By Obi Nwakanma
Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s current president is a passionate Fulani, and the Fulani are a transnational migrant group, dealing today with the forces of environmental change that are forcing great pressure on their pastoral culture.
As desertification intensifies in the Savanah regions, grazing and watering grounds disappear, and drives the herdsmen farther and farther out, seeking places to graze, occupy, or settle.
The Fulani herdsmen are no strange sights in Nigeria. In fact J.P. Clark, one of Nigeria’s eminent poets, captures both the life of the Fulani herdsmen, but more specifically the resilience and silent will of the cattle in his poem, “Fulani Cattle.” And I should say that I myself have anticipated a great conflict. In my yet to be published novel, one of the characters, Simple, is lying in the solitude of his farm near the Orashi river, after a day’s work, and after smoking a little grass, and in the haze of sleep he hears the rustle of cattle in a neighboring farm and thinks, they better not come near my farm or I’ll draw blood.
Something to that effect. It did occur to me quite early when I penned that scene that a real menace is brewing, unheeded, and it is the struggle for arable land. What did not occur to me, even in my wildest imagination, is the increasing dimension of war-like activities that now accompany Fulani pastoralists in their moves to settle new grazing areas by force, as the condition of the earth drives them further and further from the Sahel. It may just as well be old grazing pressure, but the recent spate and heightening of attacks of Southern agrarian towns by so-called “Fulani Herdsmen” is throwing many curveballs.
This menace has been reported in the North too, in places like Adamawa, the Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Nassarawa and Benue, basically, mostly Christian areas of the North, where frequent attacks and resistance against the so-called “Fulani herdsmen” have been going on in the last two years with growing intensity. The thrust of the attacks has given rise to a religious dimension to this: the fear that the so-called Herdsmen are masking a greater menace: religious and political conquest of a scale comparable to colonialism. Such a possibility should not be dismissed as conspiracy, because indeed, most political and conquest movements are the products of conspiracies often publicly denied or even ignored until it is too late.
So, the spate of attacks have increased with intensity, and some analysts have noted that the South, once seemingly buffered from these activities have become flashpoints, and areas of serious and rapid conflict involving the so-called “Fulani herdsmen,” since the election and swearing in of President Buhari.
Is there a connection? I dare not think. But the evidence is really quite disturbing: the election of Muhammadu Buhari has seemingly emboldened what many are now calling the Fulani militia to operate with greater intensity and with singular objective in areas of the South, and the Benue. First, they came for Olu Falae, former Chief Secretary of the Federation, Minister, and Presidential aspirant, and abducted him in his farm. The real issue for me in the Falae incident is that the firepower and logistical capability reportedly deployed in his abduction proved that a deadly, and well organized force was at play.
These were no “ordinary herdsmen.” Another revelation was the utter uselessness of Nigeria’s National Security apparatus: a flatfooted police, and a Department of State Service that has very little intelligence, but are only too good in issuing communiques.
Then came the massacre in Agatu. The sacking of an entire community by well-armed “herdsmen” ought to have raised more than a red flag, but no, the train was moving unstoppably eastwards: then last week, the “herdsmen” attacked Uzo-Uwani in Enugu, and killed about 40 people, as was reported by the press. This came after 76 members of a community in Awgu were arrested for trying to defend their community from this armed militia, and while the DSS allegedly discovered secret graves of the cattlemen in Abia state, for which it called a World Press conference. Until he was goaded into it by the loud outcry, President Buhari remained as silent as the Sphinx.
When finally he spoke, he instructed the police to investigate. This is utter nonsense. Investigate what? That a community was sacked by armed intruders in an organized pattern that is spreading southwards? Two things are clear to me at this stage: this “Fulani herdsmen” are not the old herdsmen that drove their cattle through the Southern streets of yore. These are well-trained soldiers, with very sophisticated arms.
A number of patterns are beginning to emerge, and we must see the pattern in the activities of the Janjaweed in Southern Sudan, which began to sack villages, rape and kill, and abduct women, especially young women whom they “sold” to slavery. There is increasing evidence that these people whom the Nigerian press often glibly call, “Fulani Herdsmen” may be more than it seems.
They may be an advance party of armed, and well-trained militia, activating the first thrust in a war that we are unprepared to engage. These may be the remnants of the Janjaweed, trained Al-Qaeda militia, sleeping cells, some of whom are your maiguards, some of whom are mingling with the host communities, and readying to spring into action at the appropriate time, armed with the guns from Libya. That the Nigerian Armed Forces and its National Security services have never paid attention to the infiltration of Nigeria tells so much about the state, quality, and mission of Nigeria’s National Security. As far as I’m concerned also, Governor Ugwuanyi is a weak, unimaginative political leader.
Sources said he was aware of the impending attack in Uzo-Uwani. He summoned a meeting, called his Police Chief and the Commander of the 81 Div in Enugu, who asked him to call the President to issue direct orders. The governor allegedly called the president and was kept on hold, and an aide later said the president was too busy to speak to the governor, while a massacre was afoot in Enugu! The Enugu governor has of course denied that all this happened. The next day he was seen smiling sheepishly into a Camera in Abuja in a picture with the President in Aso Rock. “At no point did I call the president, or anyone in the presidency for that matter. There was no need” Ugwuanyi said.
But what did the governor do while Uzo-Uwani burnt? Nothing. He sat in a meeting wringing his hand with worry while a massacre was taking place right under his nose. My question is, “what would M.I. Okpara have done?” Certainly, Okpara would never have waited for the president before taking charge, by every means necessary, of the protection of the lives of those who elected him and whom he swore to protect. What do these Governors do with all the security votes allotted to them in state budgets if they cannot protect the lives of the citizen?
I think it is also clear that over and over again, the police, the military, and the security services have shown that they cannot protect the citizens of Nigeria, and particularly of the East. Here then is the only thing left to be done: every man above the age of 18 in Nigeria must as a matter of obligation and personal safety, procure a gun for their own self-defence. Citizens must defy the law that forbids them from the right to own guns.
Nigerians are on their own now. The nation can no longer protect them. Security must now be a matter of self-help. The attacks in Uzo-Uwani proves this unambiguously, for as one of the community leaders said, “we knew they were coming.” Yet, they did nothing. They just waited. It is a bloody shame, and a bloody trap.