This is a national issue. Farmers in Zamfara, Kaduna (the Northwest), Benue and other parts of the North-Central have been confronting this issue for some time. It is time to work together. Working together on this issue is a means to an end — to ensure security… Engage with reasonable governors and other leaders who are determined to end the crises.
I am deeply troubled by the activities of criminal Fulani herders and pervasive insecurity in Nigeria. Despite various messages from friends, colleagues and readers, I resisted writing on the issue because of the tendency in Nigeria’s toxic political ecology to construe every analysis — right from the name of the writer — as unfair or nonobjective. How does one intervene without sounding like an ethnic bigot?
President Muhammadu Buhari and his government seem intent on taking Nigeria on the direct path to Rwanda of 1994 — ethnic conflict and genocide. President Buhari told a Benue State delegation after the New Year Day massacre in 2018: “I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your country men. You can also be assured that I am just as worried, and concerned with the situation”. The president’s comments to the grieving and long-suffering Benue people amounted to an MRI on his heart. Fulani militants masquerading as herders were ranked the fourth most lethal terrorist group in the world in 2015 — behind only Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabaab. If the president was truly worried about the situation in 2018, there is no sign he has done anything to address the issue. Buhari’s presidency has been quick to condemn anti-open-grazing laws and anything, including mosquito bites, affecting Fulani herders and the anachronistic practice of transhumance. Through his and the government’s utterances and criminal silence, Muhammadu Buhari appears to construe himself as herder-in-chief rather than commander-in-chief, and the president of the Fulani people. Other Nigerian ethnic groups and law-abiding Fulani people can no longer claim they have a president.
The farm of a friend, a retired General, was mercilessly invaded by Fulani herders on multiple occasions. Cattle ate his crops and herders cut root tubers to feed their flock. He lost millions of naira. Other farmers nearby were also affected. They urged the General to intervene. The General visited the police headquarters in the State. The police commissioner told him he had also lost his crops to herdsmen. He said his hands were tied; he could not arrest the herders. He informed the General that the state command had on two occasions arrested herdsmen caught feeding cattle on citizens’ farms but he received orders from “the Presidency” to release the suspects.
To be clear, the Buhari government did not ask herdsmen to destroy people’s farms. However, inaction of security agents, deployment of soldiers to beat villagers to accommodate herders and the fear within security agencies that arresting criminal herders could mean the end of their careers indicate culpability at best and at worst a sinister intentionality at the highest levels of government. President Buhari has done a major disservice to his beloved ethnic group. The failure to check the excesses of the herdsmen has led to more brazen conduct of the herdsmen — rape, kidnapping and gruesome killings — and negative perception and stigma across Nigeria. The Sultan of Sokoto has argued that seven or eight out of 10 kidnappers in Nigeria are Fulani. The term “Fulani herdsmen” is fast becoming a criminal franchise — some non-Fulanis are capitalising on the negative social evaluation and identity to commit crimes.
An eye-for-an-eye makes everybody blind, as they say. All communities affected by kidnapping and other crimes perpetrated by criminal Fulani herders must avoid the dangerous temptation of reprisal attacks. It is the road to self-destruction. There are Fulanis who have settled across Nigeria for decades.
What practical steps can the leaders and peoples of affected areas take to protect themselves from marauding herders and other criminals?
Strengthen Regional Security Agencies
The Nigeria Police Force is both incapacitated and compromised. The military is over-stretched. As of 2016, the military was deployed in 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states. No one has prosecuted or definitively contradicted former Defence minister, General T.Y. Danjuma, who stated in March 2018 that, “You must rise to protect yourselves from these people. If you depend on the armed forces to protect you, you will die.” Perhaps General Danjuma exaggerated the facts. It is better to not find out in the grave. No part of Nigeria needs the permission of the Federal Government to protect the people. Every state requires capable personnel, training and equipment for its security unit. Amotekun and other regional security outfits should Amotekun retired armed forces or police personnel for training. There is a need to use cutting-edge technology. Drones can be used for reconnaissance missions in forests and other hideouts of criminal herders and kidnappers. The movement of herders in forests can be tracked in real time through aerial surveillance. Field control centres can be set up for effective deployment of regional security outfits. Body-worn cameras are now low-end tools. The activities of field operatives can be viewed by officials in real time. Security is not rocket science.
Avoid Reprisal Attacks
An eye-for-an-eye makes everybody blind, as they say. All communities affected by kidnapping and other crimes perpetrated by criminal Fulani herders must avoid the dangerous temptation of reprisal attacks. It is the road to self-destruction. There are Fulanis who have settled across Nigeria for decades. Every human jurisdiction recognises the right to self defence in law and morality. However, it is against the principles of natural justice to destroy the homes and livelihoods of innocent Fulanis in an attempt to seek vengeance.
Community leaders should organise groups of young people to protect their homes. Work on farms can be rotated as was common in previous eras. Relatively large groups of farmers can take turns to work collaboratively on individual members’ farms in order to protect one another from criminal herders.
Nature abhors a vacuum. For instance, Sunday Igboho’s ascendance in the South-West is testament that state governors have not handled the security issue appropriately. There is a need for each state governor to engage with their constituents, including Fulanis, to stop the criminal attacks and reprisals.
State Governors Must Lead the Way
Nature abhors a vacuum. For instance, Sunday Igboho’s ascendance in the South-West is testament that state governors have not handled the security issue appropriately. There is a need for each state governor to engage with their constituents, including Fulanis, to stop the criminal attacks and reprisals. Paying off criminals is an unreasonable approach, as Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai recently noted. You need to restore law and order by apprehending criminal elements, so the people can live in peace. Herding does not require possessing AK47. Make effective use of your security vote. Ensure enforcement of laws regarding ban on open-grazing and prosecute offenders through the courts. No constitutional amendment is required to do that.
Drop Individual Ambitions For Restructuring
I appreciate that people have the right to aspire for political office. However, you cannot be president over dead people. Southern Nigerian leaders must recognize that now is not the time to focus on 2023 electoral permutations. President Buhari is working hard — whether or not he realises it — to be the last president of Nigeria. 2023 electoral calculations are predicated on the idea that there will be a country to govern by then. Sadly, we can no longer take that for granted. The key issue is to ensure a political arrangement that works for all Nigerians. That starts with reforming the security architecture.
Collaborate With Other Affected Regions
This is a national issue. Farmers in Zamfara, Kaduna (the Northwest), Benue and other parts of the North-Central have been confronting this issue for some time. It is time to work together. Working together on this issue is a means to an end — to ensure security. Any state government that is intent on playing politics with human lives or feels that cows are more important than human lives should be avoided. Engage with reasonable governors and other leaders who are determined to end the crises.
In conclusion, there has never been a better time to finally reconfigure Nigeria. The Fulani herder issue has brought out long-standing simmering tensions in the polity. The underlying human capital (or lack thereof) issue will not go away any time soon. It took decades of neglect to get there. However, do not allow this government to turn you into a bigot or un-hired assassin. There will be life after this administration.
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