The New Terror Threat

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Monday Discourse

 

The average Nigerian glibly calls it Fulani herdsmen attacks. The authorities see it differently – a mere internal security challenge with ethnic colouration. But the discerning see the face of an emerging terror threat with all its tricks and trappings. In this discourse, Shola Oyeyipo, Segun James and Jameelah Sanda attempt to dissect the undercurrents of these rising attacks by so-called, yet heavily armed, cattle rearers
Not until mid-last week, President Muhammadu Buhari had kept mute over the marauding Fulani Herdsmen, who in some instances sacked an entire community, killing even toddlers in their moments of insanity. The encroachment of Fulani herdsmen on the farms of southerners in the name of grazing had long existed, usually forcing a clash between the farmers and the herdsmen. Save for Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who condemned the recent attacks in all their forms penultimate weekend at a Town Hall meeting in Lagos, the silence of the presidency, Buhari in particular, had been suspect because he is also of the Fulani extraction, a majority of the people believed.
Thus, the president’s handling of this unprovoked violence against Southern farmers by the Fulani herdsmen had angered quite a few because it is the same way he has been handling a few other matters in the country, often acting as if he didn’t owe the people the right to know. The lingering fuel scarcity, which is still biting really hard, comes handy. As president and substantive minister of petroleum, it was not out of place that at the point the crisis peaked, the president should have come out to address the nation, situate the problems and allay the fears of the people. It is called strategic communication.
But till date, President Buhari has not seen the need to speak to the Nigerian people on the fuel scarcity. The same approach he seemed to initially embrace on the Fulani herdsmen violence until the recent reaction was forced out of him, supposedly so. Unfortunately, not much is seen to have been achieved with the threat of landing heavy on the herdsmen and insidiously, the nation is evidently faced with another terror threat in the guise of Fulani herdsmen.
The violent activities of Fulani herdsmen have tarried for a while but it has always been scantily reported and in low dimensions. But in recent times, the record of their violent attacks in various parts of Nigeria is mounting daily and has continued to generate grave concerns amongst the well-meaning Nigerians. The height of their mindlessness however came to the fore on September 21, 2015, when herdsmen reportedly numbering over 20, abducted ‎a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Samuel Oluyemisi Falae on his 77th birthday after invading his farm in Ilado village, Akure North area of Ondo State.
Less than two hours after the incident, the kidnappers demanded a N100m ransom ‎but about 96 hours, Falae, who was also a former Finance Minister, regained his freedom after he was reportedly rescued ‎by a team of security operatives led by the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, as directed by President Buhari. Following the abduction, which sources scornfully alleged was a subtle way of getting their share of the N100million the elder statesman admitted to have received from the embattled former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, Afenifere called for the expulsion of the herdsmen from the South-west if they would continue to jeopardise peace in the region.
‎But in what seemed like the Fulani herdsmen had a score to settle with Falae, after abducting him from his farm at Ilado last October and releasing him three days later with a ransom, they returned to the farm in April 2016 to abduct one of his security guards and the victim was later found dead, two days later in a river near the farm. Falae was said to have had trouble with herdsmen, who grazed their cattle on his farm.
Less than 10 days after the Falae abduction, gunmen numbering about five also abducted Oba Adebisi Oba­demi, the traditional ruler of Apaa-Bunu community in Kabba-Bunu local government area of Kogi State. The traditional ruler was picked up at about 7.30 a.m. on his way to Odo-Ape, a suburb community close to his domain and was whisked to an unknown destination on a motorcycle. Even before the issue started to assume a national threat, residents and travelers between Ondo and Kogi State that have had encounters with the hoodlums, who carry out random attacks and retire to the bushes, where they reside would have sour tales to tell.
 
The Road to Golgotha
Across the Nasarawa-Benue states borderline, Agatu was still hundreds of miles away but passengers on the motorway were already getting an eyeful of savagery. In a village farm with fresh ridges heralding a new planting season, a young Fulani herder perched on a cashew tree, his cattle trampling below him. 
Armed with a machete, he was hacking away at the lush branches, felling them to the ground for the animals to feed. The farm owners stood outside their huts and like the passing motorists, could only watch helplessly as the cash crop was stripped bare and their yam seedlings destroyed.
The routes to Makurdi, Otukpo and Apa were characterised by the same landscape and scenario. Along both sides of the road were hundreds of farmlands with ridges and all dotted with cashew trees, mangoes and oranges – tempting sights to nomadic herdsmen and their livestock! 
Provocative as the first cross-border scene was, the young Fulani herder on the cashew tree was simply conducting his business in a peaceful manner, going by the benchmark of good relationship between farmers and armed herders in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria.
Weeks ago, the Agatu region of Benue State became a red spot on the world map when Fulani cattle herdsmen 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. About 300 villagers were reportedly massacred in the first killing spree with heavy casualties recorded in communities like Aila, Okokolo, Akwu, Adagbo, Odugbehon and Odejo.
With soldiers from 82 Division Enugu stationed in Aila and Obagaji, the headquarters of Agatu Local Government Area, the alternative access road from Apa was a connection of snaky farm roads that crisscrossed several abandoned villages. 
From Aila to Obagaji, Akwu to Odejo, the invaders burned down houses, churches and police posts. Here and there corpses were seen lying in the most grotesque positions. The totally dried corpses in various stages of decomposition were pointers that the killings must have been done at different times. The gory sights equally suggested that the marauders kept coming back for returnees, undeterred by the presence of soldiers.
Agatu is not the first homeland in Benue State to receive what is now referred to as baptism of fire from herdsmen. Between 2011 and 2014, suspected herdsmen attacked dozens of communities in the four local government areas of Guma, Gwer-East, Buruku and Gwer-West, some more than once.
The hometown of the late Tor Tiv IV, Alfred Akawe Torkula, in Guma was razed. Similarly, houses, food barns and farmlands were burnt and scores killed in communities like Tse-Aderogo, Tse-Akenyi, Umenger, Angyom, Aondona, Anyiase, Adaka, Gbajimba, Tyoughtee, Gbaange, Chembe, Abeda, Mbachoon, Tongov and Mbapuu.
A disturbing pattern may have appeared with the large-scale invasion of Agatu. Whilst in the past, the herdsmen would attack, kill and disappear, this time with Agatu they appeared to have come with an occupation agenda. The inability of the Nigerian soldiers deployed in Agatu to arrest even one attacker has fueled suspicions of complicity by security agents. Just as the dust is settling on the Agatu killings, another killing were reported in Enugu with over 40 persons reportedly killed by some Fulani herdsmen at Nimbo in Uzo- Uwani Local Government Area of the state. 
The killing came barely 24 hours after stories filtered to the people that about 500 heavily-armed Fulani herdsmen had sneaked into the community preparatory to launch an attack. True to intelligence report, about seven villages in Nimbo (Nimbo Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Enugu Nimbo, Umuome and Ugwuachara) were attacked. 
Ten residential houses and a church, Christ Holy Church International, aka Odozi Obodo, were also said to have been burnt by the herdsmen just as vehicles and motorcycles were destroyed and domestic animals killed. A young man, whose name was yet to be ascertained, was burnt inside a commuter bus belonging to one Ejima, son of a prominent man popularly called ‘Are you there’ near the Christ Holy Church, Nimbo. 
According to Ezugwu said: “I was coming out from the house when I heard the community bell ringing. I was going with a friend to know what the bell was all about, only to see about 40 Fulani herdsmen armed with sophisticated guns and machetes. 
“They pursued us, killed my friend and shot at me several times but missed. They caught up with me and used machetes on me until I lost consciousness.” He said one of them later discovered that he was alive and called on the others to finish him off. They ignored him. He said he crawled until a Good Samaritan helped him to the hospital.
Another one had his stomach ripped open, spilling his intestines. The traditional ruler of Nimbo, Igwe John Akor, cried that when the attackers struck at about 7.00 am, they had left for the farms. “Most of those who were killed died in the early hours of the morning. We are still counting our losses. We have not started going into the farms and bushes to look for our dead brothers and sisters. 
