By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
A person does not wander far from where his corn is roasting—African proverb
TWO recent events bring to mind the place of non-state actors in influencing major political events in modern nations. Non-state actors are individuals or groups that are entirely or substantially independent of sovereign states, but influence political, social matters at local, national and global levels. These actors have negative or positive influences depending on their dispositions to important public issues.
In weak states or states in transitions, they play pivotal roles in influencing outcomes of conflicts, some of which they are directly responsible for triggering and sustaining. In many instances, they mediate or create interventions that reinforce or reduce weaknesses in governance or the impact of damage in the lives of citizens.
In democracies, non-state actors are critical intervening variables whose places are determined largely by the degree to which the state performs its basic functions and these find their ways into the lives of the citizen.
One significant but under-reported event was the excursion of Sheikh Ahmad Mahmud Gumi into some rural areas in the North to meet with Fulani communities and engage them towards mitigating the terrible scourge of their communities and the rest of the nation, which is banditry and rustling.
The Sheikh is an outspoken critic of many elements of governance, and he has recently gone further than most Muslim clergy are willing to go in calling out this administration on its records on security. A few weeks ago, he decided to go a step further: he took the risky step of going to places long abandoned by the Nigerian state and terrified citizenry to enlist Fulani who are still holding on to a precarious life on the side of lawful existence.
His goal was to reinforce a shifting line that should reduce the weaknesses of a community that is overwhelmingly Muslim, but bleeds members daily to a life condemned entirely by their faith.
The Fulani has only been marginal in mainstream political structures and processes in Nigeria. Its nomadic elements bear historic grievances for being exploited for decades by a quasi-feudal system, capitalising on the isolated nature of the nomad who roamed around with massive assets.
In the last decade, the Fulani lifeline has been decimated by rustling, barricades, indiscriminate hostility and damaging profiling, rapturing the only relationship between most Fulani and structured, organised and lawful existence.
Uprooted Fulani quickly learnt the lessons on the power of the gun, and many began to rustle others’ cattle. From there, the huge, ungoverned spaces created by a state that paid little attention to rural populations provided the perfect setting for dramatic escalation of criminal activities like banditry and kidnapping to the current virtual rebellion by the Fulani led by its most uninformed and alienated elements.
The Nigerian state has little answer to a growing phenomenon that is fueled by criminality and a rough-and-ready ideology of revenge, and is quite capable of sustaining itself at the expense of more and more citizens and communities. It compromises critical elements of the Nigerian state, and its seeming success breeds recruits in hundreds daily.
Access to firearms, drugs and huge pay-offs make this calling worth all the risk. State governments who had attempted engaging leaders of bandits and kidnappers all have same tale to tell: leaders of criminals change by the day, and those who last long do so only because they will not, or cannot, enforce agreements which remove the bandit and kidnapper from the huge, if short-lived rewards of a dangerous life and relocates him into an unfamiliar life as a settled citizen stripped of all that made any sense to his existence.
Perhaps it is the recognition of the fact that rustling and banditry are the fastest growing sectors of the northern economy, and the concern that little is being done to engage it that spurred Sheikh Gumi into his campaign to raise awareness of Fulani community to the its responsibility to resist further incursions of criminality into its fold.
He would know that Fulani have both some of the most learned Muslims in Nigeria, and some of the widest circles of poorly-educated and uninformed Muslims. He would know that many families live with the painful absence of members who steal away to join gangs, or die in bids to make money that cannot be spent in a productive manner. In any case, Sheikh Gumi broke new grounds, for which he should be commended.
Fulani is one of the largest ethnic groups in this country, and there are millions more kith and kin all over West Africa who are quite possibly the most capable of being mobilized to support each other or partake in largesse acquired by the barrel of the gun. If appeal to their faith which is unambiguous about crimes and violence works, it will be a major step towards reintegrating Fulani. The fact that Boko Haram leader, Shekau even reacted to it suggests that it has a potential to make a major difference.
Sheikh Gumi’s initiative should ordinarily be supported and encouraged by all governments, but it is most unlikely to be ignored by the administration of President Buhari which has a very narrow band of friends and a wide one of foes. Critics fall among the latter, and Sheikh Gumi is a registered critic.
Still, state governments who feel the heat more than Abuja and Fulani elite should support this initiative. It is vital that this seemingly chaotic rebellion by elements of the Fulani which now vents on spoils of criminality does not acquire political consciousness.
A second significant event was the election of Professor George Obiozor as the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. It is difficult to ignore the historic place of this major event. The new president-general takes over from the combative and articulate John Nwodo, whose tenure witnessed a gritty attempt to protect the local turf and keep Igbo interests firmly in the nations’s view.
The Obiozor I knew did not blink either, but he will have to play the political game in a manner that does justice to the huge amount of faith placed on his ability to lead the group and deal with challenges that will mature and become potent under his watch.
It will be his lot to create space for Ohanaeze Ndigbo as the loudest voice of Igbo people, certainly louder that other voices that do an injury to his people because they suggest that Igbo people are divided between Nigeria and exiting a nation that does not leave every group asking the same questions. He will have to lead his organisation to engage with the rest of Nigeria over the option of an Igbo presidency. The diplomat in him will come in handy when options appear limited or unviable.
He will lead the organisation at a period when the nation needs level heads to deploy against people who will choose hostility and confrontation in the manner they pursue goals. His group will find parallels in other ethno-regional groups, and the politics if 2023 will test the will and strength of elders to resist temptations to submit to the familiar as opposed to creating a new foundation for a nation that can survive its current serious challenges.