There is more to the bravery of the Fulani herdsmen than many can relate to, writes Ojo Maduekwe
To understand why President Muhammadu Buhari has been silent over the Fulani herdsmen bloodbath across the country, we have to recount some of his administration’s action so far. This will not only give us a glimpse into the mind of the president, but also that of the herdsmen.
One, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai has deployed troops to“take care of the flash-points and likely areas” where “criminal elements who engage in cattle rustling” are hiding. Two, the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau is collaborating with his counterpart in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, to set-up a special taskforce to again tackle cattle rustling.
After a recent Federal Executive Council meeting, Ogbeh told State House correspondents that he and Dambazau were planning for farmers to pay protection fees to the federal government against kidnappers while in their farms. It appears this is the “special” taskforce Dambazau was referring to.
Ogbeh justified the idea of a protection fee on the basis that farmers have no right to use AK47 in self-defence. The hypocrisy in that comment is that there’s no talk of plans to disarm the AK47-wielding herdsmen. Rather, to underscore how “special” they are, the federal government wants to provide them with free grazing lands and the Nigerian army as private security to protect the cattle in their care from rustlers.
If you ever wondered how the herdsmen became emboldened and appear to be untouchable in the face of such atrocities as witnessed in Agatu LGA in Benue and Uzo-Uwani LGA in Enugu, above is your answer. Rather than track down these killers and bring them to justice, the federal government is expending tax payers’ money in search of criminals rustling the cattle under their care.
Having killed over 500 Nigerians as at May, according to media reports, only to attract this lukewarm response from the federal government, the Fulani herdsmen know for certain that no amount of public outcry would compel a rebuke from the government.
Now, there is a reason the federal government pampers these herdsmen and treats them special from farmers and that reason borders on the issue of ownership of cattle. Who owns the cattle that the herdsmen accompany across the country? Is it them or the owners are highly placed individuals either in government or having links to people in government?
It has been alleged that the herdsmen do not own the cattle. There are speculations that they belong to prominent Fulani leaders, who are traditional rulers, government officials, oil businessmen, religious leaders, governors, state and federal lawmakers, and the likes. Some highly placed Southern elite too are also rumoured to have joined in the cattle business.
You can now understand why the bill to establish grazing reserves in all states of the country has the support of the Fulani elite. The arithmetic is simple: Grazing reserves are cost effective to operating a ranch. The Fulani elite would rather use our collective resources to grow their private business instead of operating ranches.
Buhari himself a Fulani and cattle owner, cannot be exempted from this complicity. His silence in the face of this audacious carnage by the herdsmen and the several government policies and actions that seem to favour the herdsmen makes his participation in this conspiracy even more difficult to deny.
And then the argument by foremost Northern traditional institutions on the cultural significance of grazing reserves to the Fulani nomadic way of life is an excuse by the cattle owners to heap the responsibility of grazing their cattle on the Nigerian state. Interestingly the federal government has agreed to import grass for their cattle. Who will pay for the grasses? Nigerians need to know.
This excuse on the cultural significance of grazing reserves also appears to be nothing more than a distractive strategy to put a wedge between ordinary Nigerians and then use that to justify the grazing bill. The Fulani elite, who own the cattle, in collaboration with their cohort in the government should not be allowed to use our commonwealth to fund their private business.
Opportunistic, the goal of the cattle owners is to amass more wealth even to the disadvantage of farming communities that bear the brunt of the herdsmen’s destructive behaviour.
Simply put, what is happening is a class battle, where the minority wealthy cattle owners take advantage of their broad political connections to formulate policies favourable to their private business but detrimental to the majority of the masses! Sadly, the federal government is leading this scheme.
-Maduekwe, a politics writer, is editor at Discussing Africa