“When the situation becomes very calm, we will start looking for the rest of the victims. For now, our prayer is that the federal government sends security men to restore peace.”
Also, the traditional ruler of Abbi community, Eze Fidelis Igwe, complained that his community had over the years suffered untold hardship in the hands of Fulani herdsmen, whom he accused of maiming and gang-raping “our women at farmlands” in addition to robbing and kidnapping his people or stealing and destroying cash crops in the community. 
“This is the fourth time Fulani herdsmen have invaded our community in three years. The losses are too much for us to bear. The remaining people of the community have now taken refuge in neighbouring communities due to fear of another invasion by the herdsmen who do not give signs before striking. We have made several appeals to the Police, Uzo-Uwani Local Government and Enugu State government demanding for the Fulani herdsmen to leave our community, but nothing has happened.” 
There had been anxiety in Nimbo following reports that about 500 Fulani herdsmen were assembling to attack the area. It was gathered that fellow Fulani herdsmen at Adani had imported about 500 others from Nasarawa State to help them invade Nimbo community on the grounds that some of their cattle were missing in the area.
According to sources, Chairman of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, Cornell Onwubuya, had alerted Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the state Commissioner of Police, Ekechukwu Nwodibo, of the threat. Onwubuya was said to have further alerted other stakeholders, who met leaders of the Fulani community in Enugu State on the impending attack, but no action was taken.
To the Secretary General of Ohanaeze, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, the continuous killing of people across the country by herdsmen without any response from the federal government is a failure of governance. He said: “We are very sad and very disappointed that all over the country, not just the South-east, these killings by Fulani herdsmen have continued unabated and nothing concrete is being done by the federal government. 
“The first act of governance is protection of lives and property. It is complete failure of governance. There has been no response from the federal government and this is allowing the Fulani herdsmen to continue the killing spree. Everybody is worried about the poor attitude of the federal government to this massacre across the country. Boko Haram is operating in the North East and Fulani herdsmen are killing people all over the country. It is not the herdsmen that should be held responsible, but owners of the cattle. 
“The herdsmen are under the instruction of highly-placed Fulani people who own the cattle. They are heavily armed. How many cows can the herdsmen buy? Federal government should stop this nonsense before it causes a catastrophe.” 
Sport of Blood
Looking at some of the records of violence linked to the herdsmen, they are no less the face of a new terror, if they have not been infiltrated by the traditional terrorists. In July 2012, Senator Gyang Dantong and the Majority Leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Gyang Fulani died in a stampede that ensued while attending the mass burial of about 50 victims of attack by Fulani herdsmen at Maseh village in Riyom LGA, ‎Plateau State.
In Ndokwa Local Government area of Delta State, 27 persons were reportedly killed in April 2013, after the herdsmen were confronted by youths. Then Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan had to forward a bill to the state House of Assembly to protect Deltans from the Fulani herdsmen.
On April 23, 2013, 10 farmers were killed in an attack in Mbasenge community, Guma L.G.A, Benue State by suspected herdsmen. On May 7, 2013, 47 mourners were gunned down by suspected herdsmen in Agatu while burying two policemen. A week later, precisely on May 14, 2013, over 200 herdsmen surrounded Ekwo-Okpanchenyi, Agatu LGA, Benue State killing 40 people and on July 5, 2013, 20 people were killed in a conflict between Tiv farmers and herdsmen at Nzorov, Guma LGA, Benue State.
As the killing spree continued, on July 28, 2013, while retaliating an alleged killing of 112 cows by native, herdsmen invaded two villages in Agatu and killed eight villagers. On November 7, 2013 another attack was carried out on Ikpele and Okpopolo communities in Agatu, killing seven persons and displacing over 6000 inhabitants. Thirty six people lost their lives and seven villages were overrun in an outbreak of fighting between herdsmen and locals in Agatu on November 9, 2013.
Then, on July 21, 2013, five herdsmen wielding AK 47 rifles ambushed a 14-seater Hiace bus travelling from Onicha-Ugbo to Asaba, Delta State, dispossessing the occupants of their belongings and inflicting machete cuts on them. Herdsmen attacked Motokun village, Patigi local government area, Kwara State in June 2015. Oro-Ago, Ifelodun local government area of Kwara State was also attacked and the same herdsmen also attacked Ninji and Ropp villages in Plateau State, killing 27 persons. The same group reportedly murdered no fewer than 70 persons, believed to be Christians.
