“When parochial ideas breed crises, and leaders of thought champion them; they cease to be leaders and become part of the crises that need solution ” —Gunter Grass, German novelist
By Adebayo Obajemu
In his first lecture on Political Sociology entitled: “The Sociological Character of Political Parties”, the eminent scholar, Robert Michel posits that party politics breeds dictatorship; and in some cases, it leads to amoral dictatorship and disregard for norms of morality since the end is to gain and retain power.
He also says that “leaders that provide rationalisation and lend validity to fringe idea that has the potential to cause great harm because of Political correctness are not fit for public office since they stand in mortal combat against social order.
Michel might as well have the likes of Bauchi state governor Bala Mohammed and his predecessor, Isa Yuguda in mind. Recently, a war of words has been ragng between the governors of Bauchi and Benue states, Bala Mohammed and Samuel Ortom respectively, over the issue of herdsmen.
Mohammed has been in the news lately for the questionable reasons. The governor, who was once a Senator and minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, lambasted Nigerians who have taken to vilifying Fulani herdsmen for their gun-toting habits. The rambunctious governor said there is nothing wrong in herdsmen going about our dense forest with AK47 strapped on their backs.
His logic: The idea of going about with the deadly weapon is to fend off attacks, and by rattling their sabres, enough deterrence is provided to stop would be attackers. The dust raised by Mohammed’s searing indictment of self as a leader was yet to settle when his predecessor as governor, Yuguda tied the remaining knot during recertification of his membership of the All Progressives Congress in Bauchi.
The former governor not only backed Mohammed’s on the issue of the gun-toting herdsmen, but railed against Fulani herdsmen’s traducers since the white men, according to him, had provided enough grazing routes from Maiduguri to Ilorin and down south from time immemorial. He wondered why some highly placed individuals using the media should begin a campaign of calumny against those who carry gun as self defense.
Yuguda said there had been loud clamour for everyone to carry gun before Mohammed’s outburst, wondering why the current Bauchi governor should attract such opprobrium for his honesty in saying the right thing.
Following series of backlash trailing his comments on the herders’ controversy, Mohammed has defended himself, saying that he was misunderstood, insisting however that carrying of AK-47 by Fulani herders was a last option for self-defence.
Mohammed had alleged that his counterpart in Benue State, Mr. Samuel Ortom, started the herdsmen’s crisis by not accommodating the herders. The governor also accused the southern governors of mishandling the herdsmen’s crisis. He insisted that all forests belong to Nigeria and that the Constitution guarantees all Nigerians to settle in any place of their choice.
Reacting to Mohammed’s comments, Ortom asked him to cite the section of the Constitution that empowers the herders to carry AK-47, stressing that he found it shocking that a colleague, who took the oath of office as he also did, to protect and preserve the Constitution took the lead in violating provisions of the same constitution by calling for lawlessness.
Also reacting, the Ondo State governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu criticised Mohammed for defending the use of arms by herders.
“The Bauchi governor has by his conducts and attitude, ushered us into the next level on the path to anarchy. He’s not fit for public office; persons of such impecunious disposition and character is not fit for public office,” Akeredolu said, according to the Ondo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Donald Ojogo.
But in a clarification, the Bauchi State governor in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communication, Comrade Mukhtar Gidado stated that, “to the extent that not every herdsman is a criminal, the reference to AK-47 was simply to put in perspective, the predicament and desperation of those law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who, while carrying out their legitimate cow-rearing business, have become serial victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination”.
The governor argued that these are the people who, in the absence of any protection from the security agencies, are forced to resort to self-help, to defend both their means of livelihood and their lives.
The statement argued that as a constitutionalist which he has proved over time, all through his political career, Mohammed will be the last person to advocate a subversion of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The primary objective of the governor was to avert the dangerous prospect of nation-wide backlash as tempers were flaring up and given that the phenomenon of inter-ethnic migration, is a national pastime involving all ethnic groups in Nigeria.
“First, at no time did the governor set out to justify criminality by anyone, no matter the person’s ethnic nationality. Rather, he admonished us, in the interest of national unity, to avoid wholesale
branding of any ethnic group as it is inconceivable that any one group can be made up of only criminals,” the statement explained.
On the issue of forest, the statement stated that, “Governor Bala Mohammed’s description of forests, as “no man’s land”, (please read as gift of nature), is a carry-over from his own geo-political environment where a pastoralist could set up camp, in any forest, for a few weeks without causing any uproar or opposition”.
