It takes just a moment of indignation to destroy; to cast down and cast out. It is easier to destroy than to build. And what is broken sometimes cannot be put together again. Why are we at daggers drawn with one another? Why are we at each other’s throat? Why the hate-slinging? In the south, the drumbeats of war are pounding, and in the north, the cavalrymen are assembling. But nobody wins in this family feud.
No doubt, Nigeria is tottering on the precipice. This is perhaps one of the most precarious times in our democratic evolution since 1999. It is as if the emissaries of Hades are encamped in the country. Nobody wants to hear the other; everyone is yelling, seeking to drown out the obverse voice. But if we all at least take a pause and listen, we will see everyone is saying something that needs to be heard. No side – be it the north or the south – has made frail arguments on this freak of the time — eviction orders. Both sides have made well-founded points.
On Tuesday, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), spoke up in defence of Fulani herders. He asked the president to order “the immediate arrest and prosecution of persons who are attacking the Fulani and setting the country on a very dangerous path,” adding that: “The Fulani will not be ejected from any Nigerian community only on the basis of being Fulani or herding cattle within the limits of laws and regulations.”
On Wednesday, Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, condemned what he described as the “unlawful eviction” of citizens in the south, stating that every Nigerian reserves the right to choose where to reside. This is indisputable. No citizen should be made an alien in his own country. Crime has no ethnic face. The enemy are the bandits, and not all herders or the Fulani. The Fulani, themselves, are victims of the enterprise of these freebooters. We cannot win the fight against banditry and kidnapping when we colour the crime in the brushstrokes of ethnicity. Those pillaging towns and slaughtering citizens are not selective of their victims. Their only ethnicity is ransom, and their religion is violence.
But how did we get here?
In January, Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State, ordered herders to leave the state’s forest reserves. The order was not born out of detestation; it was due to the minatory performances of some criminal herdsmen in the state. Ondo had become the haunt of these devourers. The Olufon of Ifon, a first-class traditional ruler, was killed in the state by bandits. The wife of the chief of staff to the governor was kidnapped and released after ransom was paid. The daughter of Pa Fasoranti, Afenifere leader, was murdered on a road in the state. And there have been countless cases of kidnapping and murder linked to some herders in Ondo. So, Akeredolu’s ‘’eviction order’’ was a desperate reaction to a hopeless situation. If the federal government was alive to its responsibility of securing the country, that order would be needless.
But the eviction order issued to herders in Ondo’s forest reserves struck the tinderbox. It set off a ripple of eruptive hostilities against the Fulani. A jangling figure in Oyo, Sunday Igboho, assumed potentate authority, he asked all herders to leave Ibarapa local government area of Oyo, where there have been kidnappings and murders by some herdsmen.
Really, there is now a whiff of animus against the Fulani. There have been coordinate eviction orders to herders in Edo and Bayelsa States. Though the notices cannot stand constitutional interrogation, we must not forget we reached this minacious point because of government’s irresponsibility.
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) did a riposte to the statement of the Northern Elders Forum. The group accused northern leaders of hypocrisy – of not speaking out against the criminal operations of some herdsmen in the south.
The southern forum said: “PANDEF implores the northern elders and their surrogates to get off the high-horse. And the sooner, the better, for the country, and all of us. Nigeria belongs to all of us, no section owns the country more than the other; we are equal stakeholders. Where was the Northern Elders Forum when arm-wielding herdsmen were killing, harassing innocent citizens, and raping women in their farms? Northern elders did not realise then that they were setting the country on a dangerous path. Meyitti Allah Cattle Rearers group has been arrogantly conducting themselves like ‘landlords’ of Nigeria, without any demonstration. It is now that southern governors have begun taking appropriate steps to safeguard lives and livelihoods of their people, that northern elders have found their voice in defence of the herdsmen.’’
Again, the leaders of both divides have made well-grounded points. It is true that northern leaders, particularly those speaking up now in the defence of their own, did not speak out against the criminality of some herders in the south. But it is wrong that the reaction to that hypocrisy should be the targeting of the Fulani. Two wrongs do not make a right.
At this point, we must deescalate the tension and tone down the caustic rhetoric; beat our swords into ploughshare, spears into pruning hooks, and embrace peace. We must learn to listen to one another. Eviction orders here and there will make us all refugees in our own country. If Nigeria burns, we all burn.
––Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist