One of the most worrisome developments in today’s Nigeria is what appears like a firm resolve by the Muhammadu Buhari regime to continue circulating the very distressing impression that it does not know how to solve the endless aggression being unleashed in different parts of the country by Fulani herdsmen who move and operate as if there are no laws in the land capable of containing the menace of troublesome people.
The soft targets of these herders are usually harmless and toiling farmers whom they gruesomely slaughter in their farms, and innocent villagers, whose homes, according to reports, they invade mostly in the middle of the night and set them ablaze. When the people are suddenly roused from sleep by the raging inferno and run out in confusion, they are mowed down by the waiting assailants.
And despite the volume of media reports on the gory occurrences, nothing usually happens: no one will be arrested, tried and jailed. With no one raising a hand to protect or seek justice for them, the traumatized people will weep and get tired, quietly bury their dead, that is, if they are able to find their corpses and mourn them silently, probably, fearing that any noise from them might offend their killers and bring them back for more bloody exploits. Then they will leave their village and move elsewhere in the neighbouring communities to seek shelter since their homes have been destroyed. They have become refugees in their own country for no fault of theirs.
Soon, everybody else will retrieve their attention and empathy from them and refocus it on other things until the herders decide to launch the next bloody attack.
Now, both farmers and herdsmen are involved in private business. Why does it seem very difficult for the government to compel the herders to confine their cattle in enclosed places so that farmers can also carry out their own business uninterrupted? How fair is it that after spending millions of naira (which are sometimes high interest loans waiting to be repaid) to raise a farm, the herders would brazenly swoop on it, unleash their cattle on the crops, and within a very short time, the entire product of the farmers’ sweat and resources would disappear into the stomach of the cows, leaving only the ones trampled upon by the animals which have been destroyed.
And if the farmers dare raise any complaint or attempt to stop the cattle from destroying their farms, the Fulani herdsmen would viciously attack and slaughter them, rape their wives and daughters before deciding to kill, maim or allow them to live with injuries. Later, if their bloodlust was yet to be assuaged, they will return in the wee hours for more havoc, which will culminate in the razing and sacking of the village. And nothing will happen afterwards! Those who are able to survive the genocide will go to silently lick their wounds at whatever place they are able to find refuge. Yes, nothing will happen because these killers appear to enjoy some form of special immunity from the consequences of their actions.
The solution to this menace should have been very simple and straightforward if the federal government were impartial and sincere about achieving a fair and lasting settlement and ending the perennial bloody destructions. The first action that betrays its insincerity is the decision to dress up what is clearly brazen and remorseless aggressions against innocent and hardworking farmers with the misleading euphemism, “farmers-herders clashes.” So if people are on their property and some others trespass into the place, cause willful damage, and then proceed to kill and maim the owners for challenging or resisting them, is that the meaning of “clash” in the dictionary of the Federal Government of Nigeria?
Even President Buhari knows that the most effective way to deter criminals in a civilized society is to arrest everyone that had committed an offence (no matter the motivation), subject him to trial in court and punish him. But his government has refused to do that in respect of the herdsmen. It took a whole nine months to arrest the herdsmen that murdered the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti. It is even possible that they were arrested because of the status of the elder statesman involved, and the political implication of not doing anything about the perpetrators of the murder.
During his first term when the elders and leaders from Benue State visited him in Aso Villa in respect of the mass slaughter perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen in their place, the president pleaded with them to try and restrain their people from undertaking a reprisal attack. And after that, what did the government do? Was anyone arrested or tried for the pogrom? At another time, the president pleaded with them to “accommodate” their “brothers” (the killer-herdsmen) in their midst. Later in Jos, he said that he would pray to get a solution to the herdsmen menace. Imagine that!
Indeed, it is very sad and destabilizing that in a country not officially engaged in a war, no day passes without the media serving the citizenry the ugly and dizzying accounts of the gory exploits of suspected Fulani herdsmen across the country. It would seem that for them, a day can only be regarded as fulfilling if they are able to smear the ground with some pints (or even gallons) of human blood. It is most shocking that they are always able to gratify this benumbing obsession with utmost impunity in a country governed by human beings.
It is true that beef is required as a source of protein for humans, but that is not the only thing that Nigerians feed on. The farmers need to work on their farms too to produce yam, cassava, vegetables, grains and several other food items for the consumption of the people. Cattle and these other farm products need not be mutually exclusive on the menu of Nigerians. Both are required to achieve a balanced diet, so it would be foolish to think that one is more important than the other and that one should be destroyed in order to feed the other. The government should stop hiding behind one finger and hasten to compel the herders to confine their cows in enclosures and buy cattle feed to sustain them, while the farmers should be left in peace to work on their farms. This is only fair and just. The herdsmen should be prevented from continuing to disturb the peace of the country and shed innocent blood in order to carry out their private business.
Reports that many farmers are now afraid to go to their farms due to the benumbing fear of being harassed, maimed, raped or even killed by armed Fulani herdsmen should seriously worry every well-meaning Nigerian. The famers who are able to summon the courage to go to their farms are not even sure that their crops will not soon become food for the cattle. It is now farming season and what does this terrible situation portend for our country when the harvest time comes?
Will the Fulani herdsmen plunge Nigeria into food crisis? Will Nigerians suffer starvation because the government has chosen to pamper the herdsmen (at the expense of the country’s food security) instead of reining them in? Why must land farming be sacrificed in order that cattle rearing may thrive?
