Each time it was discovered that the ship of state was foundering, without compass, and no one seemed to have a handle on how to navigate with a proper goal-orientation, the question, Whither Nigeria?, has been asked as a way of giving expression to where we are as a country, where we are going or where we should be going. Mostly, the issues have emerged from trying to think beyond the scramble by the various nationalities in the country. In a multi-ethnic society, reality tends to be resolved around levels of perception in the practice of governance.
I am interested in how we’ve been fixed by history, and how we’ve always managed to have so many unresolved issues, so embarrassingly many, even now, when the most intense marker of dissension in the Nigerian firmament is the Boko Haram Insurgency in the North-East which has sought many times, unsuccessfully, to declare a Caliphate over parts of the country. Take the other issue around MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra) and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). They have raised the Biafran secessionist flag contentiously and ambitiously over what used to be the Eastern Region. Successive Federal Governments have pursued them with punitive measures as if the civil war of 1967-70 did not quite come to an end. Now, look, the clouds are gathering, as fractions of the Yoruba, at home and in the Diaspora, are angling for a secessionist binge of their own, unless, as it is stressed, ethnic nationalities are allowed to become self-governing within the Nigerian Federation.
Let me say that I concede their purpose, but not their angle. At any rate, I think that there is a cautionary note to be registered against the various secessionist pressures which have been heightened, I believe, by the recent upsurge of the Nigerian Fulani from amongst whom there has emanated an invitation to all other Fulani across sub-Saharan Africa to come take over Nigeria as a permanent homeland. Let me be upfront with it that I concede their angle of having a commitment to a homeland, but not to the purpose of withdrawing from a common sense of nationality with other Nigerians. I say this as a backdrop against which I must accommodate what I shall call the Fulani Upsurge.
The upsurge has come down to a question of whether the scramble for Nigeria should be in piecemeal fashion through armed propaganda or in one fell swoop to displace those who currently regard themselves as Nigerians. It would seem that the upsurge, as a strategy, has had a test run in the National Assembly in the attempt by organic legislators of the Fulani to deploy Nigeria’s Basic Law, the Nigerian Constitution, as a means of designing or divining a law-governed approach to have the Fulani domiciled in each of Nigeria’s 774 local governments. The purpose, as it is being stressed, is to achieve the formalization of cattle grazing reserves, rural grazing areas, cattle republics, or cattle routes of which the latter, unfortunately have been so grandly reminiscent of pre-colonial slave-hunting routes that it has caused quite some disgust and umbrage. Add to it, the avid pursuit of legal encirclements of local governments in the test-run of bills at the National Assembly. Due to the rampage of armed propagandists supported by the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, the Miyetti Allah Kaital Hore, all of the protagonists of the cattle breeders, though not necessarily of the same ethnic stock, have shown enough capacity to contest the state’s monopoly of the means of violence in such a way that their common occupational drives are generally assumed as marks of their common identity.
I want to state in this connection that the Nigerian situation has had quite a boiling pot quality, if not drama, since the recent informal application of the President of the Republic of Benin who wants his country to join Nigeria as the 37th state of the Federation. This application, from another multi-ethnic country, has come as a follow-up to years of special relationships, nurtured personally by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari with Francophone countries – in particular, the Niger Republic. Whether or not one of the countries is serving as incubator, follow up, or rehearsal of the special relationship with Nigeria, the matter of importance is that, from the standpoint of whither Nigeria, of how the country will fare in the near or distant future, there is a driven pattern of cohabitation that it demands within the possibility of Nigeria splitting up or seeking to fuse with neighbouring Francophone African states. Clearly, it is a step away from the case of Morocco which, incongruously, in my view, wished to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to create a larger French community of which Nigeria would have to be a member. Suddenly, we are confronted by the loaded question of how Nigeria, on its own or in agglomeration, may be governed beyond current skirmishes in the debates over the restructuring of the Nigerian Federation. Whatever may happen, the core issue remains how the split or coming together of territories or the hitching together of cultural geographies within and around Nigeria, can fit into an agreement between fellow Nigerians not merely on the need to stay together as one country but on how any form of coming together can be framed and actualized. This, to be sure, is one of the things it could mean to ask ‘Whither Nigeria’ in the current dispensation.
I grant that, in seeking to ask and answer the question here are elements of the not so normal, if not a breakdown of normalcy, a civil war situation, a war without fronts, a strut of wanton disorder and a general plunge into spoliation and possible self-defeat in the scenarios that we can picture as part of the Nigerian maelstrom. What needs to be written into it is how the structure of power in Nigeria offers a sense of ultimate decision-making where it used to be said that nothing works; but it is increasingly being argued that anything can happen, especially if it is bad. To put it this way is to draw attention to how far the country has travelled, or regressed, since General Muhammadu Buhari took over from President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. As it was argued, change was imperative; and so change needed to happen. Campaign managers were brought from Barrack Obama’s America to help rephrase the challenge. If, by some mischance, there was electoral victory for the wrong candidate, it was speculated that hired armed propagandists from the Sahel’s unfinished civil wars could be cashiered into the country to unleash mayhem of undefined proportions as a settlement of accounts. Later, the public space was reliably informed that the armed propagandists who were hired for post-election accounting collected their fees, but refused to return to where they came from after President Jonathan conceded victory and so did not provide an excuse for anyone’s blood to be shed. A new moral bypass was therefore allowed for the armed propagandists to dissolve into sundry schemes of ethnic solidarities that have since enabled them to stick around in the country. Not to forget: this happens to be the country where change was slated to happen but no one has been available as canvasser, claimant or parent of any genuine change. Actually, it would seem that the question: Whither Nigeria?, at this lecture on the platform of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, is some way of visualizing a country ahead of us that is eminently saveable in spite of the change that has not taken place.
Need I say it; for a society to be saveable, there must be a class of people who are ready to do the job. In this regard, the Nigerian circumstance has been marked, if not muddied by a certain leader-centred capacity for manoeuvre which cuts across political party lines and which has formed a peculiar political culture of its own. One way to put it is that no matter how seemingly divergent they may appear, Nigerian political gladiators are informed by the same political purview in the sense that they have the same dispositions in goal orientation and party organization. A flat ideological landscape exists across them which is easiest explained by the fact that they are mutually interchangeable, outside, and even within ethnic differences. Since no political grouping is likely to depend on subscription for its mobilization of political bias, the same form of capitalist financing is at the root of their nativity and self-assertion. They engage in similar funding practices with past political entrepreneurs and business moguls who supply what political scientists of the Maurice Duverger school of thought describe as sinews of war.
Once near or in power, they have the same schemes of resource mobilization. They depend on security votes that have been appropriately sanitized through sheer giraffing in favour of future loot-sharing that by-passes formalities. In more recent years, the governors have resorted to tax consultants as a means of beefing up their war chest for electoral purposes to make sure that political money continues to flow. The pattern was borrowed from military adventurers in power but it has quickly proliferated from the more daring venturers of the Fourth Republic until a critical mass of the political class yielded to it. This has reduced the old bogey of ten percenters or of higher percentiles in about 23 states in the Federation. At the last count, all the incumbents steeped in tax consultancy for the purpose of political finance had to make it a test for the Governors’ Forum. It was embarrassment that made the Governors to appeal to the reformer’s bracket rather than support evident criminality.
