By Abdussamad Umar Jibia
Recently there was an attack in Benue state that claimed many lives. The claim by the state Government is that the attack was carried out by Fulani herdsmen, whatever that means. But this is not the first time lives were lost in Benue due to the problem of clashes between farmers and herders encroaching upon their farmlands. Two years ago there was a similar attack on Agatu community of the same state that claimed many more lives. There are also similar attacks in other parts of the country especially South and North Central states where the pasture is greener.
Like on every issue, Nigerians are divided. First, since the issue has to do with Fulani, a tribe closely associated with Islam, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Southern press took their side. It is an opportunity to pour out the anti-Islamic venom on an issue that is purely criminal. As a regular reader of online newspapers I always find the headlines of southern newspapers and the comments revealing. They have a regular pattern. From the headline you would know the side taken by the newspaper. The news will be twisted to make you believe what you are required to believe. Then the comments will follow along the same line. If they are not abusing the ‘clueless’, ‘certificateless’, ‘boko haram sponsor’ etc. at the top they are attacking Islam for being a jihadist, blood-spilling religion.
In its contradictory response, CAN accused the Federal Government of protecting the Fulani herdsmen while at same time calling on her to act. They also called for prayer ‘against’ the herdsmen, not for peace as would be expected of a religious body that has followership across all segments of the Nigerian society including herdsmen.
On the same side as CAN and the southern press are the Fani-Kayodes and the Fayoses. Like a Facebook friend observed, Buhari is becoming too soft for the liking of many Nigerians by allowing the likes of Fani-Kayode and Fayose to attack him at every opportunity including an accident involving his child. The security agencies have a responsibility to not only protect Mr. President from bodily harm but also from personal insults that are distinct from constructive criticisms. We are still expecting them to play this part of their role.
On the other side are the Miyetti Allah organization and their sympathizers who would always claim that the herders have the right to open-grazing, impliedly even on farms not belonging to them, because that is their means of subsistence. On this recent one, the Miyetti Allah association claimed that it was in retaliation to the killing of 1000 animals by local militia. The Miyetti Allah has its powerful sympathizers in the social media. For example, a Facebook pal of mine with large number followers would go to any extent to justify whatever is done by Fulani. For many Fulani when a brother is involved there is no principle, no justice but of the kind obtainable among the pre-Islamic Arabs, “help your brother whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed”.
The extremely sentimental kind of reaction by CAN, southern press and others have pushed many Muslims to blindly take side with the Fulani herdsmen even against the Qur’anic injunction of investigating before forming an opinion. My brothers are further emboldened by the arrest of some armed militia allegedly sponsored by the Government of Benue state or some anti-Islamic outfit.
But the Government is also divided. While the Benue state Government is adamant on anti-open grazing law the Plateau state Government will not use the word ‘anti’ on any ‘business’. The Federal Government will call ‘stake-holders’ conference to iron out the problem. Meanwhile the president has asked the IG to relocate to Benue state and some herdsmen have already been arrested. The contradictions continue.
As a Northerner, especially one with some Fulani blood running in him, there is a side I am expected to take regardless of my first hand experience of dealing with other Nigerians including Fulani herdsmen. Unfortunately I don’t join the bandwagon. Even when I attend meetings, any meetings, I usually express my own opinions which are not necessary the opinions of any group I am seen to belong. It has been difficult but it gives me satisfaction.
The conflict between herders and farmers is not new. It only became glaring after the Fulani herdsmen as they are now known began moving down south with desert encroachment on our own part of the country. It is well known that our communities in the North West are made up of a mixture of Hausas and Fulani, the former being farmers and the latter being cattle-rearers. The two groups were enjoying peace with very minor disagreements on farm encroachment until somewhere in the 1980s through 1990s when a strange type of herders began to cross our borders and tramp on our farms with their cattle. The menace became pronounced during the Abatcha regime when security forces were in many cases dispatched to tackle them. In one of such cases which I remember very well, when those “Udawa” became a nuisance to farmers around Funtua in Katsina state a team of MOPOL was sent to counter-attack them and most of them were killed and their cows were slaughtered and eaten by their farmer victims in Funtua township. But there was no problem. Both the herdsmen and their victims were “Muslims”. CAN did not call for prayers or condemn Federal Government. The southern press did not carry any catchy headlines as no Christian was involved and life continued.
I believe the Miyetti Allah association does not expect us to take them serious. It is never an excuse to feed your cows with the farm produce of innocent people just because grazing reserves were sold by some Government officials or traditional rulers. It is even more unacceptable to kill human beings because some cattle were stolen. The Sokoto state Governor has offered to give enough land for open grazing. I expected Miyetti Allah to accept the offer and develop the given land for the benefit of their members. This will, in addition to bringing the desired peace, give an opportunity for them to have economic control over the animals and their products in form of beef, hide, manure, etc. That they have not done that keeps me in doubt about their actual motive.
The North West is not in any way more peaceful than North Central or southern states, no thanks to the activities of Fulani cattle rustlers and kidnappers. These criminals have attacked and killed many innocent people and in some cases raped or abducted their families in Zamfara, Katsina and other North Western states. Two years ago I published how my uncle was killed by these criminals after rustling over 350 cows from his village. These cows belonged to innocent villagers who have never encroached on anybody’s farm to feed them. These criminals are still active but because the victims do not make noise and have no trained militia to launch a counterattack it is allowed to continue. What an irony!
That some ethnic militia are being trained to launch attack on ‘us’ is no news. Whole Muslim communities were displaced and their property plundered by these militia in different states of the North. But whose fault is it? Instead of us to train our youth to defend us we abandoned them to be recruited by Boko Haram. The average northern Muslim leader is selfish. He/she only cares about their children. That is why we are overtaken in almost everything including building befitting mosques despite the huge human and material resources at our disposal. And instead of us to look inwards we are blaming others for doing what we have failed to do.
To move forward we have to be frank to ourselves and stop supporting criminals just because they are our blood. The Miyetti Allah association should be creative in helping their members if they do not want us to believe that they are benefitting from these crises.
Finally, President Buhari should address this problem once and for all and if necessary apportion blame and punishment to those responsible. And very importantly, the activities of criminals in the North West have not been properly managed. Is it because we have voted for our own?
Professor Abdussamad Umar Jibia is a Public Affairs Analyst.