By Femi Fani-Kayode
Last week I wrote an essay titled ‘The Road to Kigali’ which was widely published. The response of the northern governors to the horrendous events in Enugu has compelled me to write this contribution as something of a follow-up. These are difficult and troubling times and they are times that the truth needs to be spoken more than ever. I appreciate those that publish my contributions in my various columns because, in a country that hates to hear the truth and that finds it difficult to comprehend and grasp reality, that in itself takes courage. I also appreciate the increasingly large number of Nigerians from all over the world that take the time to read my weekly contributions because without them, there would be no point in writing. Now to the matter at hand.
On 30th April 2016 Mr. George Akinola wrote the following words on Facebook: “When the Fulani exploded on the geographic space later christened Nigeria in 1804, they did not negotiate power with the Hausas, they seized it from them on the battlefield. When the same Fulani appeared in Ilorin in 1823, purportedly to assist Afonja, the Are-ona-kakanfo of Oyo and the ruler of Ilorin, in revolt against his sovereign, Alafin Aole, the Alafin of Oyo, it was to gain his confidence for a while and a vantage position to murder him. Ilorin has been under Fulani rule since then and up until today.
“When the British colonised all these empires, kingdoms and fiefdoms in the 19th century, it was not out of love for the black man. It was an imperialistic push for more land, more territories to exploit minerals and other resources from. If you did not agree by subtle pressure, they simply applied the brute force.
“Fast forward to 1960. The new nation had just gained independence. What we inherited from the British was “self-governing regions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Now, we are forcibly united by an un-feeling centre. What we inherited was a revenue allocation formula that was largely derivative. Now it is almost ‘allocative’. At a point, Mohammed Buhari reduced the 50% derivation formula to 1%.”
Mr. Akinola’s historical analysis and assessment is first class. He has spoken nothing but the truth no matter how bitter that truth may be. This takes courage and I commend him for it.
I deplore violence and I do not advocate or condone it in any shape or form. I do not want anyone to leave our land “loaded in coffins” or in body bags and neither do I believe that violence and bloodshed leads to anything but even more violence and bloodshed. It is nothing but a vicious cycle.
However, the type of rhetoric that is now being expressed by our southern youth and intellectuals about the situation in Nigeria and particularly about the excesses of the Fulani herdsmen cannot be ignored or downplayed.
We ignore the words of people like Mr. George Akinola, Mr. Babatunde Gbadamosi, Mr. Grandson Soyemi and so many others at our own peril.
Clearly, there is tension and anger in the land. The spirit of division is rife and it is getting stronger by the day. Things are getting hotter and tempers are flaring. Nigeria is beginning to unravel at the seams. We must all be very careful not to set a match to the tinderbox.
Thankfully, there are still a number of Fulani and non-Fulani voices in the north who represent a moderate and sane disposition and who have nothing to do with the hegemonic or religious agenda of the bigots and the hardliners. I am talking about men like Colonel Abubakar ‘Dangiwa’ Umar, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim Imam, Alhaji Ibrahim Turaki SAN and so many others. I know every single one of these individuals and I can vouch for them.
These are the sort of people that are still holding the country together by giving southerners hope that the voice of moderation, reason and restraint still exists in the north and that that voice may eventually prevail. Yet the fire continues to burn on the mountain and tempers are still rising.
The insulting warning to the south from the 19 northern governors just the other day made matters worse. This contribution did not help to calm the storm but instead it has further frayed nerves. Simply put; the northern governors have rubbed raw salt into our southern wounds.
They said that southerners should “not insult the Fulani again” and that even though they deplored what their kinsmen, the Fulani herdsmen, did in Enugu the other day; that does not mean that “their people” ought to be insulted. This is all they had to say after thousands of southerners have been killed, maimed, raped, abducted and tortured in the sanctity of their own homes and land by the Fulani militants and herdsmen over the last one year alone and after over one hundred Igbos were slaughtered in Enugu State just a few days ago.