Except that the reforms have not come and cannot happen because there is no grand electoral law serviceable enough to constrain the loot-sharing classes. And there is none that is stringent enough to debar the habits of purchasing elections as it used to happen in the older democracies before they discovered the law and the mass media as owners of and sticklers for transparency. What we must say here is that the various extra-statutory means of political finance have so outclassed the old means of political corruption that those who came to fight it by bringing change have since re-defined it. Such that General Muhammadu Buhari, who as a military Head of state jailed politicians for up to 89 years and more for enriching their political parties, has been giddily financing his own political parties and projects in the Fourth Republic without batting an eyelid about the absence of a proper electoral law that can guide political finance. Not even Professor Attahiru Jega, the great socialist and political scientist, as Czar of the Independent National Electoral Commission could wangle a proper electoral law to ensure that political money was sanitized beyond ethnic and regional derivatives of power.
What this tells us about Nigerian politics is that the leader-centred nature of the polity is secured by a formality of toxic economics which commands distribution channels and ensures a monolithic, or call it, a ‘monocratic’ principle that filters down to all levels in all political organizations. At the top of it, there is a necessary assurance that those who are not within the bracket of political access will lose their standing along the principles of merit and transparent management.
In order therefore to know where the country could be or go, one has to follow the leader. This needs to be explained. Under the Fourth Republic but more under President Muhammadu Buhari, the whole system has been such that the centre of the political party system has been unable to hold together. Whereas in President Jonathan’s time, it was his party that abandoned their President in search of regional solidarity, in the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, he was the one that abandoned his party in pursuit of an ethnic and personalist agenda. He has had no formal posit or brokerage that allows for the insertion of alternative ideas or ideals. This means that there is a necessary narrowing down of the system as in virtually all the administrations of the Fourth Republic, so that government stumbles on and runs into contrived accidents and dead ends almost as a rule. The better way to put it is that in a democracy, the political party is supposed to be the means of aggregating, articulating and adjudicating matters of value. But lacking party focus, the scatter–diagrammatic of reading the body language of the leader has been exemplified by absolutely nepotistic surrounds, that do not allow citizens to have objective expectations of civic correctness.
With most strategic appointments being a haggle over ethnic and regional balance, the whole system enters a conundrum of amoral familism in which whom you know may grant trust, but does not ensure the efficacy of structures of government or party. Especially so, when whom you know does not guarantee that the structures of government will be allowed to deliver as they were constructed to do. The fallout of this is that the concept of work, as ise, aiki, olu, as a factor of goal-orientation, is held radically in abeyance, trashed across the board, so that charity rather than duty is turned into a code of rectitude, functioning between a balance of power and a balance of terror. This is what is playing out on the Kaduna/Abuja road and across the whole country where those who do not want to depend endlessly on being mendicants, beggars in the system, resort to self-help as bandits and kidnappers, as if assured that there will be no penalty for wrongdoing. In my view, this is an issue at the heart of this lecture which requires that we all have to enter something of a heart of darkness to find the answer. Let me put it this way: that there is no mystery in that heart of darkness. Just that because of the way it is structured much of what has happened to the country in this dispensation is a function of what it offers.
To save time, I have chosen to start by looking at the nerves and vision of the incumbent government from the most familiar grounding on the platform of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation: that is, on the issue of education as the touchstone of national salvation. Not that I wish to re-theorize what is already well known about Awolowo’s consummate offer of education as the means by which we could put all the knowledge in the English language into our indigenous languages and all the knowledge in our indigenous languages into the English language; and so to universalize them, and equalize the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, build equality and commonality between all the ethnic groups across the country; so that we may defeat those who think that Nigeria cannot be raised to unity or coalescence because of regional and ethnic differences. Following Awolowo, unity is not to be assumed, but worked at, worked for, to turn what he saw as a mere geographical expression into a cultural expression. It means sound deliberation, hard work: knowing that it is not ethnic or linguistic differences that create division and tribalism but their mismanagement by power seekers and power holders. Of course, the narrower the pyramid of power, the more inhumane and inhuman it tends. With restricted access to education, it becomes more difficult to widen the base of civic commitment to a cohesive society; or to thinking together, planning together, and strategizing for the emergence of a polity that can serve the dream of an Africa awakening among the strong of the world.
…And so, it happened that, after so many decades of governments paying lip service to mass education while raising opposition to it in practice, it seemed Nigeria was reaching some plateau of acceptance or understanding when President Umaru Yar’Adua came to power in 2007. He brought into government a very robust indication that a speedy education policy for Northern Nigeria was what was needed to free up the rest of the country. The good part is that President Goodluck Jonathan, as his successor, followed it up, believing that education of the North was the driven approach to end the major drawback to educational advancement in the country. He built 165 almajiri schools, and 27 colleges. It was meant to be a cross-party, non-partisan development of education and transformation. President Jonathan did not just plan to build schools and colleges. With the windfall from oil, he prepared for an era in which the country could begin to dream of wiping out illiteracy from the country, building industries and employments that could lay a basis for a different kind of development. In a country where fifteen million children of school-going age were lying fallow on the streets, mostly as almajirai, baited as recruits by sundry terrorists masquerading as clerics of the Boko Haram variety, what could be more apt than a response intended to ride terror to a halt through education! So, he created a special military unit, the Safe School Initiative, endorsed by the United Nations in 2014, for covert and open protection of schools and colleges in the era of education-hating Boko Haram. Energy through education was what he thought would bring up a new generation that would run smart farms and factories and gradually wipe out the divide between the North and South. Jonathan resolved on it as part of a quiet preparation for the alleviation of poverty even if it had to take a whopping reliance on the central treasury to round it all out for the whole country. But it all turned out wrong.
Once General Buhari removed the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and settled down to business, one of the first things he did was to close down all the educational ventures that had taken such great expectations to strategize. As if the Federal Government had simply become an arm of the notorious Boko Haram, haters of schools and kidnappers of schoolgirls, and blockers of the spread of so-called Western education, all the grand plans were simply routed and abandoned. Weeds were allowed to claim and outgrow the venturesomeness that was taking over sloth and planlessness in education. In place of what should have been a campaign for schools and colleges, in the way that Obafemi Awolowo and later his followers, LK Jakande, Bola Ige, Ambrose Alli, Bisi Onabanjo and Michael Ajasin had spent years building and campaigning for the free primary and secondary education schemes, what the people got was a campaign for a different promise of revolution. Not schools but grazing reserves for cattle; not colleges but cattle republics, and the search for ancient cattle routes, forgetting that it took education for India, the Netherlands, Australia, even next door South Africa to create the revolution in animal husbandry instead of the ancient form of normadism that manages to produce less than 19 % of national requirements with the rest of Africa having cows that produce fifteen litres of milk per cow while our own produce less than two litres. I will return to this.
