Gradually, the Fulani herdsmen have become a synonym for terror, horror, and bloodletting in Nigeria. It is so bad that virtually all criminal acts in Nigeria today are attributed to herdsmen and there is no effort to objectively assess the narratives even if to ensure that we get to the root cause of such cases. I believe the sing-song about the atrocious acts of herdsmen fits into a blood-curdling narrative to run away from the real issue and source a scape-goat that suits the political purposes for the placement of Fulani herdsmen at the apogee of our national discourse at present, for very noxious reasons.
I am as riled, as every other patriotic Nigerian, at any incidence of blood-letting and violence. I am of the school that believes in the sacredness of human life, as espoused by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council and promoted the world over. I abhor any incidence that abridges people’s liberty to live their lives in total harmony with each other. It is abhorrent that living creatures should seek to disrupt the orderly lives of others for selfish reasons. So I don’t subscribe to the activities ascribed to the Fulani herdsmen or the many other bloody gangs that seek to discomfort others or abridge their existence in the country. I don’t subscribe to the vicious predilection to violence and conquer which have been attributed to Fulani herdsmen and I don’t support anything that vitiates the rights of others to live freely and unencumbered.
But then, I believe that adopting a blanket position that every crime committed in every nook and cranny of Nigeria since 2015 is wrought by the ubiquitous herdsmen is the easiest way to promote crime and liberalize violence. This naïve adoption is the fault line that has given political coloration to what should be a criminal issue and has worked against finding solution to the problem. It has become a readily escapist option to blame the Fulani herdsmen for all crimes committed in the remotest parts of the country and there is no better way to deepen and grant immunity to crime than that equally obnoxious act of political generalization. It was so bad that when a drug-related ogre of killing was visited on a church in Anambra State last year, there were desperate attempts to pin it to Fulani Herdsmen, in order to score very silly political points.
I have read a timeline of violence credited to Fulani herdsmen and other vicious groups in Benue from 2013 to January 2018 when the latest incidence of bloodletting occurred in a Benue community where over 50 natives were allegedly killed by herdsmen. Written by one Cham Faliya Sharon, this timeline captured 47 incidences of violence in Benue, committed by alleged herdsmen and rampaging Fulani gangs. Curiously, 31 of these cases happened between February 2013 and May 24, 2015. This was the time before President Buhari came to power. The remaining 16 cases happened between July 2015 and January 2018 with President Buhari in power. The writer should know because there was a meticulous effort to capture the incidences, the locations, dates and casualty figures involved. More people were killed in this repetitive ogre of violence before President Buhari came to power but today, many mischievous hawkers of hate want the nation to believe the Fulani started rampaging because their son was elected President and had endured because Buhari is tacitly supporting them.
As we can see, most of the violence happened between 2013 and 2015 and were reportedly between the indigenes of Benue communities and rampaging Fulani herdsmen. This was before the issue of herdsmen attack became a broad-based national atrophy that came to be an adjective for crimes committed all over the country since the present regime came instead in May 2015. What riles is that these crimes went with little or no hype till the present regime came on board. What even shocks is that there were no efforts to tame this monster or properly situate these attacks so as to track and deal with them. Also, there have been no much hype and angst raised against these attacks before May 2015. This, perhaps, may have made the issue so invincible to the point it is today. I used Benue State here because that is the state where the violence seems more pronounced.
But since President Buhari defeated Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election, the issue of Fulani herdsmen and their monstrosity have become major national issues even as more of such violence happened before Buhari came to power and even as more casualties were recorded before he came to power. The clear-cut target is to picket and destroy the persona of the Fulani man because one of them defeated and rusticated the obnoxious PDP. The herdsmen issue has been so politicized that dealing with it requires a high level of political detoxification. As I mentioned earlier, every crime in Nigeria today is attributable to the Fulani herdsmen and in this deliberate effort at politicization, every Fulani man is seen as an aggressor who neighs for blood to shed and territories to conquer. Even as an equally atrocious case of killing took place in Rivers State at the same time the Benue killing happened, no one is paying any heed to a repeat of ceaseless political killings in Rivers that has given the state the appellate; Rivers of blood. Everybody is rather concerned with sanctimonious fixation with Fulani herdsmen attack. But both are abhorrent and should attract an equal measure of condemnation, but the Rivers case seems to be tolerable because it was not committed by the obnoxious Fulani herdsmen or there was no way to link them with it.
