A responsible government should not allow people to steal cows or to kill for cows. When individuals or groups are targeted by nebulous groups who are not backed by a nation and cannot be held accountable, that is terrorism and the government, if not complicit, should declare them as terrorists.


A state is a state because it has a territory, a flag, a constitution, courts to adjudicate on criminal and civil matters, the capacity to enforce its laws and maintain the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Monopoly of violence is the cornerstone of the authority of the modern state and this is made explicit in the state’s mandate to decide what constitutes legitimate and illegitimate violence. That was the argument put forward by Max Weber in his 1919 book, Politics as Vocation. In simpler terms, it means, only the government should have the right to use force to enforce the law or an obligation or to coerce action. A limited exception exists for self-defence or the defence of others against imminent physical harm. If Nigeria were a true state, the many ways in which all our traditional societies had maintained the peace, enforced the law or were relied upon to do justice, for thousands of years, outside the present system of law enforcement and the courts, would be considered illegal and those engaged in such crimes would be prosecuted.

The various ethnic militia protecting or advancing ethnic or regional interests continue to expose the foundation of lies upon which Nigeria was built. American sociologist Charles Tilly framed the monopoly on violence as a function of statehood, as well as an instrument of its creation. He explained to us that, “war made the state and the state made war”. Furthermore, he argued that modern state structures were produced by a mutually reinforcing relationship between emerging military institutions, the fiscal arrangements required to fund them and the bargains struck with the power elite to ensure compliance. Against that backdrop, a true state expects citizens to report crimes to the police and leave the use of deadly force in preventing crime or capturing perpetrators to law enforcement. Citizens are not expected to resort to self-help, but are encouraged to report crimes, file a suit and go to courts of competent jurisdiction for settlement, in the event of a dispute with another person.

From what has been going on in Nigeria, the herdsmen are characteristically imperious. They seem immune from the law and are determined to test the limits of the legislative reach and the punitive apparatus of the Nigerian state. Only the state is allowed to kill people in the name of justice.


The use of deadly force for revenge killings, honour killings, duels, and blood feuds are deemed illegal and regarded as high crimes with heavy punishments. Also outlawed by the true state is the use of non-deadly force to take criminals or suspects into custody by individuals. As such, handcuffing a person who has committed an offence or is alleged to have committed an offence, by an individual or group, could amount to assault, kidnapping and false imprisonment under the law. This is in comparison to taking a criminal or suspect into custody by the government, which is described an arrest. The conduct of law enforcement and the treatment of whoever is being arrested on behalf of the state, is limited by the rule of law. Every treatment must be carried out in accordance with the law, and with due process. Every arrest, every contact with law enforcement is with the understanding that officers of the law, are not above the law and can be prosecuted if they violate the rights of the person they are arresting or have in their custody.

From what has been going on in Nigeria, the herdsmen are characteristically imperious. They seem immune from the law and are determined to test the limits of the legislative reach and the punitive apparatus of the Nigerian state. Only the state is allowed to kill people in the name of justice. It is failure of law enforcement if cows are rustled and carted away like tissue paper. It is beyond shameful if a dead or stolen cow is equal to a human life. Killing a human being In revenge for a cow is no longer an eye for an eye that leaves everyone blind, it is more like a head for an eye.

We should not expect to see any change, as long as the leadership and those who have self-serving agendas are not prepared to stop the carnage. Outside the hotbed of the attacks, we must not wait until the day the murderous rampage kicks our front door and becomes way too real for comfort, at which point it will be too late.


A responsible government should not allow people to steal cows or to kill for cows. When individuals or groups are targeted by nebulous groups who are not backed by a nation and cannot be held accountable, that is terrorism and the government, if not complicit, should declare them as terrorists. On paper, Nigeria is a federal republic and not a feudal republic, but in reality it is a feudal system given the vacuum of state power, and the regeneration of our feudal past out of existing social structures. The government has a social contract with every citizen. If individuals or groups are allowed to act as they please, none of us will have secure rights. Killing human beings in revenge for cows is reprehensible. Grabbing other people’s ancestral land in this day and age is an act of war. The violence in the land will not stop until we have a sincere and dutiful leader who is willing to confront the issue headlong and prosecute perpetrators.

Every concerned citizen who wants a united Nigeria should condemn these murders and task the goverment to do more and go beyond platitudes. The mass murder in Zamfara, Taraba, Plateau, Benue and so on, will be much less abstract when we see it up close in person or when a friend or family is lost. The victims will forever be scared. Seeing the video of Berom youth in counter-revenge slaughter of innocents showed how low we have sunk and how barbaric we are. I am a firm believer in using lethal force to stop the insanity of the herdsmen and other ethnic militia threatening the peace. We should not expect to see any change, as long as the leadership and those who have self-serving agendas are not prepared to stop the carnage. Outside the hotbed of the attacks, we must not wait until the day the murderous rampage kicks our front door and becomes way too real for comfort, at which point it will be too late.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo