THE DSS STATEMENT AND THE FULANI HERDSMEN PROBLEM
This writer knows a reasonable amount of well educated and well intentioned Hausa-Fulani. This article puts to light the same things a hood number of them have commented against.
Throughout history the major premise of violent conflict has always been the contention for resources. People groups, communities, and nations have gone into full scale war over material resources. This is not uncommon.
More than half of the wars Israel has fought with its neighbors for instance are directly traceable to skirmishes over water or land.
Fulani herdsmen and farmers conflict in Nigeria was partly a land resource based conflict predominantly in the North of the country. It was once customary and understandable that herdsmen and local farmers would have some sort of strife as their interests, though complimentary, looked mutually exclusive more often than not. The herdsmen supply much needed beef through the cows they lead around, while the farmers produce food items the beef compliments. This, in theory, is straightforward and facile, the practice of it, on the other hand, is another thing entirely.
According to a Human Rights Watch report of December 2013 violence between Fulani herdsmen, farmers and local communities had killed 3,000 people since 2010. Fulani herders and farmers are in constant violent conflict over herdsmen’s increased need for access to grazing lands against the expansion of farmland by farmers into corridors traditionally used by the Fulani. Farmers accuse the Fulani herders of allowing their animals to feed on still-growing crops and contamination of community watering-places. The Fulani herders in turn accuse the farmers of denying them access to grazing areas when alternatives cannot be found.
It is comprehensible that there would be a certain amount of strife between farmers who plow their ancestral farmlands and herdsmen whose livestock intrude on such lands eating the crops and destroying the remnants, however, what is happening with the crises between herdsmen and farmers has seen a profound degeneration, one that portends unimaginable repercussions.
Previously, the conflicts between the Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farmers was largely in the core north of Nigeria. There were skirmishes in the Middle Belt, but they were few and far between. Now these conflicts have gone beyond mere skirmishes and Fulani herdsmen wielding sophisticated weapons move into entire communities, in a mode of operation that is similar to the terrorist group Boko Haram, and ransack them while killing and raping innocent people.
However, unlike the Boko Haram menace which is localized these marauders rampage through communities and have now spread their activities to the South of the country.
With the massacres of thousands of innocent people in recent years (incidents like the Dogo Na Hawa massacre of over 500 indigenous people in Plateau State and the recent genocide of multiplied hundreds of Idomas in Agatu, Benue State readily come to mind) there has been the sustained question by well meaning Nigerians as to how best the situation can be handled.
There have been systematic and sustained killings going on for many years in places like Plateau State and in many other places where Fulani take their cows for grazing.
In the past few months there has been an upsurge in sporadic killings and the wanton destruction of communities in many different places across the country. The kidnap of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation in his country home in Ondo State was traced to the Fulani. So was the kidnap and murder of a traditional ruler from Delta State. After the murder of a 65 year old farmer in Edo State and the subsequent discovery of his mutilated body by relatives the youth in the community burnt down a Fulani enclave after it was learnt that the perpetrators came from there and every single Fulani had subsequently taken to their heels.
With the situation getting out of hand responsible citizens have looked for succor from the government but recent events have brought out a very ominous pattern.
Apart from the fact that there have not been any arrests after the pogroms committed by many of these Fulani herdsmen it would seem that the relevant security agencies have taken sides with the criminal elements among them.
After a series of protests by some farmers over the activities of the Fulani herdsmen in Awgu, Enugu State a few weeks ago 75 of these farmers were arrested and detained without charge.
It is not clear if a single Fulani was invited for questioning.
In the most recent of ambivalences the Directorate of State Services has gone on to make a very callous, irresponsible and inflammatory statement, to the effect that a group of “Biafran activists” murdered and buried five Fulanis in a mass grave.
In a statement signed by its spokesperson, Tony Opuiyo, the DSS said the killing of the Hausa-Fulani residents has triggered tension among different communities in Abia State.
Although Mr. Opuiyo said five men were killed alongside several other unidentified persons, only the names of four individuals were provided.
“The Service has uncovered the heinous role played by members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), in the abduction/kidnap of five Hausa-Fulani residents, namely Mohammed Gainako, Ibrahim Mohammed, Idris Yakubu and Isa Mohammed Rago at Isuikwuato LGA in Abia State,” Mr. Opuiyo said.