“To interpret such a temporary stay as a form of ‘land grab’ by the Fulani herdsmen is completely incorrect. In actual fact, neither does such temporary habitation of the forest inconvenience anyone, nor the itinerant Fulani sojourner, bother anyone about his plight in the forest characterised by life without access to electricity, pipe borne water, good roads or hospitals”.
The statement added that Mohammed is very familiar with the Land Use Act, including the criteria for land acquisition and cannot therefore seek to undermine the statute which, as governor, he has sworn to uphold.
Since the Fulani herdsmen began their terror campaign against Nigerians way back 2014, they have not had shortage of elite support, and this is a conundrum that logic has not been able to resolve given that the dominant narrative has been the mantra that these Fulani are foreigners from Niger republic and elsewhere; and not the peace- loving variant of herders we have lived with from time immemorial.
Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political science scholar told this newspaper that some elites in the North, who are of Fulani ethnic group, have always provided justification for killings by herders. He says the tendency away from cattle breeding towards banditry is the genesis of the current crisis, and that should concern every Nigerian Fulani and less the amplification of the
profile of their criminal kinsmen.
Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs commentator recently said “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. He advised elites to come out of their shell and stop providing support for the criminal elements among Fulani herdsmen.
Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, an Islamic scholar who is currently mediating settlement with bandits has been widely criticised for being on the wrong side of history. The learned Islamic scholar has now found a new pastime which is more important to him than persuading herders to abandon their criminal ways. He said recently after visiting them in the forest that bandits are not criminals, but peace-loving people with a grudge against their enemies.
He also added a dangerous dimension when he hinted that the problem of the bandits is southern Christians. The bandits are not short of supporters.
Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar II, who earlier had blamed the killings on herders now has a different narrative, his new sing-song is that it is wrong to profile Fulani as criminals.
“It is unfortunate that some leaders in the North who are supposed to be good role models are the ones giving support to bandits”, says Dr. Ayo Adewale. Adewale, an economist at the Institute of Public Policy and Analysis, Ilorin, in his chat with BH says “the irony is that the more support they give to people causing trouble, the more economic risk and destruction they visit on the region. No investor will go to a place that has security challenge.”
Many government and non state actors and communities in the south have started resorting to self-defence in the face of the unwillingness of the Buhari administration to tackle the issue.
The “vacate our forest reserves” order handed down to Fulani herdsmen by the Ondo State government to similar order given by Sunday Igboho, a Yoruba ethnic warlord to the sacking of Fulani communities in the east are manifestations of anger against criminality by herders.
“Gumi’s role has been suspicious as he has started blaming the media for criminalising bandits. I think the rationalisation of crimes committed by bandits by some northern leaders, such as Gumi, Mohammed and others is not helpful”, says Moritiwon.
He said the media should not be blamed for doing their job, and it is wrong to have particularly accused them of stoking ethnic tensions through their labeling of criminal herdsmen as “Fulani” and who have 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 self-help efforts aimed at combating heightened insecurity.
Dahiru on his own part says, “However, more than any other group (the media) or groups of persons (non-Fulani Nigerians) that are most responsible for the ethnicisation of the criminal activities of killer Fulani herdsmen are the very group of persons complaining loudly about the criminal profiling of their ethnic group – the Fulani political elite, their intellectuals and the pan Fulani ethno-cultural group, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN).
Recall that in December 2016, a little over a year after he became the governor of Kaduna State in May 2015, Mallam Nasir 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 Governor 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. Fulani 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.”
Professor Adebayo Adebisi of department of History and International studies, Kogi State University said that “El-Rufai’s 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 Governor 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 was 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 of Nigeria’s political and intellectual community, actually set the tone for the ethnicisation of the criminal activities of killer Fulani herdsmen.
Emboldened by the inertia on the enforcement of law and order by 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 invaded Nigeria, coveting it as a thoroughfare of a very lucrative criminal franchis.
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 killing sprees subsequently, sacking farming communities and destroying farmlands to make way for unrestrained cattle grazing in the 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 on New Year day in 2018, 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, Brigadier General Mansur Dan-Alli, a Fulani from the North-Western State of Zamfara, while branding the killings as farmer/herders clashes, 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 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 of Nigeria’s ethnic Fulani people and hence appropriated the crimes of a minority few as those of the overwhelming majority.
