WHAT remains for me to add is that, as the armed propagandists move from one part of the country to the other, with ethnic siblings from neighbouring African countries who are all acting with a sense of siblinghood that runs deep, we should not forget that they have attracted to themselves rogue despoilers, not necessarily of the same ethnic stock but muzzling in to have their own swipe of the roiling scramble for the most populous and, some would say, the richest African country. The eclectic nature of their attacks on others spell pictures of randomness that have made their progress appear uncoordinated and unfocused. Often, however, it seems so only if one ignores the loud existence of the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, which has drawn much attention to the collective claims of the herdsmen. They happen to have attracted listening ears right up to the highest quarters of governmental power with diligence that has been proved by the spectacle of national security chiefs who, unwilling or unable to end the violence that continues to erupt, have been admonishing the victims, across Nigeria, to be considerate to herdsmen whose cattle have been destroying farm crops in their search for grazing lands, cattle republics and new homelands. The more up-market support for them has been maintained by Governors like Yari of Zamfara State and Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State and several less particularizable sponsors. Governor Bala Mohammed in particular has been heard and seen making a case not only for the herdsmen to be accepted as citizens or indigenes of Nigeria but for the Federal Government to make budgetary allocations to cover their interests; irrespective of which countries they may hail from. The Thursday Homily column in DAILY SUN on December 26 2019 was obliged to quote the Governor as answering a question by Chamberlain Usoh of Channels Television on the propriety of the Federal Government mandatorily securing and building dedicated settlements across the country for the Fulani, even those from outside NIGERIA. He replied: “How do you know which Fulani is Nigerian and which is not”.. He added: “we are already accommodating them.” …. How… “Do you delineate and really know who is not a Fulani man from Nigeria. They are all Nigerians. Their identity, their citizenship is Nigerian. Even though we (Fulani) have relations all over the world, all over Africa , they are presumably Nigerians”. This is really what it means to say that the Fulani have the ears of people in government or that the Federal Government has been overwhelmed by their primordial relationships. When a Government denies the validity of borders, it leaves no space for statistical presumptions. It makes the ruling echelon to appear either to be gloating in ignorance or deliberately seeking to contrive such ignorance. But when a Governor goes out on a limb to defend the right of herdsmen to carry and use Kalashnikovs, as many of them have done, it opens a dimension of distrust and mistrust in the society that they live in. This has implications for the general security of the whole society.
It gets truly painful at the level, and in the case of the President of the Republic, General Muhammadu Buhari, a long time patron of the herdsmen, who has had his ear openly corked in their tow in public view. It gets worrisome because it is not clear how much genuine professional support is being given to the herders. From the early days of his retirement as a soldier, as already noted, he has continued to demonstrate so much empathy for them, and in a manner that has raised his overarching shadow against prosecuting the herdsmen for carrying arms or using same for purposes that are brazenly nefarious. Perhaps, more of a proof of the savvy of the herdsmen, as one might call it is that even with news reports of armed take-over of villages in several local governments across the country, the Herdsmen’s Revolt would appear to have been given a virtual warrant in the proclamation that he, General Buhari, made at the ASWAN Forum in Egypt in December 2019. The proclamation granting visa on arrival to all Africans coming to Nigeria from January 2020 is not truly of professional significance. The strategic implications of the proclamation were stretched by the Minister of Foreign affairs and International Cooperation of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Ambassador Ahmed Awad who tweeted from the ASWAN Forum, thus:
“ I wish to profoundly commend President @mBuhari of Nigeria who just announced at the ASWAN Forum complete visa exemption for all Africans. Starting January 2020 Africans will be able to arrive Nigeria without visas. It is such an exemplary decision. Thanks, your excellency”.