Cases of kidnapping, armed robbery, ritual killings, murder, etc. in every part of Nigeria are easily linked to Fulani herdsmen and the herdsmen are all over the place; all-powerful, invisible, untraceable, unconquerable, and operating at his pleasure! And the entire nation is prodded to whelp in dehumanizing helplessness at the activities of herdsmen? No crime reportage is complete in Nigeria without linking it to herdsmen. What better way to make crimes unsolvable than adopting this lazy, contrived and predictable stereotype? If you want to permanentize a crime, make it political and those that were dislodged by the historic election of 2015 have adopted a credo to politicalize the Fulani herdsmen issue as they did such other futile rallying points as Boko Haram, Shiites, Southern Kaduna, Niger Delta Avengers, IPOB, etc. in the vain hope that these will give them a prop to launch back to power.
Make no mistake about it. I am not making a case for herdsmen. I am of the firm belief that killers amongst them must be picked out and dealt with maximally. I am of the opinion that killer-herdsmen should be summarily killed on the spot. I am of the school that pushes the proposal that whoever kills, be it herdsman or anybody else, must also be killed. But deliberately reducing incidences of crime in Nigeria since 2015 to activities of herdsmen is another way we give them wider license to operate since, embedded in that naïve generalization, is the feeling that the herdsman is above the law and can do anything and get away with it. What even shudders in the salacious herdsmen story is how they came to be classified as herdsmen for herdsmen are known for the herds of cattle they lead from one location to the other. As we relish the stories of how herdsmen kidnap, waylay, block roads and rob, kill and maim with very unbelievable ease, have we pondered what happens to the droves of cattle they lead while committing these atrocities? So far, there is no effort to feed us with narratives of what happens to their herds of cattle while they commit these monstrous acts or do their herds disappear immediately they successfully execute a crime?
But then, we must ponder; since when did herdsmen become such monstrous cannibals we are making them today? Since childhood, we have seen herdsmen lead their cattle about. We see them herd their cattle from one location to the other. We have not known them to wield dangerous guns. We have not known them transform into an all-conquering army. We have not seen them prey on people’s cash crops. So what suddenly changed in recent times? How did the herdsmen who play a critical role in our lives and economy suddenly become a much-loathed and despised conquistador, who goes about with all manners of sophisticated guns, setting upon villages and towns, killing, maiming and waste-laying in an insatiable manner? How did the herdsmen transform into robbers who are not satisfied anymore with what they make bountifully from their cattle but what they rob from travelers? When did the herdsman become a money monger that now relish the payout from kidnapped victims more than the proceeds from the legions of their cows? Most importantly, what happens to the hundreds of cows these herdsmen lead to their crime locations after they commit these crimes?
If we, as a nation, is desirous to tame the monster and safeguard ourselves from the crimes attributed to them, we must make a conscious effort to de-politicize the herdsmen issue. We must remove the honest herdsman doing his honest chores to sustain himself from the mercenaries that relish the politicization and hide under it to commit heinous crimes. We must separate the real herdsmen from the obnoxious politicians that steal into their midst to advance hideous political interests. We must separate the herdsmen from the criminals that now adopt them as cover to commit crimes against law abiding citizens and the nation. We must sieve the real herdsmen from the illegal immigrants that hide behind them to commit atrocious acts. The state must be firm and decisive in tackling crimes irrespective of who commits it and go after these criminals. The nation must put its best marksmen on the trail of these killers and wipe them out with the ferocity we tackled Boko Haram. Nothing should be spared to achieve this target. We may even be surprised that most of the crimes that now wear herdsmen tags are committed by devilish politicians and their cahoots who seek the liberalization of blood-letting for the survival of their cannibalistic political permutations. There are no doubts about it.
That done, I believe the greater role in this cleansing falls on the Fulanis themselves. They must see the need to shake off this badge of shame and expose those who mask their devilish interests behind the Fulani identity. The Fulanis as a race, must screen themselves and expose those that wear the Fulani mask to perpetrate crimes against other citizens. They must audit themselves to reveal the real, law-abiding Fulani and separate them from the gangsters and terrorists giving them a bad name. They must bring out those that perpetrate crimes from among their midst and hand them over to the state for prosecution. That is the easiest way to rescue their faces from what is certainly a politically orchestrated blackmail. The Fulani must work hard to cleanse its tarred image by taking deliberate steps to expose its hideous members that spill blood for tokenistic reasons and the government must decisively deal with these criminals. That remains the best way to defeat the syndicated political undertones behind the herdsmen politics that is being played in Nigeria today.
As a nation, we must face the problem squarely by not politicizing them. We must treat problems as they come and not color them to suit nefarious interests. The so-called herdsmen issue is not political but criminal issues that must be treated accordingly. Trying to give it political undertones so as to harvest from its messy aftermath is a sure way of making the problem intractable. The government must unleash the full force of the state on criminals, wherever they are and deal with them with the decisive emphasis they require and citizens must refrain from playing into the traps of obnoxious politicians who are desperate to twist every issue for their asinine benefits.
Peter Claver Oparah
E-mail: [email protected]