Today, an industry that supplies only 19 percent of Nigeria’s annual cattle needs is really not being considered in terms of triplication of its output within the shortest time possible. That is sad. While the civilized solution requires herdsmen to build ranches, some people, it would appear, are wishing for Nigeria, which has “19 million cows or thereabouts,” to apply methods and approaches that would fit Brazil, a country of similar human population size, with about 305 million cows over a land area nine times larger than ours. Obviously, with so much less land to play with than Brazil, and even if we had more, it ought in fact to be neater thinking about ranching instead of punishing the cows over wide distances. The snag is that in Nigeria misusing the cows has been accepted as tradition. So adversarially are they treated over unfair distances that, in spite of the presumed love of the cows, they produce so much less milk than all cattle rearers across the world. Audu Ogbe, as Minister of Agriculture, lamented that our cows produce one litre of milk per day compared to 15 litres per cow in Kenya, Botswana, Uganda, and South Africa, and fifty litres per cow in much of Europe. Reduced by maltreatment to inferior specie, our cows are not even calving enough to meet demands ranging from 6,000 cows every day in Lagos state and about 70 to 80 thousand cows per day across the country. A truly serious country, confronted by the realities would first impose a ranching code without wasting time, and ensure that the ranches are in the areas in which the ranchers have cultural empathy in order to avoid the violence which, in the Nigerian situation, can be blamed on the state’s complicity.
Arguably, this may well be done from the humungous size of Northern Nigeria, three times larger than the south and less densely populated; except that the champions of the influx do not appear to be really looking for a cohesive Fulani cultural geography. They appear to be wishing to take the country either in one fell swoop or through a scattering of seeds as in the case of the proverbial sower, zeroing in upon truly green and juicy lands, such as forest reserves, which were actually planted and replanted for generations by local farmers through deliberate efforts to reverse logging propensities from colonial times. During the recent Senate hearings of Chief Security men being appointed as ambassadors, there were testimonies to the effect that 1000 forest reserves across the country have been overrun by random migrants. It was an admission of culpability on the part of the security men who could allow parts of the country to be taken over and ranked as ungoverned spaces. (A very unhealthy term where there are local governments). It suggests that forest guards, who themselves have been abandoned, simply learnt to abandon the ship of duty to an indeterminate authority thus allowing a virtual invitation to any group of bandits and brigands from outer space to mount a takeover of Nigerian forests while security chiefs would write the post-mortems.
Of course, to change all this required a rethinking of animal husbandry as serious business. Beyond being just a way of life for segments of society, it called for turning the industry into a grand affair such as have taken so many countries upwards and up in development while Nigeria continued to wallow in the ordure of cows that the protagonists of the herdsmen dreamt for in grandiose terms that could never work whether from the grassroots of genuine educational advancement or in the highfalutin terms that amounted to running fast to remain on the same spot. We may well recall in this connection the gargantuan sums spent on building River Basin Authorities across the Sahelian North which were soon abandoned, left to founder, to the annoyance of Niger Delta militants who saw oil boom being treated as mere largesse to be wasted on cattle projects. After the river basin authorities, came the grand plans for Rural Grazing Areas, rugas, and cattle republics. They were supposed to be grand cities of Dubai proportions built with oil money; with little thought for animal husbandry while herdsmen were, as always, considered in terms of nomads engaged in open grazing in the belittling ways of treating them as not being modern enough to handle cattle ranches.
Interestingly, herdsmen were being seen by their protagonists merely as users of sticks who needed to be upgraded to users of Kalashnikovs, with an army of them to be unleashed from across the borders ostensibly to stand up to rustlers but more and more to seek lands exclusively for herdsmen already in quite a millenarian struggle for grazing reserves. Modern cities with state of the arts facilities were being considered for the herdsmen but fixated along formulaic ways of thinking of ancient herdsmen in open grazing. The passion with which these were being pursued, not for educating the whole society but building special towns and cities for open grazers in exclusive locales, was a cancerous vogue. It turned people off. Assumedly, they would not have to turn other people’s farms into grazing fields. But it was all out in the zeal with which bills were being pursued in parliament to realize the rural grazing areas, rugas, cities for herdsmen who were considered in apartheid formulaic terms; cities exclusively for Fulani herdsmen to be distanced from other Nigerians. It turned out that they were organizing herdsmen’s sororities to support open grazing of cattle, preparing the way for rugas under the auspices of the Cattle Breeders Association, the Miyetti Allah Kaotal Hore.
Their ambition was to create Fulani conurbations across the country that would be hospitable to open grazing and defending herdsmen who were grazing down crops by farmers usually of a different ethnic stock. They were asking farmer-folks across the Middle-Belt to choose between their lives or their lands, seeking to turn armed propaganda for open grazing into government policy, which became obvious when national security chiefs and presidential spokespersons began to admonish local farmers being harassed and quitted from their homesteads and farmsteads to show empathy to herdsmen who were merely seeking grazing lands for their cattle. The offside of this is that irrespective of the haggle over the activities of the herdsmen as proved by the raiding and destruction of farmlands, there were takeovers of villages and towns that were being swiftly renamed to blanch them out of history, while the inhabitants were being driven into refugee camps as if they were just another front of Boko Haram victims from the North-East. The proof, if any was needed, is that 2.8 million refugees were swiftly in refugee camps, stylishly described as internally displaced persons, who were not being allowed to return to their homes. Surely, anyone seeking to know where Nigeria was heading would be doing veracity a service by considering that Nigeria had become a country where up to three million people were in refugee camps for internally displaced persons, outside a declared civil war.
In effect, it simply happened that the great issues and uproars of our times began to centre on herdsmen mass-migrating as ethnic fractions of the Fulani from Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad, and from other parts of Africa. All of them were apparently following invitations to join in the scramble for lands that were not usually identified with the Fulani in Nigeria. Or to put it in the strident terms of the social media, the Fulani in Nigeria were inviting the Fulani all over Africa to come to Nigeria to take over the country with armed propaganda. Since they could find no means of achieving their purposes within the Nigerian law-making process, they were presumably resorting to armed propaganda which was occasioning a great increase in the clashes between herders and farmers across the country. Whether or not this was in pursuit of the protocols of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on free movement of people, it happened to have implications for life in Nigeria that was bound to shake the whole country to its foundations. It became the determinant of every other purpose of government. In essence, Nigerian herdsmen have been across many states in the manner that Boko Haram terrorists have been doing across the north-eastern states for a decade as armed propagandists occupying lands beyond the cultural geographies with which the Fulani in Nigeria are usually identified.
Like Boko Haram, who have been officially described as ´technically defeated´, they were always returning to be more virulent than the last time they were sighted. Several communities were being over-ridden and renamed to blacken them out of history. Whole geopolitical zones, the nation’s breadbasket, were threatened with imminent famine as a result of the virtual demobilization of and massacre of farm folks. From within and outside Nigeria, Fulani youths, who should be truly benefitting from a Marshall Aid to give them education and skills that could remove them from harrowing poverty, were being dragooned in their hundreds of thousands, in trailer loads from the North and dumped into forests and virtual urban jungles in the South. They are being made to suffer horrid indignities so that they too would learn to inflict grosser indignities on others! Assuredly, these are the grand and subaltern narratives of our times in the face of governments that are openly asking indigenous farmer-folks in the Middle Belt and across the country to be hospitable to strangers who have been confronting them, ordinary peasants, with Kalashnikovs (AK47 riffles). By the way, they are called armed propagandists here, because they demand ‘your land or your life!’, an advertisement of their core goal, turning Nigeria into a country that luxuriates in arrant self-abuse while the security men who should be protecting the citizens are giving the impression that they were merely moon-lighting. The harder part is that the Federal Government of Nigeria, under a leadership that is notionally Fulani, has appeared rankly incapable and so technically overwhelmed that no solution it has provided has been up to scratch in meeting the challenges.
