The presence of the nomadic Fulani and their animals in farming communities in different parts of Nigeria has for years become a source of seemingly intractable problems. The herdsmen have been wandering in whatever directions they choose and grazing their cows indiscriminately on grass, farms and farmlands. They have become a real menace in the various communities into which they have found their way. They are armed with lethal weapons which, under the law, are the exclusive preserve of state actors. They do not only destroy the farmers’ means of livelihood. They kill, maim and rape. They subject the hapless farmers to unspeakable brutalities and get away without consequence. The average farmer’s encounter with the Fulani herdsmen is a story of woes.
The experience in the North Central zone has been particularly gruesome.
There have been reports of attacks on farmers’ villages in the course of which habitations were set ablaze after the usual orgy of mass murder. There was the report of how Christians in one community in Benue State, who went for the cross-over service (December 31, 2017 to January 1, 2018) were intercepted and slaughtered on their way back to their homes in the wee hours of 2018. The incumbent minister of defence cited the state government’s anti-open grazing law as justification for the massacre in which the lives of 73 innocent people were terminated in one fell swoop. What President Muhammadu Buhari had to say on the blood-curdling incident was that the people of Benue State should accommodate the herdsmen – the mass murderers and source of their anguish.
As the herdsmen extended their tentacles to the South West, they widened the scope of their criminalities to include kidnapping for ransom. Ondo and Oyo states are their present theatres of operation with Ibarapa area of Oyo State as the killing field. One common thread that runs through developments in the two states is the eviction notice served on the rampaging herdsmen. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, as the custodian of the state’s lands, gave the order that the nomads and their animals should vacate the state’s forest reserves within seven days. Conversely and coincidentally, a private citizen, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho,who has been differently described as an activitist or a militant stormed Igangan in the Ibarapa Local Government Area of Oyo State and issued his own ultimatum to the nomads to leave the area, also within seven days. This has expectedly elicited varied reactions which are largely influenced by group interests and ethnic bias.
Particularly notable is the reacton of a factional president of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Bello Abdullahi Bodejo who pointedly said nobody had the power to remove Fulani herdsmen from Ondo State forest reserves. He went further to say that all lands in Nigeria belonged to the Fulani who, he maintained, would not need anybody’s permission to graze their animals anywhere they found suitable. Another group, the Dan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria, headed by one Alhaji Sale Bayari, said the outcome of a peace meeting held in Akure was not binding on its members. On his own part, one Shettima Yerima, identified as the president of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum has issued a threat that the consequences of any attack on northerners in the South West would be unimaginable. Similar views which are products of the same mindset have been expressed by some other groups. It is all about wholesale attack on southwesterners resident in the North and diligently contributing to the economy of their host communities if criminal elements from the North are brought to justice in the South West. Nigeria is indeed a land of wonders.
Sunday Igboho apparently lacks the authority to issue an eviction notice to anybody who has not trespassed on his personal property. To the beleaguered people of Ibarapa, he is, however, a situational hero who emerged on the scene to fill a vacuum created by government inaction. Governor Akeredolu, on the other hand, is perfectly within his remit to have acted the way he did because he holds the state’s lands in trust for the people. The well-worn argument that the herdsmen are exercising their freedom of movement is simply laughable. It is a glaring evidence of failure to make an easily discernible distinction between freedom of movement and trespass.
If you are not my guest, my tenant or a member of my family, you cannot saunter into my home and occupy any part of it. You will be nothing but a trespasser if you do so. This is what the herders are in Ondo State forest reserves and anywhere else they may be without lawful authority.
The matter is further compounded by their involvement in criminal activities. The governor should not just eject trespassers from the forest reserves, he has a duty to ensure that those found to have committed criminal offences are condignly punished. The herders and their backers have to be weaned from the mentality of entitlement. The earlier this is done, the better.
- Olatoye, a veteran journalist, writes in from Ibadan.
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