Published On: Sun, Jul 1st, 2018

Global outrage over Fulani Herdsmen Killings: UK, USA, All demand action

By OBINNA EZUGWU

It’s a gradual descent into anarchy in Africa’s most populous nation, as a largely ignored conflict – the farmers and herders clashes, as the government of President Muhammadu Buhari calls it – take a toll, all in a bid, some say, to sustain a 17th Century nomadic lifestyle in the 21st century.

Trump and President Buhari at the press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, April 30, 2018. Photo: Mandel NGAN / AFP

It is turn by turn. Every now and then, a community in Benue, Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Kogi states all the way down to Enugu in the South East, Ondo in the South West, Edo in the South South, Zamfara in the North West,… indeed all over the country, is invaded.

It is almost a daily harvest of bloodshed and the security agencies seem either overwhelmed or indifferent in putting a stop to it.  Either way, it’s evident that the agencies are overstretched or complacent.

Last week in Plateau state, an attack by suspected Fulani herdsmen in three local governments: Barkin Ladi, Mangu and Riyom, left over 100 people, mostly women and children, dead, hacked and gunned down by a group labelled by the global terror index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world. But the dead, it must be pointed out, also included the Fulani killed in reprisals.

Previous repeated attacks in Southern Kaduna and Agatu in Benue State had been more deadly, leaving over 800 and 500 dead respectively. It’s a pattern, Benue has particularly been in the thick of things in recent months, there is hardly any week without an attack.

Benue burial courtesy The Nation

On New Year Day 2018, an attack in Guma and Logo local government areas of the State left 73 dead. In March, two Catholic priests and 17 worshippers were hacked to death. In-between those two incidents, there were several other attacks that claimed lives in double figures. Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom has organised two mass burials in 2018 in what some say is ethnic cleansing.

“In the case of ethnic cleansing, I think it is soft to say that the security agencies are colluding with the armed bandits,” said Afenifere chieftain and elder statesman, PA Ayo Adebanjo. “I say that Buhari is aiding and abating the herdsmen, that’s the truth.”

Despite being labelled the fourth deadliest terrorist group by the global terror index, they are at worst described by the Buhari government as a criminal gang from Libya and generally as a communal clash. It is a clash that has left thousands dead, millions displaced and farming communities expelled and the country on the brink of war; yet nothing is done.

Nigerians are justifiably shocked at how cheap life has become in the country, but even more shocking, many say, is the silent approval of the civil society and the apparent lack of proper government action.

At no time were people killed with such frequency and impunity apart from the civil war. And indeed, many like the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha despite being a member of Buhari’s party and a staunch supporter of the President and chairman of APC Governors’ Forum, last week admitted that “Nigeria is a country at war.”

But it’s a war with a seemingly pampered enemy, an enemy the government appear all too unwilling to confront but is rather busy throwing blames around.

“Government handling of these killings has been inadequate,” said former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and a chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Mr. Chidi Ajaegbu. “Nobody is happy with what is happening. It is tragic.”

Global Human Rights body, Amnesty International noted last week that the government is encouraging the killers by its failure to hold them to account.

“We are gravely concerned about the rising spate of killings across the country, especially the communal clashes between farmers and herders and attacks by bandits across at least 17 states,” the statement by Mrs. Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria said.

“The authorities have a responsibility to protect lives and properties, but they are clearly not doing enough going by what is happening.

“The latest incidence in Plateau State, where armed gunmen attacked 11 villages on 23 June for at least seven hours and killed at least 200 villagers without intervention from security forces should be investigated.”

The same point was made by Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka who noted: “The agitating question then is this: since this rampage began, has even one herdsman been brought up before those same courts on a charge of murder, much less sentenced to death at such lightning speed? Shall we wake up and find that they have been hanged? Yet Zamfara has lost hundreds to the homicidal orgy of these same herdsmen. There is a skewed application of justicial proceedings here that baffles many, this writer among them.”

While Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) hadn’t hesitated in owning up to the Plateau massacre, claiming that it was reprisal attacks to the killing of their 300 cattle. Buhari had in a statement through his spokesman, Garba Shehu, conveniently blamed “desperate people” who had “pursued their quest for instability and chaos which they hoped would give them an advantage in the coming elections.”

The leadership of Miyetti Allah in the North Central had claimed that the attacks happened because they lost 300 cows to the native Berom youths.

