People & Politics

April 7, 2014

Janjaweed in the Middle Belt

Janjaweed in the Middle Belt

The term Janjaweed in Arabic translates to “a man with a gun on a horse”.

By Ochereome Nnanna
IN the Sudan, they are known as the Janjaweed, which in Arabic, is said to mean “spirits on horseback”. The dominant Arab regimes in the country responded to increasing armed struggles for self-determination by the Negroid indigenous minorities in the Darfur, western and southern Sudan by arming nomadic Arab pastoralists to attack and terrorise villages owned by farmers. The farmers and pastoralists had been historically locked in tussles over land down the ages.

Later on, the late Arab imperialist, Muamar Gadhafi, also instigated wars in Chad and among loose Muslim communities in the Sudan. He supplied them with arms and funds in his vainglorious pursuit of regional domination. The easy access to arms and the ready willingness by local warlords to use them, with the active support of the regime in Khartoum became the recipe for the Darfur humanitarian disaster, which both the African Union and the United Nations mobilised peacekeeping forces to curtail.

On Wednesday, 1st of April, Mr. Isuwa Dogo, a former commissioner in Kaduna State, appeared on Channels Television and cried out to the nation that the people of Southern Kaduna are on the verge of being wiped out by armed militias from heaven-knows where.

They creep up on sleeping villagers at night and set houses on fire. They wait for the terrified, screaming occupants – defenceless men, women and children – to come running out for safety. Then, they systematically shoot, slash and machete them to death and melt into the bush like shadows. The following morning, they are either described as “unknown gunmen” or more fancifully as “Fulani herdsmen” in the media.

Southern Kaduna is the latest landfall. The experimental theatre was Plateau State, a predominantly Christian-populated state, as far back as 2001 shortly after the Sharia riots which swept across Northern Nigeria.

There was tension between the mainly Christian indigenous communities of the Plateau around Jos and predominantly Muslim settlers and Fulani cattle owners, which erupted into violent confrontations. Before long, the latter group responded to their alleged political marginalisation by sending armed militias often perceived to be mercenaries to attack and eliminate villages during the night and disappear into the hills.

The term Janjaweed in Arabic translates to “a man with a gun on a horse”.

The term Janjaweed in Arabic translates to “a man with a gun on a horse”.

As usual, the federal government responded by mobilising the military and setting up countless committees to address the problem, to no avail even when, often, elders of both sides came out to announce peace pacts. And as usual, Nigerians gradually began to forget the conflict in spite of the daily grim harvests of death and destruction. The Plateau crisis ceased to be news. And like the virus that it is, it spread to neighbouring Nasarawa State, which is almost divided evenly between Christians and Muslims.

The next port of call was Benue State, another Christian-majority state in the Middle Belt zone of Northern Nigeria. About a couple of weeks ago, the so-called invading Fulani cattle-rearers attacked the convoy of Governor Gabriel Suswam and he narrowly escaped being killed.

The question has been on the lips of baffled Nigerians: what manner of “Fulani herdsmen” are these that carry sophisticated weapons, ford the savannahs of the Middle Belt, attack villages in the same typical Sudan Janjaweed style and vanish into thin air? What manner of “Fulani herdsmen” are supplied with food, arms and ammunition (as Benue elders allege) with helicopters? Who are these people?

What do they want? Who sent them? Who is financing their operations? Who is feeding them with specialised tactical military skills to wreak such wicked havoc on defenceless citizens? Where are the security agencies – the Police, Army, Air Force, Navy, Immigration, DSS, NIA, Security and Civil Defence (NSCDC) and the gamut of uniformed and armed agencies of state created to secure Nigeria and its citizens from external aggression and internal subversion?

Where is the “federal might”? Where are the state governors and the local council chairmen with their hefty security votes? And where are the communities? Why is everyone helpless in the face of barefaced assaults on Nigerians in their homes by faceless invaders? What must we do?

We must go beyond the reflex of deploying troops to fight the menace. This requires more of our brains than our muscles. The attackers are using more of their brains than muscles. They know the landscape, the setting and the routines of their target victims. It is not just the “Fulani herdsmen” that are involved; people whose nomadic lifestyle gives them expert knowledge about the communities and bushes around them.

There is specialised military and security knowhow, powerful financial muscle and sinister political motive behind all this. Let the security agencies figure them out. The rest of the work will be easy. The armed forces will simply go in and remove the lice from the overgrown hair.

Let us learn from our
experiences in the North East. The formation of the Civilian JTF should be replicated in the campaign against the invaders of the Middle Belt. The local young people in the various communities should be organised to help in reconnaissance and vigilante backup of military efforts. It is not going to be easy because most of the virile young people are now out of the villages and wasting their lives in the urban centres in search of white collar jobs or quick wealth.

A friend of mine from Ogun state once lamented that many of the young people in the South West villages doing manual labour such as farming, security and bricklaying jobs are from the North. Some of them are not even from Nigeria, but they are in the villages all over the South, and most of them, for now, are peaceful and hardworking. They are the ones who are ready to do the dirty work that local boys have abandoned for quick money in the towns.

The mind boggles at what will happen if the evil men at work in the North East and Middle Belt zone deploy them to destabilise the southern grassroots.  Unless the menace of the “Fulani herdsmen” is quickly arrested, they will soon move further South into the South East, South-South and South-West, taking advantage of the fact that most of the young population have abandoned the villages in search of quick money in the towns and the Diaspora.

We must admit to ourselves
that Nigeria has a lot of enemies. Some of them are foreigners, but most of them are Nigerians. An old adage says that it is the home rat that informs the bush rat where the morsels are hidden. There are many evil-minded Nigerians who during the day pontificate about Nigeria being an indivisible and indissoluble nation, but during the night they conspire to make the country a difficult place for those who do not belong to their group.

There are Nigerians who are still nursing the ambition to complete the disrupted imperial designs of their forefathers, even in this modern age when such quixotic adventures are no longer fashionable. Some of these people have openly come out to declare that unless someone from their part of the country is in charge the nation will never know peace. They are carrying out their threat in the North East and now Middle Belt: two down, three more to go.

Implacable enemies

Against these implacable enemies the nation must rise. We must create economic policies that will put young men and women back into our local communities. We must decentralise public amenities, introduce youth-friendly large-scale commercial farming and its attendant value chains to reverse the urban drift. The enemy will not dare to attack a community that is well defended by its own virile youth because our enemy is a coward that crawls in the night.

Besides, with our young men and women living and thriving in our local communities, our precious local languages, dialects, cultures and values which are now threatened with extinction, will be revived.