It is common saying that sometimes a dog is given a bad name just so it could be hanged. What the Sultan of Sokoto, through the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI said yesterday, as well as the nineteen Governors of the Northern States in Nigeria before that was akin to doing the opposite, i.e. whitewashing a sepulchre or making saints of the criminals that some Fulani Herdsmen (or the mercenaries employed to “clear their path”) have suddenly more frequently become in recent times.
Statements from these men who should know better came as a shock to me, especially after it was already in the news that an executive member of the Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, via a widely publicized interview took responsibility for the killings in Agatu, Benue State, stating that it was ” revenge” for the killing of thousands of cattle by the Agatu people. Subsequent interviews other members of the group granted even on television that the reason for the “clashes” (if that describes the one-sidedness in the number of victims) lies in the fact that most grazing sites in the south have been converted to other purposes, leaving the herdsmen no choice but to freestyle, others even boasting that no one can stop the Fulani from grazing on any piece of land in Nigeria.
Apparently, following the outcry that greeted the genocide in Agatu, when same repeated itself in Enugu State in Nigeria’s Southeast (where already an agitation is brewing for a separate state/country of Biafra), the Fulani Herdsmen and their backers employed a new tactic, keeping mum, while groups like the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this post (many of whom own these cattle) spoke on their behalf, to the effect that the Fulani Herdsmen couldn’t possibly be responsible for these killings allover most of North central Nigeria down to the south, with the JNI warning that it is unfair to give what had happened a religious or ethnic colouration, when in actual fact the “real” abode of the Fulani has been largely spared the attacks in the north, and in the recent attacks in Enugu, a church was burnt down.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time the northern religious and political elite will be regaling us with such tales, mired in some mild threats. They did same when the Islamic Fundamentalist group, Boko Haram was brewing to become what it is today, blaming everyone but themselves, even when evidence on the ground as well as history lays culpability at their doorstep a few times directly and many times indirectly. I am even all the more surprised that the governors of Benue and Plateau States (in Nigeria’s North-central region or middle belt) who have many times than any other state in Nigeria, suffered from the actions of the Fulani herdsmen (with what could amount to ethnic cleansing ongoing there), like the Ostrich opted to bury their heads in the sand in agreeing to pen their signatures to the outrageous statement the northern governors released absolving the Fulani herdsmen of blames from well documented atrocities (including recent arrests of 36 armed herdsmen who were intercepted by troops of the 117 Guards Battalion, Keffi along the Abuja-Keffi road),
which made Nigeria’s renowned Nobel Laureate express his disappoint at a President Buhari-led government whose emergence he was very much instrumental in shaping opinion in favour of in the last election.
Still the most galling is the fact that a President Buhari whom as a private citizen led the Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association to the then governor of Oyo State, Lam Adeshina as Life Patron of the group, in protest of attacks, in fact “reprisal”, on their members after series of provocations, remained quiet as his kinsmen’s activity threatened to tear Nigeria apart, while threatening fire and brimstone on other groups in Nigeria, whose activities have cost no lives, even as much as superintending over a security agency whose men opened fire on such a group while they prayed in an open field, and has yet not called for an investigation. Only now ordering that the activity of Fulani Herdsmen, who have now been variously referred to as the more politically correct, “Hoodlums” be
nipped in the bud by the various arms of security agencies, whose heads should have quietly resigned in shame for failing to live up to their responsibilities.
It is sad enough that the memory of the dead is abused by the fact that their names are not mentioned after the attacks claimed their lives, or cenotaphs (of which by now would’ve taken over every space of Nigeria) built in their honour, worse is the fact that they will obviously not get justice posthumously, and yet worse is the fact that attempts have now been successfully made to shift the blame off their killers to that of “Unknown Gunmen”, to further reassure doubting Thomases that there really is no intention by the authorities to bring the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity to book. It is therefore not surprising, that the resort to self-help is gradually been mooted by survivors and communities affected by the activities of marauding Fulani Herdsmen, as well as others who fear that they might be next.
Sonde Ilo’s take on what we have witnessed in recent times is instructive, and is so not far from the truth, as I here reproduce – “This crisis is rooted in the greed of millionaire cattle owners. They have built a business model where they do not have to pay for cattle feeds. They simply arm their employees to roam their cattle across the country with promise of protection. Where the communities resist the open grazing, the Millionaire cattle owners hire mercenaries to sack those villages. Hiring mercenaries serves two purpose; it reassures their employees that they will be protected anywhere in Nigeria and also opens up abandoned farmlands for grazing. This has been going on for years in the middle belt but it will have to stop in the east or this nation will descend into chaos soon. Those who are hoping that the east will go back to business as usual will have a rude awakening if these massacres continue. I understand why the millionaire Fulani cattle owners do not want to ranch. Open grazing on farmlands is very cheap for cattle owners but costly for the farmers whose farms are seized.”
To that I can add nothing more, let he who has an ear, hear!