Not Quite Fulani Empire Day


On the raging uptick in crime and insecurity in the country, faulty logic and bad politics have joined forces with abysmal governance. The subject of the needless controversy is the increasing involvement of roving Fulani herdsmen in various armed crimes.

Faulty logic insists that the Fulani herdsmen now dominate the thriving national crime industry. Faulty governance has drafted more soldiers and police teams to find and shoot proven armed bandits. It is reportedly floating a Fulani specific radio station to massage and better inform the errant teams. Bad politics says there is a Fulanisation agenda on the cards in Abuja and that it is a matter of time before we all come under some Fulani caliphate complete with superintendent bearded mullahs with other familiar untidy religious connotations. I disagree with all three angles.

It is true that an increasing number of roving Fulani herdsmen have taken to the more lucrative business of transactional kidnapping and armed robbery. I understand this shift as first an economic one: kidnapping for ransom is more instantly rewarding than patient herding. of a few miserable cattle in anticipation of long term reward. The returns from armed robbery and kidnapping give the criminals instant access to the good things of life. A more lethal wing of these roving gunmen has found pleasure in razing whole settlements and villages and carrying out industrial scale killings. They are all armed with military grade weapons and seem quite organised. This has led to serious questions about the adequacy of government’s security and crime fighting strategies and the apparatus for containing new forms of criminality.

An influential body of opinion is saying the current wave of insecurity around the country is mostly a Fulani herdsmen problem. It is not.

It is true that some Fulani herdsmen are involved in current armed crimes. It is also true that this is a shift away from the extant culture of harmless cattle herding, primitive as it is. It is also true that this phenomenon has flowered and flourished in the last four years. Even more unsettling is the fact that squads of these herdsmen are in possession of military grade rifles and copious supplies of ammunition.

I see the problem as first a crime control challenge, not an ethnic one. Illegal Possession of firearms, transactional kidnapping, armed robbery and murder on any scale are crimes punishable under our laws. The responsibility of government is to fight these crimes and rigorously apply the law. In an atmosphere of dispassionate enforcement of anti crime laws, it would not matter what clan or tribe the criminals hail from. If the law is applied even handedly, it won’t matter whether the convicts are from one family or clan.

To advocate a tribe specific security strategy that targets just Fulani herdsmen is wrong headed and a dangerous precedent.

Moreover, there is nothing in current crime statistics that indicates that these crimes are necessarily dominated by Fulani actors. There is nothing in prevailing crime statistics that indicates that Nigeria will suddenly become crime free merely by rounding up all rifle-wielding roving Fulani herdsmen criminals. We can not replace effective scientific crime control with lazy ethnic name calling, collective abuse and serial stigmatisation of whole nationalities.

On the contrary, if government devices and enforces a foolproof crime control strategy that reins in all criminals, there will be no more Fulani or Igbo or Yoruba or Tiv criminals. My understanding of a modern society is one in which ,on matters of criminality, there are only two tribes: criminals and non criminals. It is the duty of the state through the law and the agencies of law enforcement and a sensible security system to clearly establish that distinction and make criminality unprofitable, unattractive and untenable.

Beyond crime control, however, the increased involvement of armed Fulani squads in scorched earth operations like mass killings and arson on settlements, communities and villages raise more far reaching national security questions. Who is arming these squads? What is the source of these weapons? Do we have a biometric national register of roving herdsmen? Do cattle owners need to secure licenses to traverse state boundaries? Does the free movement of citizens include the free flow of destructive animals across people’s farms? Questions!

Nonetheless, in the quest for solutions, We need to understand the danger of ethnic profiling in addressing the Fulani involvement in our current insecurity. The ethnic isolation and labeling of specific crimes has not quite yielded the security we earnestly desire. The military in its creative coding of specific targeted regional security operations has almost exhausted the animals in the bush without much dividend. After operations Python Dance, Crocodile Tears etc, the affected regions still remain bad places as witnessed by the pattern of violence in the last general election season

From far and near, the dangers of ethnic profiling stare us in the face. It does not matter whether it is racial profiling of blacks and Hispanics in Trump’s America or Palestinians in Netanyahu’s West Bank, the consequences remain the same. The profiled and labeled group quickly gains solidarity as they band together for collective protection. Once isolated for negative finger pointing, they tend to act out their ‘otherness’ in ways that could hurt the larger community. Soon, it becomes the rest of society versus the profiled and branded ‘other’. Worse still, a mentality of permanent victim hood grows among the profiled group which is hard to wipe away. On this Fulani matter, therefore, we had better not take that bend.

