Who is going to stop the rampaging Fulani herdsmen?’ In case you don’t know who they are, The Punch editorial of March 13, called our attention to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, which named the Fulani militants not just ‘a terrorist group but the fourth deadliest in the world’. For its blood-thirsty exploits, it has to its credit the death of 1,229 lives in 2014 including 200 in Galadima in one day. Unfortunately, from the body language of those with the constitutional authority – the president, governors, police and even the military, it will appear we are not in a hurry to stop their deadly exploits and endless harvests of deaths.
President Jonathan for the greater part of his presidency played the ostrich claiming even with his control of the awesome apparatus of state power, his administration was unable to determine if those behind the deadly attacks on helpless women and children in the Middle Belt were Fulani herdsmen. Long after his public endorsement by Alhaji Abdullahi Bodejo-led Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore for re-election in Aso rock, wearing Fulani herdsmen apparel and cap to match, Jonathan continued to deny the existence rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
In 2015, the people of Egba village in Agatu Local Government of Benue claimed about 90 of their compatriots were killed by Fulani herdsmen. The then state police commissioner, Hyacinth Dagala, insisted ‘only 30 corpses were recovered’ as if that was a relief to the bereaved families. But neither for the 90 nor the 30 deaths was anyone apprehended or prosecuted. In May 2015, Governor Gabriel Suswan narrowly escaped an ambush by Fulani herdsmen. All a governor who could not protect himself or his citizens could do was to lament the fate of ‘displaced farmers and their family members who live in refugee camps in Otukpo, Ojantele, Ataganyi and Ugbokpo.’
On March 5, Fulani herdsmen from Loco and Doma in Nasarawa State according to a news report, ‘in combat gears, armed with the trademark AK-47 rifles, invaded several villages and farm settlements in broad daylight, gunning down children, women, men and the elderly alike and from Aila to Obagaji, Akwu to Odejo, the invaders burned down houses, churches and police posts..’ The harvest of deaths that followed, according to Paul Ede, who led the coalition of protesting civil society groups to the National Assembly was about 400. The invaders after chasing out about 7000 farmers and their families from their homes took over the villages with their 5000 cows, a development the state police commissioner has since confirmed. Buratai, the Chief of Army staff on his part says “I have heard from the commander about the existence of criminal elements who engage in cattle rustling. The crisis here is unfortunate, the farmers and herdsmen fighting must not be condoned’. Of the attack, David Mark, who was Senate President for eight years while the crisis festered says – “Nothing whatsoever justifies this brazen act of destruction meted out on the people of Agatu. My heart bleeds.” He then went on to apply the usual PDP palliative – donating ‘mattresses, bags of rice, blankets, cooking oil cartons of noddles, large mats, magi cubes and cooking salt among others’. In all, little has been said of those who now live as refugees.
The deadly terrorist group has since 2011 embarked in mindless killing of defenceless women and children in the Middle Belt. Between 2011 and 2014, they took over many of communities in the four local government areas of Guma, Gwer-East, Buruku and Gwer as well as Tom-Anyiin, Tom-Ataan, Mbaya and Tombu in Buruku Local Government Area of Benue. In 2013, the group was credited with mindless murder of about 60 women and children seeking refuge in church in Plateau state while those who went out for their funeral a few days later including serving senator, Gyang Dantong, and, Gyang Fulani, the Majority Leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, were equally murdered.
But the perpetrators of these heinous crimes cannot be ghosts since they often take possession of conquered territories. And if the police are looking beyond the heavily armed herdsmen who are said to be mere tools in the hands of the real owners of the cattle, they didn’t need to look far. Saleh Bayeri, the interim national secretary of Gan Allah Fulani association, an umbrella body of Fulani associations, provided the needed lead. While granting an interview to PREMIUM TIMES shortly after the attack, he had blamed the Agatu people for starting the crisis on April 20, 2013 when they invaded the compound of one Sehu Abdullahi where they killed him and carted away over 200 cows. The current hostility according to him started following the beheading of “a prominent Fulani leader, Ardo Madaki, who was invited to the palace of the district head of the area on the grounds that a solution is being sought to the problem,” I don’t think the police need any other tip if they want to find out the sponsors of the March 5 mindless killing.
But why is it difficult to tame the Fulani herdsmen? Adejoh speaking to reporters recently seemed to have struck the nail on the head. The ‘herdsmen’, he says “ are not the owners; but are merely working for some rich big men who have refused to build ranches and use irrigation to grow grasses to feed their livestock; but chose to unleash millions of their cows and herdsmen on the farmlands of poor and defenseless people of Benue”. And here lies the real tragedy. Both the herdsmen and defenceless farmers are victims of privileged elite who after sending their own children to the best schools in and out of the country, arm children of the less privileged to perpetrate heinous crimes against poor subsistence farmers. Those in authority are probably indifferent because it is poor against the poor.
Ironically, using the poor as canon fodders by the elite is a common phenomenon across the federation. In the South-west are the area boys and ‘okada’ riders who double as political thugs for those who promise them stomach infrastructure after mortgaging their future through years of misrule. From south-eastern states come thousands children of the poor who cannot read or write deployed to hawk substandard or fake imported products on the streets of our major cities. Of course they find their parallels in thousands of the children of the underprivileged, including ex-militant warlord, ‘General Tompolo Loaf’, who Pa Clark recently told us did not have enough education to secure government job, armed by self-serving advocates for ‘resource control’, to confront soldiers in the creeks or the Niger or police on the streets of Port Harcourt.
In a federal structure, the federating units are in theory not inferior to one another or to the central government. But what we have now are states as private fiefdoms where individuals are richer than the states. We run a federation where Nasarawa cannot provide ranches for its herdsmen and where Benue State cannot protect the lives and properties of her citizens from rampaging lawless Nasarawa Fulani herdsmen. The sponsors of Fulani herdsmen who are rich, powerful individuals with power of patronage to decide who becomes governors, commissioners, ambassadors simply fill the vacuum.
To ensure federating units are in a position to perform the most elementary of their functions-protection of life and properties of their citizens, we must restructure the federation. A strong Middle Belt with state and local police will be in a better position to secure lives and properties of its citizens. In 2011, Buhari made restructuring a campaign issue. He must not be distracted by the powerful forces who are beneficiaries of the current unviable structure. It is perhaps the only lasting legacy Buhari can bequeath on Nigeria.
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