[By Ehichioya Ezomon]
Are we finally coming to grips with the rampaging activities of bandits prowling the highways and forests across Nigeria, with accompanying deaths and destruction, and occupation of farmlands, communities and states’ forest reserves?
The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) seems to toe governors Abdullahi Ganduje and Nasir el-Rufai’s approaches to solving the issue of herders’ criminality from the North to South of Nigeria.
While Ganduje calls for banning of herding of cattle from North to South, el-Rufai proposes taking out rather than appeasing the bandits operating from the forests in the North-West zone.
Rising from their 25th virtual meeting on Wednesday, February 10, 2021, the NGF endorsed ending “open, night and underage grazing in the country,” but with a caveat against profiling of ethnic groups because of a few criminally-minded individuals.
“Following an update from governors on the various initiatives taken by state governments to address the rising insecurity in the country due to the activities of herdsmen, members reached a consensus on the need for the country to transit into modern systems of animal husbandry that will replace open, night and underage grazing in the country,” the governors stated in a communiqué.
“The forum respects the right of abode of all Nigerians, and strongly condemns criminality and the ethnic profiling of crimes… in an effort to frame the widespread banditry and herders-farmers crises.
“In the light of the economic and security risks that have arisen from these circumstances, the forum resolved to urgently convene an emergency meeting of all governors.”
Why, if not self-serving, would the forum quarrel with profiling of the bandits, who’ve repeatedly flaunted their ethnicity, which they claim gives them the audacity to do anything to other ethnic groups in Nigeria? Ganduje and el-Rufai, who are Fulani, haven’t denied the ethnicity of the bandits that hold Nigeria by the jugular.
Ganduje, who spoke to newsmen after a lunch by All Progressives Congress (APC) governors with President Muhammadu Buhari at his Daura residence in Katsina State, said the halt to cattle movement would resolve herders-farmers’ clashes, and cattle rustling.
“My advocacy is that we should abolish the transportation or trekking of herdsmen from the Northern part of Nigeria to the Middle Belt and to the Southern part of Nigeria,” he said.
“There should be a law that will ban (such movement), otherwise we cannot control the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers and cannot control cattle rustling, which is affecting us greatly.”
Ganduje also talked about the success of his government’s RUGA settlement in Samsosua Forest, which borders Katsina, saying, “we have succeeded in curtailing the effect of banditry in that area.”
“So, we are building many houses; we are constructing a dam; we are establishing a Cattle Artificial Insemination Centre; we are establishing a Veterinary Clinic and already, we have started building houses for herdsmen,” he said.
Ganduje’s advocacy isn’t new. At the peak of the controversial Cattle Colonies/Rural Grazing (RUGA) policies advanced by the Federal Government, he offered to house all herders in Kano State.
In the wake of opposition by Southern and some Middle Belt states to the Cattle Colonies/RUGA scheme, Ganduje called on “all herders” to come to Kano, promising to provide infrastructure for rearing cattle and engaging in associated businesses.
But the herders’ umbrella Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) didn’t accept the offer that would grow their businesses, and resolve the clashes between herders and farmers.
Rather, the herders’ megaphone continues to quote the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as giving every Nigerian the right of free movement and settlement in any parts of Nigeria.
Yet, the constitution doesn’t grant armed herders of a particular ethnic group the right to destroy other people’s businesses, such as grazing on farmlands, seizure of lands, and sacking, occupying and renaming of communities so vanquished by herders.
This is the cause of the escalating insecurity, and heightening of tension between the North and South, which sees herders’ invasion as a prelude to occupation of the South by non-state actors.
Lately, Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and an acclaimed activist, Sunday Igboho, gave quit notices to Fulani herders to leave Ondo and Oyo states’ forests, respectively, with Igboho carrying out his threats to sack Fulani herders from communities in Oyo. His property was torched in reprisal.
So, it’s to avert what polity watchers and ethnic nationalities fear could lead to a second Civil War in Nigeria that prompts Ganduje to advocate a halt to movement of cattle from the North to South.
Relatedly, El-Rufai, on the Hausa Service of the BBC, said rather than appeasement, as canvassed by Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, the times call for taking the “war” to the bandits.
His words: “I want a situation where security outfits will launch a coordinated war against them by going into the forests to bomb their hideouts once and for all. Anything short of that will not end the current security situation.
“Why should they (bandits) be compensated after killing people (and) they destroyed their houses? Who offended them? Therefore, I don’t believe in what he (Gumi) is doing: that they should be forgiven and compensated.
“In fact, if any bandit is arrested in Kaduna State, he will be killed because Kaduna is at war with bandits. They kill without mercy; they don’t believe in the religion (Islam).”
El-Rufai’s radical proposal is borne out of experience, having paid out millions to appease cross-border bandits that attacked Kaduna. The monetary appeasement didn’t stop the menace by the bandits.
Yet, the governor’s revelation is startling: That the Fulani herders would rather continue with their “lucrative” criminal enterprise than going back to rearing cattle for pittance.
“The fact is a herder that earns N100,000 in a year after selling his cow, and is now getting N1 million monthly, will never revert to his previous life,” el-Rufai said in the no-holds barred interview.
“Whoever tells me that the Fulani man that started kidnapping, and receiving millions will agree to go back to his old ways, is only deceiving himself,” he added.
El-Rufai rejects Gumi’s amnesty for the bandits, saying, “most of these Fulani herders have no religion… I don’t share his idea of forgiving the bandits because no wrong was done to them.”
Gumi has been trending on social media, posing in a group photograph with heavily-armed men, whose features looked different from his. Meaning they’re aliens to Nigeria!
That photograph resembles the one Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State took with a bandit kingpin wielding an AK47 rifle, flanked by a military officer, who looked uncomfortable beside a law-breaker that should’ve answered to the laws of the land instead of being appeased by the governor.
El-Rufai bemoans the non-cooperation of Northern governors in tackling banditry, stressing, “we, the governors, lack unity among ourselves in this region, in working as one to neutralize the bandits.
“We have met, as governors, on the North-West states that have these security challenges but we couldn’t reach a common ground. Some of us want us to negotiate a peace deal, some of us said no, we should fight them (bandits). That is the problem.”
But el-Rufai may have an ally in Governor Sani Bello of Niger State, who belongs to the North Central zone. “We in Kaduna and Niger are talking on how to end the problem,” he said. “The governor of Niger calls me and we are discussing.”
While the Federal Government has rehabilitated “repentant insurgents,” viewed as a form of compensation, and some Northern governors have paid out unspecified billions to bandits, their reign of terror hasn’t abated, but spread from North to South.
But will many of their colleague-governors in the North, and the Federal Government buy into the ideas, to move away from methods that fester and embolden the criminal elements?
Are the herders and their overlord Miyetti Allah listening to the governors, Ganduje and el-Rufai in their approaches to solving the problem of herders-farmers’ clashes, banditry, kidnapping, and the overwhelming terrorism therefrom?
To avert the darkening clouds hanging over the country, the Federal Government, accused of indifference to or connivance with the herders, should buy into the NGF and el-Rufai/Ganduje proposals.
Otherwise, particularly Southerners’ imagination would continue to run riot about a hidden agenda to forcefully occupy the limited lands belonging to indigenous peoples, and hand them over to herders.
Mr. Ezomon, journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.