In September 2015, an attack by some Fulani herdsmen on Onitsha Ukwuani in Ndokwa West local government area of Delta State left about three persons dead. On the same day, a middle-aged woman was raped and subsequently killed by three Fulani herdsmen in Edo State and on October 2, 2015, the marauding assailants raped, killed Ogun Residents and farmers.
Residents of Ulaja and Ojeh communities in Dekina local government area of Kogi State had their fair share of the violent activities of the herdsmen in November 2015, when the town was attacked and about 22 men and women hacked down. Then on December 1, 2015 a man was killed in Ofagbe community, Isoko North council area of Delta State and on January 24, 2016, a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and 29 others were killed in Adamawa State by suspected Fulani herdsmen, when they attacked Demsare, Wunamokoh, Dikajam and Taboungo in what was believed to be a vengeance mission over an existing feud with farmers.
As the killing went on unabated, on February 8, 2016, herdsmen killed 10 persons in Tom-Anyiin, Tom-Ataan, Mbaya and Tombu in the Buruku local government area of Benue State and three days later, on February 11, 2016, they perpetrated another attack on Abbi community in Uzo-Uwani, Enugu killing two siblings, burnt houses and motorcycles.
In one of the attacks with the highest casualty rate, on February 29, 2016, over 500 locals were killed and 7000 residents were displaced in an attack in Agatu LGA by the herdsmen. On March 9, 2016, eight residents were killed during attacks on Ngorukgan, Tse Chia, Deghkia and Nhumbe, Logo LGA, Benue State. A clash between herdsmen and farmers in Benue led to the killings of APC youth leader, Mr. Aondohemba Kasa and three others on April 5, 2016.
Following the killing of a 64-year old farmer, identified as Alex in Edo State on April 9, 2016, a Fulani camp was razed by an irate mob. On April 12, 2016, Fulani herdsmen attacked Dori and Mesuma villages in Taraba and killed at least 15 people and on April 19, 2016, a band of herdsmen invaded farms in Lagun village, Lagelu local council Oyo State and killed one Mr. Jimmy Aido.
On March 27, 2016, tension mounted in the agrarian community of Ugwuneshi in Awgu local government of Enugu State, when soldiers arrested 76 Enugu farmers and dumped them in prison for challenging Fulani herdsmen as the rural dwellers expressed anger over their kinsmen languishing in federal prison in Afara, Umuahia, Abia State.
The farmers, including youths were rounded up by men in military uniform and bundled into trucks only to surface at Umuahia, where they were divided into three groups and arraigned at magistrate courts. They were whisked away to prison custody as none of the magistrates agreed to grant them bail.
Earlier in April, member representing Ethiope East constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Evans Iwhurie, said Fulani herdsmen shot dead a staff of the Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka and a farmer at their farms in cold blood. He gave the name of one of them as, Mr. Francis Okotie, 52 year old father of eight, who was a senior staff of the university attached to the university library. According to Iwhurie, Okotie was shot twice, on his arm and on the back of his head at his plantain and palm oil plantation farm, where he had gone to fumigate.
The daring herdsmen had on Saturday, April 16, abducted the Enugu State Auditor along Nsukka-Adani express road. They demanded N5m as ransom for his release. He was later released but after purportedly parting with about N700, 000.
Then on April 21, another non-academic staff of the university, Mr. John Ogeleke, was kidnapped at Kwale, Ndokwa West local government area of the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen. He was on his way towards Ogume from Kwale, when he was reportedly snatched at gun point from his Nissan Pathfinder jeep. He was yet to be released as at press time.
Then more recently, on April 25, 2016, while the people of Enugu State were already disenchanted about the tension and disruption of their means of livelihood, disaster struck again in the sleepy Ukpabi Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani council of Enugu State, when the herdsmen attacked the area, killing residents, particularly farmers. They destroyed property worth millions of naira. The number of people that lost their lives was put at about 48, while scores sustained varying degrees of injuries and a lot of houses were razed.
