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The Zamfara massacre: making sense of nonsense

By Rotimi Fasan

NIGERIANS are fast losing count of the number of casualties lost in the series of attacks attributed to armed herdsmen across different parts of northern Nigeria and the rest of the country. Each day comes with different news and it all looks like it has got to the point where people have become so desensitised they simply take these killings and related violence in their strides. Nigerians now wake up daily to reports of violent deaths in different parts of the country. It is apparent most of the attacks that result in the deaths are hardly reported except where the casualty figure is so high it counts in its scores. There is death everywhere and most of it is today ascribed to herdsmen that allegedly pay furtive, nocturnal visits to farmsteads they thereafter proceed to waste and lay bare. They don’t stop at burning and looting these farms, they inflict unimaginable injuries on those fortunate to escape whereas others are literally cut up into bits and pieces that make the attacks all look like some ritual practice.

Whatever are the intentions of the attackers, what the various narratives have in common about them is that Hausa-Fulani-inspired armed militias are responsible for the attacks. Another undeniable fact of these series of attacks is that almost to the last incident in Zamfara where more than forty Nigerians were reportedly murdered, nobody has been apprehended for these heinous acts. The so-called Fulani herders have apparently grown wings that enable them to escape from the site of the attacks without trace. Which is probably why many of the victims and others speaking for them have held the security agencies, particularly the police, either complicit or responsible for the attacks. The police have been less than responsible in their conduct as far as the killing saga involving cattle herders are concerned. This is a very regrettable state of things considering that an increasing number of the casualties are themselves police officers.

Just over a week ago, four of them were abducted by armed men. While two or three of them later returned to their camp, reportedly, one or two others did not. In fact, the decomposing body of one of the abducted men would be found days after their abduction. Whatever way the issue is viewed police officers like other security personnel are sharing in the onslaught against Nigerians by armed bandits masquerading as herders. But the Inspector General of Police, IG Ibrahim Idris, has overdrawn all the sympathy and empathy that could be extended to the police especially the rank and file that are at the centre of making peace in communities overrun by militias. Since the IG chose to take the partisan position of defending one side in the series of violent encounters, whatever else the police have been doing have been overshadowed by the unpardonable utterances of the man. Ibrahim Idris is a past master of avoidable controversies that show him up as an unprofessional officer. For the moment, he seems to have stayed out of controversy in Zamfara. But Abdulaziz Yari, the Zamfara State governor, has been less than impressed claiming the security agencies, among whom we must include the police failed, perhaps we are to interpret that as a refusal to respond, to the distressed calls of the people of Birane Village in Zurmi Local Govermment Area.

Beyond the common complaint that the security agencies have been largely reactive in their approach to combating the armed militias ravaging different parts of the country, we may need to take a close look at the claim that the Hausa-Fulani have not just been the aggressors but also that their intention is to extend Fulani control to communities hitherto free from their influence.  The reason one is saying this is that if, as it has been shown, Fulani-sponsored militias have been behind the attacks across Benue, Taraba, and Nassarawa states and the dominant narrative has it that their intention is to establish and entrench Fulani influence in these parts, is that the same reason for the  attacks in Zamfara state? And for some reason, the people of Zamfara have said nothing about anyone or group of persons trying to dominate them politically beyond blaming the security agencies for their failure to respond to prior reports of planned attacks. How do we explain the difference in reaction between the attacks in Zamfara and the others in Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa among others, even when the victims in all these cases acknowledge the failure of the security agencies in responding sooner?

What I am driving at here is, perhaps, the need to reexamine the ascribed motives for the attacks. This may appear to weigh nothing but when viewed from the perspective that the highly emotive nature of the anger against the herders and the government that appears to be doing far less than it can in the face of the attacks, is to a great extent because of what many perceive as the desire of the Fulani to establish their influence and eventually take over control of communities not controlled by them. The nepotistic tendencies of the Buhari administration have served to muddle up matters even further. The herdsmen attacks are seen as one with the desire of the Buhari government to fill every space with Fulani faces. But then is it possible, as some have alleged, that interpretation given the attacks have been politicised by some people? This is without prejudice to the fact that most of these attacks have been traced to Fulani-sponsored militias who appear to enjoy the confidence of members of the leading cattle herders’ association, the Miyetti Allah. But could politics be playing a part in how some people have been interpreting the attacks by Fulani militias?

May be then, what we should do is focus more on the criminality of the attacks while seeking justice for the injured by insisting that the attackers be brought to book and made to account for their action without reading motives for the attacks beyond the fact of a clash of interest between farmers and herders. Nobody is served well by the fact that Nigerians are killing one another or may be hiring foreigners to hack down their compatriots. Even when they find it necessary to put the blame on others, Nigerian politicians and elite in various sections of the society have succeeded beyond anything imaginable in the manner they have employed ethnicity as a tool of separation among Nigerians. A crime is a crime irrespective of who is responsible or the motivation for the attack. Let every criminal act be accorded its due reward without concern for whether it was perpetrated by a Yoruba, Fulani or Birom person. Let every action as are crimes be treated on their own merit.



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