One kidnapping, too many By Emeka Omeihe

falae

Many were shocked to the marrows when news filtered last Monday that former Secretary to the Federal Government SGF and elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae had been kidnapped by suspected Fulani herdsmen who invaded his farm. The upset is neither because kidnapping is new in this country nor the first time high profile people will fall prey to the devilish machinations of sundry kidnap rings.

For, hardly does any day pass-by without reports of the malfeasance in one part of the country or the other. In the last three weeks, the crime took a dangerous dimension with the kidnap of two women; a columnist of the Vanguard Newspapers and the wife of the deputy managing director of The Sun newspapers. Both women spent several days in the den of the criminals before they were released. These are just a tip of the iceberg.

However, there is something striking and unusual in the circumstances surrounding the kidnap of Falae from his farm in Ilado village, Akure North, Ondo state allegedly by Fulani herdsmen. The elder statesman was said to have been beaten up by his assailants and dragged to the ground before being whisked away.

Before now, Fulani herdsman were said to be having issues with his workers  over the invasion of their farm by grazing cows and the attendant destruction of their crops. Curiously also, the kidnappers contacted the family demanding N100 million ransom before their victim could be released.

By demanding ransom, new complications were added to the episode. The Ondo State Police Command admitted that much when it claimed that a kidnapping ring may have hijacked the process initiated by the herdsmen. This suggestion is seen as a veiled attempt to exculpate the herdsmen from the ransom demand since it has not been in their character to kidnap let alone demand for ransom. But that argument cannot be taken too far without running into more problems. The same police command that admitted from the onset that the attack was perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen is now floating a questionable theory of professional kidnappers hijacking the process to make money. This theory cannot fly for two basic reasons.

First, it is a fact that Falae and his workers were attacked by Fulani herdsmen. This is not in doubt. Secondly, the same assailants also took him away when they were fleeing. Therefore, if there is any harm that comes the way of their captive, the responsibility for it squarely rests on the shoulders of his attackers. In this case, the Fulani herdsmen will take responsibility for whatever happens to the old man.

If we admit the theory of a hijack, the hijackers could not have been doing the bidding of any other group than those who whisked Falae away from his own farm. The police may have been forced into this rationalization given that Fulani herdsmen have not been known for kidnapping and demanding for ransom. But it will be naïve to completely rule out this possibility. It could well be a new dimension to the recurring clashes between farmers and the herdsmen in parts of the country. We needed more time to study the new development. The police was therefore in a hurry to have seemingly exculpated the herdsmen from the consequences of an action they planned and effectively executed.

It is not surprising that the people of the South-west did not take the matter lightly. The Oodua Peoples’ Congress OPC has threatened reprisals while farmers in Ondo State also threatened to wage a war against Fulani herdsmen that will have national impact, if the federal government failed to heed their ultimatum of effecting Falae’s release within one week. Such was the level of emotions and outrage.

It is largely seen as an affront on the people of the South-west for Fulani herdsmen to have attacked and abducted such a personage as Falae in his homeland. If this could happen to him, then all small farmers in the state are at the mercy of the herdsmen. That is why the incident should not be treated lightly by the authorities. It may be for the same reason that President Buhari directed the Inspector General of Police and all security agencies to do all within their powers to free the senior citizen. Good thing, Falae has eventually regained freedom after four days in captivity. Whether his release was a consequence of the high interest shown by the president or threats from the South-west, the nation has been saved the trouble of any harm that would have followed his continued incarceration or possible death.

In verity, this is the first time we are hearing of herdsmen kidnapping people for ransom. Yes, Fulani herdsmen have been notorious for attacking, killing and maiming people over disagreements on grazing lands for their cows and cattle rustling. Such incidents have been a recurring decimal. They came to an all time high in the last couple of years especially since the Boko Haram insurgency. The level of havoc wreaked by the herdsmen in parts of the country especially in Benue State was such that generated heated controversy as to whether they had the capacity and sophistication of the unmitigated calamity they wrought on several villages.

In one of such invasions, herdsmen attacked Ise Aekenyi in the Guma local government of Benue State destroying 72 villages even as 25 residents lost their lives with over 50,000 displaced. The governor of the state then, Gabriel Suswam who went to the area to assess the level of damage, escaped by whiskers as his convoy equally came under serious gun attack from the herdsmen.

The destruction was so much so that Senator Barnabas Gemade who then represented the area in the senate, raised alarm on the possible annihilation of the Idoma and Tiv ethnic groups by the herdsmen, warning that the development could destabilize the country if not checked. He also alleged that the attackers were not herdsmen but hirelings from Chad, Niger and Cameroun with the intent of causing internal crisis or war in the Middle-belt.

The allegation bears some semblance with the suggestion by the police in the case of Falae’s kidnap that those who were demanding N100 million ransom could be professional kidnappers who hijacked the incident for some gain. Whether the hirelings are from neighboring countries or are professional kidnappers make no difference. The key thing is that they were doing the bidding of those who had scores to settle. They are therefore, as culpable as those for whom they were doing their bidding. That is the real issue.

More fundamentally, the predicament of Falae has brought to the fore two serious security concerns which the current regime has to confront. They are the twin issues of clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers over grazing lands and kidnapping. These are extant challenges the attack on Falae has raised for attention.

These two security concerns are loaded with frightening prospects of destabilizing this country. The increasing resort by sundry rings to kidnapping for scores’ settling portends danger for this country. Our security agencies must rise to this challenge and tame the monster. It is equally important to take a serious view of the threat to national security which clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers across the country have become.

It is obvious from these recurring clashes that nomadic rearing of cows can neither endure nor is the suggestion for the mapping out of grazing areas in the six geo-political zones a viable alternative.  The solution lies in embracing modern trends in animal husbandry.

NATION