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Herdsmen kidnappers: Fatal pilgrimage

By Bisi Lawrence

Fulani herdsmen now operate quite a distance from home—wherever that may be. Offspring of arid regions, a nomadic lifestyle is stamped on their nature, incensed by the perennial need for water both for themselves and their cattle. But their herds need more than that; they also need food by way of grass and shrubs which do not grow in their native areas.

And so they wander, from season to season, in search of green pastures that are usually not very near their home base. Their destinations have that common tone: grazing land. The relationship between them and the landowners in which to graze their cattle has always been unhealthy.

Herdsmen
Herdsmen

The herdsmen pursue an aggressive agenda devoid of gratitude and mere consideration for the farmlands that are destroyed through their operations. This incurs the ire of the natives who, in turn, make them as uncomfortable as possible.

The history of the Fulani encroachment on private land in Northern Nigeria tells a story of bitter conflict down the years, especially between the unwelcome guests and the Tivs on the Plateau.

The Fulanis would leave many of their animals to graze all over the rich valleys and hillsides of the plateau, at the beginning of each season, while they wandered away with the rest to seek pasture in other parts for more greenery, to the consternation of the landowners. On their return, the nomadic herdsmen would simply gather their cattle, which would meanwhile have  grown fat, and be on their way.

The Tivs then devised a plan to deal with their unwanted guests. They simply ate many of the cows and sheep that were left behind at the beginning of the season and waited for the owners. When the Fulani herdsmen returned for their cattle at the end of the season, the Tiv looked them straight in the face and blandly confessed, “Munchi”that is, “We have eaten them.”

This ended up in several fights with the Tivis being victorious since they had the “home advantage” and were themselves reared in a culture of warfare. The Fulani hardly gave up but spread their search for grazing fields to other parts of the country like areas of Kwara State, where many of them found it convenient to settle amidst some of their compatriots who had moved there as warriors of the Afonja conflict. But that is wading into the territory of another history.

Their sojourn in Ondo State would have continued to cause little excitement had it not clashed with the interests of Chief Olu Falae. Though of a quiet disposition by nature, Olu Falae is a doughty fighter and it is fortunate that he was unable to resist his captors as he would have. He would indeed have been beaten up to soften his spirit, and he was also dragged on the ground to further degrade his efforts of resistance.

He had done nothing wrong, but that is the way of kidnappers to achieve their evil ends. At the age of seventy-seven, he was lucky not to have succumbed to the cruelty of his ordeal. Fulani herdsmen have now become criminals. They were miscreants at the worst, but they have now been caught up by the trend of permissible impunity spiralling into moral decrepitude. They steal, and rape and commit arson.

 *Arrested suspects
Arrested suspects of kidnap crimes

They are no longer welcome neighbours being easily mistaken for members of the Boko Haram. They have AK 47s, and seem to know how to use them. They have become as dangerous as genuine terrorists. When they are in any part of Southern Nigeria, they are very easy to recognise and ostracise. If people in Akure, or any part of Yorubaland for that matter, should decide to discriminate against them, it would offer no difficulty whatsoever.

And if that happens, as it may, it would be another solid step towards the disintegration of Nigeria as a nation. That is how serious this situation is. The Nigeria Police Force offers little assurance as to their sensitivity to this state of affairs, and even less in relation to its competence in preventing it. Its grasp of it seems to be at par with its abject handling of the crime of kidnapping.

The public is starved of any confidence in the ability, or willingness, of our law enforcement agencies when it comes to the province of professional detection of criminal activities. There must be some nature of forensic detection going on in some laboratories where fingerprint technology and other fine methods are being employed in this country today, but their locations and results would seem to shy away from publicity because they are virtually unknown.

Murders were committed in the past without any solution. If the trend is resumed today, there is no indication that the investigations would yield any happy dividends. When our own Donu Kogbara was recently abducted from the warmth of her home and place of birth in Port Harcourt, I fell on my knees and prayed for her safety.

She had done nothing wrong except, being a Nigerian who lived in London where she had been perfectly safe, and then she had cause to visit her land of birth where she was promptly abducted. The police assured us that they were doing everything possible to secure her release. I went on praying. Medical practitioners of note, legal luminaries, and other well-known professionals in respectable fields of endeavour have been put through the mill.

Their only weapon has been nothing less but, of course, something more than prayers—hard cash. The kidnappers have turned their nefarious practice into a business worth billions of naira. The intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari in the abduction of Chief Olu Falae cannot be faulted, of course. The chief was a Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Federal Government.

Apart from all that, he has played a leading role in the political development of the country and was once a presidential candidate. The President could hardly fold his arms, so to say, and do nothing at all. His instruction to the Inspector-General of Police was heart-warming for it showed that he cared. But one would also be assured that he cares as much for every other Nigerian for whom he is also president.

He cannot be expected to issue trenchant orders to the I-G on very occasion that there is a kidnap incident, but he can see that adequate measures are provided to combat this growing menace. Then there would little need to give any special orders. The police have not shone brightly against the backdrop of the crime profile in Nigeria in recent times. As far back as in the late 40s, the police were known to crack tough criminal cases through the technology of fingerprint. That capability no longer features prominently in the fight against crime in Nigeria.

The development in the war against crime has benefitted immensely from the age of technological advancement in which the whole world is now involved. Nigeria seems to have been left behind. The criminals now appear to pay little heed to the authority of the police. Policemen are now casually shot down, as it happened in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State a few weeks ago on no less than two occasions within a month.

Not much has been heard about the incidents since then. Other criminals take courage from this ineffective response to enter into the fray. The safety of the citizens continues to sink deeper and deeper into jeopardy. Even in the celebrated case of Falae, the Inspector-General of Police came on little more than a joy ride from Abuja to Akure to find the old gentleman released already.

The kidnappers received the ransom, duly reduced, and were on their way by the time the police big shot was on the scene. He there and then deposed that his mission had been successful. A more candid statement would have been more welcome. The fact that the family went ahead to secure the release of their patriarch in their own way without waiting for the police was an eloquent testimony of their faith in our so-called security forces.

The police have to raise their game. Playing to the gallery will no longer be accommodated by the public, especially in the case of kidnapping. All the loose talk about “investigations are on-going” will simply have to stop. The former strategies will also have to be revised. For instance, the removal of check-points on our highways should be re-visited.

I can personally recount some occasions when the establishment of check-points has saved me from the attack of  assassins on the Benin-Ore road. If insufficiencies are discovered in the operations of these sub-stations, benign corrections would be in order, but their total eradication sums up to no less than a loss of confidence by the police in their own agents, to the peril of the citizenry.

And, in the meantime, a host of police stations and barracks all over this country, could do with a little face-lift right now, if only to boost the morale of our policemen who seldom come for a bit of appreciation at our hands. The hazards of embarking on the holy pilgrimage to Mecca seemed to have diminished with the availability of air travel years ago.

Years ago, the ordeal was as much a perilous adventure as a  religious observance. Those were the days when pilgrim from Nigeria had to travel with caravans across the desert which exerted considerable pressure on their general welfare. It took months for the pilgrims to make the journey to and fro, and the successful conclusion conferred the status of heroes and heroines on the alhajis and alhajas, apart from an elevation in their religious profile.

Of course, fatalities were not entirely unknown in those days too, but not on the scale of the tragedy that occurred last week at Mina during the ritual of stoning the devil. Other tragic incidents involving hundreds of lives had also been recorded during earlier pilgrimages through air crashes and mishaps of stampede, but the recent one still remains absolutely frightening.

There was the earlier accident of a giant crane which crashed and also took the lives of innocent people out to serve their maker the best way they know how. It has both added to making this past hajj pilgrimage the most catastrophic experience in our history.

It is said to have been caused by a stampede which has not been fully accounted for. However, on an occasion in which thousands of people would gather, a measure of co-ordinated crowd control should have been established. All reports have made little mention of any stylized machinery or planned programme to impose any kind of order on the movement of thousands of people.

It is reported that two streams of crowds travelling in opposite directions clashed leading to struggles for right of way. And since there was no organized installation of multitude management, for instance vocal instructions from loud-speakers, panic ensued causing outsize pandemonium.

The Saudi authorities will have to take responsibility, of course, but tossing the blame for such a calamity around serves little purpose. For instance, attempting to blame African pilgrims for the tragedy, as the Saudis have achieves nothing but a demonstration of uncharitable bile.

Many African lives also perished including a host of our loved ones. I personally grieve at the loss of Hajia Bilikisu Yussuf, a veteran journalist, a lady of charming modesty and a professional to the core. We met at the celebrated award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Professor Wole Soyinka years ago. It is painful to know that she won’t come back—just like that. We are all under submission to the final call, whichever way it comes. God grant her and all the others who have crossed over the beautiful fulfilment of paradise.

Time out.

 


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