Arguably, this may well be done from the humungous size of Northern Nigeria, three times larger than the south and less densely populated; except that the champions of the influx do not appear to be really looking for a cohesive Fulani cultural geography. They appear to be wishing to take the country either in one fell swoop or through a scattering of seeds as in the case of the proverbial sower, zeroing in upon truly green and juicy lands, such as forest reserves, which were actually planted and replanted for generations by local farmers through deliberate efforts to reverse logging propensities from colonial times. During the recent Senate hearings of Chief Security men being appointed as ambassadors, there were testimonies to the effect that 1000 forest reserves across the country have been overrun by random migrants. It was an admission of culpability on the part of the security men who could allow parts of the country to be taken over and ranked as ungoverned spaces.(A very unhealthy term where there are local governments). It suggests that forest guards, who themselves have been abandoned, simply learnt to abandon the ship of duty to an indeterminate authority thus allowing a virtual invitation to any group of bandits and brigands from outer space to mount a takeover of Nigerian forests while security chiefs would write the post-mortems.
Of course, to change all this required a rethinking of animal husbandry as serious business. Beyond being just a way of life for segments of society, it called for turning the industry into a grand affair such as have taken so many countries upwards and up in development while Nigeria continued to wallow in the ordure of cows that the protagonists of the herdsmen dreamt for in grandiose terms that could never work whether from the grassroots of genuine educational advancement or in the highfalutin terms that amounted to running fast to remain on the same spot. We may well recall in this connection the gargantuan sums spent on building River Basin Authorities across the Sahelian North which were soon abandoned, left to founder, to the annoyance of Niger Delta militants who saw oil boom being treated as mere largesse to be wasted on cattle projects.. After the river basin authorities, came the grand plans for Rural Grazing Areas, rugas, and cattle republics. They were supposed to be grand cities of Dubai proportions built with oil money; with little thought for animal husbandry while herdsmen were, as always, considered in terms of nomads engaged in open grazing in the belittling ways of treating them as not being modern enough to handle cattle ranches.
Interestingly, herdsmen were being seen by their protagonists merely as users of sticks who needed to be upgraded to users of Kalashnikovs, with an army of them to be unleashed from across the borders ostensibly to stand up to rustlers but more and more to seek lands exclusively for herdsmen already in quite a millenarian struggle for grazing reserves. Modern cities with state of the arts facilities were being considered for the herdsmen but fixated along formulaic ways of thinking of ancient herdsmen in open grazing. The passion with which these were being pursued, not for educating the whole society but building special towns and cities for open grazers in exclusive locales, was a cancerous vogue. It turned people off. Assumedly, they would not have to turn other people’s farms into grazing fields. But it was all out in the zeal with which bills were being pursued in parliament to realize the rural grazing areas, rugas, cities for herdsmen who were considered in apartheid formulaic terms; cities exclusively for Fulani herdsmen to be distanced from other Nigerians. It turned out that they were organizing herdsmen’s sororities to support open grazing of cattle, preparing the way for rugas under the auspices of the Cattle Breeders Asociation, the Miyetti Allah Kaotal Hore. Their ambition was to create Fulani conurbations across the country that would be hospitable to open grazing and defending herdsmen who were grazing down crops by farmers usually of a different ethnic stock. They were asking farmer-folks across the Middle-Belt to choose between their lives or their lands, seeking to turn armed propaganda for open grazing into government policy, which became obvious when national security chiefs and presidential spokespersons began to admonish local farmers being harassed and quitted from their homesteads and farmsteads to show empathy to herdsmen who were merely seeking grazing lands for their cattle. The offside of this is that irrespective of the haggle over the activities of the herdsmen as proved by the raiding and destruction of farmlands, there were takeovers of villages and towns that were being swiftly renamed to blanch them out of history, while the inhabitants were being driven into refugee camps as if they were just another front of Boko Haram victims from the North-East. The proof, if any was needed, is that 2.8 million refugees were swiftly in refugee camps, stylishly described as internally displaced persons, who were not being allowed to return to their homes. Surely, anyone seeking to know where Nigeria was heading would be doing veracity a service by considering that Nigeria had become a country where up to three million people were in refugee camps for internally displaced persons, outside a declared civil war.
