By Dr. Ugoji Egujo
President Buhari needs to speak to this militia in the language its members would understand. I have borrowed courage from the workaholic Sheikh Gumi and identified them by their ethnic origin.
Unfortunately, in these days of political correctness, ethnic identification has become sinful even if apt, except when talking about goodies like Igbo presidency and amnesty funds for Zamfara bandits.
The Fulani Militia. These are not the everyday bandits. These do not kidnap school children in their quest to buy new motorcycles and more cows. They are not like the Katsina and Zamfara breed who love government dinners and seek the partitioning of sovereignty.
They are not those in Niger state who would like to collect tithes in exchange for one-legged peace to a cowed population. They are not any of those groups whose interest Senior man Gumi promotes with all shades of blackmail while masquerading as an apprentice hostage negotiator.
This group visits industrial-scale violence with righteous indignation on ‘offending communities’ in its capacity as the appointed protector of the vulnerable nomadic Fulani. The pattern was described by the Ebonyi governor.
Before these enforcers arrive, the Fulanis in the marked communities would get a notice and disappear. The police seem impotent against these hit-and-run purveyors of violence who live beyond reach in the wilderness.
Every day, we are told herders don’t carry Ak 47s. That way, the massacres we have seen in Benue, Oyo, Abia, Ebonyi etc., are attributed to rogues masquerading as cattle herders. The Miyetti Allah washes off its hands, denies responsibility and comes on television to bruise sensibilities.
The ordinary herder might carry no more than a stick. Yet, a task force instituted by a section of the Fulani exists to visit vengeance on any community where Fulani herders have suffered real or perceived hostility. This task force, it would appear, has an extensive continental jurisdiction.
From Mali through Nigeria to the Central African Republic, right across the entire West African coast, they are not bothered about borders. If a Fulani cattle herder loses his cows to cattle rustlers in Ihiala, then Ihiala must pay up.
Otherwise, the task force would come around, leave for Ihiala a lasting lesson. It doesn’t matter if the herder is from Burkina Faso. If cows destroy crops in Ughelli and the local farmers visit their anger on the wayward cows, an SOS report could be sent to the task force, and an investigation would commence.
In most cases, the punishment would be a well-orchestrated midnight attack on the ‘offending’ community to teach it and others never to fool around with the Fulani.
It is heart-warming we are clamping down on ethnic warlords and militias. We had left violence to mushroom. But we must not create a super infection. Many of the militias that exist around Taraba, Benue, plateau and those forming in Oyo, Delta and parts of Igbo land owe their moral legitimacy to the existence of an elusive but deadly Fulani militia.
We can’t go on pretending these other ethnic soldiers do not exist. Or that they would vanish once we disarmed those that are not nomadic. As we seek to extirpate mob rule and militias, we cannot maintain either willful ignorance of or deliberate impotence against the ubiquitous Fulani militia. The justification for this unlawful approach is deterrence. But the consequences have been massacres and antipathy against the nomadic Fulani across the country.
In many parts of Delta, Oyo, Benue and Isikuwato in Abia, farmers cannot go to their farms. The apparent invincibility of the Fulani militia, bestowed on it by the government’s lack of interest in combing the forests, has emboldened criminal elements amongst the everyday herders to torment host communities with impunity.
A super infection is caused by the disturbance of the equilibrium that exists amongst microorganisms. A man has an infection. He employs a huge cudgel in a broad-spectrum antibiotic and wipes out many relatively benign microorganisms in an attempt to curb his infection.
In leaving out a particular microorganism while taking out others, the microorganism proliferates, unchecked by competition, to occupy the space left by the broad brush therapy. Once that strain reaches a critical population, it begins to cause its own kind of infection.
In treating one infection, an organism that would have been kept in check by other organisms is allowed to proliferate and institute perhaps a worse infection. If we can’t disarm all competing militias, it would be dangerous and counter-productive to disarm some and leave some.
The Fulani militia must be caged.
I have made no attempt to suggest that all the evils in the forests are perpetrated by the Fulani. It would be incorrect to blame the criminality of every bunch of bandits on an ethnic group.
But when a group establishes a self-help unit to perform the duties of the police and military on its behalf, then that group can be identified by its dominant trait and must take responsibility for the outcomes of that intervention. When such a unit takes recourse to guns and blood baths to mediate conflicts, then that group must recreate that culture or assume full ownership of such barbarism.
The government has a sacred duty to perform in inter-ethnic conflicts that occasion sporadic massacres. It must come with good faith, and it must be seen to be neutral, fair, and impartial.
It must seek to retain the confidence of all sides. It must give objective reasons for its actions. It must be transparent. It cannot side with parochialism. It cannot embolden one side by inaction or taciturnity. It must call every spade a spade.
It must speak to all sides audibly in the language all can understand. But when the government pampers a sacred cow called Gumi, who routinely justifies and promotes Fulani banditry while demonizing gallant Christian soldiers, the government reeks of prejudice.
If the Fulani militia is not dismantled and the reprisals against host communities around the country persist, the government’s efforts to eradicate gangsterism would collapse disastrously.
If the government doesn’t visit fire and brimstone on killer herders preventing thousands of farmers around the country from farming in peace, militias with horns will resurrect, and the country’s unity could tumble down a slope.
All militias and bandits must be intercepted and dismantled at the same time.