It is thus inappropriate to attempt to resolve herder/farmer clashes and expect the problem at hand to be over
By Tonnie Iredia
Nigeria’s high level of insecurity in the last couple of years has been exacerbated beyond insurgency to now include banditry and organized kidnapping. This has put the nation at red alert. Painfully, no one appears to be doing much about solutions; instead, everyone has become an expert in defining and classifying the ramifications of our dilemma.
In Nigeria today,it is the ethnic group that is generally accused of a gamut of criminality that has become the issue and not criminality itself. Some Nigerians simplistically refer to what they call criminal Fulani herders. Yet, all herders are not Fulani just as all herders are not criminals. For example, there are media reports from Igangan, a community some 177 kilometres from Ibadan, the Oyo State capital that two Yoruba individuals, a pair of twins, had been notorious for series of alleged crimes, including kidnapping, cattle rustling, and robbery. It is therefore wrong for anyone to classify every criminal as a Fulani herder.
For those of us who have many Fulani friends, it is irrational to criminalize every Fulani. At the same time, my friends need to know that those who ignore the existence of so many decent and well-meaning Fulani while wrongly criminalizing the entire group have a reason. They are doing so because there are evidence-based reports that approximately 8 out of every 10 kidnappers recently arrested in parts of Nigeria are Fulani.
This immediately puts more burden on the decent majority Fulani to design strategies for bringing those who soil their identity to book. It is better to do that instead of harping on the argument that many Fulani are not criminals. They need to know that such generalizations happen everywhere. For instance, although the world has become quite aware of many outstanding Nigerians, the poor image of our country caused by a few has not changed in the international community. This explains the helplessness of Nigeria in intervening in the fate of Nigerians who break laws in other countries.
Our Fulani friends need to adopt same stance of disowning criminal kith and kin, otherwise, they may inadvertently forget how to be objective. One of the disadvantages of that approach is that it can push a person to hurriedly react to some reports about one’s ethnic group before getting the details of such reports. The other day, many people attacked Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State for expelling Fulani from his state before it became clear that the quit order was neither on Fulani in general nor on Fulani herders.
Rather it was on herders illegally occupying the government reserves in Ondo forests. Again, there are arguments that bandits should get amnesty before dropping their arms as was done to Niger Delta militants. While there is some merit in using dialogue than force to end conflicts, the analogy doesn’t fit. There is, therefore, no need for people to unnecessarily generalize; persons regarding every criminal to be a Fulani herder are as wrong as those who generalize any act on a specific subset of a group to concern the entire group.
Another problem of simplistic definition is the tendency to give a wrong umbrella to a group of similar and dissimilar issues. Nigeria’s classification of its current insecurity as herders and farmers’ clashes is relevant here. Last week, several cows on open grazing walked into the premises of Nobel Laurette, Wole Soyinka in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Soyinka’s compound is neither a farmland nor is the international scholar a farmer.
Similarly, the Kankara schoolboys who were recently abducted by bandits in Katsina State met such a fate not in any farm but in their school premises. The same is true of hundreds of passengers that are attacked daily on the highways making it obvious that our crises cannot be narrowly restricted to clashes between farmers and herders. It is thus inappropriate to attempt to resolve herder/farmer clashes and expect the problem at hand to be over. Accordingly, it always better to call a spade by its name.
Nigerians are not the only one guilty of such simplistic classifications. Our former colonial government, Britain has been worse in history. A few years back I had an opportunity to berate the UK on that. It was at an international media conference where one of the delegates spoke on a topic titled, “The Lost Treasures of Ancient Benin” – a documentary production on the origin of arts and crafts of the Benin Kingdom.
I spent a long time to the discomfort of some delegations to denounce the topic which I considered to be disingenuous. How can the treasures of ancient Benin be described as lost, I asked? When an item is lost, it means it cannot be found meaning that the said treasures were not lost because they are in British museums. I then suggested that the topic be changed to “ Stolen Treasures of Ancient Benin.”
How the controversy polarized the conference and how it ended, is a story for another day. Suffice it to say the organizers experienced at first-hand how a wrong classification can destabilize a conference.
Such wrong categorization accounts for our inability in Nigeria to put behind us centrifugal subjects. We are in turmoil because of the belief that our predominant problem concerns just farmers and herders, which is not the case. It is indeed, far from the main problem of our compatriots in the South East who have had cause to express fears in the last few years of lack of acceptability in Nigeria.
But if our interest is to first sort out the issue of attacks by herders on farmers, it is gratifying that in the last one week, everyone appears to be moving towards the same page that herding by open grazing is obsolete and should give way. Luckily, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State has helped to illuminate the classification of Fulani which he divided into 3 namely: a) Fulani, b) herders and c) foreign Fulani herders who commit crimes.
It, therefore, stands to reason that what Nigeria needs to do is to mobilize against the foreign Fulani herders, especially as our history confirms that several well-intentioned Nigerian Fulani had always lived peacefully with their neighbours.
No one should be expelled from any part of the country. Even where a group shows ample criminality, the expulsion of such a group is forbidden by our constitution. The mobilization of some type of force to flush out anyone is therefore not the best option in our democratic federation. The way out is to prosecute any criminal and not to use a quit order to transfer the problem to another part of the country.
It is against this background that we commend the posture of Governor Obaseki of Edo State who last week declared his intention to mobilize everyone in his state against criminals irrespective of their ethnic origin. We can only hope that he and other governors will be that pragmatic. Perhaps this is when to appeal to our governors to deemphasize their own faulty classification.
If after an election the person elected becomes the governor of all, titles like Northern and Southern or APC and PDP governors must give way for our governors to act in unison to make their territories free for all.