While the people were yet to recover from the confusion created by recent attacks, the herdsmen launched fresh attacks in Umuchigbo, another community in the state. Arase was about the same time at Nimbo to assess the level of damage caused by the previous damage.
 
An Instructive Flashback  
In 2000, some Fulani herdsmen invaded Oyo State, leading to the fratricide between Yoruba farmers and Fulani herdsmen. The situation was so protracted that General Buhari-led the arewa (northern) community leadership to the then Governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina at the Government House, Agodi Ibadan, for a resolution of the crisis. Here is the story of how Adesina solved the crisis as recounted by his Chief Press Secretary, Kehinde Olaosebikan.
According to him, Adesina, “Buhari actually telephoned the governor that he was leading a team to his office. In less than 30 minutes after the general informed the governor of his visit, we noticed that the entire secretariat was already filled with lorry loads of our brothers from the North. This created some tension but we kept our calm. At about 2 p.m., Buhari arrived in a long convoy at the governor’s office in company of the former governor of Lagos State, General Buba Marwa, Alhaji Aliko Muhammed, Alhaji Abdulrazak and Alhaji Hassan.
“They all wore long faces. In fact, the anger in them was palpable as all pleasantries extended to them were ignored. ‘This is trouble’ was the expression on the faces of all of us in the governor’s office. Shortly afterwards, the state Director of State Security Service (SSS) and Commissioner of Police arrived. But their presence did not change anything particular on the fears that had already gripped majority of us. The two security chiefs did not come with any operatives, they came almost alone. 
The meeting was called to order after Lam walked into the Executive Chambers. Introductions over, Buhari spoke on their mission to the governor’s office. Emitting fire, the general accused Lam and the government of Oyo State of complicity in the killing of over 68 Fulani people in Oke Ogun area and perversion of justice. 
His words: “Your Excellency, our visit here is to discuss with you and your government our displeasure about the incident of clashes between two peoples… the Fulani cattle rearers and merchants are today being harassed, attacked and killed like in Saki. In the month of May, 2000, 68 bodies of Fulani cattle rearers were recovered and buried under the supervision and protection from a team of Mobile Police from Oyo State Command. 
“That some arrests were made by Oyo State Police Command in the massacre and they immediate released without court trial. This was said to have been ordered by Oyo State authorities and they were so released to their amazement. The release of the arrested suspects gave the clear impression that the authorities are backing and protecting them to continue the unjust and illegal killings of Fulani cattle rearers…”
Buhari, he said, therefore wanted immediate stoppage of the killings, justice and compensation to the Fulani. “As weighty and indicting as Buhari’s allegations were, Lam remained unperturbed. He fired back with his own well-coordinated arsenals. Lam identified all the points raised by Buhari and simply asked the heads of the organizations directly involved to respond to the allegations. 
“First to speak was the Commissioner of Police, who debunked all the claims. Instead of the allegation that the natives were killing Fulani, the commissioner said pointedly that the opposite was the case. ‘The killing of the natives by the Fulani was duly reported to the police and, of course, we can’t make arrest because, as soon as they kill, they migrate to other areas. Who are you going to arrest? That is the problem.
“On the killing of Fulani, which he said was as result of “piled up anger, the commissioner disclosed that arrests had been made and the suspects were in police custody. Next was the Director of SSS, who equally debunked the allegations by Buhari. ‘The natives don’t have problem with the Fulani, who are resident but those who are coming in, they don’t care about anybody. They just go ahead and when they graze the natives farms, whoever cares to challenge them runs into trouble. 
You said 68 people were killed and people driven away. I am not saying there were no killings but they cannot be more than five. The petition is on the harsh side, there is nothing like that. 
Not done yet, Lam called in his Deputy, Barrister Iyiola Oladokun; his SSG, Chief Michael Koleoso, both from Oke Ogun, and the chairman of one of the affected local government areas, Mr. Ademola Alalade. They stated the true position of things, corroborating the submissions of the security chiefs. 
