Sunday, 21 February 2016

Dear President Buhari, Please Rein In Marauding Fulani Herdsmen As You Do Shiite Muslims, Biafran Activists!



Sporadic clashes between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and locals, landowners or farmers in the nook and cranny of Nigeria have claimed thousands of innocent lives, led to loss of properties worth millions of Naira and there seem to be no end in sight to this ugly, routine phenomenon. While Boko Haram overtook ISIS as the world's deadliest terrorist organisation going by fatalities, the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) ranked Fulani Herdsmen as the 4th deadliest terrorist organization in the world in its 2015 ranking. The GTI reckons that, ‘’Fulani militants in the northern part of Nigeria killed as many as 1,229 people in the country in 2014’’. 

Cause(s) of Frequent Clashes Between Fulani Herdsmen and Locals, Farmers

A report by SBM Intelligence titled, ‘’Terror In The Food Basket: A look into the violence in North-Central Nigeria’’, identified some of the factors contributing to the frequent skirmishes between herdsmen and farmers to include:  ‘’Seasonal southward migration due to dry season which brings herdsmen into contact with locals in Middle Belt and increased competition for farmland, desertification’’. SMB Intelligence asserts that though the conflict between farmers and Fulani herdsmen in North Central Nigeria is “multi-dimensional”, it stated that its finding shows that it is ‘’basically a conflict about resources’’. “The Fulani herdsmen during their nomadic movement with their cattle, which constitute their own most important assets, encroach and graze on the lands and crops of the native ethnic groups in the Middle Belt. Inevitably, the natives complain and the herdsmen recourse to organized violence’’. “When this happens, the herdsmen, who reportedly have a powerful union across West Africa report back to their powerful owners that their cattle are being rustled or killed and then the Union organizes for protection to come usually with mercenaries accompanying some of the herdsmen and attack villages where cattle have been rustled or killed. According to SBM Intelligence, ‘’over 2,000 people have been killed in conflicts between the herdsmen and host communities in the region in 2015 alone’’. That is not to say that all nomadic Fulani herdsmen are irresponsible or violent. Not at all.


Cattle Rusting Alibi

While one condemns cattle rustling in the strongest terms, one is quick to add that it would be much more difficult for folks to steal cattle secluded in a modern ranch and implanted with GPS microchips that can be tracked in real-time. Rustling cattle is not a big issue in advanced counties where cattle are herded in enclosed ranches. It is this tendency to roam about with cattle, encroaching people’s properties and (in)advertently destroying crops that set up a violent chain reaction. It starts when a typical herdsman travels all the way from say, Katsina to a remote Tiv community in Benue state. Knowing how risky and dangerous his journey might be, an average herdsman arms himself sophisticated weapons and sundry charms to ward off attacks.

Culture of Omerta, Double Standard?

Writing under the banner, ‘’Why does President Buhari treat Shiites and Fulani herdsmen differently?’’, Mr. Adeolu Ademoyo argues in his essay that, ‘’the Nigerian government under Buhari treats the serial criminality of the Fulani herdsmen with kid gloves, and has refused to properly call their kidnapping and murderous activities by their right names – which is a crime against the Nigerian state and people – the same government has called the Shiites/army clash a “coup”; hence the army declared war against the Shiites and massacred them in Zaria’’. Also recall that security operatives reportedly killed 10 and injured 20 pro Biafra demonstrators in Aba on Tuesday, 9th February, 2016. Prior to this incident, sometime in December 2015, hundreds of Shiite Muslims were allegedly executed in Kaduna state following a scuffle between them and Nigerian army personnel. A Chief Superintendent of Police who doubles as the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Vunokilang Police Station in Girei Local Government Area (LGA) of Adamawa State, one Mr. Okezie Okeroafor who had spent only two months at his new duty post and 29 others were ambushed while on a peace mission and killed on Sunday, January 24, 2016 by supposed Fulani herdsmen following altercations between farmers and herdsmen in Girei LGA. The DPO and his colleagues are gone for good; they died serving their country where life has little or no value. If they had accommodation in the barracks, sooner than later their families will be ejected. One wonders why some Fulani herdsmen freely walk around, brandish sophisticated weapons at any slightest opportunity yet our security and intelligence agencies turn a blind eye. In addition to the 144 Brigade of the Nigerian Army located in nearby Asa, Ukwa West local Government Area, Daily Post newspaper reports that the tactical headquarters of 14 Brigade of the Nigerian Army hitherto domiciled at Ohafia has been relocated to Aba to rein in Biafran agitators. By acts of commission or omission, bands of marauding Fulani herdsmen are condoned to vandalize farmlands, slaughter scores of hapless citizens, and waltz but security agents seem to bask on unleashing mayhem on unarmed Igbos whose only crime is daring to embark on peaceful demonstrations or peacefully clamouring for a Cause they believe in. If the military and security agencies will be unleashed, ordered to use maximum force, live ammunitions to suppress unarmed Biafran demonstrators and to quash Shiite Muslims in Kaduna, why is the Nigerian government and the security agencies lax on destructive Fulani herdsmen?

Between Biafran Agitators and Fulani Herdsmen, who’s a bigger threat?

Far from ethnic jingoism, solidarity or holding brief for the young man but it is difficult to reconcile President Buhari’s assertion during his maiden presidential chat to the effect that his administration will not release Nnamdi Kanu from detention despite a federal high court (FHC) Abuja granting Kanu unconditional bail in December 2015 because he, President Buhari deems Kanu’s act as ‘treasonable’, a threat to national security. It is high time President Buhari proved folks who insinuate that his ‘softness’ and ‘omerta’ on the Fulani herdsmen debacle is because he is a Sunni Muslim of Fulani extraction. If Boko Haram militants are faceless, are these Fulani herdsmen faceless, ‘unknown soldiers’ too? When folks commit crime and go scot-free, the act of impunity emboldens them to up the ante. Evidence of unprecedented carnage from the Global Terrorism Index and a report by SBM Intelligence proves that bands of marauding Fulani herdsmen are a bigger threat to national security than peaceful Biafran agitators. 


