It was indeed a bloody new year day in Nigeria as scores were killed in Rivers and Benue state.
In Rivers, 17 were shot dead in an attack on church worshippers on New Year’s Day. In Benue, herdsmen were on the prowl, killing 20 people and injuring 30 others. The chief mourners are Governors Nyesom Wike and Samuel Ortom. But, the weight of calamities is borne by the families of the deceased. To a bewildered Federal Government that has invested substantially in security, the end has not justified the means.
In Rivers, the awful picture stared everybody in the face. The method of killing, and the timing, underscored the cruelty of the assassins. Violence seems to have become a culture in the oil-rich Niger Delta state. The latest attack was unprovoked by victims who were in a festive mood. After the mayhem, the rampaging gunmen disappeared. Obviously, it was evident that suspected militants and cultists have reneged on their promise to maintain peace, following a general amnesty.
In the last two and half years, Benue has not known peace. A tearful Ortom lamented that mindless killings had become an infection that has defiled solution. His agony is compounded by appeals for sanity that have repeatedly gone unheeded. The security challenge in the Northcenral state has often diverted his attention from governance. The gains of his security measures are on the reserve.
Can there be justification for the killings? What scores were the assailants trying to settle in Rivers? What was their mission? Who is their sponsor? Rivers had endured the scourge of pipeline vandalism, armed robbery, sea piracy, political thuggery and arson, kidnapping and other forms of social vices. Wike had succeeded in oersuading them to lay down their arms in the past. Is the criminality not being renewed?
The violent men were armed with sophisticated weapons. The riffles were very expensive. The attacks demonstrated criminal dexterity. The operation was smooth and swift. No trace was left behind.
There are puzzles: Is Rivers not back to the dark days? Has the militants been reined in? Having laid down their weapons, according to the terms of amnesty, where did the militants regroup. Where did they get new arms? No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Who are the attackers?
Benue has a peculiar challenge. In the past, herdsmen posed no threat to any resident. They were friendly and at home with the people they met in the course of cattle rearing. Cases of destruction of crops were not rife. But, gone are the days when herdsmen were harmless.
What is the way out? In Rivers, the Federal Government has ordered the arrest and punishment of the perpetrators. It should not be an empty directive. The public enemies should be apprehended and brought to book. Security is a collective enterprise. Therefore, not only should residents be vigilant, they should also be willing to contribute to intelligence gathering in aid of security agencies.
In Benue, government should say “enough is enough”. How did Ekiti and other states manage to resolve the security challenge posed by herdsmen, as it were? Are the herdsmen and the real owners of the cattle above the law? Should the state be continually intimidated? Are the herdsmen bigger than Benue?
Even in the face of troubled Federalism that renders governors helpless in security matters, Ortom – and other governors – should not throw up their hands in surrenders. The matter must be resolved one way of the other.