Agatu killings: A demand for justice
Recent events in Agatu community of Benue State of Nigeria are alarming as regards the manner in which some suspected Fulani herdsmen have constituted themselves into a law enforcement agent, a court and execution officers in arresting, summarily, trying, convicting and equally executing members of the community, who are not only supposed to be their host but also benefactors of their nomadic profession, for the alleged ìoffenceî of killing their cows.
The whole community has been displaced with about 7, 000 having fled their homes and more than 500 killed in a short spate of time while heavily armed men believed to be of the Fulani sect still freely patrol the community unchallenged, as confirmed by the Benue State†Commissioner of Police, Mr. Paul Yakadi.
The suspected herdsmen have had a field day to raid and raze down not few than nine of the 10 villages (wards) that make up the community including Okokolo, Aila, Adagbo Akwu, Omikuidi, Ocholoyna and Odugheho. This all went on freely and without interruption by any security outfit whatsoever.
The villages are now said to be totally bereft of any social or economic activities. All the primary and post-primary schools, health centres, worship centres as well as the police station in the area have been burnt down. The people have been turned to IDPs in their own home community.
Much more worrisome and in fact strange is the docile attitude of the Federal Government to the inhuman and barbaric acts which have caused cry to the far ends of the earth. If anyone is in doubt that a new legal order is being established such may have a rethink with the very questionable slow response of security operatives to the bizarre situation in Agatu vis-avis the heinous crimes being perpetrated on the people of the area. It is surprising that government has not displayed any concern for the broad-day-light killings of the people of Agatu in execution of the death sentence passed upon the whole community by the herdsmen.
The attempt made by the government through the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, to wade into the crisis has left a lot to be desired. In a meeting of the Police chief with members of Agatu community and the Fulani herdsmen on Thursday, March 10, 2016, the Fulani community through their spokesperson, Mr. Ado Boderi, claimed that the crisis is a fallout of the killing of 10,000 of their cattle by members of the Agatu community. After such confession, the IGP continued with more words than action as become usual of the government and security operatives. The IGP said, among other things that…There is no way we can all live together without having disagreements with one another at some point; it is the way we manage the disagreement that matters.
Both the farmers and herdsmen must learn to cohabit with one another as nation or peace and progress of our people.î (Emphasis ours).
Are we serious? We are sure the IGP will not sound like this if the President of Nigeria had been killed. We acknowledge the fact that the solution to every crisis cannot be divested from its history.††We equally do appreciate that order is the ultimate aim of law. We do however know that justice is the grand rule of lasting peace and order. The primary and most essential responsibility of the police worldwide and Nigeria in particular, is not dialogue per se but investigation of alleged offences, arrest and prosecution of alleged offenders. Section 4 of the Police Act Cap P.19 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, confers on the police the power to prevent commission of crime, apprehend offenders and conduct prosecution of criminals.
In the hierarchy of fundamental rights, the right to life is not only most fundamental but also the basis for which others exist. Shelter, food and clothing exist at the pleasure of life and not otherwise. It is not sheer coincidence therefore, that of the Fundamental Rights entrenched in Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution; the Right to Life is first and foremost as provided under section 33.
If we have surrendered our individuality to the collective good of the union for the protection of the sovereign, why are the Agatu people being massacred by known men freely walking our streets and nobody is saying something reasonably typical of a 21st†humanist government. Within our criminal law books, the acts of the rampaging Fulani men over Agatu qualify for various offences ranging from those preparatory as conspiracy to the most heinous of them as murder or culpable homicide punishable with death yet every attempt aimed at rescuing the people have been majorly negotiation without arrest of even identified suspects.
Beyond the mucky waters of ethnocentric politics, ethno-religious bigotry and failed governance, we see clearly that of the four broadly defined offences under†Article 5 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, three have been committed upon the people of Agatu by the Fulani herdsmen. These are crime of genocide, crime against humanity and the crime of aggression.
Nigeria is a party to this Statute and deposited its instrument of ratification on September 27, 2001 which qualifies the International Criminal Court (ICC) for exercise of its jurisdiction as specified under†Article 12†of the Rome Statute.
We hereby call on the Federal Government to urgently respond to the plight of the law abiding people of Agatu community who are writhing in the pain of physical and psychological injury inflicted upon them by the barbarism of the alleged Fulani herdsmen orchestrated by the gross negligence and lackluster ineptitude of the Nigerian Government and its security operatives otherwise we shall be compelled to seek audience with the ICC Prosecutor on this matter.
• Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko is
National Coordinator for HURIWA.