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On the cattle colonies

By Rotimi Fasan

GOVERNMENT spokespersons in Abuja have denied reports that the Muhammadu Buhari administration plans to establish ruga, so-called cattle colonies, in the 36 states of our peculiar federation. The colonies are Abuja’s cure-all response to herdsmen-farmers clash.

Ruga

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This step, going by the words of the paid mouthpieces, is apparently the only way Abuja knows towards permanently ending incessant violence between these two groups. Fulani herders are the main suspects in cases of violent attacks bordering on ethnic cleansing on farming communities whose farms have been transformed into grazing fields.

President Buhari has been at sea finding a solution to the problem posed by the attacks that have polarised Nigerians along ethnic lines. Is the latest gambit of any credibility? Can this be the answer that we have all along been looking for? Abuja plans to establish cattle colonies in states in mostly Hausa-Fulani speaking parts of the North that are predisposed to such activity.

Which is to say that states in the Southern and other parts of the country that do not want these cattle colonies are free to opt out of the arrangement. No group or individual is obligated to establish ruga against their wish.

Fair enough, you may say. Indeed on the face of it, this would seem a good answer to the whole question of unconscionable attacks, often gory, that are perpetrated by cattle herders. It has to be admitted, though, that some of these attacks, alongside banditry and armed robbery, are executed by opportunistic Nigerians of other ethnicities hiding under the guise of being Fulani. Yet what we cannot run away from is that the vast majority of the attacks are the handiwork of Fulani herdsmen many of whom are allegedly of foreign descent.

So I ask again: Are cattle colonies the final solution to the conundrum of hate-filled encounters between farmers and herders? Who bears the cost of the establishment of these colonies? Who owns the land on which the colonies are to be established?

Does the establishment of the colonies offer closure to victims of herdsmen attacks, violently raped and killed after the communities have been destroyed? In what way does the government of the day hope to address the sense of wrong and resentment borne by victims and casualties of herdsmen attacks? These are questions that the willful step to establish cattle colonies fail to address.

The terrorist enterprise of these herders has been recognised worldwide for its deadly efficiency leading to their being labelled one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world. The Nigerian government is far from acknowledging the complicity of the Fulani herders in these attacks, to say nothing of labelling the herders terrorists. It may be a measure of government’s ambivalence, if not confusion, about the matter that, beyond the isolated cases of arrests made in some South-Western states like Ekiti, Ondo and parts of the Middle Belt, there has been no deliberate attempt to go after the armed men masquerading as cattle farmers that have been fingered in the many cases of violent attacks.

Many Nigerians believe that the only reason government responses so far have been lame is simply because the president, Muhammadu Buhari, is Fulani. His situation is nowhere helped by the fact that he is also a patron of Miyetti Allah, the umbrella body of the cattle herdsmen. In a word, many Nigerians believe that Buhari’s hands have been tied by his ethnic affiliation to the group of Nigerians and foreigners repeatedly accused of the wanton elimination of Nigerians and the decimation of their ancestral homes.

In the wake of Abuja’s non-response to the countless cases of herdsmen attacks on farming villages, in the absence of any coherence, rhyme or reason to Abuja’s knee-jerk responses to questions about its pussyfooting ways, its determination to establish cattle colonies in parts of the country which, before it was denied, looked like a test run for all the country, is a needless insult. Is it not enough that this government is not only seen or perceived as doing nothing but is in fact not making attempts to convince Nigerians that it plans to address cases of herdsmen attacks fairly? Does the government need to be told of the urgency of the matter at hand and the need to be sensitive to the concerns of Nigerians who have for long read ethnic meanings into the behaviour of the president and his minders?

It may now look very gross and uncharitable that Nigerians are opposed to the siting of any kind of colonies, called by whatever name and for whatever purposes, in their domain. But the Buhari government should take the greater part of the responsibility and blame for this. Its laidback, even indifferent posture, in the face of the numerous attacks by Fulani herders on communities in the Middle Belt in the last two years portrays it as insensitive to the concerns of non-Fulani Nigerians.

The gory killing of nearly 80 Nigerians in parts of the Middle Belt in January 2018, killings that did nothing to stir the president into action of any kind (rather he mandated his then Inspector General of Police, Idris Ibrahim, to go on a fact-finding mission to Benue and Taraba states), his government’s plan to create grazing routes from one end of the country to another without first bringing the rampaging herdsmen to justice – blightly ignoring all  of these concerns for about four years only to wake up with suggestions of cattle colonies is a disregard of civilised conduct. Otherwise, there could be a way about this issue that is not as polarising as what we have now. Buhari, however, appears to enjoy governing Nigerians along separate lines.

Now it has been decided to establish cattle colonies, where are the thousands of hectares of land owned by a ‘federal’ government that, itself should be the creation of the constituent states where these colonies are to be established? Since cattle herding is a private concern, does Abuja plan to establish and finance, say, cotton or cocoa farms for farmers in parts of Southern Nigeria? These are questions thrown up by this latest plan that Abuja chooses to ignore. The push to establish cattle colonies for the use of cattle herders reconfirms what many have long suspected and alleged: that the government of President Buhari operates a hierarchy of ethnic groups in which the Hausa-Fulani occupy the highest rung with all the advantages that come with that.

How can he use ‘government’ money to create ranches for private investors even if they are illiterate Fulani herders and not expect other Nigerians to ask questions? Where are the python dances he has created to address Fulani herdsmen attacks? What is Buhari doing to create a sense of unity among Nigerians?

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