In effect, it simply happened that the great issues and uproars of our times began to centre on herdsmen mass-migrating as ethnic fractions of the Fulani from Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad, and from other parts of Africa. All of them were apparently following invitations to join in the scramble for lands that were not usually identified with the Fulani in Nigeria. Or to put it in the strident terms of the social media, the Fulani in Nigeria were inviting the Fulani all over Africa to come to Nigeria to take over the country with armed propaganda. Since they could find no means of achieving their purposes within the Nigerian lawmaking process, they were presumably resorting to armed propaganda which was occasioning a great increase in the clashes between herders and farmers across the country. Whether or not this was in pursuit of the protocols of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on free movement of people, it happened to have implications for life in Nigeria that was bound to shake the whole country to its foundations. It became the determinant of every other purpose of government. In essence, Nigerian herdsmen have been across many states in the manner that Boko Haram terrorists have been doing across the northeastern states for a decade as armed propagandists occupying lands beyond the cultural geographies with which the Fulani in Nigeria are usually identified. Like Boko Haram, who have been officially described as ´technically defeated´, they were always returning to be more virulent than the last time they were sighted. Several communities were being over-ridden and renamed to blacken them out of history. Whole geopolitical zones, the nation’s bread basket, were threatened with imminent famine as a result of the virtual demobilization of and massacre of farm folks. From within and outside Nigeria, Fulani youths, who should be truly benefitting from a Marshall Aid to give them education and skills that could remove them from harrowing poverty, were being dragooned in their hundreds of thousands, in trailer loads from the North and dumped into forests and virtual urban jungles in the South. They are being made to suffer horrid indignities so that they too would learn to inflict grosser indignities on others! Assuredly, these are the grand and subaltern narratives of our times in the face of governments that are openly asking indigenous farmer-folks in the Middle Belt and across the country to be hospitable to strangers who have been confronting them, ordinary peasants, with Kalashnikovs (AK47 riffles). By the way, they are called armed propagandists here, because they demand ´your land or your life!´, an advertisement of their core goal, turning Nigeria into a country that luxuriates in arrant self-abuse while the security men who should be protecting the citizens are giving the impression that they were merely moon-lighting. The harder part is that the Federal Government of Nigeria, under a leadership that is notionally Fulani, has appeared rankly incapable and so technically overwhelmed that no solution it has provided has been up to scratch in meeting the challenges. The nepotistic surrounds of government at the Federal levels and the consequent difficulty of having a rational non-ascriptive discussion of civic competence, has compounded the problems. Understandably, the local populations across the country, feeling unprotected and betrayed, have accountably lost faith in the national security apparatus. They view all the security forces, all of them under determinate, parochial, ethnic leadership, as being easily and constantly overtaken by virtual hoodlums who perpetrate mayhem. Hoodlums, so called, are pumping general distrust into the public space with forms of impunity daring all communities to set up their own home grown security arrangements.
In the Middle-Belt, North-East, North-West, South-East, South-West and the Niger Delta – communities and zones are having to seek self-help away from national security organizations. In order to fend off constitutional constraints and restraints, the self-help approaches have been taking the form of basically semi-formal or makeshift formations such as the seemingly unending ding-dong at the Boko Haram war fronts. In Borno and Yobe states, the state governments had to set up what are called Civilian Joint Task forces, CJTF, in order to feel safer. More recently they have been toying with the idea of hiring foreign mercenaries to relieve federal agents of intermittent attacks on the governors entourage. In Kano State, lacking faith in the Federal Police system, the Governor has relied on the Sharia oriented police, Hisbah, which has been very quickly copied by other Sharia compliant states. Sundry such organizations have been set up right down to local government levels in 23 of Nigeria’s 36 states. They have entertaining names like “Yan Kasai” Local Vigilantes in Zamfara State, “Yan Banga” in Sokoto, “Anumi” in Taraba, Kaduna State Vigilance Service, BOYES. Bornu Youth volunteers under JTF, Neighbourhood Watch Group in Ebonyi State, and Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency in Rivers state. The widespread and elective nature of these security organizations, outside Federal charge, have not roused the Federal Government to a positive thresh of policy. Not to forget that Federal quandary has been advertised with the formation of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which has contributed a negative perception to the rating of the Nigerian security system by being adept at corruption and extra-judicial killings.
- Being excerpts of the virtual 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Lecture delivered by the Polemicist, Odia Ofeimun, as part of activities marking the 112th posthumous birthday of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on Saturday, March 6.
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