At this point, all the tensions and apprehensions evaporated. Trust Lam any day, he must rub it in. He spoke for about 20 minutes and the Generals were at the edge of their seats for the entire period. They were like chicken that had just been thoroughly beaten by the rain, when Lam said, ‘Before I thank you for this visit, you have come to tell me something. I also want to tell you something and that something is to make an appeal.
‘General Buhari has been a former Head of State, Brigadier Marwa has governed Lagos for some time and with credibility… so you are national leaders of this country. Even though by accident of birth, you are from the North, you can be born anywhere; maybe next time when I am coming to the world, I will be born in the North or the South-South. 
‘My appeal will be that effort must be made to unite this country and that will be in the best interest of all Nigerians. I am appealing to the Arewa Consultative Forum, under which auspices our distinguished Nigerians are here. In recent times, they have been sending wrong signals to a number of us who, believe in the unity and peace of Nigeria; you have been too critical of the efforts of the federal government. I am saying this because Nigeria, at this point, cannot afford to break and the words you northern leaders utter are very weighty. In the South here, we normally analyze them critically.’ 
“On all the allegations, he said: ‘From what they have written in the petition, this government is completely blameless because we don’t interfere either with the judiciary or with the police functions. I always preach peaceful co-existence in Oyo State and Nigeria as a whole. We are all Nigerians and that is what we have been preaching all along and we shall continue to be Nigerians, no matter the present or immediate problems which will be solved by the grace of Allah. 
‘I want to say also that we really have to appeal to our people, the itinerant Bororo people that they should observe less aggression. It is not good, it is not right just coming from somewhere, then you just pass through farm lands cultivated may be with the person’s life savings and then overnight everything is gone. That is not right, even Allah does not approve of that. 
We even wonder when they talk about these people carrying dangerous weapons; I say do they really believe in Allah? When you just take life like that and go away! Are we not forbidden not to take human life? So I think General Buhari, General Marwa, you have to be educating them… It is my pleasure to inform you that at the Presidential Lodge, we have made some arrangements for refreshments so that before you go we can refresh together.’ 
“Buhari and his team did not wait for any refreshments. They came in angry and left bewildered. But for the maturity and wisdom of the late former Governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina, Nigeria could have been plunged into a second civil war,” he narrated.
 
In Buhari’s Nigeria
Today, the Fulani have literally taken what was perpetrated in Oyo State in 2000 to other parts of the country. The situation is even made worse by the fact that Buhari, who led the delegation of Arewa leaders to Oyo State, is now the president. The activities of the Fulani Bororo have not only caused anxieties all over the country, but his reluctance and forced reaction to the killings allegedly perpetrated by his Fulani brothers have left Nigerians miffed, wondering if this is not a signal that the president has begun to exhibit oddly, his sectional sentimentalism.
 
Now, the Entire Country is worried!
Angry at the unrelenting and audacious activities of the Fulani herdsmen, Nigerians from different walks of life have continued to express their disappointment at the handling of the situation so far. Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose described as worrisome, the initial silence of President Buhari on the alleged killing of harmless Nigerians by Fulani Herdsmen, saying; “wanton murder of over 300 Agatu people of Benue State and the silence of the federal government on this genocide is a clear invitation to chaos.”
The governor cried that the activities of the Fulani Herdsmen are
inimical to the revival of agriculture in the country said. “Farmlands
costing billions of naira have been destroyed in states in the South-west, South-east and North Central zones of the country. One wonders how Nigerians can go back to farming, when those already in the farms are losing billions of naira worth of crops to destruction oftheir farmlands by the Fulani herdsmen and the federal government is not doing anything about it.”
Fayose expressed his sympathy to the victims and their families and warned that the federal government must stop playing the ostrich to the menace of the Fulani herdsmen.
“If in the last one week, over 300 Nigerians were allegedly killed, several villages razed, with farmlands destroyed by Fulani herdsmen
and President Buhari is comfortable junketing from one country to the
other, something is definitely wrong somewhere.
“This is because in saner climes, no country will have over 300 of its
citizens reportedly killed with thousand others displaced and the
leader of such country will not rush home from wherever he is to take
charge of the situation by himself,” the governor said.