The nepotistic surrounds of government at the Federal levels and the consequent difficulty of having a rational non-ascriptive discussion of civic competence, has compounded the problems. Understandably, the local populations across the country, feeling unprotected and betrayed, have accountably lost faith in the national security apparatus. They view all the security forces, all of them under determinate, parochial, ethnic leadership, as being easily and constantly overtaken by virtual hoodlums who perpetrate mayhem. Hoodlums, so called, are pumping general distrust into the public space with forms of impunity daring all communities to set up their own home-grown security arrangements.
In the Middle-Belt, North-East, North-West, South-East, South-West and the Niger Delta – communities and zones are having to seek self-help away from national security organizations. In order to fend off constitutional constraints and restraints, the self-help approaches have been taking the form of basically semi-formal or makeshift formations such as the seemingly unending ding-dong at the Boko Haram war fronts. In Borno and Yobe states, the state governments had to set up what are called Civilian Joint Task forces, CJTF, in order to feel safer. More recently they have been toying with the idea of hiring foreign mercenaries to relieve federal agents of intermittent attacks on the governor’s entourage. In Kano State, lacking faith in the Federal Police system, the Governor has relied on the Sharia oriented police, Hisbah, which has been very quickly copied by other Sharia compliant states. Sundry such organizations have been set up right down to local government levels in 23 of Nigeria’s 36 states. They have entertaining names like “Yan Kasai” Local Vigilantes in Zamfara State, “Yan Banga” in Sokoto, “Anumi” in Taraba, Kaduna State Vigilance Service, BOYES. Bornu Youth volunteers under JTF, Neighbourhood Watch Group in Ebonyi State, and Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency in Rivers state.
The widespread and elective nature of these security organizations, outside Federal charge, have not roused the Federal Government to a positive thresh of policy. Not to forget that Federal quandary has been advertised with the formation of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which has contributed a negative perception to the rating of the Nigerian security system by being adept at corruption and extra-judicial killings. The agitation by the #EndSARS Movement, mounted from state to state, but mostly in Lagos State, for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad to be banned, has gone beyond uproar to threats of regime change. This, it seems, is what has made federal umbrage to assume proverbial counter-insurgency features like seeking out the leaders of the avowedly leaderless movement for arrests, torture, and seizure of bank accounts. In effect, instead of abiding by the intermittent agreements and official announcements of the ban on SARS, the Federal Government has been rather more adept at showing how inauspicious SARS has been in the annals of security undertakings in the country. It is not surprising that the mounting campaigns to EndSARS engendered quite a resounding Movement that seems to be unending.
By the way, the search for solutions beyond such Federal interventions was seriously highlighted when the six Governors of the six South-West states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti, announced the creation of the Western Nigeria Security Network, which they called Operation Amotekun, the Leopard. It was patently anti-climactic to see the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, describing it as illegal. Many people had thought that the South-West Governors were merely following the motions of the common Nigerian practice, made famous by the Nigerian Army, of giving fearsome names to security operations or security units as in the case of Black Scorpion, Crocodile smile, Operation Puff Adder, and Operation Python Dance. Such naming of security outfits by state governments tended to indicate seriousness while assuring the public of a change of focus from mere dithering by officialdom. It had already become such a raucously distinguished way of pursuing security business that it would have been almost out of character for the six Governors to have started on a different footing.
So, on the surface, the six Governors were doing what all Governors tended to do. Except that there were marked differences in that this happened to be a cross-party laager by Governors of six different states angling to secure the Yoruba cultural geography. The six were ceremoniously hosted in the city of Ibadan outside the formal Nigeria police and general security aegis. Recall that this was the city where Nigeria has had so many or some would say, too many firsts. Apart from the first All Nigeria Conference that opened the way to constitutional Conferences in 1950, the city was where a sitting Premier lost an election for fighting for the first compulsory free education and free health services, and where the first skyscraper was built, and the first political emergency was declared in independent Nigeria in 1962. Who can forget innovations like the first television house in Africa and the Liberty Stadium. Ibadan was the capital of a region that had scored quite a remarkable success in opposing all the un-progressive governments in Nigeria’s history.
This was the city into which the current Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, decided to throw a hammer by declaring a concertedly designed security formation as illegal. Interestingly, he was not trying to resolve or manage issues surrounding the distrust of the parochialized federal security agencies. He did not seem to be unduly worried by the logic of the self-help outfits provoked by the discovery of several cells of armed propagandists in many parts of the country. More than 1,300 cells of the dreaded herdsmen – reputedly the fourth most terroristic group in the world – had been found in the old western Nigeria with a fifth of that number in the old Midwest state. Bandits and kidnappers had tortured, extorted and humiliated a respected presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae, roughed up traditional rulers, killed a high-profile personality like Mrs Olakunri, daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the Afenifere leader. Kidnapping, torture, rape and extortion of high- and low-profile personages, across the zones had become the norm. Even among incurable pacifists, it was bounding to a provocation. It surely warranted some self-defence option to spell any traction. The takeaway, for all concerned, is that the situation had become too brazenly frequent to be treated as mere happenstance. Not that Federal security was unavailing; it was simply ineffectual. Sundry provincial security outfits, without official federal endorsement, but enjoying more trust and commitment across the country, were seen to be outperforming the regular security behemoths. It left too much room for wondering what could be done to return to status quo ante bellum. Surely, the preliminary conclusion was inescapable, or let us say, it was simply mandated by the facts: that this was indeed the TIME OF THE LEOPARD, Amotekun, almost in the way that under Apartheid in South Africa, Alex la Guma’s title talked about TIME OF THE BUTCHERBIRD.
The core issue here is that the attempt by the Attorney-General of the Federation to illegalize the Western Nigeria Security Network, touched the heart of the Nigerian dilemma in a manner that made it an obvious struggle between the centre and its peripheries in the Federation. At a time when the constituent units across the country were literally seeking an opportunity for revolt, and in addition to the constant needling and irruption by pro-secessionist Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, which was soon threatening to set up its own Amotekun-type organization, as it soon did with Eastern States Security Network, the centre seemed determined to exercise a very obtuse display of power. Nothing could be more ill-advised than twiddling the tail of the Amotekun in the South-West, knowing that it would be tailor made for an uproar that would be replicated across the country. So it happened that, because the demand for a state police had been too haughtily slammed down by Federal illegalizers, the resistance to Amotekun was simply seen as proof of bad business.
