By Donu Kogbara
FOR the past couple of weeks, I have largely dedicated this page to Fulanis and Middle Belt Christians who have contacted me to share their differing opinions about the herdsmen crisis in the North. The following email from a Benue State indigene, Iorkam Wanazoom ([email protected]), contained some interesting points that have not hitherto been aired in the Sweet N Sour space.
UMAR Abubakar Ibrahim, one of your contributors on July 20, said that the Fulanis are targetted by other tribes in the North. This is a lie and an obfuscation strategy devised by evil people to try and evade responsibility for the brigandage of Fulani militias.
Every ethnic group in the North occupies its territory where it lives and carries out its economic occupations. Where individuals, members of an ethnic group, move to places outside of their own personal holdings, they purchase the right to use such places through negotiated personal transactions.
The Fulani also have territories that they settled, and from there go on migratory grazing with their cattle to other areas on seasonal basis. They used to negotiate with the people in the areas they visited, to graze in the non-cultivated open spaces. But over time, and since the advent of the current government, they no longer seek permission to graze on any land. They now prefer to graze their cattle on the cultivated crops of the farms belonging to the locals, thereby destroying the farms. When they are challenged for destroying planted crops and farms, they resort to violence and kill the farmers.
They do this with the full knowledge that the law enforcement agencies under their kith and kin in Buhari’s government will not hold them accountable to justice. When a farmer in annoyance over destruction of his farm crops, fights back and a Fulani is hurt, the herders mobilise their militias and attack the village, killing everyone they see and destroying the village.
They have now come up with all kinds of diversionary excuses, alleging rustling of their animals and blockage of grazing routes. Non-herders cannot rustle cattle, they cannot control and make away with cattle. Where rustling takes place, it is carried out by Fulani themselves, not crop farming communities.
The claim of grazing routes assumes that there are no other people in the North but only Fulani, to whom all the land belonged. History showed that areas belonging to other ethnic groups that Fulani used to pass with their cattle were made available by permission of the owners.
Now population has grown and open spaces taken up and occupied by the growing populations. Are the Fulani suggesting that ethnic groups should not grow in population in their territories, so that there will be open spaces for the exclusive use of the Fulani?
The resort to accusing politicians’ desperation is just another way of obfuscation of the magnitude and intention of the evil being carried out by herders’ militias with the connivance of the government in charge of security apparatus and law enforcement.
I find it very irritating when our Fulani compatriots adopt diversionary and evasive tactics and arguments to downplay the evil their tribesmen are unleashing on simple minded, less influential, smaller tribes in the North. I read your earlier article in which Fulani elites like Kadaria Ahmed lamented that they are being unfairly singled out and accused of massacres.
A simple test of the truth regarding the issue of attacks and massacres is the locations where they have happened. Never have we heard of an attack in the areas that are originally Fulani occupied as shown on your updated map. No tribe has encroached on an inch of Fulani territory anywhere in Nigeria.
The Zamfara attacks are Fulani themselves rustling the cattle of their fellow herders, but the targets of their reprisal attacks are the minority farming tribesmen. The Adamawa Mambilla clashes all happened in the territories of the Bachama, where the itinerant Fulani have gone to assert themselves over the locals! To find an enduring solution to the clashes, we need to enforce the fact that there is no free land or any other resource that the citizenship of Nigeria automatically confers on any one.
Every piece of land belongs to someone or some people, and if you need access to it, you negotiate for it and come to mutual freewill agreement. You do not use your network of links to government to seize the land by violence, arm-twist and blackmail the owners of the land to become subjugated to you. The argument of Fulani that land belongs to government and they have rights to such lands by virtue of citizenship is wrong. At its heart, this is an issue of resource control, only this time it is not oil but land.
Mr Wanazoom’s comments are not the last word. This important and robust debate should, no matter how painful, be ongoing. As I’ve said before, unpleasant issues do not disappear simply because they are swept under the carpet for diplomatic or cowardly reasons. I firmly believe that problems are more likely to be solved if toxic grievances are openly expressed.
Which is why I will, from time to time, continue to publish articulate submissions received from either “camp” on this page.
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