Mapping Out Grazing Routes, Areas: Another Kneejerk Approach

Enter January 2016, President Buhari was quoted as saying that his administration intends partnering with the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) with a view to ‘’mapping out grazing areas for herdsmen as a temporary solution to the frequent conflicts between herdsmen and farmers’’. It is obvious that this kneejerk drive been bandied is to say the least, unfeasible and is definitely not the panacea to intermittent clashes between locals and herdsmen. Let’s take Imo state as a case study; will the federal/state government map out grazing areas in all the 27 local government areas in Imo state? Will the government also replicate such in Lagos state, Abuja and the nook and cranny of Nigeria since by their nomadic proclivity, Fulani herdsmen traverse the length and breadth of the country? Will these grazing routes or areas that will be mapped out, not to distort the original master plan of these cities? Is this not tantamount to sequestering swathes of land from the original owners to make room for another to feed his livestock? Is this not synonymous to the proverbial notion of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’? All the government cares about is how to map out grazing routes, areas, what solution is been proffered to the negative impact of over-grazing on the natural habitat and its biodiversity? Given that some folks from the South-south or Niger-Delta are intrinsically fishermen; when will the Nigerian government designate bodies of water in every part of Nigeria and encourage them to do their fishing thing therein? Predictably, farmers in Ondo state issued a communiqué after their meeting asserting that ‘’the planned grazing routes and zones are not practicable in the state as lands are not sufficiently available for such projects’’.

In the spirit of ‘change’ and dynamism of culture

The only constant thing in life is change; even culture is dynamic and archaeology testifies how Neanderthal man went into extinction because they could not adapt, compete. To this end enlightened and prominent Fulani folks and affiliations such as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) will do well to inculcate in their kinsmen, the need to rethink aspects of their culture such as nomadism that is antithetical, not in tandem with civilization. It is high time these herdsmen embraced ‘change’ and do away with roaming across the country to feed their cattle. For one, this nomadic trait exposes them to sundry risks, denies their offspring access to better education, health care, opportunities in the public service, private sector of the economy and ultimately, an uneducated Fulani man or woman cannot compete with their peers from other parts of the country. And when this man-made problem comes to play, the same government will start running helter-skelter, churning out wonky policies such as ‘’Quota system’’, ‘’educationally less advantaged states’’ and so on and so forth all of which sacrifices merit at the altar of mediocrity and nepotism. On the guise of ‘political appointment’ or to fulfill ‘quota system’, you wake up one morning and hear that a seasoned professor of education cum vice chancellor with more than 30 years’ experience from southern Nigeria is a junior minister to a northerner, an accountancy graduate turned journalist, the latter been the substantive minister of education. Pardon that digressing but valid analogy, moving on…

The Way Out: Adopt Technology, Global Best Practice

Nigeria is not the only country where folks herd cattle or consume beef so there is no justifying or extenuating the tendency of herdsmen to mow farmlands or massacre folks who resist them trespassing their property or destroying their crops. A present-day farmer or cattle herder must not simply rely on Mother Nature to feed his cattle but MUST grow and supply what they feed on. Thanks to innovations and technological advances, man does not have to depend on nature – rainy or dry seasons for agriculture as irrigation can mimic rainy season, providing constant water supply all year round for farming, livestock. With the advent of latest technology, an app called iHerd helps farmers to track, monitor hordes of cattle as they move within a ranch and helps farmers to be abreast of animal health issues. In Australia and other advanced countries, robots or drones fitted with thermal cameras are now deployed to herd cattle whereas some folks in Nigeria insist holding on to the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors. Since cattle herding is a private profit making enterprise, let the individuals, the ogas-at-the-top, Alhaji’s, retired Generals, Emir’s that own these cattle, acquire and develop modern ranches in their domain where their cattle will be taken care of. This is the best practice in the Americas, North and South, Australia, and Europe. If Nigerian herdsmen embraced use of mobile phones for communication, they should equally up their ante, embrace fodder technology and graze their cattle under a shelter, a ranch within their domain. Don’t trespass and destroy people’s properties or source of income in the guise of herding cattle. Law of demand and supply ensures that buyers will definitely come knocking if cattle owners cannot take their cattle to the buyers. How come the white Zimbabwean farmers in Kwara state introduced by the now Senate president Bukola Saraki, are not roaming around with their cattle and wreaking havoc. 

Conclusion:

In the words of Senator Ben Murray Bruce, a staunch advocate of ‘’common sense’’, ‘’there is room for growth in the global market for beef exports and Nigeria can key in to this by harnessing the resources of the Fulani through modern cattle ranches that will provide the domestic market with inexpensive beef and improve Nigeria's balance of trade position by exporting beef and cattle to other nations’’. As the Buhari administration strives to arrest corruption, malfeasance, Boko Haram insurgency, please let him also make reining in the streak of violence and rampage attributed to Fulani herdsmen a top priority of his administration by brainstorming intelligent and feasible solutions rather than bandying hogwash, kneejerk approaches. Akin to factors that fanned the embers of Boko Haram, this nomadic lifestyle and almajiri culture is a time bomb if not nipped it in the bud. A stitch in time saves nine.

Written by:

Don Okereke

Follow Don on Twitter: @DonOkereke