“The abducted men were later discovered at the Umuanyi forest, Abia State, where they were suspected to have been killed by their abductors and buried in shallow graves, amidst fifty (50) other shallow graves of unidentified persons.
“Arrest and investigation conducted so far, revealed that elements within the IPOB, carried out this dastardly action”, he added.
Mr. Opuiyo said he was alerting Nigerians to the ‘divisive’ and ‘gruesome’ activities of IPOB operatives.
“It is pertinent therefore to alert the general public that IPOB, is gradually showing its true divisive colour and objectives, while steadily embarking on gruesome actions in a bid to ignite ethnic terrorism and mistrust amongst non-indigenes in the South-East region and other parts of the country.
“Following this act, tension is currently rife among communal stakeholders in the State with possibilities of spillover to other parts of country”, Mr. Opuiyo said.
Even if we are to disregard the fact that the aforementioned group is one which has no history of engaging in violence and is simply fighting for self-determination even as its members have been tortured and killed by security forces while having peaceful demonstrations the DSS statement is still reckless, unconscionable, and morally reprehensible.
In the face of its apparent inability to stop the murderous rampage by the criminal elements within the ranks of Fulani herdsmen, or worse still, it’s complicity, the DSS does not have the moral right to speak about the fanning of mistrust and the igniting of ethnic terrorism in any form.
To then make such a brazen statement in the face of its incompetence in providing adequate security for the citizenry it is meant to protect is taking irresponsibility to previously unimaginable lows.
Just what is the thinking of the authorities in allowing their spokesman make such unfounded and highly polarizing claims? And even if it is valid is there no better way for such information to be managed in such a tense environment already deeply divided along the fault lines that are so apparent in the Nigerian society?
Why have they not made arrests and intelligent statements concerning the internecions and decimations of entire communities and families by Fulani marauders? Children in diapers are slaughtered like fowls along with their family members and burnt alive in their multiplied hundreds. The loss of lives by these vampires in just the past few months has hit record highs and is numbering in their thousands, and all the security agencies have the nerve to tell us is that the perpetrators are foreigners.
For the avoidance of doubt, I believe in the sanctity of human life, and I believe that it must be respected. Murder in any shape, form or guise is completely unacceptable. For this reason I find some things absolutely befuddling.
One thousand Shiite Muslims were massacred in Zaria and buried in mass graves. Thousands more Nigerians of every other ethnic stock have been brutally raped and murdered by Fulani herdsmen. The International Terror Index has listed the Fulani militia in Nigeria as the “fourth most deadly terror organization in the world”; and the DSS has said absolutely nothing about these.
Why has the DSS only just found its voice? The double standards here are just too acute to be swept under the carpet.
Are the security agencies attempting to serve sectional interests to the detriment of everyone else they swore to protect?
Anyone can readily do the research and see how much an AK 47 rifle costs in financial terms. Havocscope, a global black market information site puts the average cost of AK 47 rifles worldwide at $534 per gun. Other unconfirmed sources put the cost of rounds at between $3 and $5 for a box of 20.
The question then becomes, “how do these mostly indigent nomads afford to buy and use these weapons?”
Anyone that has even a superficial knowledge of the Fulani will know that it is customary for their elite to own heads of cattle. Between the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano, the President of Nigeria and all the other members of the Hausa-Fulani elite across Nigeria there is the ownership of multiplied hundreds of thousands of cattle.
These cattle are not ranched and so are given to Fulani nomads to lead about.
Following the rapid desertification of the core north of Nigeria many of these nomads are heading south with their cattle in search of grazing fields…which are fast becoming killing fields.
Nigeria is a country that is currently a melting pot of a very dangerous brew of things. With the current unemployment situation, the acute fuel scarcity, hunger, desperation, epileptic power supply, corruption, exploitation of ethno-centric and religious leanings, mass illiteracy, inept and arrogant political class/ leaders bereft of both ability and vision, their crass impunity, and culture of mediocrity, the flagrant disregard of due process and court orders, and the continuous violation of the constitutionally backed secularity of state we already have a very full plate.
To now add a divisive and sectional security apparatus intent on further stoking well lit fires will lead to a conflagration.
The questions at this juncture would now be, “Is this what they want, or are they obtuse to the point of not realizing what is bleeding obvious?”