By Fredrick Nwabufo
I am as angry as everyone else regarding the killing of innocents in Benue state by herdsmen. In fact, days ago, I expressed my disappointment in the government owing to its reluctance and silence in the face of the killings, in a social media piece.
I wrote: “In Nigeria, national security is often supplanted by ethnic security. What is considered as a security threat by one administration may be treated with levity by another administration.
“The ethnic and religious background of the leadership determines to a large extent its response to any caustic issue. This is why the Jonathan administration played possum with the Boko Haram crisis because it believed the insurgency was a problem created by the north to make the country ungovernable for him.
“Now, herdsmen have been on a resolute killing campaign since the Buhari administration came on board. But the government has done nothing, absolutely nothing to check them, except for occasional appeals to families of victims not to carry out reprisal attacks.
“In fact, this government has refused to name the killers. At best, it will call the killings a farmer-herder clash. And you wonder how the killing of 50 innocents in Benue by herdsmen is a clash.
“I understand that the thinking of the government is that herdsmen are being labelled as killers (by opposition elements and those who hate Buhari) because the president is Fulani.
“The fact is President Buhari’s deodorisation of the herdsmen menace gives vent to the suggestion that it is all a family affair.”
However, I ask for the thawing of citizens’ animus against Fulani pastoralists. The recent attacks have spawned trenchant calls for cattle-ranching and for an end to nomadic herding. I will explain briefly why we must proceed with caution.
Not all herdsmen are Fulani, but nomadic herding is an “eternal” heritage of the group. It is not just an occupation for the Fulani, but a tradition steeped in a long history and culture. This is the reason suggestions of cattle-ranching will always be rejected by them.
We must realise that, for the Fulani, nomadic herding is not an economic alternative, but a sacerdotal pursuit. Compelling them to set up ranches without understanding that the idea itself is a “culture shock” will not do any good.
Tradition dies hard, but it dies anyway. The Fulani could switch to cattle-ranching in the future, but I doubt it will be by compulsion or by heavy mental and verbal bombardment.
If the Fulani will ranch cattle; they must be educated as to the whys and wherefores of it, and not coerced. They must also be given time to shed the old tradition and to assimilate a new one.
As it is, herdsmen have become pariahs in the country. Some ethnic groups would want them far removed from their area. This should not be the case. In fact, demonising them will only escalate the current crisis. We should condemn the attacks, but we must not make an enemy of Fulani herdsmen.
Fredrick is a journalist. You can reach him on Twitter: @FredrickNwabufo; Facebook: Fredrick Nwabufo