Terrorists in the name of herdsmen
In the last few weeks, the spate of attacks by herdsmen against farmers across the country, leading to the death of many and destruction of property has ignited citizens’ conversation around the identity of the assailants. Are the aggressors Fulani herdsmen or terrorists masquerading as herdsmen? Or are the herdsmen adopting terrorist method to instill fears in the heart of peasant farmers as a survival strategy? In this report AJIBOLA AMZAT (Features Editor), LAWRENCE NJOKU, GERALDIN AKUTU, STEPHEN TANBA and VICTORIA OLISA attempt to bring out the menace of the herdsmen’s attack in bold relief, cataloguing series of herdsmen attacks in the recent time and drawing people’s perspectives of the growing danger .
During the week, Hon Chukwuemeka Ujam, representing Nkanu East West , Enugu State, moved a motion at the National House of Representatives to check the activities of herdsmen who in the recent time had reportedly attacked communities in Enugu, Anambra, Benue, Ondo, Taraba, Nassarawa and other states.
The motion was a response to the bloodshed which happened the previous day at Ukpabi Nimbo, an agrarian community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.
According to the media reports, about100 Fulani cattle herders armed with various weapons attacked the community, and left many villagers dead and some wounded. Ujam wanted the criminals hunted down and punished severely. Most importantly, he wanted the law that would rein in the wandering herdsmen.
Hardly had the lawmaker from Enugu ended his presentation when another lawmaker, Honourable Aminu Shagari rose on his feet to recast the submission of his colleague. Shagari, a Fulani man representing Shagari/Yabo constituency, Sokoto State, rejected the conclusion that the notorious raiders were Fulani herdsmen.
“Foreigners have invaded our countries in the guise of Fulani Herdsmen,” he said.
This response resonates also with the views of those who debunked Fulani herdsmen involvement in the recent attack carried out against the former Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Olu Falae.
Recall that the Association of Fulani Chiefs and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria have said Falae, was not kidnapped by “genuine” Fulani herdsmen.
Could it be a Fulani herdsman that also kidnapped a non-academic staff of the Delta State University, Abraka, Mr. John Ogeleke, a source asked The Guardian?
Ogeleke was abducted recently at Kwale, Ndokwa West local government area of the state by suspected herdsmen.
“Let’s face it, most herdsmen causing trouble in different parts of the country are not Nigerian,” said Alhaji Babalola Akinwuje, the Secretary-general of Kara market in Lagos.
So who are the dangerous herdsmen terrorizing Nigerians, and in what ways are they different from the Fulani herdsmen from the northern part of Nigeria?
According to the encyclopedia of world culture, the Fulani are found in twenty nations across Africa—from Mauritania and Senegal to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya. The only country that may not have any Fulani settlements is Liberia. The encyclopedia estimates the population of the nomadic Fulani to be around 7 to 8 million while the settled Fulani is estimated around 16 million.
In Nigeria, the tribe known to be predominantly cattle herders is the Fulani also known as the Fula or Peul.
They largely reside in the northern Nigeria, but they follow their livestock along migratory patterns.
This wandering lifestyle has brought them into conflict with settled farming communities in Nigeria, who have accused the Fulani of cattle rustling, kidnapping, and murder.
The people whom historians identified as Fulani are quick to resort to combat in the defense of their interest but also have a reputation for waiting for the opportune moment to seek revenge if the situation demands patience, according to the encyclopedia of world culture.
This fact may explain why there are clashes often between mostly Fulani herdsmen and settled communities, particularly in the states of Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Nassarawa.
A leader of the Fulani ethnic group Saleh Bayeri, the Interim National Secretary of Gan Allah Fulani Association, recently told Premium Times that the February bloody conflict in Benue was a reprisal attack by his people against the Agatu whom he accused of killing a prominent Fulani man three years ago.
In his article, Grazing Management in Nigeria, Professor Femi Akinola, noted that the Fulani herdsmen do not believe that human being can claim land ownership. Rather they believe they can go anywhere and in whatever way they can, to get pastures for their animals.
This belief system has constituted a long-standing problem that hasn’t received adequate study and analysis, said a security expert and chairman, Trans-World Security, Dr. Ona Ekhomu.
In his view, the Fulani herdsmen who terrorize farm owners should be treated as criminals.
“We must take a high road to law enforcement and whoever is guilty should face the punishment of such crimes. Providing safety for citizens is the work of the government but communities should create a vigilante arrangement because these Fulani herdsmen are walking with sophisticated weapons.”
Most victims, however, believe that rather than arrest and punish the herdsmen, the security operatives aided them.
The people of Ukpabi Nimbo, for instance, believe that the attack on the village would have been prevented had the security agencies acted on information made available to them by the villagers.
In the 2014 Fulani herdsmen attack in Benue, the survivors also hinted that the army collaborated with raiders to destroy property and kill the people.
Though both the police and the army have debunked this allegation, the explanationwhich was recently given by the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, in his interview with Channels television confirms the weakness of the police in tackling the problem. On the crisis between herdsmen and farmers in the Agatu community, he said some policemen were deployed, but also expressed concern over the cost implication of deploying men to a troubled spot.
According to the IG, the deployment of security was usually unbudgeted for. “If I deploy them and their welfare is not appropriately taken care of then I am creating another problem,” he said.
The failure to address the menace of Fulani herdsmen may heighten security challenge in the country, the security experts have warned. And the reaction of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is a pointer.