On the axis of our thriving politics of bad manners, former President Obasanjo recently allowed himself to play untidy mascot. Forever adept at privileged mischief making, he carefully chose the podium of a church event to sound the alarm of a looming Fulanisation of the nation. I hope Obasanjo’s intelligence on this conclusion is credible because the contrary intel is overwhelming.

It is of course undeniable that a certain sectional cabal maintains a vice grip on the commanding heights of the current federal state. It is the nativism of the present power overlords and their support deep state structure that is tempting the current conclusion that there could be a Fulanisation agenda somewhere. Yes indeed, the incumbent power arrangement tends to isolate the Fulani interest for primitive favouritism in the form of choice appointments and crude bureaucratic protection. Power incumbency could tempt the promoters of this interest to occasionally ‘mask’ their narrow interest as the national interest. This must be the thinking behind misadventures like advocating cattle colonies in all states, floating a Fulani radio station funded with public money or indeed the laughable idea of wanting to pay Fulani troublemakers a huge trove of cash to discourage them from disturbing the peace through violent crimes. These silly excursions in the absurdity of ill gotten power should not tempt us in the dangerous direction of isolating the Fulani nation for negative profiling and vicious targeting. After all there are by far too many decent Fulanis who are dedicated to the Nigerian republic.

Let us take nothing for granted in this place. The distance between such ethnic profiling and some form of ethnic cleansing in the hands of a subsequent reckless regime can be quite short. Nigerian history is still dripping with the blood of victims of previous similar isolation and profiling from 1966 onwards.

Whatever our interests and grievances, therefore, we must not allow the country to degenerate to the level where the narrow perspective of a transient ruling cabal becomes the directive principle of state policy.

I happen to believe that a non discriminatory but effective crime control and internal security strategy will put both the cabal and their armed foot soldiers out of business. The supremacy of the law of evidence will replace selective applications of off -the -shelf justice.

Here then is a unique opportunity for this government to be government in a true sense. As an instance of leadership by example, let the president who is himself a Fulani with a cattle ranch order an immediate moratorium on migrant cattle herding in favour of compulsory ranching in cattle states. That will end migrant herdsmen kidnapping and allied crimes.

This brings us squarely back to the quality of governance that has made Fulani ethnic profiling an option in our national discourse. It is part of the distinguishing testimonial of this government that it has admitted the Miyeti Allah association of cattle herders onto the table of national discussion. This curious body has been reported to use its access to apex power to mount spirited defenses of criminal acts by its migrant foot soldiers. It does not concern Abuja that other associations- poultry farmers, vegetable farmers, fish mongers, street traders and market women deserve no less a privileged audience. It is precisely the prominence and privileged access accorded Miyeti Allah and other such aberrations that has led to these wild charges of Fulanisation.

I refuse to be conscripted into believing in the veracity of any such infantile agenda. First, I believe the leadership of the Fulani have enough common sense to assess the risk in any possible expansionist fantasy. There is enough residual warlike culture all over rural Nigeria to counter any such project. The Agbekoyas of Yorubaland, the Bende and Awka warriors of Igboland, the Tiv warriors of the Benue basin as well as countless others are alive and well. The consequences of any ethnic expansion agenda are too frightening to contemplate. We have seen the bloody rehearsals in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, southern Kaduna and Zamfara already.

Moreover, no sensible political interest group can sponsor an agenda against its continued hegemony even in its own backyard. Check: the northern half of our country now happens to be the theatre of the bloodiest exploits of the roving gangs of criminals. The virtual collapse of security in the northern states cannot be blamed on either Fulanisation or its religious correlates. If the Fulani gunmen are shooting to conquer their own very home bases-including Daura-, then something must be fatally wrong. Who wants to Fulanise who? Instead, what is staring us in the face is the direct tragic consequence of the serial failure of governance in most of these states. It is the cumulative outcome of decades of neglect by successive governments. We have come face to face with the north’s midnight children, the ugly result of the use of mass immiseration as a tool of political ascendancy and overlordship. The armies of the night are out on prowl to exert recompense for their stolen yesteryears. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, these dark forces of violence and destruction will roam night and day in quest of social and economic justice. Only purposeful reparation through repentant state governments will calm the restless ghosts.

The way out is not through the dark waters of Nigeria’s sickening politics as usual. Name calling and scapegoating the Fulani is an invitation to anarchy. The challenge is squarely one of modernization of government thinking and processes in the solutions it seeks to evolving challenges. The management of our diversity and complexity dictates that we avoid divisive and simplistic governance as well as hateful public discourse.

• Dr. Chidi Amuta, a Member of THISDAY Editorial Board, is Chairman, Wilson & Weizmann Associates (Nigeria).