A few days ago, a group of young people who call themselves hunters and forest security guards accosted a young lady in Makurdi and shaved her dyed hair using scissors and other objects. The incident went viral as Nigerians rose in condemnation of the unfortunate development. The affected lady whose horrible experience went viral was not the only victim of the hunters’ brutality. There were several other unreported cases at the same time.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom proactively ordered the immediate arrest of leaders of the group which he described as illegal. They were soon arrested!
The next day, the Governor spoke further on the unacceptable conduct of the hunters, emphasizing that his administration would have nothing to do with the group as long as it remains an illegal outfit. Governor Ortom did not hide his suspicions that the hunters might be a group assembled with a clandestine plot to rig the 2023 elections. He warned that if his suspicions turned out to be true, those hatching the plan had better shelved it, as they would face stiff resistance from Benue people come 2023.
Now the question is; who are these hunters and what is their mission in Benue State? Where did they come from? Who authorized their operations? Who equipped them with the vehicles and the weapons they were using?
The Senate on Tuesday, 12th April 2022, read for the third time and passed the Nigerian Hunters and Forest Security Service (NHFSS) bill (SB 477) sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi representing Ekiti South constituency. Senator Olujimi had earlier presented to the Senate the Nigerian Hunters Council of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill, 2020.
The bill seeks to establish the Nigerian Hunters Service to prevent and combat forest crimes and enhance security within Nigerian forests. Other functions of the Service include prevention of bush and forest fires; investigation and arrest of persons suspected to be involved in criminal activities within the forests and handing them over to the Police. Beautiful idea, isn’t it?
But that is where the story begins and ends. At the time of writing this piece, President Muhammadu Buhari was yet to sign the bill into law.
It is therefore shocking to see members of the hunters group moving around the country, invading states and harassing innocent people. What do sponsors of the group know that the rest of us are unaware of? Why the haste to commence operations when the President is yet to give assent to the bill?
I read the Nigerian Hunters and Forest Security Service Bill but nowhere did I see a provision that empowers the group to accost people and shave their hair. On paper, their job is partly to safeguard the country’s forests and not go on rampage within townships thereby usurping the role of the Police.
Even under the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) programme of the Buhari/Idiagbon dictatorship, Nigerians could go about their normal businesses in markets and other public places.
The incident of shaving a young lady’s hair in Benue State should serve as a wake cup call. It is not too late for the National Assembly to take another look at the bill before we have another monster on our hands. Our people have already suffered enough from the trauma orchestrated by armed herdsmen and other terrorists. They do not deserve to face another round of torment in the hands of domestic ‘hunters’.
It is within the precincts of expectation to call on Mr President to reject the hunters bill until Nigerians clearly understand where the functions of the group begin and the point where such powers terminate. No one should be allowed to take advantage of the security situation in the country to foist an illegal group of gun-toting predators on the people to be later used for sinister political purposes.
Terver Akase is the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Benue State Governor, writes in from Makurdi, Benue State.