Emboldened by the inertia on the enforcement of law and order by 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 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 to Nigerian villages, towns and major highways, killing, maiming, raping, plundering, kidnapping and robbing unprotected and defenceless Nigerians relentlessly.
Adebisi says “…despite the widespread 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.”
Wielding sophisticated weapons, killer Fulani herdsmen often invade people’s farmlands, and chase away the farm owners before feeding the available food crops to their herds of cattle.
Fulani home states like Zamfara, Katsina, Niger, Kaduna and Sokoto have come under serious attacks from killer herdsmen, who rustle herds of cattle belonging to unprotected, poor and struggling Fulani cattle breeders, destroying farmlands, robbing, kidnapping and killing people in their homes, villages and towns in the process.
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.
Prof. Janet Onadeko, an historian told this newspaper that “Sadly, the failure of the Fulani dominated political leadership of these affected states to take decisive military action against bandits operating in their states, who instead have resorted to negotiating and offering amnesty to killers of their people, citing “legitimate” grouse such as the “loss of cattle to rustlers” for taking up arms against the society, has further cemented the Fulani ethnic people as 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 to the atrocities of killer Fulani herdsmen.
Similarly, leading Fulani intellectuals have been loud in complaining of the criminal profiling of their ethnic group more than they have been in condemning the criminal activities of killer Fulani herdsmen. Rather than condemn the murderous activities of these killer herdsmen, Professor Umar Muhammad Labdo, a self-identified Fulani university don, in his 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.
Reacting to Labdo’s wild claim as unhistorical, Professor Janet says ” Labdo’s barefaced revisionism is disturbing. We should question his scholarship. ”
But despite the widespread 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 statewide vacation order to Fulani farmers, traders, artisans, currency traders, civil servants etc. who are living in the different 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 underaged 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 consider every criminal to be a Fulani.
Dr. Olufemi Omoyele, a management consultant and public affairs analyst said “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 know their tormentors and when they seem to be reporting criminal incidences involving
criminal Fulani elements as perpetrators, it is because seven out of ten kidnappers arrested in recent times are Fulani.
According to the Sultan of Sokoto who initially admitted to criminality of some herders, said 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 for 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.
In an interview last week, Gumi said that the Federal Government knows the hiding place of the herdsmen and bandits involved in clashes with farmers, kidnappings and other criminal activities.
Sheikh Gumi said that the government was only now playing safe because it realised that the former approach of attacking the bandits frontally was not working. The Islamic cleric said this on Channels TV “Politics Today” last Monday, when asked why he can locate and hold dialogue with the bandits, while government authorities cannot find them;
Gumi said: “They (government) know. They see them (bandits) by aerial view. But the military has learned its lesson. The first approach they had– when they go in and start killing– they realised is the wrong way and that they were producing a monster. They are now careful.
“The only element I am adding now is ‘look, don’t just wait and watch, go in and negotiate’.”
Gumi also said Fulani herders feel their existence is being threatened, so they cross borders to defend their kinsmen each time they are attacked.
He also noted that the Fulani bandits were not Boko Haram, noting, however, that “We have to be very careful. “If the pressure is too much, I am afraid they can be influenced by Boko Ham.
Meanwhile, Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has urged Fulani herdsmen to return to the northern region if their security could not be guaranteed in their host communities in the southern part of the country. NEF also told northern governors to commence preparation to receive the Fulani communities being ejected from southern states. NEF Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, in a statement recently, said the relocation advice became necessary following alleged attack on Fulani herders, families and communities in some states of the south..
The forum warned that the nation would be treading dangerous grounds if it continued to tolerate demonisation of entire groups over particular types of crimes. The elders called on President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors to “protect law-abiding members of Fulani communities from killers and criminals who apparently believe that Fulani have no rights in Nigeria.”
The statement reads in part: “NEF is deeply worried by reports of ejections, under threats and attacks, of Fulani herders, families and communities in some states of the south. The forum has been receiving these reports since the night of Sunday, January 31, and has taken the responsible step by drawing the attention of authorities to the dangers, which these attacks represent for all Nigerians.
“The Fulani will not be ejected from any Nigerian community only on the basis of being Fulani or herding cattle within the limits of laws and regulations. States that seek to limit criminal activities are perfectly entitled to do so, but they must follow due process, and avoid exposing innocent citizens to danger at all cost.
At the meeting of northern governors last Thursday, according to statement issued by Nasir El-Rufai, Kaduna State governor, the issue of insecurity will soon be a thing of the past .He said they have mapped out plans to address it.