On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, the House of Representatives adopted a motion on the “Need to Stop the Entry of Herdsmen from other African Countries into Nigeria.” Moving the motion, the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, explained that “the House is concerned that those herdsmen who are militant in nature have consistently instilled fear in lives of local farmers and villagers living in the affected areas by the use of coercion, intimidation, brute force and extreme violence, in most cases, leaving a large number of persons dead.”
According to him, “the House believes that it has become necessary to lend a voice to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State that a stop be put to the movement of herdsmen from other African countries to Nigeria, so as to curb the rate of crime and conflicts associated with their movements across Nigeria.”
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) in statement (according to Vanguard of June 10, 2020) has equally endorsed Gov Ganduje’s position.
“The position of the governor better appreciates the lawlessness of the armed herdsmen that has led to the loss of hundreds of lives around the country in recent years with the Federal Government turning a blind eye to these atrocities or making statements that tacitly encourage them. We still have not come to terms with the declaration by the President last year that Africans are free to come to Nigeria and obtain visas on arrival when he once identified Ghadafi militia men as a bulk of the troublers of Nigeria under the guise of herding. It is also worrying that while the police have been troubling those who own licensed guns to come and return them, herdsmen who carry illegal sophisticated weapons like AK 47 roam free all over Nigeria…The peace of Nigeria is currently under threat because of the activities of the herdsmen under whose roaming crimes of kidnapping, destruction of communities and killings of innocent people are taking place. We call on the President to rise to the duty of his office to protect all Nigerians and hearken to the call of Governor Ganduje to halt these movements and prosecute those who are committing crimes against humanity under the guise of herding,” the SMBLF said in the statement.
Sometimes, it does seem that this distinction between “local” and “foreign” herdsmen is a clear diversionary ploy. No matter which of the groups (assuming such a distinction really exists) that is perpetrating the atrocities, Nigeria has sufficient laws capable of containing them, that is, if those laws could be allowed to work and deter crime. Whoever commits a crime, whether a foreigner or an indigene, should be arrested, tried and dealt with according to the law. That is how civilized societies function. Government should, therefore, muster the will to ensure the prosecution of all the herdsmen killing, raping and razing the homes of innocent rural farmers and destroying their farms.
It is sad that some states that have enacted laws banning open grazing have come under intense hostility. But more states should muster the courage to also make this law. They have a responsibility to protect their people and their sources of livelihood.
A looming danger is that if government continues to watch passively as innocent people are attacked, violated and killed by herdsmen, the victims might one of these days resort to self-help and anarchy will engulf the country.
Already, following the killing of a 65-year old man, Mr. Uzoemena Eriaka, in his farm in Umuekpu, Agwa, Oguta Council Area of Imo State, Ohaneze Ndigbo has asked the people to defend themselves against the relentless attacks from Fulani herdsmen which have led to several killings of people and sexual abuses of women and girls. Vanguard newspaper of June 17, 2020, quotes Mr. Emeka Atama, the media aide to the President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo as saying: “We have been pushed to the wall. We have no other option than to rise up now, gird our loins and face the seemingly intractable insecurity.”
According to him: “The rampant killing and raping of defenseless people in their homes and farms has made it imperative for people to take all measures possible to defend themselves from these hoodlums. The rampant killing and raping of defenseless people in their homes and farms has made it imperative for people to take all measures possible to defend themselves from these hoodlums. Communities should organise themselves and fight back these killers. It is unfortunate that the Federal Government stripped people of their means of self defence without providing adequate protection for them or ensuring commensurate disarming in the North, especially among herdsmen.”
As more and more communities across the country brace up to defend themselves against the murderous attacks of killer-herdsmen, no one can predict what the country could be turned into. President Buhari should take urgent steps to rein in the Fulani herdsmen before they plunge the country into avoidable crisis.
Well-meaning Fulanis should be worried by the consequences of the activities of the herdsmen given the unappealing image they are attracting to them. As the herdsmen parade themselves with this grand illusion that they are above the law, have they ever stopped to wonder how they would be able to sustain this unhealthy state of affairs without serious consequences which might even lead to bigger crises after Buhari had left office?
Why is Buhari not worried that his stance on the activities of Fulani herdsmen has irrecoverably destroyed the concept of “One North” as the Middle Belt now prefers to align with the South than maintaining what it now sees as an unprofitable “One North” arrangement that has not even in any way helped to halt the endless mass slaughter of their people? When will the core North realize what the activities of the Fulani herdsmen have cost it so much politically?
The Middle Belt has long enjoyed the reputation of the “food basket” of the country, but will they still be able to live up to this name with the herdsmen killing and driving their farmers from their farms and preventing them from cultivating? Will the usual vigorous and massive farming activities still be able to continue in the South? Will Nigeria be prevented from being able to produce enough food for herself because of these herdsmen?
No doubt, Nigeria is on the verge of being plunged into very serious food crisis. President Buhari and those advising him should hasten to prevent this looming food scarcity whose effect is already showing in the market. Nigeria is bigger than the herdsmen and should not be subjected to avoidable hunger because a few people are protected from the just consequences of treating the laws that govern an orderly society with unqualified disdain.
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, a Nigerian journalist and writer, is author of the book, NIGERIA: Why Looting May Not Stop ( [email protected]; twitter: @ugowrite)