Fulani herdsmen as threat to national cohesion

By The Citizen

By Ayo Esan
As the Federal Government is beginning to have a respite over Boko Haram insurgence in the North- East, another uprising has just raised its ugly head and this has to do with the attack on farmers across the country by Fulani herdsmen.

What is initially being seen as an attack in a certain region in the country is already assuming a national dimension as the Fulani herdsmen have attacked local farmers in the North, South-West and even South-East. This group has been in operation in different parts of the country, especially the North, brutally killing and maiming people as well as destroying property worth billions of naira.

But one of their recent infamous exploits was the heartless attack on a community, where over 15 persons were massacred. In Benue State, Agatu, a whole local government was invaded by these agents of death. It was gathered that the Fulani herdsmen carry guns to look after their cattle, they graze their livestock on farmlands in the communities they invade and in the process of doing so, crops are destroyed. Over the years, clashes have happened between the host communities and the herdsmen with the indigenes mostly at the receiving end.

The armed herdsmen have constituted themselves a nuisance and a veritable source of threat to any community in which they find themselves. Sule Audu who is currently representing Agatu in the Benue State House of Assembly believe that over 300 people have been killed by the herdsmen.

Fulani herdsmen are usually blamed for the escalating violence in Plateau, Benue, Kwara and many other states. But a few weeks ago, the herdsmen stormed Chief Olu Falae''s farm located at Ilado in Akure North area of Ondo State and abducted one of the security guards. It was gathered that the herdsmen had invaded the farm a week before and they were restricted by the security guards engaged by Falae following incessant invasion of the farm.

The security guard, who was the coordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, in Akure North area of the state, Ayodele Ige was murdered by the herdsmen. In its reaction to the killing of one of their members in Ondo State, the OPC, had asked President Muhammadu Buhari to speak out and check the continued assault on Yoruba people by Fulani herdsmen in the country. Chief Falae was earlier abducted by these herdsmen sometimes last year for days and a ransom paid by his family before he was released. Also last week, about 40 persons were reportedly killed by some Fulani herdsmen at Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.

The incident took place barely 24 hours after news allegedly filtered out that no fewer than 500 heavily armed Fulani herdsmen sneaked into the community preparatory to launching an attack. About seven villages in Nimbo (Nimbo Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Enugu Nimbo, Umuome and Ugwuachara) were among the areas attacked. Ten residential houses and a church, Christ Holy Church International, a.k.a Odozi Obodo, were also said to have been burnt by the herdsmen just as vehicles and motorcycles were destroyed and domestic animals killed. The recent killings of innocent souls have been condemned by many people who felt the Federal Government must find a solution to this immediately, to forestall its snowballing to another Boko Haram insurgence.

The Christian Association of Nigeria on Sunday accused security agencies of complicity in attacks on defenceless communities in the southern and North-Central parts of the country by Fulani herdsmen. CAN, South-East Zone, made the accusation against security agencies in a resolution adopted after a meeting in Enugu. The resolution noted that the herdsmen had created more problems for Nigerians than the dreaded Boko Haram sect. The Christian group equally condemned incessant attacks by the herdsmen in different parts of the country. President of CAN in the zone, Most Rev. Prof. David Eberechukwu, and the national chairman, Christian Enlightenment and Welfare Organisation, Dr. Ajujungwa Joseph, who signed the resolution, said “'It was high time the government took decisive action towards curtailing the scourge of the Fulani herdsmen”'. Drawing attention to the recent killings of villagers in Agatu, Benue State by herdsmen, CAN expressed dismay at reports that the herdsmen moved about with sophisticated weapons, such as AK47 assault rifles, without any hindrance.

CAN wondered why the security agencies would allow herdsmen to carry such deadly weapons and also used them freely on innocent Nigerians. The Christian body accused the security agencies of wilfully looking the other way while the herdsmen go about their murderous activities. “'The question on the lips of Nigerians had remained, where do herdsmen get AK47 guns they carry and does it mean that both the police and the army are not seeing them?”', the South-East CAN wondered. It described the development as a nightmare for Nigerian communities that host herdsmen.

“'It has been a great burden on the church in the East with regards to the attack by Fulani herdsmen on every part of the six geo-political zones in the country, with much emphasis on the southern Nigeria and the North-Central zones. “'The attacks of the Fulani herdsmen on innocent citizens of this country have become a nightmare for their host communities. “'The incessant rape and murder of peace-loving Nigerians are highly condemnable, ”' the group said. Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, has also called on security agents to investigate the involvement of Fulani herdsmen in the recent bloody attacks in some parts of the country. ACF, in a statement by its spokesman, Muhammad Ibrahim, while condemning the attacks on the Ukpabi Nimbo Community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, said criminals hiding under the guise of Fulani herdsmen to attack innocent people must be brought to book. ACF further warned that, Nigeria cannot afford to graduate from Boko Haram insurgency to an unwarranted attack by unknown gunmen alleged to be Fulani herdsmen.

