While an undergraduate at the Polytechnic Ibadan, Adeseun Ogundoyin Campus, Eruwa, Oyo State, between 2006 and 2008, there were a number of times reports of suspected herders’ attacks on innocent commuters plying the Ibadan-Eruwa road filtered into town.
The pattern of the attacks then was that the suspected herders (believed to be of Fulani stock) would lay in ambush on the highway, momentarily barricade the road, launch attack on buses, rob victims –mostly students – of their belongings and, sometimes, rape female victims. There was the heart-rending case of a lady who allegedly got raped in the presence of her husband, on their way to Ibadan!
Of course, in addition to this, there were also cases of clashes between herders and farmers, mostly in the Ibarapa/Oke Ogun parts of the state, even as the apex Fulani organization in Eruwa at the time did make some moves to fish out the criminals and occasionally settle disputes.
But in retrospect, what was quite unusual about the development was that as horrendous as the attacks were, very few people were tempted to ethicize the issue. If anyone ever did, that person perhaps didn’t live on the Anko-Isale Kola axis of Eruwa, which was my own part of the town where there were numerous indigenous Fulani people living with residents peacefully without chaos. There was even the case of a certain ‘Baba Kabiru’ whom I stayed with for more than 20 months and whose (Fulani) ethnic identity I only discovered few months to my graduation.
What the foregoing explains is that contrary to some narratives being peddled today, mostly online, like in every social interaction, the conflict between herders (and other criminal elements of Fulani stock masquerading as herders) and their host communities is not new.
What’s however new, to my mind, is the presidential insouciance that has greeted the spate of violence across the country in recent time. By a little stretch of the imagination, it would be near-impossible to divorce lukewarm presidential reactions from the renewed vigour with which these attacks are being carried out.
President Muhammadu Buhari, no doubt, has a strong affinity with his Fulani kinsmen. This is no crime, to be sure. But like every ethnic group, the Fulani group isn’t populated by ‘saints’ – it is a mixed bag of the good-hearted, the murderous, the gentle and the criminally-minded. And that’s why presidential reactions to these attacks remain eerily troubling. If the reaction of the presidency is troubling, the president’s own demeanour and past records with regard to the conflict are scary.
Circa October 2000, Mr Buhari led a delegation of Fulani leaders to confront the late governor Lam Adesina of Oyo State on the death of some herders allegedly killed by farmers in the state during clashes. Contrary to the statesmanlike reaction expected of a former head of state, Mr Adesina was shocked to receive the query of an accusatory Mr Buhari, who reportedly asked the governor, somewhat rhetorically: “Why are YOUR people killing MY people?” (Emphasis is mine). It took the patient and polite intervention of the late Oyo governor to keep the concern in control and resolve the issues amicably.
If there was anything the incident showed, it was the narrow (ethnic) prism from which the president views issues Nigeriana, evident in most of the concerns that have plagued his presidency since 2015––from the security appointments to DSS recruitment, among others.
While the president is human and would not have done anything criminal by tacitly identifying with his “people”, it must be stated that such “ethnic solidarity” must not be done on the altar of national unity and security of lives and property of other Nigerians.
Like President Goodluck Jonathan, who was also accused of bring clannish, Mr Buhari has not been able to reconcile his ethnic solidarity with herders as one of their leaders with his vow on May 29, 2015, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Aside the president’s unmistakably Fulani-centric demeanour, there are no better evidences of this than the atrociously insensitive press statements the presidency continues to churn out with regard to these attacks.
So the issues are clear: It is grossly stupid, inhuman and callous to label an entire ethnic group as criminal; it is also extremely condemnable for those in authority to look the other way while herders (and the numerous other criminally-minded folks masquerading as herders) continue to maim and destroy Nigerians and their property.
In his message to Christians on the solemn occasion of the Lenten season in February, presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina quoted Mr Buhari as enjoining Nigerians to pray for the country’s unity and progress. Between February and June, no issue has come close to tearing the nation apart and threatening its “unity and progress” like these incessant ‘suspected Fulani herdsmen’ attacks, about which the presidency has done virtually nothing even as many Nigerians are being killed almost on a bi-weekly basis.
Earlier in the week, many Nigerians were killed in Jos. The shock that accompanied the sad incident had barely disappeared when another tragic accident occurred in Lagos, with more than 50 vehicles burnt in the inferno. The two incidents, including other tragic occurrences, triggered the #PrayForNigeria hashtag on Cyberia. Laudable as the initiative remains––at least for the theists among Nigerians, even if we choose to gloss over basic safety measures––there is the fundamental question of what the place of prayer is in nation building, especially in the absence of concrete, decisive actions.
These prayers, to my mind, are today’s equivalent of post-May 2015 din of ‘body language’ peddled for months by online Buharists (as fanatic supporters of Mr Buhari are called). It would be recalled that some months after Mr Buhari took over power, there were some ‘cosmetic improvements’ in electricity, which many linked to Mr Buhari’s ‘body language’.
It mattered not that there was nothing––absolutely nothing, including basic steps like appointing ministers––being done by the government to trigger such ‘positives’. It didn’t take long before the nonsensical ‘body language’ din disappeared, no thanks to that widespread, non-discriminatory hunger-inducing economic recession!
Pastor Poju Oyemade, during the week, gave a most befitting response to our obsession with prayers. In a tweet, he wrote: “If we keep resorting to religious explanations for our practical problems we will not progress as a nation. The main purpose of prayer is to hear from God. He gives you instructions on what to do as He says, wisdom is the principal thing. It is our doing something that changes things. Prayer by itself won’t, action does.” What more could one add?
The subtext of the above, frankly, is that beyond our incurable obsession with prayers, it is expected that we will go ahead and take decisive actions that will trigger positive changes in the polity. In the two tragic cases we are presently dealing with, one hopes that the government would fish out these murderers (across the divides, as there are largely under-reported cases of violent attacks on Fulani herders too) on the one hand; and of course ensure that the Otedola bridge incident is thoroughly investigated and the culprits, including regulatory agencies that failed in their duties, are thoroughly dealt with. But then, experience has shown that it is self-delusion to hope that Nigerians (leaders and led) would do the right thing. So, er… well, let us pray!
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