By Majeed Dahiru
From the recent ‘’vacate from forest reserves’’ order handed down to Fulani herdsmen by the Ondo state government to some communities across southern Nigeria giving them outright quit notices has once again raised the serious allegations of ethnicizationof crimes in Nigeria; a situation that has resulted into hateful resentment and physical attacks on herder settlements by their host communities. The media has been particularly accused of stoking ethnic tensions by its labelling of criminal herdsmen as ‘’Fulani’’ and has been blamed for the unfortunate situations in places like Igangan in Oyo state and Isikwuato in Abia state, where some Fulani herder settlements have been sacked by individuals and groups from the host communities as a self-help effort aimed at combating heightened insecurity.
However, more than any other group [media] or groups of persons [non Fulani Nigerians] that are most responsible for the ethnicization of criminal activities of killer Fulani herdsmen are the very group of persons complaining loudly about the criminal profiling of their ethnic group; Fulani political elite, their intellectuals and the pan Fulani ethno-cultural group, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria [MACBAN]. In December 2016, a little over a year after he became the governor of Kaduna state in May 2015, MallamNasir El-Rufai revealed the identities of those carrying out killings in the southern part of his state to be Fulani herdsmen and their motive as revenge killings for similar treatments meted out to them by the indigenous community in the aftermath of the 2011 post-election violence that rocked the state. According to Gov El-Rufai; “Fulani herdsmen from across Africa bring their cattle down towards Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria. The moment the rain starts around March, April, they start moving them up to go back to their various communities and countries. “Unfortunately, it was when they were moving up with their cattle across Southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them. Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal. Fulanis are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with the cattle. So many of these people were killed, cattle lost and they organised themselves and came back to revenge’’.
And his solution to this problem as the chief security officer of the state wasn’t to mobilize security agencies to defend the people of southern Kaduna against marauding killer Fulani herdsmen by enforcing law and order across the troubled area, rather Gov El-Rufai chose the path of appeasement by using his shared Fulani ethnicity with the killers as a bargaining tool; “We took certain steps. We got a group of people that were going round trying to trace some of these people in Cameroon, Niger republic and so on to tell them that there is a new governor who is Fulani like them and has no problem paying compensations for lives lost and he is begging them to stop killing. “In most of the communities, once that appeal was made to them, they said they have forgiven. There are one or two that asked for monetary compensation. They said they have forgiven the death of human beings, but want compensation for cattle. We said no problem, and we paid some. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they hold every year with a message from me’’. In effect, Governor El-Rufai, a leading member political elite and intellectual community, actually set the tone for the ethnicization of the criminal activities of killer Fulani herdsmen.
But because appeasement is usually interpreted by criminals as a sign of weakness, which actually emboldens rather than restrain them, killer Fulani herdsmen became daring and went on a killing spree, sacking farming communities, destroying farmlands to make way for unrestrained cattle grazing in central and southern parts of Nigeria. And when Nigerians were rattled by the massacre of over 70 people in a single attack in Benue state by killer Fulani herdsmen, the federal government of Nigeria under the headship of President Muhammadu Buhari, an ethnic Fulani came to the aid of the killers with a convenient alibi. The minister of defence at the time, Brig Gen Mansur Dan-Alli, an ethnic Fulani man from the north western state of Zamfara, while branding the killings as farmer/herders clashes and justified the carnage thus; “Whatever crisis that happened at any time, there has to be remote and immediate causes.What are the remote causes of this farmers/herders crisis? Since Independence, we know there used to be a route whereby these cattle rearers use.Cattle rearers are all over the nation, you go to Bayelsa, you see them, you go to Ogun, you see them. If those routes are blocked, what happens? These people are Nigerians, it’s just like you going to block river or shoreline, does that make sense to you?These are the remote causes. But what are the immediate causes? It is the grazing law. These people are Nigerians, we must learn to live together with each other, that is basic.Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave, finish!” By blaming the blockage of grazing routes and the anti-open grazing law of Benue state for the killings in the state, Minister Mansur Dan-Alli effectively tied the murderous activities of killer Fulani herdsmen to the noble cultural occupation of cattle breeding ofNigeria’s ethnic Fulani people and hence appropriating the crimes of a minority few on behalf of the overwhelming majority.