A federal government, failing every attempt to maintain security of lives and property, not just in one state but across the country, was truly in such bad business that it could not seek to be a candidate for the sympathy of the truly beleaguered populace across the country. It had become so embarrassing because national security had been left for far too long to Governors, so called Chief Security Officers of their states, who lacked formal control of security forces to match the name-calling. The state governments were paying far too much for the maintenance of police outfits that were supposed to be the responsibility of the Federal Government. Only self-respect prevented either side from admitting it as a case of Governors being forced to pay protection money to Federal agencies. The unvarnished truth is that there would actually have been no law and order to talk about in the states but for the payments that the state governments continued to make for running the federal police system. Even with the virtual trade union of state Governors to pursue it, the protests against Federal incapacity never managed to hit the bull’s eye of federal attention. That is, until the Amotekun episode came along.
The insertion of the Leopard turned out too bitter a pill for minders of Federal agencies to swallow. It was not only that it implied formalized parleying between six states that were more or less ethnically homogenous but that, for Federal illegalizers, it meant that the states would be making their own laws to govern the security outfits. Meaning that: the rest of the country would have to face the novelty of a common security agenda for six out of 36 states. It meant the focus of national security would have to shift to issues such as community policing of a different kind; in a more robust system needing weapons that had so far been disallowed. In the face of herdsmen and other terrorists gravely armed with Kalashnikovs, and driving farmers from their homesteads and farmsteads in the midst of a threatening famine across the country, it was quite a test of nerves. Especially so for ordinary citizens against whom roads were being closed by terrorists and bandits collecting harvest-time illegal taxation, and being forced to pay humongous, Godless ransoms for the kidnapped, in addition to the rape of wives and daughters in the presence of husbands and parents. The increasing frequency of such occurrences was making it quite a joke to hear of official security projects such as the building of the volunteer community policing mooted by the Inspector General of Police, which was not supposed to pay salaries to any cadre. No expertise was needed to see it as shadowboxing with crime, if not a trading in trivia. Anxiety was bound to mount if six out of 36 states were seeking to have enabling laws to formalize an Amotekun, a catch of leopards with a conjoint agenda. More so if many more regions in the country were already determined to embark on their own Amotekuns. It was big deal, amounting to bringing homogenous cultural geographies or nationalities together in a country that had for so long criminalized ethnicity.
In spite of, or because of it, the negotiated reduction of the scale of Amotekun to individual states, without a common command across the states, was being contemplated at the Federal level to reduce the scale of the anxiety. It was bad enough that Amotekun-type proposals were being considered beyond the Yoruba South-West. All such proposals as it turned out, wished to cover ethnic or geo-cultural geographies or nationalities, or a combination of them, beyond individual states. As in the South-West, so in the Middle-Belt, the South-East, South-South and even the North-West: if terrorists and bandits were moving from one zone of the country to the other to perform their practiced mayhem, it called for a security outfit with a wider coverage beyond individual states to meet their challenge. The worm in the ointment, and an evident source of worry for federal agencies, was that the bandits and terrorists were also moving as ethnic bastions against homelands belonging to other ethnic groups. It began to make so much difference when kidnappers, raising ransom money from federal and state agencies began to make enough money from Federal Government and state agencies to remain in business. Any reduction of the Amotekun/leopards to one state while bandits and terrorists were seeking to cover wider ethnic geographies would not suffice as security outfits go. Too obviously, a reduction of Amotekun in scale to individual states would appear like a deliberate effort to reduce their effectiveness. In which case, the real problem for the illegalizers in charge of Federal apparatuses had to be, not only how to prevent the state governments from acceding to a state police system, but to address the question of the ineffectuality of the Federal charge across the region-wide zone slated for the Amotekun.
Specifically, what has truly rankled is that the Amotekun was named for the Yoruba cultural geography, quite ambitiously covering the cultural geographies of a more or less homogenous Yoruba nationality and daring to be an example that other regions and zones could follow. Whether as a mere insignia, mascot, or totem, this explained why its opponents assumed that it was merely a phase of ethnic distancing with an agenda that is a prelude to a secessionist move by Yoruba people. Quite a plausible scenario, except that many people found it intriguing that the attempted illegalizing of the Amotekun as a means of stemming a feared disintegration of the country, did not address the core rationale of fighting the insecurity which yielded the problems in the first case. Although the Governors who set it up had not fully fleshed it out, the idea of a Western Nigeria Security Network that could fill the gaps that had been left yawning by the Federal government remained something that needed to be invented since it did not yet exist. How else put an end to the sheer atavism and rampant threats to lives and property by terrorists, kidnappers, homeland-seeking nomads, and their armed propagandists! A federal government unable or unwilling to perform the requisite security curbs but wishing to liquidate the self-defence mechanism created by any state was bound to be seen as an irrational and irresponsible collaborator with the enemies of peace and security. Besides, too many Nigerians were increasingly convinced that the terrorists were enjoying discernible official backing.
How would the TIME OF THE LEOPARD be turned into a state of shared self-respect between the centre and the peripheries, with a strategy for over-coming terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and ransom hunters, which opposed self-defence and made no allowance for protecting the peasants, farmer-folks and random sufferers who were being hemmed with Kalashnikovs, and driven off their farmlands and turned into refugees? At a time when it was being ritually proved that state after state had many of the terrorists using hardware – guns and ammunition – derived from the armouries of Federal military and police agencies, it no longer seemed to be an issue of ethnic profiling of the Fulani as bandits and kidnappers. It had become too commonplace. Once official investigations began to match postings in the security services and nepotism in military and police postings to evident misdeeds across the country, it was beyond mere insinuation. It was being proved to the point where the Federal Government, in accordance with its nepotistic and atavistic disposition, made it quite evident as a case of turning a blind eye to impunity and mayhem.
By implication, the post-bellum negotiations with the bandits and armed propagandists were becoming more and more a matter of finding face-saving accommodation for culpable federal agencies that were increasingly under assault by communities resisting terrorist armies of occupation touting and firing Federal Kalashnikovs. The ugly prospects of positional warfare between terrorists using Federal guns to hold down normal Federal security operatives was embarrassing. It was a most uncivil strategy of federal self-containment.
Before the Covid-19 lockdowns took place in 2020, as “divine interventions,” with the imminence of confrontation – in the Niger Delta and in the Middle-Belt and particularly in the South-East, it seemed there were skirmishes being deliberately organized to provide rationales for security engagements by federal operatives in a clear pointer to a civil war. This factor was being loudly proclaimed in the media by former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo and his former Defence Chief, T.Y Danjuma, who were drumming it up to ever higher decibels, concerning the imminence of civil war. Having seen service in the Congo in the sixties and in the Nigerian Civil War into the seventies and having had enough military standing, to help quell civil strife, managing peace missions across Africa, they were in a position to engage in definitive and credible scare-mongering either to wake up a population sleepwalking into a major conflagration or conscientizing the sponsors of armed propaganda, banditry, and homeland-seeking terrorism to imagine the consequences of a war without fronts. Whilst Obasanjo has been warning about the apparent inevitability of war, General Danjuma has been openly calling on fellow Nigerians to organize against becoming victims of the herdsmen and bandits. In a way, their tack has amounted to asking peasants with cutlasses and hoes to stand up to armed propagandists with Kalashnikovs.