They even went a step further by saying that they intend to take the cue from Kaduna State and introduce the licensing of all preachers in all the states of the north. This is a deep insult to every Christian worth his salt, to the clergy and to the Church. It is also a surreptitious attempt to curb the spreading of the gospel in northern Nigeria. If ever the northern governors had an all-time low; this is it.
Instead of them burying their heads in shame and appealing to the rest of Nigeria to forgive them and their kith and kin for their collective and historical sins, the Fulani leaders are still issuing threats to the rest of us through their surrogates, leaders and governors.
This is unacceptable. Such reckless arrogance and callous insensitivity does not serve them well and neither does it engender peace and reconciliation in our country. Instead it is provocative and insulting and it can only lead to a greater degree of alienation and more misunderstanding.
Sadly, the 17 southern governors could not even muster the resolve to organise their own meeting and respond to the slur. Meanwhile, the people of the south are still grieving and suffering immeasurable pain as a consequence of the gratuitous violence and evil that we have been subjected to at the hands of these murderous Fulani herdsmen over the last ten months.
We are still mourning our dead and indeed all the innocent and defenceless souls, including women and children that were murdered in cold blood in Enugu state just a few days ago. The truth is that as long as those that represent the Fulani militants and herdsmen continue to try to justify or rationalise their beastly behaviour and threaten the south, there will be people like Mr. George Akinola who will respond with the sort of rhetoric that he has expressed in this contribution.
There would also be far more than mere rhetoric and this, more than anything else, saddens me because I am a man of peace and I deplore violence. Yet, you cannot expect people to sit by silently and watch their loved ones and kith and kin being slaughtered like Christmas turkeys and sallah rams on a daily basis.
It would be most unwise for the Fulani leaders and indeed the leaders of the north to ignore such sentiments and dismiss them with the usual contempt. It is important that the Fulani militants and herdsmen are reigned in and that they stop killing southerners and occupying our land.
It is important that the Buhari administration stops encouraging and covertly supporting them in their mass murder and savage butchery. It is only when that happens that we can guarantee lasting peace in our nation. It is only when this is done that people like Mr. George Akinola and all the other young rising southern stars will stop saying the sort of things that they are saying.
It is only when that happens that they will stop speaking and reflecting the minds of millions of southerners who are fed up with what is going on in our country and who are prepared to stand up, challenge the powers that be, break the yoke of bondage and slavery and fight for their freedom.
Permit me to end this contribution with the reaction of Afenifere, the leading Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, to the insults of the 19 northern governors. On 1st May 2016 the Sunday Vanguard Newspaper reported as follows: The Yoruba group, which spoke through their National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told Sunday Vanguard: “It (the northern governors’ position) is a sign of unfeeling, uncaring for any group today to come out and say that those who have been causing problems and killing people in the Middle Belt and the South are not Fulani herdsmen. They have killed in Agatu land, Enugu; a traditional ruler was killed in Delta State; they killed Chief Olu Falae’s guard and also kidnapped Chief Falae himself. For some people to gather and call themselves northern governors, and have no sympathy for lives than to be defending the Fulani herdsmen, shows clearly that it is a tragedy of monumental proportion to be in the same country with these elements. You also begin to wonder if the blood of human beings runs in their veins because anybody that has human blood running in his veins will not come and say that Fulani herdsmen are not responsible. What nonsense.”
The Afenifere spokesperson went on: “I think the northern governors should bury their heads in shame. I do not think they are fit to be in the comity of civilized human beings. If the attackers are not Fulani herdsmen, where have they struck in the North-West? Why are their activities only in the Middle Belt and in the South? That is the question these northern governors should answer. When militants were blowing up pipelines in the South-South, were they not called Niger Delta militants? Do they want us to call them Yoruba herdsmen?”
As always Afenifere has done the yoruba, and by extension the entire south, proud with their courageous and timely words and intervention. They have spoken for every single one of us. Let us hope that the northern governors and the herdsmen that they seek to defend get the message.
Let us hope that they can purge themselves of the unwholesome and denigrating contempt that they clearly have for the people of the south before it is too late.