Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Fulani herdsmen: License to kill at will

Many communities in Nigeria have been ravaged, sacked and exposed to the inhuman, merciless and senseless killing spree of the marauding herdsmen.

They kill, murder, rape and destroy families, livelihoods and farmlands, displacing host communities with reckless abandon and impunity. So far, state governments have been unable to tackle the situation. Therefore, the federal government must deploy military force to arrest the ugly situation that is increasingly getting out of hand.

She must also publically answer the following questions with all sincerity: who are these Fulani herdsmen, where do they come from, where are they going to, who are their sponsors and what is really their mission in this death enterprise they have embarked upon, and how can they be stopped once and for all? They should not have any more rights or privileges to people’s (farm) lands any more than others would, equally and commensurately, have on theirs, in all fairness.

In the 21st century world, the age of roaming all-around and across borders uninhibited, without valid documentation and permission must be confined to the past. We have all evolved and left our non-conformist and unconscionable past cultural ways behind us, in this age of enlightenment for the greater good of humanity and nationhood. The right of ingress and egress must be sensitively subject to territorial laws, regulations and customs.

In the present day civilized world, nomadic Fulani herdsmen, by means of social engineering, must be confined to territories pre-dominantly inhabited and occupied by those that share the same socio-cultural affinity with them, so as to totally eliminate or minimize to the barest minimum incidences of conflicts and clashes with other cultures, asymmetrically opposed to theirs. For instance, it is very interesting that we do not hear of rampant cases of herdsmen’s killings in states like Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Jigawa and Kebbi! Recent events show that herdsmen almost always cause trouble wherever and whenever they come upon people’s lands, with deadly and highly devastating consequences. Clearly, it is not possible for farmers and the herdsmen to co-exist in this fashion.

 I once met a Fulani melon seller in Makurdi who told me that these Fulani herdsmen and/or their sponsors also own farms but would never take their cattle to graze on them. They would rather take their cattle to graze on other peoples’ farms.

The menace of the Fulani herdsmen has systematically taken a national dimension. But the most affected states include: Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, Benue and some parts of the Southeast and the Southwest. It is hard to comprehend how nomads acquire sophisticated and high grade weapons without any governmental investigations; what has high grade weapons got to do with cattle grazing? It is equally beyond belief how and why Fulani herdsmen must walk the entire length and breadth of this nation, ostensibly fully armed to the teeth and unchallenged by security agencies. But could other Nigerians, for instance, walk around any parts of Nigeria fully armed, without any arrests or molestations from the authorities? We have security check points to check everybody else in transit, when will we have security check points for Fulani herdsmen’s traffic? Do they have licenses for the arms and ammunitions they carry about their persons? How much of the Nigerian Constitution and laws apply to the Fulani herdsmen?

Reports indicate that the federal government seem to be of the view that most recent horrendous massacres in Benue State was the handiwork of elements of Boko Haram and not Fulani Herdsmen. But, to all reasonable intents and practicalities, where, when and how do host communities draw this distinction? When a farmer finds an intruder murdering his family including women, children and babies, is he expected to make the distinction or ask for their identity cards (assuming they had one)? Also, when a farmer finds intruders with their cattle eating up his (subsistent) farm, is he expected to hold a conference with them? These are undoubtedly crimes against humanity and I wonder why human rights lawyers have never taken it up, and our dear Human Rights Commission have conveniently not yet considered it expedient to wade into the matter either, but I stand corrected.

His Excellency the Executive Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, at the inception of his administration introduced an amnesty program where Benue State indigenes disarmed in large numbers. The federal government also embraced this laudable program. But, when will this program be ever extended with full effect to the marauding Fulani herdsmen or mercenaries, as the case may be? It accords to logic that only unarmed and peace-loving Fulani herdsmen should be admitted to graze their cattle in Benue State and at a fee to be determined by host communities, as part of natural resource control measure. It must be emphasized that the unfortunate experiences of some communities are to the effect that Fulani herdsmen do not bother with grazing their cattle on grass but go straight to peoples’ farms to eat up crops. They would kill and destroy the best houses (huts) in villages, live in the less fancy once, and leave when they have had their fill. Death and destruction follows their trail unescapably.

Instead of the federal government trying to compel states to establish cattle grazing lands across the nation, the federal government should focus more on establishing and/or re-introducing fadama farming at a large scale as was the case in the 60s around Kazaure and Danbata up north. But this area was over grazed by cattle and now become desert as I was made to understand. In other words, if the activities of the Fulani herdsmen went unchecked, it would eventually lead to the same result, an ecological disaster to other parts of Nigeria as well, especially Benue State. Instead of spending so much of Nigeria’s oil wealth prospecting for oil in some parts of the core north, a good chunk of that money should be invested in converting the desert to green land for grazing at this present moment. This should be a concerted and joint effort by the Federal government and the North Eastern/Western States, especially.

We must also note that when cattle step on otherwise fertile farmlands, its quality—soil nutrients—is adversely impacted, and may not be as good again for (optimal-best yields) farming purposes. In such cases, who is responsible for compensating local farmers for the loss of the efficient productive use of their farmlands?