The two old war horses, to be brutally frank, have been ruefully conceding the significance of ethnic consciousness in national affairs or regretting the critical roles they had played in over five decades of lulling sundry ethnic groups in the country to accept ethnic exceptionalism of the Fulani activists whom they had joined in sowing the patriotic fiction that there was no tribalism in the Nigerian army. Even though this particular army was recruited on the basis of ethno-regional quotas which managed also to have had coup de tats that were riddled with charges of regional and tribal return matches, they were still trusting in the efficacy of urging the sponsors of the terrorists to ship their rag-tag army of mayhem and disruption back to wherever they had shipped them from. Or they were merely accepting their helplessness at an impending conflagration that, once ignited, could have the corrosive implication of not stopping with the defeat of one side or the other but escalate uncontrollably without fronts.
I should add that until the recent Fulani Upsurge which came with armed propagandists in pursuit of grazing reserves, rural grazing areas, Rugas, ancient cattle routes, and the take-over of federal government security departments across the country, it was not assumed as a serious matter by the potential victims which included the Generals. Those who failed to see that this was Armageddon gloating and yawning in their faces have since learnt to grasp the issues along happenings in the Presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari, whom I would not have remembered to call a Fulani, but for his cosy relationships with the rise of Fulani organizations like the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. This organization now has had a high enough profile to be negotiating ransoms on behalf of Federal negotiators in kidnapping episodes. They have provided a way of understanding Nigeria in terms of a scramble for homelands: this being an ethnic group that had appeared not to be so exercised by land hunger but recently wizened up to it. Indeed, the Fulani upsurge that had been quite self-repressed has become so volatile to the point where it has begun to enjoy negative comparison with Odu’a People’s Congress, OPC, which President Obasanjo asked the police to shoot at sight while he was in office. Just in case they were found causing trouble under the presumption that they were members of his ethnic group and therefore free to over-step their bounds.
Unlike Obasanjo, Buhari has done a lopsided embrace of his own ethnic group. As distinct from Obasanjo’s seeming over-criminalization of the Yoruba in order to keep them reined in, Buhari’s over-identification with his ethnic group is generally considered a spur to misconduct by his cultural siblings. This is being traced from the days after his retirement from the army when, as patron of Miyetti Allah, he went to Lam Adesina, Oyo State Governor, to claim, as it turned out, wrongly, that your people are killing my Fulani people.
Although such a frontal negotiation was what nation-building called for in the making of a multi-ethnic state, it was only just dawning on all that putting all wares on the table without duplicity also called for a high sense of veracity which was lacking in the instance. Not doing this right, and making it seems as if he was just doing ethnic profiling, wrong-footed the proper minding of his well-known position as a strait-laced, no-nonsense fighter from a tribalism-free army. It was such that, today, it is with great dexterity, almost self-immolating creativity, that all wronged Nigerians, oppressed minorities and disadvantaged majorities have managed to stress their rights as citizens in spite of his claim after his election as President that he was for everybody and nobody. What has made it so brashly grating in recent times is that many of the Fulani are cross-border migrants asserting rights that they need to be properly naturalized in the Nigerian setting.
This is especially so as the new influx of people are apparently no longer having to be accommodated under generalized Arewa or Northern Nigerian auspices. It happens that those who were always accepted as citizens now wish for something higher than citizenship. They want to be indigenes before they are citizens with certified homelands to which they can bring whoever they fancy from other African countries. The snag is that the purely ethnic dimensions of their demands happen to be coming at a time when the country is being led by a President who, although notionally Fulani, has exposed an agenda that, by its own reckoning, reeks of pure land hunger that alienates even the neighbourhood Hausa, some of whom would rather be bandits than accept the role of non-citizens.
For that matter, it is as if the leaders of the Fulani upsurge are telling other Nigerians that a new dispensation was afoot to which they are not being asked to make a contribution but have to bow down to. More or less, this is an invitation to a scuffle as one can recall from the argument of Professor Jubril Aminu, a member of successive Federal executive councils under the military, who actually argued early in the upsurge, that there should be no surprise that the Fulani have upgraded from sticks to Kalashnikovs because all other nationalities, as with the Niger Delta militants, are upgrading. It shows how ethnic envy is part of the game that is going on, but one that a smart national leadership could handle. What is not clear is how truly differently those regarded as ethnic freedom fighters by Sheik Ahmad Gumi are to be taken. Obviously, it spells a hidden response to armed propagandists from Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic in a way that shows sensitivity to the changed circumstances in the Sahelian North between once supposed regional siblings. The question is: where do they stand in the accustomed ethnic commitments which emphasize Fulani issues over Hausa concerns that have not had proper airing for decades? This has been quite the issue with so-called bandits, who appear like inexperienced coalition builders, answering to being ethnic freedom fighters (as heard from Sheik Gumi who has not been consistent in his attributions or articulation of demands). What it says is that inter-bandit activities can explain activities of the various groups even more than the supposedly great issues about the impact of climate change on the herdsmen who are mass migrating.
Surely, this requires those with communal memory to think of the manner that horse-riding slave hunters in the pre and immediate colonial period, rode roughshod over many Nigerian communities in the Middle-Belt. It made it such poor taste recently and a source of uproar when Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State was heard describing what was clearly a wish as the actuality by implying that farmers in his state were having to carry AK 47s to their farms in order to feel safe. It was loose talk as many in his state told him. What cannot be denied is that, as in that ugly past, there has always been the troubling awareness that many of the Fulani today are not Nigerians. Many speak French and are not even so good at Fulfude. In their perpetration of violence, aimed at displacing Nigerians from indigenous homelands that they have occupied for eons, the herdsmen, bandits, and kidnappers, have managed to win a place for themselves as the lords of the bushes. This has been authoritatively stressed by Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State, to the effect that it is almost like a coming-of-age rite for many a youngster, to take over the forests as a test of honour for dealing with the overfed cities.
Indeed, they are being primed to have no empathy in their dealings with people whom they do not regard as their own. Many of them are evidently aggrieved gunmen who were failed by earlier hirers, now in government, who have not met their pre-election bills. More interesting, if not substantive, are the rationales being given by and for the herders concerning why they are on the rampage. The givens are the drying up of Lake Chad and sundry rivers at a rate nearing 90 percent to explain the evident bad behaviour of the lot. Such large rationales explain why the migrants and herdsmen may well always wish to be, or have people, in power who can speak for them and do big projects for them. Clearly, confronted by the changing climatic conditions, the herders are seeking ever better salvage operations such as the building of the old river basin authorities across the Nigerian Sahel in the seventies. No one can properly claim that it was not the failure of those ventures, and the poor planning by the governments, that prepared the way for today’s drift. But most of the white elephant projects, because they failed, deserve to be seen from the angle of their parochial and self-seeking angles by governments less interested in solving the problems of the herders than scoring geo-political points at the revenue allocation tables. They have made for a ceaseless wish for relationship between people in power and the herdsmen.
