Fulani herdsmen: Impunity must stop

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EVERYONE knows that a Fulani herdsman is above the law. The remaining contention is why he is above the law. Government officials in their responses appear surprised that Nigerians are unwilling to accept that Fulani herdsmen should be free to kill (in the most gruesome manners), rape, burn villages, destroy farm lands and move to next destination to repeat the crimes.

GOVERNMENT denies that the criminals are Fulani herdsmen, or admits that they are Fulani herdsmen but foreigners, warn Nigerians that they should learn to accommodate the excesses of the Fulani herdsmen or seek their abode outside Nigeria. It is impossible to know how to co-exist with Fulani herdsmen, who have risen to a height in impunity that befuddles any reasoning.

EXCUSES that government officials make that the attacks are reprisals for cattle rustling are not true. Why do Fulani herdsmen not report their stolen cattle to the police? Where do they acquire the sophisticated weapons with which they annihilate villages? Who trains them? Where do they train? Why are they so certain that they would not be punished? Why does the Federal Government not condemn the attacks?

WHY do officials of the Federal Government treat victims of the attacks as if they are the aggressors? In the countless instances of these attacks, there are indications that they are massacres, executed to the last details, with the leisure of time on their side. The security agencies would arrive after hours to record the horror, usually minimising the impact in their account. The villagers are blamed if they defended themselves.

WHEREVER these attacks have taken place, the grisly pictures of the dead, throats silted, pregnant women disemboweled have become common sights. The criminals threaten to return and they often do with deadlier outcomes. The reactions have become normal: media headlines, visits by some officials to scene of attack and promises to apprehend the offenders, which never happens.

THERE have been attacks in Plateau for ages. Other States that have been attacked are Abia, Delta, Oyo, Taraba and Ekiti States. Southern Zaria has the latest attacks. Governor Nasir el-Rufai, for the months that the attacks lasted, used public funds to finance missions by the Nigeria Air Force, to secure the cattle of Fulani herdsmen, which he said were being rustled. He must must learnt from President Buhari, who on a visit to Sokoto State, promised that a battalion of the Nigerian Army would be deployed to the area to deal with cattle rustlers.

Benue and Nasarawa States have been attacked variously. Within the week, there have been a series of protest matches in Benue State over the attacks. Tiv villages seemed to have borne the brunt in Benue State until 2016 when Agatu, an Idoma settlement was attacked. Nothing has been done about finding the killers. Instead, meaningless meetings to appease the Fulani herdsmen have been held in some of the places.

GOVERNOR Sam Ortom’s new-found anger is belated. When the attacks raged in 2016, he ignored them. His preference was to hold political office, afraid that a condemnation of the attacks could offend his party, which controls the security agencies that have consistently failed to stop attacks, or protect villagers who warn of impending attacks.

Nimbo in Enugu State was viciously attacked in 2016, leading to the deaths of tens of villagers. EIGHT months after the attacks, there are no indications that any arrests have been made nor necessary compensations paid. Indeed, informed sources say that even before the federal government announced plans to establish cattle colonies in parts of the country, Nimbo is already contending with one, with villagers allegedly stripped of their right to farm their lands without “permission” from the herdsmen.

On a visit to Enugu shortly after the Nimbo attack, on the invitation of the governor “to honour Rangers International (who won the National League after 32 years) and to commission projects,” the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, speaking in defence of the Fulani herdsmen, being their political, cultural and spiritual leader, as well as the patron of the cattle owners association –the Miyett Allah, stunned many when he declared, in part:

“It is indeed absurd and most unfortunate that certain groups or people ascribe the incidents on ethnic and/or religious premise and to whimsically apportion blame in order to batter the gradual restoration of peace and security in Nigeria. Well, the Commissioner of Police, Enugu State has debunked the rumours, likewise the Inspector General of Police has also debunked the insinuations over those being blamed.” The insult stood; some even applauded the speech.

ATTACKS in the South West have been far between. Clashes with farmers in Iseyin, Oyo State, lasted for years. Remarkably, Muhammadu Buhari, now President, made a visit to Oyo State in 2001, after an attack in which the Fulani herdsmen did not fare well, to lambast Governor Lam Adeshina on the handling of the crisis. Governor Adeshina stood up to him, wondering why an elder statesman, a former Head of State of Nigeria, would take sides, without finding out what happened. Buhari stormed out of the meeting.

SIXTEEN years after, it is the turn of Alhaji Mohammed Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, former Governor of Kano State, to turn up in Ile-Ife to ask why Ifes defended themselves after the Fulani settlers attacked a man, whose wife one of them molested. The whole town erupted and more lives were lost. What was Kwankwao’s point except to emphasise that the Fulanis were above the law, whether they were herdsmen or settlers?

LIKE his brother governors, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State incensed people with his comments that tended to blame the Ifes, while it was known that the Fulanis were the aggressors. The attack against Yorubas in Sagamu in 2008, just like the Ile-Ife attacks, generated a lot of media attention, possibly because of the proximity to Lagos, the hub of the media.

A COUNTRY that once condemned discrimination in all its known forms, a country that crafted its Constitution and condemned discrimination in all its ramifications, now applauds, justifies, encourages and identifies with the oppression of its people, under guises that promote principles that negate democracy and civil rule.

SECTION 17 (3) of the 1999 Constitution abhors discrimination and pointedly expects that Nigeria would direct its policies towards equity, fairness, and justness. “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that- (a) all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment.”

IS that the Nigeria we have? Is government making any effort to cater for the interests of Nigerians, even if the question is limited to the management of the clashes between Fulani herdsmen and other Nigerians? Why does the Federal Government concede the right to destroy others’ lives and means of livelihood to Fulani herdsmen?

WHEN would governments punish Fulani herdsmen for their various crimes? Why has the earlier lull in the attacks since 2017 been broken? Every unpunished impunity created more impunities. It is time we broke the cycle by punishing the guilty, whoever they are, without fear or favour.

PATIENCE is running thin on several fronts. The calls for self-help are no longer mere suggestions. The more people know that government security agencies would not defend them, when they know that government security agencies would belittle their pains, as the Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris referred to the killings in Benue State as communal clashes, the more they would find means to defend themselves. The consequences may include escalation of inert tensions.

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