(By Iheanyi Ezinwo)-The history of clashes between herdsmen and farmers is an old one in Nigeria. At a time, Nigerians thought the occasional straying of cows into farms was the reason, but the emergent regime of widespread killings of farmers in their farms and homes, especially in Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, Benue and parts of Nasarawa states has provoked a more than passing interest among citizens in the lingering crises, leading to new discoveries of the possible reasons for the unduly aggressive tendencies of the Fulani herdsmen.
In the history of Nigeria, Fulani herdsmen are known to be itinerant in nature. However, for whatever reasons, there appears to be a pattern in their method of operation: in every community where they are allowed to settle and rear their cattle, after a while, they turn against their hosts, claiming both their temporary location and the entire area. And when the natives kick against their presumptuous claims, they employ the use of maximum force. And with the alleged complicity of their relations controlling the security architecture of the country, they have been systematically executing this alleged ‘conquer and rule’ agenda by clearing every opposition on their way and wiping out of communities, especially in the targeted North Central Nigeria.
Reports from attacked communities in Plateau and other states have always been that security operatives often retreat, allowing heavily armed Fulani herdsmen to slaughter the natives. Reports also have it that security personnel return only after the Fulani herdsmen have had their fill of killings and gone, and at the time the natives may have regrouped and are getting ready to fight back. The twist is that security operatives end up frustrating efforts by the natives to fight back. Those caught with arms are arrested and called names.
Meanwhile, the killer Fulani herdsmen are never arrested! And this has been the pattern, from Southern Kaduna to Plateau; to Taraba, up to Benue and parts of Nasarawa state. Pained by the irregular developments in the country, where the lives of human beings have become cheaper than that of cattle, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, Nigeria’s former Chief of Army Staff, accused security operatives of complicity in the killings. He also alleged that, what was going on in Nigeria was a case of ethnic cleansing, calling on the citizens to rise up and defend Nigeria and their communities before they are wiped out by the invading Fulani militia. Curiously, the Federal Government that declared the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra a terrorist organization for demanding for self determination has been explaining away the killings of unarmed Nigerians by herdsmen.
In the last three years, the level of insecurity in parts of Nigeria has been very high. Although, the Nigerian Constitution clearly states that the protection of lives and property is the primary duty of government, the citizens are slaughtered at will by Fulani herdsmen. While leaders of pro-Fulani groups blame the attacks on cattle rustling, the federal government, in the last three years has been shifted blames from fighters who escaped from Libya and ISIS to the new story that politicians are sponsoring the killings. While all these pontifications are going on, defenseless citizens are being killed, and when they attempt to defend themselves, they are arrested: that they are not allowed to bear arms. At the same time, the Fulani herdsmen have suddenly become untouchable as they defy the same laws and use sophisticated weapons of war to wipe out communities. All we hear are condemnations that are not backed with decisive actions, that can deter future attacks.
Meanwhile, as the days go by, the real intentions of the attackers and their sponsors are becoming clearer, in spite of deliberate efforts by some persons to misinform the public. Reports from Plateau State indicate that the herdsmen are taking over the settlements deserted by natives, who, fearing for their lives are temporary accommodated at Internally Displaced Persons camps. A non-government organization, Stephanos Foundation, working in Plateau State reported on Sunday that Fulani herdsmen are building houses in most of the deserted 15 communities in Barkin Ladin, Riyom, Bokkos and Mangu local government areas they sacked during the June23/24 massacre in the state. The Stephanos Foundation further reported that 233 persons lost their lives while 11, 515 persons are in the camps provided mainly by churches in Bokkos, Anguldi, Riyom, Fan, Lawuru, Barkin Ladi and Heipang, Ban and Gasa, Karos, Rampiang, Mangu and Dorowa Soho.
“The locals, who are the inhabitants of these communities have no hope of returning to their homes, rather, new houses belonging to the Fulanis are now sighted to be springing up in the deserted communities”, the report stated.
This disturbing report from Plateau state appears to have removed the wool of lies being peddled all along, by those who should act to stop the unjustified killings in some parts of Nigeria but have been content with dishing out one alibi after another. Reports from Southern Kaduna collaborate the land grabbing motive behind the attacks on communities in North Central Nigeria by itinerant Fulani herdsmen, who are alleged to be executing a religious script to dominate the land and its peoples by force.
Awoken to these realities, other sections of the country are now viewing with suspicion, the directive of the Federal Government to states to provide lands for Fulani herdsmen to use for ranching. This is more so, when there are fears that giving a portion of land to a Fulani in the name of ranching will mean providing a foothold for him to invite others to come and forcefully contend for the entire land, while those who should protect lives and property look the other way. It is therefore, against this background, that governors of the South-East states of Nigeria made it abundantly clear recently, that they would not make land in the region available for the establishment of cattle ranches. They rather wants the relevant authorities to advise the herdsmen to ensure that their activities do not infringe on the rights of other citizens, especially the farmers, in order to check the frequent clashes between farmers and herdsmen in their region. The story is the same in the south west where the people are united in their opposition to the expansionist tendencies of the Fulanis, who have the record of always turning back to attack those who accommodate them, with the aim of taking over their ancestral lands and imposing their religion.
Now that Nigerians are beginning to understand the possible reasons behind the contentions for land in all parts of Nigeria by violent Fulani herdsmen, every section of the country have woken up to check the development. Nigeria is presently at a cross road, and every political leader is evolving new ways and means of securing the lives and property of their constituents, including the widespread introduction of Neighbourhood security outfits. Besides, the National Assembly has also decided to work on a proposal to amend the constitution to allow for the establishment of state police.
To most Nigerians, state police remains the option at a time when the citizens no longer have confidence in the federal police to protect them because of what seems like conflicting interests among the personnel. The current administration at the centre in Nigeria has failed to forge unity of purpose among the citizens because of disregard for the fundamental human rights and not treating all persons equally. From all indications, concerned Nigerians are speaking, like Winston Churchill: “Bearing ourselves humbly before God, but conscious that we serve an unfolding purpose, we are ready to defend our native land against the invasion by which it is threatened”. We agree with Fr.Jerzy Popieluszko, that, “Love cannot exist without justice; love outgrows justice but at the same time it finds reaffirmation in justice”.
God bless Federal Republic of Nigeria.