Audacity of the Fulani Cattle



with Oke Epia

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Twitter: @resourceme

The title of this piece easily adverts literary minds to two powerful works: Barrack Obama’s inspiring biography ‘Audacity of Hope’ and John Pepper Clark’s classic poem ‘The Fulani Cattle.’ But unlike the disparate themes addressed in both literatures, the topic of discourse speaks to a hybrid cohabitation of sorts rocking the animal kingdom of man in Nigeria.

What do I mean? Think about this: it can only be in an animal kingdom that cattle can become more important than man by deliberate design of fellow man. It can only be in a society where law and order have taken a prolonged flight that herdsmen can displace farmlands and destroy communities for cattle to have right of way and grass to graze. And of course, it can only be in cities conquered by conspiratorial council leaderships that cows displace cars in downtown tarred roads. But it gets even worse.

The audacity of the Fulani cattle has left sorrow, tears and blood in several hamlets, towns and communities across Nigeria. I do not refer to the type considered in Clark’s Ode which innocently and stoically strolls to the slaughter to become beef on the dinner table. The focus here is the breed of herd goaded by gangster herdsmen hunched in unholy effrontery. These rifle-bearing cattle escorts maim and kill at the slightest provocation of a challenge by indigenous people who simply want to live and be allowed to stay in their space. This is the audacity of hopelessness championed by today’s herdsman using the cattle as an unfortunate front of his devilish affront of spreading misery in the land. From up North through the Benue trough, the trend of the herdsmen’s rampage has left many questions unanswered: Why the sudden resurgence in farmers/herdsmen conflict? Why is the itinerant herder now so emboldened to the point of daringly destructive? Why are the faces behind the masks now so strong enough to dictate policy solutions that address only a part of the problems? Why is the security system unable or unwilling to apprehend the ugly trend of deadly attacks? Why is the rampage seemingly targeted at some parts of the country? And why are those who should speak up in condemnation and consolation mute in the face of debilitating pillage?

Sadly, the attacks have not only intensified but in some cases there have been repeat performances in same places within short time frames. It is more worrisome when reports are made of some of these dare-devil destructions in spite of alerts and early warning signs to security agencies. From Nimbo in Enugu to Agatu in Benue; from Bosso in Plateau to Kwale in Delta, it has been scenes of wailing wailers as hapless and helpless inhabitants lose limbs, lives and livelihoods.

The situation in Benue is particularly pathetic as the marauding herdsmen seem to have perfected a systematic decimation scheme stretching from one community to the other. Hundreds of people have died from the attacks with many more injured just as thousands remain displaced from their ancestral homes and suddenly made refugees seeking shelter in dilapidated school buildings of nearby towns and villages. In the wake of the atrocious Agatu killings, the United Nations had painted a very grim picture of the human displacement and destruction of communities resulting in a humanitarian crisis. Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to Nigeria and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mrs. Angele Dikongue Atangana, had described the level of catastrophe in the Benue community as the worst she had seen in her career. “In my 20 years of working as a humanitarian, I have never seen such a level of destruction. If steps are not taken, the crises can affect the country as a whole,” she had said. But the UN official only corroborated what former Senate President, David Mark, whose kith and kin had been worst hit by the attacks, described as a genocide against the Agatu people.

It is bizarre that these wanton waste of generations have gone on unchallenged by federal authorities whose feeble and often belated assurances to prevent reoccurrences have done very little to ameliorate the trend. It seems one successfully executed pogrom provides the tonic for the next big raid on a nearby neighbourhood. And so the ugly beat goes on and on; magnified by the loud silence of national authorities in the face of horrifying bestiality.

A silence matched only by the eerie speed with which condolence messages are issued when terror strikes in (Western) Germany, Brussels and Nice. Even if charity must begin abroad, must the homestead stay desolate and remain untended amidst the dying, despair and anguish?

Such insolent indifference to the plight of victims of herdsmen attacks leaves much to be desired by today’s men of power in Abuja who have had to be railroaded into half-hearted reactions that fail to inspire confidence in a bewildered citizenry. It will be recalled how President Buhari was virtually arm-twisted to issue a belated statement through his spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, vowing to act on the outcome of a promised investigation that never was. After expressing shock at the reprehensible killing of innocent souls in Agatu, the President said: “We will act immediately. We will conduct an investigation to know exactly what happened. The only way to bring an end to the violence once and for all is to look beyond one incident and ascertain exactly what factors are behind the conflicts. Once the investigations are concluded, we will act immediately to address the root of the problem.” That was five months ago. Nothing was heard of any investigation neither has there been any coherent and consistent attempt to stem the tide.

And that is precisely the incentives the herdsmen have seized to become more emboldened in their new-found foray into towns and city centres hitherto a no-go area for them. It has become a common sight these days in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to have cattle herded on major roads and busy streets. If lush grass was grown on the city lawns and green areas, it is doubtful that part of the plan was to make them folders for clusters of cattle. The audacity of today’s Fulani cattle can be further understood by their increasing presence on streets and residential areas of Abuja; the precinct of the federal secretariat; and on major boulevards in posh districts of the territory. But make no mistake about it: the real audacity is that of the highly placed herder who in his unseen chamber, pull the strings of today’s cattle parade in cities and pillage of communities.

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