Is it possible that Fulani herdsmen send advance parties before they attack villages? The security measures I recommend for Benue State (which other states too may choose to adopt) is the astute investigation, registration and monitoring of all artisans operating within the state, especially those of the Hausa-Fulani speaking stock, to principally forestall acts of surveillance. These artisans would include: Mai ruwa, Iron condemn, commercial motorcyclists, Mobile tailors, Shoe shiners etc. Benue State must ensure that all registrants indicate, verify and confirm their Benue State addresses, their state of origin addresses, their family-members’ names, addresses, phone numbers, their reasons for coming to Benue and all their contacts in the state etc. A bio-metric data base must be created and maintained for them and photo IDs issued to them and frequently updated at their own cost. Every new arrivals in the state must undergo close scrutiny and monitoring. The state must also take measures to issue identification cards to herdsmen for carrying on business in Benue State.

We must value human lives in Benue State and beyond, to put these proper measures in place for our safety and security without which, we cannot develop. All government laudable projects and programs would hardly have a head start under these unfortunate circumstances, where peace, prosperity and stability are not allowed not reign, especially in the face of a plummeted and highly volatile international oil market. Nigeria is supposed to be turning to agriculture now for its very survival and I am not certain if Nigeria derives any foreign exchange for its beef in the international market!

Fulani herdsmen always seem professionally organized in their brazen and unprovoked attacks. These well-coordinated attacks, inflicting maximum casualty on unsuspecting and ill-prepared villagers, must no longer be taken lightly. The Nigerian police force is ill-equipped to deal with the ugly situation and because of bad roads, they could only get there after the damage has been done and the murderers have left the scene to other villages to replicate the dastardly act. Firstly, one thing the federal government could do is totally disarm the herdsmen as a preferred option. Secondly, the federal government must also consider the permanent stationing of the military at inter-state entry points, to curb and/or control the movement of herdsmen. Perhaps, this may call for the establishment of a specialized military force in the form of Rangers (working in concert with the Immigration Service and other military intelligence outfits) as is common in the US. This will allow security agencies to monitor and know who is coming and leaving.

However, in the event that this is not also a viable option, and rather than leave hard working and law-abiding citizens defenseless in their own lands and at the mercy of Fulani herdsmen, the federal government should supply villages that have been prone to erratic and incessant attacks from Fulani herdsmen with (superior) weapons to defend themselves on their lands.

Interestingly, the Nigerian Senate exonerated Fulani herdsmen and resolved that the Benue State killings as well as those in other parts of the country were perpetrated by the “overpowered” Boko haram terrorists. It is also argued that there was a change in tactics by insurgents who now parade themselves as herdsmen. Again, if these killers are indeed Boko haram and not Fulani herdsmen as some claim, why are they not treated accordingly as is the case in the North East, but instead allowed to leave Benue State unscathed without any legal repercussions or military engagement? What now stops them from regrouping and coming back before sunrise? Are elements of Boko haram only eligible to be militarily engaged in the North East/West and not the North Central parts of Nigeria?

Further, it is reported that the Benue State Commissioner of Police states that the Fulani herdsmen were leaving the state on their own volition for peace to reign. Notwithstanding, there remains several unresolved and unanswered issues and questions, which must be cleared before the next bout of herdsmen invasion. The federal government owes its citizens the duty of care and protection as part of good and responsive governance to educate the herdsmen on the art and science of civility, tolerance, respect for human lives and properties (farms) and modern-day living. Government must put extra efforts in nomadic education for purposes of assimilation and integration as well as ensuring that only graduates from these basic-education-school are licensed to move their cattle across many different geographic locations of the country.

Herdsmen should only be allowed to come to Benue State after farmers must have harvested their crops.
It is very hard for anyone to live or co-exist with a group of heavily armed people that have no value for human lives; who rape and kill landowners, loot and plunder host communities with impunity. How do you begin to build trust and confidence under such brutal circumstances? Then again, some have tried to make a case for cattle rustling; nothing stops the herdsmen acting as all other law abiding citizens of Nigeria do; report cases of theft to the authorities, without constituting themselves into the judge, jury and executioner—all in one deadly breadth.

I am reliably informed that when a cattle is stolen or killed, culprits are made to pay the full price as determined by the Fulani herdsmen. And when a farm is eating up or destroyed by cattle, it is still the herdsmen prerogative to determine what they are willing to pay for the destruction. What kind of one-sided justice is this, except of course Nigerians are been told that these killers validly considered to be above the law!

In July 2015, the federal government obtained $2.1 billion credit from the World Bank to rebuild the North East zone that was devastated by Boko Haram. The sense of equality and justice demands that similar treatment must be accorded to other communities across Nigeria severely impacted by either the Fulani herdsmen, mercenaries or Boko Haram. In the case of Benue State, this has been a recurrent episode for decades without, arguably, any meaningful and commensurate relief from the federal government. Given the scale of destruction, the number of deaths and duration of this crisis, the federal government must start thinking seriously about assisting the Benue State government with proper security and adequate compensation paid to victim communities and families.

Festus Nyiwo, Esq, is a nationally recognized Community leader in the United States of America. He is also a recipient of the 13th Annual Black Man’s Think Tank Award, Dayton, OH, and an invitee to the US National TV News program (NBC’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart). He can be reached at or call 08164493135.

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