerians are entitled to equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Once this fundamental condition is removed, the society is on its path to anarchy.
These attacks, as invidious as they are, present an opportunity for the federal Government in collaboration with the states where these herdsmen come from to take positive steps that will not only solve this challenge but also improve the economy and livelihoods. Civilised nations convert adversity into opportunities for economic growth. The answer is simple; get these herdsmen to bring their cattle and animals into ranches in the vast lands of the North. The state governments exercising their powers under the Land Use Act can facilitate this and also provide support with boreholes and solar power to provide water to grow the grasses and shrubs used to feed these animals.
State governments can also provide extension services that will train these herdsmen on modern practices of rearing animals. Nigeria trains over five thousand graduates of agriculture every year from its universities of agriculture and the faculties across all its universities. Thus, the personnel to do this will not be lacking. This will guarantee increased yield of meat and dairy products from the animals thereby increasing the income of the herdsmen who will now become settled farmers.
Government can also get increased tax revenue from the farmers who will become more productive to themselves and to the national economy. I am not aware that nations that produce large quantities of beef and dairy products do so by rearing their animals of the streets and across farmlands and in the process, spill so much blood. The proposal to create grazing reserves across the federation will not work and will lead to more violence. In a change era, we cannot continue to support outdated nomadic approaches to farming.
Finally, in the event that the Federal Government and responsible states continue to turn a deaf ear to this suggestion and to avert more bloodshed, state governments whose people have become victims of these attacks should look deeply into their law books. They will find laws about public nuisance and laws that prohibit rearing animals across farms and on the streets. If they cannot find one, they should get their State House of Assembly to enact one. By the time the laws are enforced to the letter with adequate deterrent punishment, the offenders will wake up to the reality of their wrong doing and retrace their steps.
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