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 “offence” of killing their cows.
The whole community has been displaced with about 7, 000 having fled their home 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 9 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. We watch day by day how this government is engaged in passionate flagrant disobedience of humane civil laws and court orders in its acclaimed bid to fight corruption but it is very surprising that the same government has not even 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. We are beginning to feel strongly that this Nigerian government prefers recovering money than saving the lives of the Nigerian people. This is an attitude that we greatly condemn.
The attempt made by the government through the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, to wade into the crisis has even 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:
“I am in Benue State on the directive of Mr. President on a fact-finding mission and to see if there is a way to resolve the crises.
We have enough security officers to end the ongoing crisis between farmers and herdsmen in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State.
We have deployed additional four units of police teams in the area to arrest the situation.
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.”
(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.
How would a 21st Century Democracy react like that to such brutal murders as occurred in Agatu and describe it as “disagreement”? Even in the societies on the frontline for animal rights, human rights still rank higher let alone fundamental rights that have priority till eternity comes.
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.
The recognition of the right to life is a global trend and not just a national phenomenon in Nigeria. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly via Resolution 217, A (III) of December 10, 1948 has in its Column 1 covering Articles 3-11 the Right to Life accorded its priority. Article 3 is very emphatic:
“Everyone has the right to life liberty and security of person.”
Similarly, of the three rights which are non-derogable under Article 4(2) of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 2200 A (XXI) of December 16, 1966, the Right to life is first as provided in Article 6 and the other two provided in Articles 7 and 8 being freedom from torture and slavery respectively are only to ensure the enjoyment of the right to life. Article 6 expressly provides:
“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of right to his life.”
Equally, Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right restates that old time rule of law that:
“Human beings are inviolable.”
It is upon this fundamental reality that proponents of the abolition of capital punishment argue that capital punishment is a violation of the right to life. We thus align ourselves with the right humane philosophy encapsulated in the words of Pope Pius XII in his 1951 papal encyclical:
“Every human being, even the child in the womb, has the right to life directly from God and not from his parents, not from any society or human authority. Therefore, there is no man, no society, no human authority, no science, no “indication” at all whether it be medical, eugenic, social, economic, judicial title for a direct deliberate disposal of an innocent human life.”
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. Article 6 defines Genocide to mean acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part, etc. Article 7 states that crime against humanity means any acts of murder, extermination, torture, enslavement, forced disappearance of people, deportation or forcible transfer of population, persecution etc committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.
Nigeria is a party to this Statute and deposited its instrument of ratification on 27 September 2001 which qualifies the International Criminal Court (ICC) for exercise of its jurisdiction as specified under Article 12 of the Rome Statute. Nigeria therefore agrees in principle with the Rome Statute of the ICC in the following words of the Preamble that State Parties to the Statute:
Mindful that during this century, millions of children, women and men has been victims of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity;
Recognizing that such grave crimes threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world;
Affirming that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured by taking measures at the national level and by enhancing international cooperation;
Determined to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and thus to contribute to the prevention of such crimes.
Notwithstanding, the Nigerian Government and security agencies have not only become incriminated as passive but also active participants in the genocide against Agatu community as provided under Article 6 (d) of the Rome Statute by “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part”.
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.
Our objectives are;
v To deploy the members’ creative talents as writers to promote, protect and project the human rights of all Nigerians and other law abiding citizens resident within Nigeria;
v To organize periodic seminars and training workshops locally for human capital development specifically on the tenets and ideals of Human Rights and the rule of Law;
v To attend International Workshops and Seminars targeted at the promotion and protection of human rights;
v To conduct periodic studies on ways, means and strategies for promoting and protecting human rights of law abiding citizens;
v To highlight human rights challenges confronting the persons in conflict with the law and seek for constructive modalities for redressing such violations; and
v To recognize excellence and good governance standards in the polity through yearly award ceremonies for exceptionally good, tested and trusted leaders in both the corporate and public sectors. The process of selection would be by transparent mass participation strategies.
Be assured of our highest esteem and consideration.
Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko
National Coordinator for HURIWA.