While reacting to the killing at Enugu, the CAN, Enugu branch issued a warning, which some elite think should not be taken lightly.
The CAN secretary ENUGU branch, Apostle Dr. Joseph Ajujungwa, said the wanton destruction of lives and properties by the herdsmen could no longer be taken for granted.
“I am calling on the people of Enugu State and the other South-East States to rise up and defend themselves because security operatives have failed,” he said.
The attempt to arrest the situation and prevent inter-ethnic conflict may have led to the proposal of Grazing Bill in the House of Representative.
The Bill among others seeks to establish grazing reserve and stock routes across the country. It will also establish the National Grazing Reserve Commission that may take over the ownership, control and management of any existing Grazing Reserve and stock routes from any state government on terms and conditions as may be agreed between the Commission and the State concerned.
But not many people are excited about the Bill.
Former Managing Director of Daily Times newspapers, Chief Tola Adeniyi said the Bill will kill whatever that “is left of our so-called over-centralised federal System.” He added that “the Bill if passed will be the greatest rape on our democracy and the biggest insult on our collective sensitivity as a people and as a country.”
The argument of Chief Adeniyi goes thus: “The issue here is very clear. Fulani herdsmen are cattle farmers. They could as well keep their cattle in ranches. They could devise whatever means like their counterparts in Argentina, Australia and the rest of the civilized world to do their animal husbandry…
“Just as the Federal Government is not creating farm lands for cocoa and kola nut farmers in Sokoto or Katsina, or creating farm lands for Agatu yam farmers in Enugu or Maiduguri, or creating special areas for fish farming in Zungeru, it cannot for any reason ever consider creating special lands for herdsmen for grazing. Let the herdsmen run their business without encroaching on the lands of other people. Let the cattle owners buy into the fodder technology and other modern methods of providing feeds for their animals without roaming the streets and plundering other people’s farms.”
The National Co-ordinator of the Oodua Peoples congress Otunba Gani Adams said: “Without any doubt, this is a very dangerous proposal for Nigeria. We all have seen how the Fulani herdsmen kill and maim members of the community where they graze their cattle without the backing of any law. I am sure that we can only imagine what their attitudes would be if the supposed grazing reserves are forcefully taken over by the government and handed over to the herdsmen.”
Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, has also kicked against the proposed Bill. He said the Bill is ill-advised, warning that the proposal is against the spirit of the Land Use Act and the overriding public interest.
“Grazing zones could be created for those who are traditional cattle rearers in their areas. I’m not against that. But, you cannot come here and tell me you want to occupy our land for grazing zones. The land exists in our respective states and as such the rightful owners should decide what to do with them.
“Anybody outside this zone willing to rear cattle here will need to approach the state to buy the land and we offer what is available with rules. There is no free land for grazing zones. We need to take this firm position. It won’t happen.”
Barrister Evans Ufeli, a human right activist told The Guardian saying, “Assuming there is a bill, it must be a bill that will curb the menace of the Fulani herdsmen because we have found out that these herdsmen allow their cows to stray on industrial farms where crops are being destroyed in the process and when they are cautioned by the owners of the land; the next thing they do is to create chaos, killing farmers and villagers, all that is unacceptable in a civil society.”
Ufeli also condemned the carrying and the use of firearms by the herdsmen saying, “The firearm code states that use of firearms by individuals who are not members of the armed forces such as police force, military, custom and immigration officer among others whose core aim is to protect citizens are not expected to carry firearm. So the federal government should look into this because the continuous silence is becoming worrisome ever since the Fulani herdsmen broke loose.”
He said the legal step that can be takena to secure Nigerian citizens is to get the perpetrators arrested and tried accordingly as it would serve as a deterrence to others.
“Their sponsors who actually own these cows are protecting most of them; the criminal laws are on the ground to prosecute anyone involved. Whoever harbors or aids a criminal to commit a crime is also a criminal, so perpetrators and their sponsors of such killings should face the law.”
Also speaking with The Guardian, Adetunji Akinyemi, a civil lawyer said, “Each law has a purpose which should be known before it is passed. We need to know the purpose the bill intends to serve if the bill is to assist the herdsmen in doing their business or protect the farmers.”
A part of the bill speaks about providing a place for the cows. Assuming, I am rearing cows, am I not supposed to know I need to provide a place for my cows to feed on? It should not be the duty of the government to provide a place for me to do my business.
“This bill is an opportunity to favour the rich ones, at the end the government would start collecting lands from poor masses. This bill is a violation against the fundamental right of the poor citizens.”
Grazing bill or not, Nigerians have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to read riot act against the Fulani herdsmen.
“The president is expected to address the nation, said Akinyemi.
And the president seemed to have responded to the call.
On Wednesday, he re-assured all Nigerians, once again, of his administration’s continued commitment to ensuring the safety of lives and property in all parts of the country.
In a statement issued by Garba Shehu, the president’s spokesman, President Buhari unreservedly condemns the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo and other such acts of extreme violence against communities in other states of the federation.
He had also ordered the inspector-general of police and heads of the nation’s other security agencies to fully investigate the attacks, apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
According to the media report, the Ministry of Agriculture has planned to import special grasses that will be used to feed cows in the northern part of the country.
“We can’t allow cows to be roaming around anyhow,” Ogbeh said at the Unity Fountain Abuja while addressing people who were demonstrating the massacre of the Agatu people of Benue State by the Fulani herdsmen.
How far this measure will go to check the menace of the Fulani herdsmen remains to be seen
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