By Ikechukwu Amaechi
FORMER Lagos State Governor and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu, made a profound statement when he paid a condolence visit to the family of elder statesman and Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti, in Akure on July 14, 2019. Fasoranti’s daughter, Funke Olakunrin, was gunned down two days earlier at Ore junction on the Sagamu-Benin highway, and her driver, Tayo Ogundare, said hooded men emerged from the bush to attack them.
Announcing the tragedy the same day, the then Afenifere spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, blamed herdsmen for it. His claim was echoed by the deceased’s brother, Kehinde Fasoranti, who told journalists that policemen at Ore police station confirmed that his sister was killed by herdsmen.
Tinubu was not impressed and cautioned against stigmatising herdsmen. “I am extremely concerned about security but I don’t want stigma. I can go through history of kidnapping and we know how it started, where it all started. There are lots of copycats. How many years ago have we faced insecurity in this country and cases of kidnapping?
Is Evans a herdsman who was arrested?” he asked. Then, what seem like an alibi for herdsmen. “I don’t want to be political, I will ask you where are the cows?” he asked journalists. Tinubu was right even though he was being sarcastic and many Nigerians, particularly his Yoruba kinsmen, rightly took umbrage at what they perceived as an unfortunate sarcasm.
But speaking tongue-in-cheek, as he did, does not detract from his message, which is, can there really be herdsmen without a herd of domesticated animals? The answer is no.
A herdsman looks after a herd of animals such as cattle or goats. And those who killed Olakunrin were not herdsmen. They were armed terrorists. For too long, Nigerians have been deceived by their leaders that there is a conflict between farmers and herders. But that is a false narrative that obfuscates issues and misleads.
What have those who go in the dead of the night to sack entire villages, kill and maim indigenes and occupy their ancestral homes got to do with the quest for herders to rediscover age-long grazing routes? What has farmers-herders conflict got to do with abduction of students and demand for millions of naira ransom?
Do they want to convert the schools to grazing reserves? This false narrative has been pushed by no less a person than President Muhammadu Buhari and top officials of his administration. But there is no intractable conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria, at least not one that accounts for the ongoing horrendous bloodbath. Fulani herdsmen have always co-habited with other ethnic nationalities across the country. Desert encroachment is not a new phenomenon.
So, when Buhari tells his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to dig up a so-called First Republic grazing gazette as a solution to the acts of terror that is about to consume the country, he is being economical with the truth. Adopting the euphemism of banditry is equally deceitful.
This is terrorism. Simple! Many people have wondered why the country is unable to tame these hoodlums. The answer is simple. Those in positions of authority are pretending that what ails Nigeria is malaria (herders-farmers crisis) when it is malignant tumor (full-blown terrorism).
And Buhari knows it. That is why there is no solution in sight. But he should be very careful. Enabling terrorists and terrorism is a slippery slope. Anyone in doubt should ask Buhari’s alter-ego, Nasir el-Rufai, Kaduna State Governor. On July 15, 2012, el-Rufai tweeted boastfully: “We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not that kills the Fulani takes a loan repayable one day no matter how long it takes.”
And what was his angst? He was miffed that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan was waging a war against terrorists, some of them Fulani, in the North. And true to his word, when he became Governor in 2015, he told his Fulani kinsmen that one of their own has ascended the throne.
Rather than waging war against terrorists, he went looking for them in their own countries with sacks of tax-payers’ money for alimony. But as John F. Kennedy, former U.S. President once said: “Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” El-Rufai has found out to his chagrin why those who ride a tiger are always afraid to dismount.
This week, his government disclosed that bandits killed 222 people, injured 266 and kidnapped 774 in the last three months, and have started collecting protection levies from farmers in communities across the 12 local government areas of Kaduna State.
“Many farmers in these areas, fearing for their lives and safety, have abandoned their fields altogether. This has already begun to affect crop yields, and the threat of food insecurity looms large,” Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, told el-Rufai and other top government officials on Tuesday.
Receiving the security report, a highly flustered el-Rufai simply called on citizens to be law-abiding – whatever that means. The swagger is gone. That is the danger inherent in condoning evil and pampering terrorists. In the same Kaduna State, terrorists have attacked five schools and abducted 204 students since January. Last Friday, the State Commissioner of Police, Umar Muri, told the visiting Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba Usman, that Kaduna State, the capital of Northern Nigeria, has become a failed state, literally.
Highways in the state – Kaduna-Abuja highway, Kaduna-Birnin Gwari Road and Kaduna-Zaria Road – are no-go areas for law-abiding citizens. Terrorists hold sway. Schools are so unsafe that the state’s chief security officer, secretly withdrew his son from school to be taught at Kashim Ibrahim House, the only safe haven in the entire state.
He has shut down 13 other schools because of terrorists. El-Rufai, the roaring lion, is now a lily-livered executive governor, subdued by the same Frankenstein Monster he fed. What is happening to him is poetic justice, many insist, a deserved comeuppance for the injustice he has meted out to non-ethnic Fulani in the state.
A highly distressed CP Muri narrated his ordeal to IGP Usman thus: “From our records, the schools that have been attacked and students abducted in Kaduna State from January 2021 to date alone include: “College of Forestry and Mechanisation, Mando Afaka where 37 students were kidnapped on March 11, 2021 and subsequently rescued.
Green Field University along Kaduna-Abuja Highway where 23 students were kidnapped on April 20, 2021 and five of the students were gruesomely killed by their abductors while the rest were released. Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Zaria where two kidnapping incidents were recorded, first involving three students on December 14, 2020 who were later released by their abductors and the second incident was recorded on June 10, 2021 involving two lecturers and seven students.
“The National Centre for Tuberculosis and Leprosy in Saye, Zaria LGA of Kaduna where eight staff were kidnapped on July 4, 2021 and Bethel Baptist Academy, Maraban Rido, Kaduna where 135 students were kidnapped on July 5, 2021 out of which 28 were rescued and the remaining 107 victims still in captivity.”
To be sure, none of these students was rescued. They either escaped or were released by their abductors after their parents paid millions of naira as ransom. In Kaduna, the state is none existent, literally. Terrorists are the lords of the manor. When in 2018 kidnappers abducted a prominent traditional ruler in the state, Maiwada Raphael Galadima, the Agwom Adara, and murdered him after demanding N18 million ransom, el-Rufai chastised the victims rather than going after the villains. Today, the chicken has come home to roost for both him and Kaduna State – as it has, indeed, for both Buhari and Nigeria.
Buhari should jettison this herders-farmers fallacy and wage a decisive war against terrorists. If not, the fate that has befallen Kaduna State under El-Rufai’s watch will also befall the entire country and history will be harsh to the memory of Buhari. I hope it is not too late for him to listen. And to take action.