© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Herders of death
By Musa Toyyib Olaniyi
They are herders. But depending on what they herd, they could be goatherd, shepherd or even cowherd. So, there is herdsman, herdswoman or even herdsboy. Rather than herdsmen, people also dignified the job with pastoralism, thus they called them pastoralists.
Pastoralism is not new to human existence. It is as old as man. Modern agriculture will see it as a form of animal husbandry. But because of the peculiarities associated with the job, the herders usually live nomadic or semi nomadic lives.
Before now, we all grew up to recognise the ubiquitous faces of people with lean visages who look like Arabs, controlling herds of cattle with a stick. The other companion could be a transistor radio. People generally like them because of their looks and simplicity. Thus, they were usually welcome in the temperate regions where lush vegetation can be found for most parts of the year.
It is the hospitality of the settlers and the simple and benign nature of the nomads or herders we know before now. But these days, we now hear that there is Miyyeti Allah.
But the relationship between farmers and herders has turned sour because of the propensity of the herdsmen for violence in recent times. The herders of cattle now herd death and sorrow. Where they step in their peripatetic search for vegetation is usually visited with dirge and mourning occasioned by violence, murder and rape of unimaginable proportions.
In Benue State, 73 corpses were given mass burial on Thursday. The deaths result from the attacks of Fulani herders that took place on 1st and 2nd January, 2018. Seventy-eight souls perished at the hands of the herders!
These souls died not with the sticks we know with the herders. No, the sticks have been replaced with AK-47 and other sophisticated weapons of violence and destruction.
The paramount ruler of Tiv nation, Prof. James Ayatse, in his speech during the funeral, said the last attack was the 47th of its kind perpetrated by Fulani herders. And this is just as Tiv people residing in Nasarawa and Taraba states were being mauled daily.
The litany of violence is long. In Taraba state, the government enacted the anti-open grazing and ranches establishment law in June 2017, but the law will only become effective from 24th January, 2018. Since the enactment of the law, the state has known no peace. The death toll has risen to 60 in the last weekend.
The herdsmen have become invisible, killing at will, wiping out whole communities and vapourising into thin air. Welcome to Nigeria, the land of the unthinkable.
It would not be painful if the state’s response had not been tepid. The response, in this case, leaves so much to be desired. Because President Buhari appears unmoved by the scale of his kinsmen’s atrocities, people have read complicity or collusion into his famed body language.
In the recent gory attacks, the response of the presidency has been acutely insensitive and unkind. Cataloguing the innumerable attacks by Fulani herders that preceded the Buhari’s administration was a low point for the government. Sometimes, people wonder what crept into the heads of those handling the President’s media team. That the herdsmen killed over 756 in two years under Jonathan was not a particularly brilliant response. So, human statistics now appear meaningless to government as long as the atrocities were perpetrated by favoured groups. Seven hundred and fifty-six souls!
The herdsmen have been classified as a grave security threat only next to that of the Boko Haram. Should we wait until the whole nation falls under the swords of the Fulani herders? In this country, a state governor once publicly highlighted how he made efforts to buy peace from the implacable herders of death. This means the government really knows these marauders. Were Nasir-el Rufai not a governor, he would have flayed such utterances from any governor. Rather than prosecute known criminals, government now appeases them! It is Nigeria, the land of absurdities!
The perennial pastoralists-farmers conflict has its roots in several factors. At the core of it is land scarcity which is environmental in nature. But beyond this, political factor can be implicated. In the North Central, there are states where the Fulani are laying claim to indigeneship. Climate change exacerbating desertification is also a key factor, just as population explosion cannot be ruled out.
But taking a deeper look at this problem, it is easy to figure out why Nigeria seems to have enduring romance with stagnation. Why should the government be obsessed with creating cattle routes all over the country when the modern means of raising cattle is through ranching. In the civilised world, there used to be cowboys but cowboys are now ranchers. That is civilisation and we must continue to think like people eager to catch up with the rest of the civilised world.
Even the establishment of cattle colonies being broached by the government will not likely work. When people are complaining of ulterior agenda of modern colonisation or expansion by the Fulani ethnic group, why should the government think about creating cattle colonies? On whose land? And what form of administration which such colonies be subjected to?
The Fulani herders cannot suddenly become the invisible purveyors of death while the Miyyeti Allah will only come out to rub salt on the nation’s injury by talking as if the Fulani are above the law. If IPOB could be proscribed as a terrorist organisation, Miyyeti Allah should also be declared a local terrorist group. Human beings cannot become fodder just because Miyyeti Allah is beyond restraint in providing insensitive justification for the atrocities of its members. When the cows are destroying farmlands, the herders are mauling humans! What a catastrophe!
Dealing with the menace of the Fulani herdsmen will require sincerity from government by boosting security, prosecuting criminal herders and rustlers, enforcing legislations on open grazing, dealing with the political element of the perennial feud and implementing policies aimed at mitigating climate change while ultimately embracing ranching as the acceptable means of rearing cattle in Nigeria.
And President Muhamadu Buhari must do more to convince us that he is truly the President of the whole country — not just that of his ethnic group.