“There have been recent reports of cow rustling and destruction of farms between Berom farmers and Fulani herdsmen. The people carrying out these criminal activities are well known to the communities but the communities are hiding them,” claimed Danladi Ciroma, chairman of MACBAN in the North Central.

“Fulani herdsmen have lost about 300 cows in the last few weeks – 94 cows were rustled by armed Berom youths in Fan village, another 36 cows were killed by Berom youths. In addition to that, 174 cattle were rustled and the criminals disappeared with them to Mangu,” he said.

“Since these cows were not found, no one should expect peace in the areas. Even soldiers that went after the criminals to recover the rustled cows were shot by the armed rustlers and eventually escaped with all the cows.

“As it is today, the Berom man cannot go to farm, the Fulani cannot breed his cows in Berom land. This can be stopped if the security agencies do more than what they are currently doing. The attacks will stop as soon as the security agencies stop Berom youths from stealing Fulani cows.”

The veracity of such claim remains to be verified, but extant Nigerian laws do not permit taking laws into one’s own hands. The seeming deliberate inaction of the Buhari government towards resolving the issues and putting an end to what is gradually turning into genocide of Rwanda proportions has led to suspicions of a certain bid to exterminate the Christian communities of the North Central and foist Fulani domination.

“Buhari is a Fulani irredentist,” noted Akogun Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist and administrator. “He is actually the champion of Unitarianism in Nigeria. So, to expect him to sing a different song is just like asking for the moon to fall to the ground.”

Recently, the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) championed by Gen. T.Y. Danjuma and Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN), warned that the present generation of Christians in Nigeria may cease to exist in 25 years from now. According to them, the present generation of Christians faces the risk of being the last set of Christians in Nigeria.

They noted specifically that President Buhari “is openly pursuing an anti-Christian agenda that has resulted in countless murders of Christians all over the nation and destruction of vulnerable Christian communities.”

It had come to the shock of many for instance that while several communities have been attacked in Adamawa and no arrests of the attackers made, some “Christian” youths accused of plotting reprisal attacks on Fulani communities were quickly sentenced to death.

But it must be emphasised that from available evidence, the resident Fulani community is as worried over the attacks as everyone else.

The president insists his critics are being unfair, and indeed if anyone is expecting any serious action from his government, such a person is now sure to be disappointed as he had made it clear he is resorting to prayers.

Speaking when he visited Jos in the aftermath of the attacks last week, he said the cause of the crisis was injustice and that his government has tried its best and can’t do anything except to pray.

“There is nothing I can do to help the situation except to pray to God to help us out of the security challenges. What has happened is a very bad thing. The bottom-line is that justice must be allowed to take its course.

“Whatever is being given to the media, we have to be very responsible about it. Take for instance the situation in Benue. The Benue subsistence farmer knows that the Nigerian cattle herder that he knows doesn’t carry nothing more than a stick, occasionally sometimes, something to cut grass to feed his cattle.

St. Ignatius Catholic Church where Fulani Herdsmen killed worshipers in Benue Courtesy Kemi Filani

“But the present herder, I am told, carries an AK47, and people are even blaming me for not talking to them because maybe (they say) I look like one of them.

“There is some injustice in these aspersions. It is noteworthy that many Nigerians still acknowledge that despite the security challenges, this administration has made notable successes in the security sector.”

His assertion had not gone down well with many, expectedly. Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, which in a communiqué issued at the end of its General Assembly in Akure on Tuesday, described the president’s response as infuriating.

“It is very infuriating that the president’s response and that of Miyetti Allah appeared to have been authored from the same lap-top,” Afenifere said. “Their reactions did not depict any sense of sympathy or regret.”

There is indeed a reason to be concerned about the plot of the marauding herdsmen. Following Plateau killings, a group that identified itself as Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) released a statement boasting that the victims of the violence were “justifiably hacked down” for tormenting the Fulani.

The group insisted that the entire Middle Belt, and indeed the whole Nigeria belongs to Fulani and that they were ready to use war to reclaim what they said is their possession.

“Our attention has been drawn to the series of campaigns being waged against the Fulani nationality following the killings in Plateau where some civilians who have been tormenting the Fulani nation were justifiable hacked down,” the statement signed by Badu Salisu Ahmadu, the group’s national president said.