Indeed, after the white elephants like the river basin dams, the next gambit was to insist that every local government in Nigeria should reserve grazing lands for Fulani herders. As if they had just conquered a country and were exacting reparations, they were demanding futuristic industries and skyscraper cities, to be built only for the herders with monies derived from zones far from cattle colonies. The same old economic cabbage of the River Basin Authorities! They lacked concern for the rest of the country that would supposedly supply the resources for establishing the rugas. The declared goals had little to do with the welfare of the herders. The actual concerns were more for taking over lands that belonged to other ethnic groups. Unfortunately, so much poor planning and execution were associated with the efforts, and too many ethnic political projects mangled their execution. There were hardly any proper calculus of any positive implications for the national economy. Rather than being based on concrete knowledge about animal husbandry around the world, as in countries like Australia, India, UK, the United States and as next door in South Africa, where cattle herding has been turned into mega industries, the purpose seemed to be merely to launch a parochial economy of sorts, closed against other ethnic groups from whom the resources, including land and capital, were supposed to be derived. A country like China, already quite advanced in producing factory-made beef and dairy products that won’t require herding of cattle at all, was already far ahead and advanced. You would have expected a looking forward to anticipate those whose technology was already making our best efforts redundant. But the projected paradise for herders in Nigeria was being conceived in terms of enclave economies in an apartheid state with Fulanis distanced from other Nigerians. Like setting out to build a very unhappy country, they appeared to be seeking to hold Nigerians to ransom by destroying all other industries.
In effect, if saving and advancing cattle business was the purpose of the various reform agendas and schemes, there was no sign of it. There were no meaningful plans to protect or increase green acres across the country. As it is well known, cattle rearing across the world is destructive of green pastures, not only due to cattle grazing but the high rate of biochemical emissions that it involves. You would have expected that those who would have to depend on green acres in future would make special efforts to remedy the adverse implications of their trade. On the contrary, rather than plant trees, the herdsmen and their promoters have kept attacking forest resources. They were so adept at taking over, with guns, the forests that farmers across the country were importuned to plant through well planned forest reserve policies.
Their purpose seemed to be to reduce all forests to Sahelian dimensions. Instead of planting more trees, it was as if they were determined to kill off the farmers who by the nature of their occupations were obliged to remedy deforestation as part of their normal preoccupations. If anyone was looking for the reduction of Africa to a dry desiccation for which governments would continue to seek foreign aid to pursue re-forestation, this was what their regime of animal husbandry was rooting for. What they were perpetrating around us was the opposite of what was needed. In effect, the travails being experienced by animal husbandry, although deserving every empathy, have to be seen as direct derivatives of the misuse of resources, the resultant of dire mismanagement across the Sahel, which is being visited on other parts of the country and continent. Properly speaking, this argues that much of the insecurity being experienced by herders is less a result of climate change than the sorry practices of those things we must be obliged to associate with those supporting the herders for the wrong reasons. It follows that all those who have empathy for the herders ought to begin by considering what must be done to educate them, raise their skills beyond the millennia-old practices that are threatening to force their occupation into extinction; while they are busy into a permanent destructive engagement with neighbours and other farmers.
Impliedly, unless there are counter movements that can halt the millennial degradation arising from the coveting of richer pastures to graze them down to utter desiccation, we need to take the many programmes for the herdsmen from the standpoint of open grazing as a clear movement towards biocide. Pure and simple. They ought immediately to attract serious minded activists of climate change to seek to stave off the impending disaster that it fore-gathers. Indeed, according to the testimonies of the security chiefs at the Senate hearings just noted, there is an end-times scenario that it foretells which should be a worry to all. It should worry all that there are those who have been seeing the biocidal trends as a process of regional shifting cultivation, according to which one part of the subcontinent is relieved of the curse of desertification by simply overcoming the richer pastures in other parts. We need to show, and continue to show, how the march of the herdsmen into the bad habits of deforestation and de-greening constitute attacks on the environment. It should challenge all of us to consider ways of correction in favour of an alternative tack to turn vast Sahelian lands into arable green acres rather than watch the turning of the best part of the lands in Africa into deserts as a service to the herdsmen’s rampage. It does need to be made clear that we are in the teeth of an undeclared war on green acres, an assault on the human factors across the continent and, to that extent, in a mounting displacement of commitment to the ECOWAS treaty and the protocols on free movement of persons in sub-Saharan Africa.
Therefore, for the sake of the herders and for the rest of us, there is a need to seek a bigger sense of tradition, such as building economies of scale in dairy industries with spinoffs ensured, as we should long have gone for, as in India, the United States and Brazil. We are not in their league. Those countries are not merely our competitors, they are out-competing us in every sense. And, we don’t have a chance of matching them without embarking on refresher engagements for herders, as we should have been doing from long ago by seeking to make them literate, to help them into living in contiguity, in a corner of their own where they have cultural empathy, enabling them to learn more in a language of their choice, engaging their own leaders to be truly in tune with world trends in animal husbandry. I mean: as an industry and as a country, we cannot afford to keep our people backward and then go on blaming them for acting backward.
As for seeing the use of Kalashnikovs by herders as a factor in our nation building efforts, how can that be seen as an upgrading and not a degrading? What if every ethnic group, especially those dispossessed by herdsmen, decided also to buy guns and constitute raiding squads to do unto others what has been done to them? It would amount to efforts to dissolve Africa’s most populous state with virtual mfecanes, anarchies and traumas, not too dissimilar to what Africa experienced during the era of the slave-hunting wars that literally despoiled our continent and prepared the way for colonialism. This seems to be what some people are still asking for in the tradition of those who, once upon a time, out of pure ignorance, wished for Nigeria to be dismembered along religious lines: North/South, to set in place another millennial waste, robbing Nigeria/Africa of a chance of genuine developmental pursuits, by fighting internecine wars of possession and dispossession while other continents, virtually done readying to move to another planet, are on their way. It is too grim a prospect. To think of it, the grisly reality of herdsmen actually overrunning farmlands, effecting a massacre, or simply threatening whole communities and regions with famine! This is what it means to talk about the failure of the African state. Trying not to acknowledge this as a failure, as if it makes our Federal security apparatus to look good, has heightened what is being generally regarded as the 21st century scramble for Nigeria. It is really what has made it obvious, eye-poppingly obvious, that we are offering ourselves bad medicine with very good intentions.
What remains for me to add is that, as the armed propagandists move from one part of the country to the other, with ethnic siblings from neighbouring African countries who are all acting with a sense of siblinghood that runs deep, we should not forget that they have attracted to themselves rogue despoilers, not necessarily of the same ethnic stock but muzzling in to have their own swipe of the roiling scramble for the most populous and, some would say, the richest African country. The eclectic nature of their attacks on others spell pictures of randomness that have made their progress appear uncoordinated and unfocused. Often, however, it seems so only if one ignores the loud existence of the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, which has drawn much attention to the collective claims of the herdsmen. They happen to have attracted listening ears right up to the highest quarters of governmental power with diligence that has been proved by the spectacle of national security chiefs who, unwilling or unable to end the violence that continues to erupt, have been admonishing the victims, across Nigeria, to be considerate to herdsmen whose cattle have been destroying farm crops in their search for grazing lands, cattle republics and new homelands. The more up-market support for them has been maintained by Governors like Yari of Zamfara State and Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State and several less particularizable sponsors. Governor Bala Mohammed in particular has been heard and seen making a case not only for the herdsmen to be accepted as citizens or indigenes of Nigeria but for the Federal Government to make budgetary allocations to cover their interests; irrespective of which countries they may hail from.