He said President Buhari must be reminded how he led a delegation of
Arewa leaders to Ibadan on October 13, 2000, to confront the then
Governor of Oyo State, Adesina over alleged killing of Fulani herdsmen in Saki, Oke Ogun area of the state.
“If 16 years ago, President Buhari could be so concerned about the killing of Fulani herdsmen in Oyo State such that he, as a private citizen led Arewa leaders to Ibadan to show their anger, why is the President silent now that Fulani Herdsmen are the ones allegedly killing people, raping women and destroying farmlands in Benue State in particular and other states in the country?
“Is the President unmindful of the possibility of Nigerians seeing his
silence as conspiracy? Most importantly, what has Boko Haram caused Nigeria that the Fulani Herdsmen are not also causing now?”
He challenged the umbrella body of cattle breeders, the Miyetti
Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in particular and Northern leaders in general to wade into the persistent
involvement of herdsmen in attack on communities, killing and raping
of Nigerians. “Nigeria is still battling Boko Haram and the country cannot afford another regime of anarchy, which this persistence killing of Nigerians by the Fulani Herdsmen can cause.”
Also miffed by what is fast becoming an ugly trend, Senators from the South-east region of the country, under the umbrella of the South-east Senate Caucus have warned that the unity of Nigeria was under threat if the federal government failed to urgently address the massacre in Enugu as perpetrated by Fulani militias.
In a statement read on their behalf by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, at the end of an emergency meeting held in Abuja, they vehemently condemned the attack, which reportedly left over 50 persons dead and scores displaced, while also calling for a summit of governors of the South-east and South-south states on the issue.
They advised that the meeting should be made mandatory for governors, members of the National and state Houses of Assembly, socio-cultural associations, traditional rulers and major stakeholders. The lawmakers said the emergency summit will look into and evaluate the very dangerous situation and seek a coordinated response that will ensure the security of lives and property of their people.
“We can no longer sit and watch while our people are daily slaughtered like fowls without even attracting the cursory routine condemnation by the presidency. We are even more appalled that despite the alarm raised by the Ukpabi Nimbo community of an imminent attack by the Fulani herdsmen and the associated vague assurances by the chairman of Fulani community in Enugu that such attack would not happen, yet the security agencies failed to prevent the attack that happened two days after the alarm.
“It is disheartening what is happening, and somebody has to take responsibility. That somebody has to be the institution of the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.
Also, in what aptly captures the overall feeling of affected farmers across Nigeria, the chairman, Ondo State Agricultural Commodities Association and his secretary, Akinola Olotu and Obaweya Gbenga, respectively highlighted their pains and described as “colossal losses,” the destructive effects of the activities of the herdsmen on agricultural produce as they continue with untamed invasion of farms in Ondo.
“By cattle grazing the farms and trampling on essential crops, including maize, crops worth millions of naira were destroyed by Fulani-herded cattle,” he said, demanding N2bn compensation from the federal government for the colossal loss suffered by cocoa and oil palm plantations affected during the rampage. The meeting was attended by 24 agricultural commodity associations.
Talking to THISDAY, first son of former Biafran leader, late Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, lawyer and right activist, Mr. Debe Ojukwu, expressed worry about the development. He harped on the urgent need to strike a balance that can facilitate peace.
“I’m worried and it should be stopped because we are talking about means of livelihood. The means of livelihood of people in the East is farming. The means of livelihood of people in the North is shepherding but you cannot sacrifice one for the other. You cannot say because you need pasture, you roam about to feed your animals and then you trample of somebody’s farm and destroy the whole crops. It is not done!
“So, normally the problem is because we over-concentrate our energy in one place. In London and all those places, the farming population is usually about one or two per cent and they are the richest. Somebody has a grazing field, he has farm, he has about 300 herds of cattle and then he buys fodder to feed the cattle there. He doesn’t start parading the streets of London because you want to feed your cattle; you don’t do that! So, rights of the people in the South should be respected and the violence that is attendant is something that should be discouraged.”