Alleged Fulani Massacre at Agatu, Benue state. Photo Credit TVC

The group proceeded to state as follows:

“That we have said it several times that Plateau is an indigenous territory of the FULANI people. We are the first to settle in Plateau-Benue axis thousands of years ago. We shall take and possess every inch of this land. A conscious attempt to rewrite history and distort, manipulate or destroy our past will be resisted with all the might at our disposal.

“That there is a clear agenda to divide Nigeria and exterminate the FULANI people. We are long aware of this plot. We call on FULANI all over Africa to prepare for this inevitable war and set our people on an offensive path rather than being weaklings that choose a defensive strategy in warfare.

“We have said it over and over, that Nigeria is the only inheritance we have in Africa and anywhere in the world. This land belongs to us, from Sokoto to the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. This was the destiny bestowed on Uthman Dan Fodio which would have been fulfilled since 1816 if not for the obstruction of this great assignment by the British. It is no longer time to play the ostrich.

“Our men are waiting. We are eager to fight. We are boiling with the zeal to actualize our dream; enough of double dealing and ambivalence by FULANI political leaders who unfortunately think the FULANI can only take back what belongs to us through appeasement and elections destined to reflect cultural values antithetical to the preachings of Uthman Dan Fodio.

“We warn that nothing will be able to save those raising their voices against us and Allah. Nothing will be left behind, from the East, West and Middle Belt except those who accept the creation of Allah and the leadership place of Fulani in fulfilling this destiny. Since this irresponsible Western notion of democracy was imposed, the Fulani have been shortchanged and maligned. The Middle-Belt, the West and the East should be prepared. We are already here.

“Let the Birom and the ethnic minority invaders in the entire Middle Belt leave our territory or be prepared to accept our ways of live. It is time for them to savour their wounds. It is just the beginning. Many more will come and nothing can stop us.”

“Insha Allah, we shall take this battle across the sea, on the land, in the air, on the mountains, in every territory currently occupied by the Kafirs. This is our position. This is our destiny. For those who think they can stop or continue to conspire against us, we wish them good luck.”

President Buhari’s response to the incessant killings has been to propose grazing reserves for the herdsmen. But when Nigerians cried foul, he proposed cattle colonies. Again, when cattle colonies generated outrage, the government backtracked, only to announce recently that 10 states: Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara, have been selected to donate lands for what it called ‘The National Livestock Transformation Plan,’ that would cost N179 billion of public funds.

Many were miffed at the idea, wondering why public funds should be used to promote private business. The Igbo Youth Movement described the move as a “caliphate agenda to conquer and subdue the rest of Nigeria.”

Indeed, Dr. Nura Alkali, a Fulani social commentator also picked holes in the said proposal, wondering in his post, why people would insist on continuing the 17th century nomadic lifestyle in these modern times, and indeed why the government should be looking for lands in the South for ranching when the North has it in surplus.

“When you travel from Bauchi to Yola, look on both sides of the road, all you see are farmlands up to the horizon,” he wrote. Keep in mind that Adamawa and Bauchi are among Nigeria’s largest states. Toro LGA in Bauchi (6,932 sq. km)  is larger than each South East State except Enugu (7,161 sq. km).

“The whole of Ebonyi State (5,533 sq. km) – which welcomes the proposed cattle ranches – boasts of only 80 percent of the land area of Toro LGA. And Ebonyi is now in the news for a deadly fight over farmlands with a community in the neighbouring Cross River State. So, is cattle ranch more viable in Toro or in Ebony?” he queried.

“It is Northern States that have land for cattle ranches which by nature, have enough grass and water all year round, thus removing the need for herdsmen from Jigawa or Sokoto to journey to Ebonyi or Delta in search of pasture. Why cattle ranch in Ebonyi unless the Igbo want to raise cattle.”

Nura lamented that Miyetti Allah who he described as a gang of criminals who profit from conflicts are now seen as the leaders of the Fulani.

“Miyetti Allah claims to represent Cattle Fulani who live as nomads, that’s their opinion. In my opinion, it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. Only the blind will insist on living a 17th century life in 2018.

“Besides being blind, Miyetti Allah also thrives in conflicts. In any case, Town Fulani like me are in limbo. Sadly, a group of riff raffs called Miyetti Allah are now mistaken as Fulani leaders.”

Allegations of a plot to exterminate the Christian community in Nigeria are rife. The NCEF’s position may be a bit extreme, but with the escalating conflicts in the land occasioned by the incessant killings, these are surely uncertain times.

 

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