ALTHOUGH the Governors who set it up had not fully fleshed it out, the idea of a Western Nigeria Security Network that could fill the gaps that had been left yawning by the Federal government remained something that needed to be invented since it did not yet exist. How else put an end to the sheer atavism and rampant threats to lives and property by terrorists, kidnappers, homeland-seeking nomads, and their armed propagandists! A federal government unable or unwilling to perform the requisite security curbs but wishing to liquidate the self-defence mechanism created by any state was bound to be seen as an irrational and irresponsible collaborator with the enemies of peace and security. Besides, too many Nigerians were increasingly convinced that the terrorists were enjoying discernible official backing.
How would the TIME OF THE LEOPARD be turned into a state of shared self-respect between the centre and the peripheries, with a strategy for over-coming terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and ransom hunters, which opposed self-defence and made no allowance for protecting the peasants, farmer-folks and random sufferers who were being hemmed with Kalashnikovs, and driven off their farmlands and turned into refugees? At a time when it was being ritually proved that state after state had many of the terrorists using hardware – guns and ammunition – derived from the armouries of Federal military and police agencies, it no longer seemed to be an issue of ethnic profiling of the Fulani as bandits and kidnappers. It had become too commonplace. Once official investigations began to match postings in the security services and nepotism in military and police postings to evident misdeeds across the country, it was beyond mere insinuation. It was being proved to the point where the Federal Government, in accordance with its nepotistic and atavistic disposition, made it quite evident as a case of turning a blind eye to impunity and mayhem.
By implication, the post-bellum negotiations with the bandits and armed propagandists were becoming more and more a matter of finding face-saving accommodation for culpable federal agencies that were increasingly under assault by communities resisting terrorist armies of occupation touting and firing Federal Kalashnikovs. The ugly prospects of positional warfare between terrorists using Federal guns to hold down normal Federal security operatives was embarrassing. It was a most uncivil strategy of federal self-containment.
Before the Covid-19 lockdowns took place in 2020, as “divine interventions’’, with the imminence of confrontation – in the Niger Delta and in the Middle-Belt and particularly in the South-East, it seemed there were skirmishes being deliberately organized to provide rationales for security engagements by federal operatives in a clear pointer to a civil war. This factor was being loudly proclaimed in the media by former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo and his former Defence Chief, T.Y Danjuma, who were drumming it up to ever higher decibels, concerning the imminence of civil war. Having seen service in the Congo in the sixties and in the Nigerian Civil War into the seventies and having had enough military standing, to help quell civil strife, managing peace missions across Africa, they were in a position to engage in definitive and credible scare-mongering either to wake up a population sleepwalking into a major conflagration or conscientizing the sponsors of armed propaganda, banditry, and homeland-seeking terrorism to imagine the consequences of a war without fronts. Whilst Obasanjo has been warning about the apparent inevitability of war, General Danjuma has been openly calling on fellow Nigerians to organize against becoming victims of the herdsmen and bandits. In a way, their tack has amounted to asking peasants with cutlasses and hoes to stand up to armed propagandists with Kalashnikovs.
The two old war horses, to be brutally frank, have been ruefully conceding the significance of ethnic consciousness in national affairs or regretting the critical roles they had played in over five decades of lulling sundry ethnic groups in the country to accept ethnic exceptionalism of the Fulani activists whom they had joined in sowing the patriotic fiction that there was no tribalism in the Nigerian army. Even though this particular army was recruited on the basis of ethno-regional quotas which managed also to have had coup de tats that were riddled with charges of regional and tribal return matches, they were still trusting in the efficacy of urging the sponsors of the terrorists to ship their rag-tag army of mayhem and disruption back to wherever they had shipped them from. Or they were merely accepting their helplessness at an impending conflagration that, once ignited, could have the corrosive implication of not stopping with the defeat of one side or the other but escalate uncontrollably without fronts.
I should add that until the recent Fulani Upsurge which came with armed propagandists in pursuit of grazing reserves, rural grazing areas, Rugas, ancient cattle routes, and the take-over of federal government security departments across the country, it was not assumed as a serious matter by the potential victims which included the Generals. Those who failed to see that this was Armageddon gloating and yawning in their faces have since learnt to grasp the issues along happenings in the Presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari, whom I would not have remembered to call a Fulani, but for his cosy relationships with the rise of Fulani organizations like the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. This organization now has had a high enough profile to be negotiating ransoms on behalf of Federal negotiators in kidnapping episodes. They have provided a way of understanding Nigeria in terms of a scramble for homelands: this being an ethnic group that had appeared not to be so exercised by land hunger but recently wizened up to it. Indeed, the Fulani upsurge that had been quite self-repressed has become so volatile to the point where it has begun to enjoy negative comparison with Odu’a People’s Congress, OPC, which President Obasanjo asked the police to shoot at sight while he was in office. Just in case they were found causing trouble under the presumption that they were members of his ethnic group and therefore free to over-step their bounds.