Emboldened by the law and order enforcement inertia of the Buhari administration, which still views the atrocious activities through the narrow prism of farmers/herders clashes, killer Fulani herdsmen have become unhinged and in their enormous numbers have invaded Nigeria, coveting it as a thoroughfare of a very lucrative criminal franchise of kidnapping for ransom and highway robbery, that makes no distinction between their Nigerian Fulani brethren and other Nigerians. Described by Global Terrorism Index as the fourth most deadly armed group in the world, killer Fulani herdsmen now operating from forests across the country, have laid siege on Nigerian villages, towns and major high ways, relentlessly killing, maiming, raping, plundering, kidnapping and robbing unprotected and defenceless Nigerians .
Wielding sophisticated weapons, killer Fulani herdsmen often invade people’s farmlands; chase away the farm owners before feeding their herds of cattle with the available food crops. Fulani home states like Zamfara, Katsina, Niger, Kaduna and Sokoto have come under serious attacks from killer Fulani herdsmen, where they rustle the herds of cattle belonging to the unprotected, poor and struggling Fulani cattle breeders, destroy farmlands, rob, kidnap and kill people in their homes, villages and towns. The constituted authorities in these states have practically lost control of swaths of land territories to heavily armed killer Fulani herdsmen who now impose levies and taxes on farmers before they can plant or harvest from their farm lands.Sadly, the failure of the Fulani dominated political leadership of these affected states to take decisive military action against bandits operating in their states but instead have resorted to negotiating and offering amnesty to the killers of their people, citing their ‘’legitimate’’ grouse such as ‘’loss of cattle to rustlers’’ for taken up arms against the society has further cemented the Fulani ethnic bonafides of armed bandits.
In each of these cases, the pan Fulani ethno-cultural group, Miyetti Allah, when not tacitly claiming responsibility for the carnage in Benue and Plateau is fully involved in hostage negotiations with bandits on behalf of governments at different levels. These actions by Miyetti Allah and its inactions against murderous activities of killer herdsmen have gone a long way in giving a cover of legitimacy on the atrocities of killer Fulani herdsmen. Similarly, leading Fulani intellectuals have been louder in complaining of criminal profiling of their ethnic group more than they have been on condemning the criminal activities of killer Fulani herdsmen. Rather than condemn the murderous activities of killer herdsmen, Prof Umar Muhammad Labdo, a self-identified Fulani university Don, in his own reaction to the Benue massacre of 2017 made the bizarre claim that the entire Benue valley originally belonged to the Fulani as a conquered territory.
But despite the wide spread atrocious activities of killer Fulani herdsmen, not all Fulani people are killer herdsmen and contrary to the allegation of criminal profiling of the Fulani ethnic group in Nigeria, Nigerians do not consider every Fulani person a criminal. The Ondo state government did not issue a state wide vacation order on Fulani farmers, traders, artisans, currency traders, civil servants etc. that are living in towns and villages of the state, they only asked herdsmen occupying forests reserves to leave. That the Ondo state government issued further directives outlawing night grazing and herding by under aged children and outlined a new operational guideline to Fulani herders is an indication that the business of cattle breeding is not banned in the state but should be done in compliance with the laws of the state.
Also, Nigerians do not also consider every criminal to be a Fulani. Nigerians did not mistake Evans, the Igbo billionaire kingpin for a Fulani; neither did they accuse killer Fulani herdsmen as responsible for mass killings of the Yoruba Badoo cult group in Lagos. Nigerians no their tormentors and when they seem to be reporting criminal incidences involving criminal Fulani elements as perpetrators, it is because 7 out of10 kidnappers arrested in recent times are Fulani, according to the Sultan of Sokoto. While this high number of criminal elements represents a very low percentage of the population of the Fulani people of Nigeria, it nevertheless has left a serious image problem on the entire ethnic group as it will seem as though banditry is fast replacing cattle breeding as the cultural occupation of Nigeria’s ethnic Fulani. It is this tendency away from cattle breeding towards banditry that should concern every Nigerian Fulani and less about the amplification of the profile of their criminal kinsmen. Too much ado about the ethnic profiling of criminal herdsmen is unhelpful and smacks of living in denial of an existential threat to Nigeria’s national security and stability.
Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through email@example.com
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily