By Denrele Animasaun
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Nigeria has become like the wild west, with guns blazing bandits, coming into town and leaving dead people and damaged properties in their wake. Where is the law and where is the sheriff? This is so wrong, totally wrong. It is shocking to witness the incessant spate of attacks by the Fulani cattle herders and the wanton loss of life and livelihood.
When something is wrong, it is important that we stand up and say so. The silence from some quarters is worrying and this is not the time to take sides on religious and tribal lines. Good people do not let bad things happen.
The government have got to take action, if these bandit herders cum militias are citizens of Nigeria then, they have to abide by the law like everyone else and if they are not Nigerians then, they have no business, no right to be roaming Nigerian soil unhindered without care and no fear of repercussions. When will the government safeguard the safety and uphold the rights of Nigerians?
For as long as I can remember, there have always been skirmishes and squabbles between the Fulani herdsmen and local people but this, is a whole new level. There are strong allegations that some Fulani herders are involved in armed robbery, rape and communal violence especially in the central and in the north, similar atrocities by the herders have taken place in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
In the past, whenever there is disagreements over the use of essential resources such as farmland, grazing areas and water between herders and local farmers are said to be the major source of the fighting it was settled so why now and who up the ante?.
It is well established that Fulani herders are semi nomadic and they often travel hundreds of miles to seek fresh pasture for their cattle. This development is new and macabre; they are acting in an audacious manner trespassing into people’s land and the movement is more inland, arming themselves to the teeth and like locusts, destroying everything in their path. This is very troubling and it should set alarm ringing like an invasion. The herdsmen have said that they need the rifles to defend their cattle from cattle rustlers and to protect themselves from being robbed of their cattle.
They travel hundreds of miles in large numbers with their cattle in search of pasture. They are often armed with weapons to protect their livestock, there seems to be more than meets the eye. What exactly is going on and the government should fortify the borders or, at most, there has to be consequences for errant herdsmen who trespass on other people’s land. At the moment there does not seem to be an enforceable law to deter them from committing grave atrocities.
In my column last week: EACH ONE, TEACH ONE, MAY 1, I mentioned the need to plant more trees last week, but it seems that those who are planting trees or crops are targeted by these hoodlum herdsmen, trampling on their land and crops to graze their cattle.
If farmers and their crops are destroyed, it has a knock on effect on everyone: lack of crop means inadequate food or expensive food out of the reach for most Nigerians. This concerns us all and not just those who are killed, maimed or displaced by the herdsmen.
The death toll that the armed herdsmen left behind should not and cannot be swept under the carpet. No, it is not acceptable nor should it be condoned by anyone, no matter where they stand in the political/religious or tribal spectrum. What is bad is bad. In 2014, more than 1,200 people lost their lives, according to the most recent, Global Terrorism Index, this makes the Fulani herdsmen militia, the world’s fourth deadliest militant group, the report said.
In February, they massacred over 300 people in central Benue State and in March in Enugu State, more than 40 people were killed, countless properties and thousands flee their homes and are currently displaced. Properties and businesses were destroyed and thousands of people forced to flee their homes. There is a huge human and economic costs here; the conflict has stalled trade, investment and normal life, this will be felt adversely by the locals and Nigeria in general. This conflict has cost Nigeria more than $14bn in the last three years, according to the UK based Humanitarian organization, Mercy Corps.
Of course, there are some people who have an ulterior agenda and they benefit from the prolong conflict and they pit one group against the other. We cannot afford the problem for what it is; it affects us all. Common sense is needed here and the Nigerian authorities have got to improve the integrity of our borders, protect people and property. I understand that some are quick to proclaim hail and brimstone, but it is all rhetoric and no action. What is needed is a plan that protects people and properties, engineer a workable solution that includes genuine herdsmen’s need to graze but an understanding of consequences should the agreement be ignored or flaunted. This is a crisis that is not going to go away unless we go to the heart of the problem. Time to separate the wheat from the chaff; who are these murderous herdsmen and what really is their agenda and are they Nigerians, does Nigeria have an agreement or special dispensation for nomadic tribes who are stateless and has it been followed to the letter, if not, why not, what are the neighbouring countries’ policies on Fulani grazing right or right to roam? If one exists, Nigeria does not have to reinvent the wheel.
Let us not forget: the real Fulani herdsmen play an essential and crucial role in Nigeria’s economy, in particular, cattle, leather and the meat business. The arrangement may not have been formalised, but they have co-existed in every state in Nigeria and they have their own community who have settled and are part of the bigger community.
There is a lot of theories and the finger of blame pointing at all Fulani and Hausa for these atrocities and that itself, is problematic. We run the risk of throwing the baby out with the proverbial bath water. People are quick to whip up violence and retaliation are people who would stand back when it all blows out of proportion. The lives lost are very tragic and unacceptable.