Unlike Obasanjo, Buhari has done a lopsided embrace of his own ethnic group. As distinct from Obasanjo’s seeming over-criminalization of the Yoruba in order to keep them reined in, Buhari’s over-identification with his ethnic group is generally considered a spur to misconduct by his cultural siblings . This is being traced from the days after his retirement from the army when, as patron of Miyetti Allah, he went to Lam Adesina, Oyo State Governor, to claim, as it turned out, wrongly, that your people are killing my Fulani people.
Although such a frontal negotiation was what nation-building called for in the making of a multi-ethnic state, it was only just dawning on all that putting all wares on the table without duplicity also called for a high sense of veracity which was lacking in the instance. Not doing this right, and making it seems as if he was just doing ethnic profiling, wrong-footed the proper minding of his well known position as a strait-laced , no-nonsense fighter from a tribalism-free army. It was such that, today, it is with great dexterity, almost self-immolating creativity, that all wronged Nigerians, oppressed minorities and disadvantaged majorities have managed to stress their rights as citizens in spite of his claim after his election as President that he was for everybody and nobody. What has made it so brashly grating in recent times is that many of the Fulani are cross-border migrants asserting rights that they need to be properly naturalized in the Nigerian setting. This is especially so as the new influx of people are apparently no longer having to be accommodated under generalized Arewa or Northern Nigerian auspices. It happens that those who were always accepted as citizens now wish for something higher than citizenship. They want to be indigenes before they are citizens with certified homelands to which they can bring whoever they fancy from other African countries. The snag is that the purely ethnic dimensions of their demands happen to be coming at a time when the country is being led by a President who, although notionally Fulani, has exposed an agenda that, by its own reckoning, reeks of pure land hunger that alienates even the neighbourhood Hausa, some of whom would rather be bandits than accept the role of non-citizens.
For that matter, it is as if the leaders of the Fulani upsurge are telling other Nigerians that a new dispensation was afoot to which they are not being asked to make a contribution but have to bow down to. More or less, this is an invitation to a scuffle as one can recall from the argument of Professor Jubril Aminu, a member of successive Federal executive councils under the military, who actually argued early in the upsurge, that there should be no surprise that the Fulani have upgraded from sticks to Kalashnikovs because all other nationalities, as with the Niger Delta militants, are upgrading. It shows how ethnic envy is part of the game that is going on, but one that a smart national leadership could handle. What is not clear is how truly differently those regarded as ethnic freedom fighters by Sheik Ahmad Gumi are to be taken. Obviously it spells a hidden response to armed propagandists from Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic in a way that shows sensitivity to the changed circumstances in the Sahelian North between once supposed regional siblings. The question is: where do they stand in the accustomed ethnic commitments which emphasize Fulani issues over Hausa concerns that have not had proper airing for decades? This has been quite the issue with so-called bandits, who appear like inexperienced coalition builders, answering to being ethnic freedom fighters (as heard from Sheik Gumi who has not been consistent in his attributions or articulation of demands). What it says is that inter-bandit activities can explain activities of the various groups even more than the supposedly great issues about the impact of climate change on the herdsmen who are mass migrating.
Surely, this requires those with communal memory to think of the manner that horse-riding slave hunters in the pre and immediate colonial period, rode roughshod over many Nigerian communities in the Middle-Belt. It made it such poor taste recently and a source of uproar when Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State was heard describing what was clearly a wish as the actuality by implying that farmers in his state were having to carry AK 47s to their farms in order to feel safe. It was loose talk as many in his state told him. What cannot be denied is that, as in that ugly past, there has always been the troubling awareness that many of the Fulani today are not Nigerians. Many speak French and are not even so good at Fulfude. In their perpetration of violence, aimed at displacing Nigerians from indigenous homelands that they have occupied for eons, the herdsmen, bandits, and kidnappers, have managed to win a place for themselves as the lords of the bushes. This has been authoritatively stressed by Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State, to the effect that it is almost like a coming of age rite for many a youngster, to take over the forests as a test of honour for dealing with the overfed cities.
- 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.
To be continued
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