Of course, we all do know that all the Fulani in Africa have not been rushing and barging into Nigeria to take advantage of the declaration. But there has been enough traffic to cause consternation. Simply, the Fulani that are Nigerians are making a case for attracting siblings from outside. The unspoken part is whether the potential absorption of the Fulani from neighbouring countries into the Nigerian fold is a decision of Nigeria as a country or of the President. The distinction matters. It has left many Nigerians wondering whether what it means for the genuine business of animal husbandry. Is it to keep them locked in merely antediluvian forms and to spread the improvident ways of herding merely to spread an old tradition without improving it? And, if the ASWAN Declaration is meant to have a wider implication for all Africans who do not need to be herders to be given any attention, the question that arises is: will the Yoruba, the Efik, the Kanuri, the Bariba, and the Hausa who are citizens of neighbouring states, according to the format of the Berlin conference of 1885, also now have the same privileges that the Fulani from other countries are now to enjoy? As Nigeria is a country with quite a pan-African population, this is tantamount to wondering if all Africans, including the Yoruba and Edo/Benin siblings among the Ga of Ghana, may migrate to Nigeria, if they so wish. This is not a laughable proposition. Although not all Africans would consider it an improvement of their status to be re-calibrated as Nigerians, it does matter that the proposal is on the table whether or not the influx of migrants is a trickle or a flood. The concern for them as human beings in a human situation needs to be made obvious. Especially so as there should be interest in the migrants beyond using them as ethno-political football.
The point is that the ASWAN Declaration has been made and it is in the public domain. Wittingly or unwittingly, moving the Fulani into Nigeria from their present domiciles from across Africa has the implied dissolution of protocols that once prevented Africans from crossing the borders as they pleased into or out of existing African states. If a blanket movement of the people is to be allowed as a matter of principle, as per the intention of General Buhari´s visa-on-arrival, or no-visa policy, it should have a meaning for the people beyond the implication of achieving dissolution of many African states as we know them. The subtext is that since many Fulani in Nigeria speak Hausa and may not speak Fulfude, the Hausa in Diaspora who are already, to that extent, being importuned into the thought-world of the Hausa speaking areas of Nigeria, will also have to be part of the influx which in any case is already part of everyday reality. How do they fit in? I ask because it connotes an urgency that, with the ASWAN proclamation in tow, some siblings from across the borders could turn into a virtual demand to be weighed along one of two strategic implications. Either a strategic takeover of parts of Nigeria by neighbouring countries or the sequestering of parts of neighbouring countries to turn them into part of the Nigerian maelstrom, this is the sense in which we must understand the, still, half-baked proposals that are doing the rounds, such as the proposal by the President of the Republic of Benin for a union of his country and Nigeria.
It may well fall into the ethnic calculus of some Nigerians who are strategizing how to bring cultural siblings into the scramble for Nigeria. The idea of the Republic of Niger, trooping the colours in favour of such a new map of subtropical Africa is being touted. To many on both sides of the border, the issue is not just about the complication of cultural siblings seeking union across Africa’s international borders and encountering unresolved problems of indigenes and strangers just as they were created by imperialism during the scramble for Africa. The heart of it is that people who have an ethnic rationale for seeking fusion or coalescence are invoking cultural contiguities as necessary determinants of political maps.
In a country asking to be renewed, there are issues of cross-border voting behaviour asking for representation. But this would be inserting ethnic and cultural nationality issues of their own that would heighten the fervour with which Nigerian Federalism would be discussed and ultimately re-strategized to account for the here and nowness of the issues.
As well, there are counterfactual issues of what could have happened if President Buhari had managed to overcome South African opposition at the ASWAN Forum, and had become the Chair of all discussions of migration in Africa. Surely, it would have amounted giving the prize to one who was closing borders against neighbours while seeking to chair free movements across the continent. What does that say about an ordered form of free movement of peoples in a country and a continent of so many internal divisions in the context of the need to boost African integration, continental trade, and tourism in these days of African Continental Free Trade Area? Momentous and earth-shaking issues! It should make natives wonder why the no-visa policy was dropped upon the table without due public education or requisite planning to avoid bewilderment and consternation in so many quarters. It could prove the point that this is the way the elephant moves because it has no wings. Meaning that: that there is something amiss for citizens on both sides of the divide who should be concerned about the millions of Nigerians/Africans who, already facing enormous security issues from unrelieved influx of migrants across porous borders, have always needed to protect their ethnic homelands from brazen undeclared shooting wars.
We who are about to discuss restructuring, we salute you.
- Being excerpts of the virtual 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Lecture delivered by the Polemicist, Odia Ofeimum, as part of activities marking the 112th posthumous birthday of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on Saturday, March 6.
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