The Thursday Homily column in DAILY SUN on December 26 2019 was obliged to quote the Governor as answering a question by Chamberlain Usoh of Channels Television on the propriety of the Federal Government mandatorily securing and building dedicated settlements across the country for the Fulani, even those from outside NIGERIA. He replied: “How do you know which Fulani is Nigerian and which is not?” He added: “we are already accommodating them.” …. How… “Do you delineate and really know who is not a Fulani man from Nigeria? They are all Nigerians. Their identity, their citizenship is Nigerian. Even though we (Fulani) have relations all over the world, all over Africa, they are presumably Nigerians.” This is really what it means to say that the Fulani have the ears of people in government or that the Federal Government has been overwhelmed by their primordial relationships. When a Government denies the validity of borders, it leaves no space for statistical presumptions. It makes the ruling echelon to appear either to be gloating in ignorance or deliberately seeking to contrive such ignorance. But when a Governor goes out on a limb to defend the right of herdsmen to carry and use Kalashnikovs, as many of them have done, it opens a dimension of distrust and mistrust in the society that they live in. This has implications for the general security of the whole society.
It gets truly painful at the level, and in the case of the President of the Republic, General Muhammadu Buhari, a long-time patron of the herdsmen, who has had his ear openly corked in their tow in public view. It gets worrisome because it is not clear how much genuine professional support is being given to the herders. From the early days of his retirement as a soldier, as already noted, he has continued to demonstrate so much empathy for them, and in a manner that has raised his overarching shadow against prosecuting the herdsmen for carrying arms or using same for purposes that are brazenly nefarious. Perhaps, more of a proof of the savvy of the herdsmen, as one might call it is that even with news reports of armed take-over of villages in several local governments across the country, the Herdsmen’s Revolt would appear to have been given a virtual warrant in the proclamation that he, General Buhari, made at the ASWAN Forum in Egypt in December 2019. The proclamation granting visa on arrival to all Africans coming to Nigeria from January 2020 is not truly of professional significance. The strategic implications of the proclamation were stretched by the Minister of Foreign affairs and International Cooperation of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Ambassador Ahmed Awad who tweeted from the ASWAN Forum, thus: “I wish to profoundly commend President @mBuhari of Nigeria who just announced at the ASWAN Forum complete visa exemption for all Africans. Starting January 2020 Africans will be able to arrive Nigeria without visas. It is such an exemplary decision. Thanks, your excellency.”
Of course, we all do know that all the Fulani in Africa have not been rushing and barging into Nigeria to take advantage of the declaration. But there has been enough traffic to cause consternation. Simply, the Fulani that are Nigerians are making a case for attracting siblings from outside. The unspoken part is whether the potential absorption of the Fulani from neighbouring countries into the Nigerian fold is a decision of Nigeria as a country or of the President. The distinction matters. It has left many Nigerians wondering whether what it means for the genuine business of animal husbandry. Is it to keep them locked in merely antediluvian forms and to spread the improvident ways of herding merely to spread an old tradition without improving it? And, if the ASWAN Declaration is meant to have a wider implication for all Africans who do not need to be herders to be given any attention, the question that arises is: will the Yoruba, the Efik, the Kanuri, the Bariba, and the Hausa who are citizens of neighbouring states, according to the format of the Berlin conference of 1885, also now have the same privileges that the Fulani from other countries are now to enjoy? As Nigeria is a country with quite a pan-African population, this is tantamount to wondering if all Africans, including the Yoruba and Edo/Benin siblings among the Ga of Ghana, may migrate to Nigeria, if they so wish. This is not a laughable proposition. Although not all Africans would consider it an improvement of their status to be re-calibrated as Nigerians, it does matter that the proposal is on the table whether or not the influx of migrants is a trickle or a flood. The concern for them as human beings in a human situation needs to be made obvious. Especially so as there should be interest in the migrants beyond using them as ethno-political football.
The point is that the ASWAN Declaration has been made and it is in the public domain. Wittingly or unwittingly, moving the Fulani into Nigeria from their present domiciles from across Africa has the implied dissolution of protocols that once prevented Africans from crossing the borders as they pleased into or out of existing African states. If a blanket movement of the people is to be allowed as a matter of principle, as per the intention of General Buhari´s visa-on-arrival, or no-visa policy, it should have a meaning for the people beyond the implication of achieving dissolution of many African states as we know them. The subtext is that since many Fulani in Nigeria speak Hausa and may not speak Fulfude, the Hausa in Diaspora who are already, to that extent, being importuned into the thought-world of the Hausa speaking areas of Nigeria, will also have to be part of the influx which in any case is already part of everyday reality. How do they fit in? I ask because it connotes an urgency that, with the ASWAN proclamation in tow, some siblings from across the borders could turn into a virtual demand to be weighed along one of two strategic implications. Either a strategic takeover of parts of Nigeria by neighbouring countries or the sequestering of parts of neighbouring countries to turn them into part of the Nigerian maelstrom, this is the sense in which we must understand the, still, half-baked proposals that are doing the rounds, such as the proposal by the President of the Republic of Benin for a union of his country and Nigeria.
It may well fall into the ethnic calculus of some Nigerians who are strategizing how to bring cultural siblings into the scramble for Nigeria. The idea of the Republic of Niger, trooping the colours in favour of such a new map of subtropical Africa is being touted. To many on both sides of the border, the issue is not just about the complication of cultural siblings seeking union across Africa’s international borders and encountering unresolved problems of indigenes and strangers just as they were created by imperialism during the scramble for Africa. The heart of it is that people who have an ethnic rationale for seeking fusion or coalescence are invoking cultural contiguities as necessary determinants of political maps.
In a country asking to be renewed, there are issues of cross-border voting behaviour asking for representation. But this would be inserting ethnic and cultural nationality issues of their own that would heighten the fervour with which Nigerian Federalism would be discussed and ultimately re-strategized to account for the here and nowness of the issues.
As well, there are counterfactual issues of what could have happened if President Buhari had managed to overcome South African opposition at the ASWAN Forum, and had become the Chair of all discussions of migration in Africa. Surely, it would have amounted to giving the prize to one who was closing borders against neighbours while seeking to chair free movements across the continent. What does that say about an ordered form of free movement of peoples in a country and a continent of so many internal divisions in the context of the need to boost African integration, continental trade, and tourism in these days of African Continental Free Trade Area? Momentous and earth-shaking issues! It should make natives wonder why the no-visa policy was dropped upon the table without due public education or requisite planning to avoid bewilderment and consternation in so many quarters. It could prove the point that this is the way the elephant moves because it has no wings. Meaning that: that there is something amiss for citizens on both sides of the divide who should be concerned about the millions of Nigerians/Africans who, already facing enormous security issues from unrelieved influx of migrants across porous borders, have always needed to protect their ethnic homelands from brazen undeclared shooting wars.
We who are about to discuss restructuring, we salute you.
Odia Ofeimun is a poet and polemicist, the author of many volumes of poetry, books of political essays and on cultural politics. He gave this keynote address at the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Foundation lecture on March 6, 2021.