A Lagos-based businessman, Ben Chuka Eche, who is a native of Awgu Egbeleli town, is one of the very concerned persons that have been working round the clock with relevant authorities to ensure that peace returns to every part of the state currently under the Fulani siege. In his opinion, the activities of the herdsmen are assuming a very dangerous proportion and must be checked by the federal government so as to allow the people return to their normal lifestyle.
Narrating the ordeals of people in affected villages, Eche said the bane of the conflict is that farmers have no means of protecting their crops because the herdsmen are heavily armed with guns and other dangerous weapons and even when they report to the police, they are challenged because of access to the farmland and as such, the herdsmen carry out attacks on the people freely.
“Previously, herdsmen used to wander with their cattle but the difference was that they were afraid of the villagers and respect their farm lands, mostly the pasture along the highways and unarmed with only the sticks. Now, it is a total change. The herdsmen are armed with Ak-47 and all manner of locally made guns and wander mostly inside the farmlands thereby increasing the friction with farmers because of destruction of the crops and their livelihood.
“They commit a lot of atrocities. They kill and rape women. In my community now, women cannot go to farm unaccompanied. A few months ago, a man was killed and buried in a shallow grave. Mind you, there are also random kidnapping and armed robbery attributed to this group. The leadership, as matter of urgency, must talk about it now. And as expected, the federal government must take the lead in finding lasting solutions,” he bemoaned.‎
Eche said the Igwe, the traditional ruler and elders have tried to engage the herdsmen leaders to appeal to them to leave the community but unsuccessful, adding that the federal government should articulate a long term strategy that must remove wandering over land looking for pasturage for their cows as a way to avoid the clashes.
“Like other farmers and businessmen, they should be encouraged to approach leading finance houses and banks to borrow to establish ranches. It is a more progressive way to deal with this issue. Meanwhile they should vacate illegal occupation of other people’s land to avoid conflict.
“There’s need for us – leadership of this country – to fashion out the strategy on how to manage the issue of herdsmen. South-east Governors Forum and other regional bodies should develop strategy on how to resolve this. We have enough security issues in this country. Let’s not allow this to get out of hand. It was Agatu in Benue last time, my community now, who knows where it will be next?”
 
‎Taming the Monster
It is almost a consensus that urgent efforts must be made to curtail activities capable of jeopardising the fragile peace in the country and one of such is the rampaging Fulani herdsmen, who were previously nomadic-pasture seeking cattle rearers now turned sophisticated weapon wielding killers in Benue, Ondo, Kogi, Edo, Delta, Ogun, Kwara, Taraba, Adamawa, Enugu States and some other parts of the country.
Though the issue has generated huge concern, the unfortunate constant attacks on communities in Enugu State calls for urgent action as a way to avoiding an escalation of the already obvious fault lines in the country. Government cannot afford to pay lip service to the issue. It must be tamed immediately.
This is why many consider as unfortunate, the position of the 19 Northern governors, who recently took strong exception to alleged branding of perpetrators of crimes around the country as Fulani. The governors, who rose from a meeting in Kaduna, said much as they condemned the recent attacks by suspected herdsmen in Enugu and other parts of the country, it was out of place by anyone to label all criminals as Fulani.
Chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) and Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, said it was an insult to consider criminals as Fulani.
He said: “We want to unequivocally condemn the recent killings in Enugu and other parts of the country. But we equally condemn the politicization or permit me, the ‘ethinicisation’ of the whole crisis,” the governor said.
“It goes beyond Fulani. If anything happens, they say Fulani herdsmen. To me, it is an insult. Kidnapping in this country originated in the South-east, were they called Igbo kidnappers? We have a great national challenge and we want to call on all and sundry to come and let us solve our common challenges as a people, because the blood of paternity that binds us together supersedes whatever differences that might divide us.”
That the northern governors were quick to siding with the Fulani herdsmen was believed to have first exposed the warped mindset, an indication that ethnicisation of issues is a more present and living factor in the body polity. Therefore, with the governors from the different regions of the country fighting the cause of their people without recourse to national security and harmony, the menace of the herdsmen might tarry for an even longer time except this act of violence is seen as what it is – crime – and addressed as such.