ACF said: “'Criminals hiding under whatever guise and committing heinous crimes against innocent people and the state should be treated as such and in accordance with the law. “'Nigeria cannot afford to graduate from Boko Haram insurgency to unwarranted attacks by unknown gunmen alleged to be Fulani herdsmen. “'The traditional Fulani nomads have co-existed peacefully with their host communities and have been grazing their cattle for decades all over Nigeria without any such attacks. “'ACF is, therefore, disturbed and seriously concerned with this recent development. “'It, therefore, calls upon the security agencies to do a thorough investigation into the identities of the suspected gunmen in order to stop this dangerous generalisation of labelling certain tribes or people of certain faith responsible for these attacks. The Senate devoted its entire plenary session on Tuesday to deliberating on the killings in Enugu State. The Senators resolved to set up a six-member ad-hoc committee to investigate the incident.

The committee, which has a representative from each of the six geo-political zones, is also to proffer solutions to avert any such future occurrence. Membership of the committee, which is headed by Senate Leader, Ali Ndume include Senators Ben Murray- Bruce (South-South), Mao Ohuabunwa (South-East), Abdullahi Adamu (North- Central), Shehu Sani (North-West) and Isiaka Adeleke (SouthWest). The Senators also summoned the Inspector -General of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff to appear before them to shed more light on the incident. The resolutions of the Senate followed a motion sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu East) in whose senatorial district the killings took place. Also the South-East Senate Caucus warned of imminent danger and possible attack on the unity of Nigeria if the Federal Government fails to urgently address the Enugu massacres.

Rising from an emergency meeting in Abuja, the senators not only condemned the attack, but also called for a summit of South-East and South- South governors, members of National and State Houses of Assembly, sociocultural associations, traditional rulers and major stakeholders immediately. The emergency summit, according to the lawmakers, is to review and evaluate the very scary situation and proffer a co-ordinated response that would ensure the security of lives and properties of their people.

The summit, the caucus said, has become urgently necessary against the background of the ominous silence and apparent indifference of the Presidency over the killings in Enugu, some areas in Delta State and many other zones in recent times, even when there were obvious intelligence reports.

“'We can no longer sit and watch while our people are daily slaughtered like fowls without even attracting the cursory routine condemnation by the Presidency. “'We are even more appalled that despite the alarm raised by the Uzo Uwani communities of an imminent attack by the Fulani herdsmen and the associated vague assurances by the chairman of Fulani community in Enugu that such attack will not happen, yet the security agencies failed to prevent the attack that happened two days after the alarm.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu has condemned the attack in Enugu State by Fulani herdsmen, and other such acts across the country, assuring Nigerians of his administration''s commitment to ensuring safety of lives and properties in all parts of the country. The statement titled, “'Ending upsurge of attacks on communities by herdsmen now a national priority”' read: “'Following continuing reports of attacks by “'herdsmen”' on communities across the country, particularly Monday''s attack on Ukpabi Nimbo in Enugu State, President Muhammadu Buhari assures all Nigerians, once again, of his administration ''s continued commitment to ensuring the safety of lives and property in all parts of the country. President Buhari unreservedly condemns the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo and other such acts of extreme violence against communities in other states of the federation”'.

Acting on the President''s directive, the Inspector-General of Police and heads of the nation''s other security agencies are already taking urgent steps to fully investigate the attacks, apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Ending the recent upsurge of attacks on communities by herdsmen reportedly armed with sophisticated weapons is now a priority on the Buhari Administration''s agenda for enhanced national security and the Armed Forces and the Police have clear instructions to take all necessary actions to stop the carnage. In keeping with the President''s directive, the Inspector-General of Police, the General Officer Commanding the 82nd Division of the Nigerian Army and the Director of the Department of State Security in Enugu State have visited Ukpabi Nimbo to personally oversee investigations into the attack on the community and the on-going efforts to apprehend the culprits.

The President urged all Nigerians to remain calm and assured of his administration ''s readiness to deploy all required personnel and resources to remove this new threat to the collective security of the nation. An attempt to stop the Fulani herdsmen attack on local farmers across the country led to the proposed of a National Grazing Bill. The bill known as A Bill for An Act for the Establishment of the National Grazing Reserve (Establishment And Development) Commission for The Preservation And Control of National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes And for Other Matters Connected Therewith, was sponsored by Senator Zainab Kure during the last Senate.

The Senate has declared that the National Grazing Reserve Establishment Commission Bill is not before it. It has further declared that the bill which was presented by Senator Zainab Kure (Niger North) during the Seventh Senate (2011-2015) had expired by the operations of law. “'That bill has generated a lot of controversies and may not go down well if it is allowed. The bill says that a grazing route should be mapped out, perhaps from Sokoto to Port -Harcourt and from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri and up North for herdsmen to do their nomadic grazing. As good as it may sound, that will also increase the problem between the Fulanis and the owners of those routes they will pass by. I think we should do our business in a manner that will not hinder or disturb other people.

Cattle rearing is done by private persons and they are all private businesses. So, why would government now think of seizing or acquiring lands for that venture? We are saying that the Land Use Act is not that good anymore and has outlived its usefulness and you are now trying to also do more than the Land Use Act by saying that you will acquire land through the federal government forcefully from the farmers and give to the Fulani herdsmen, so that they will have a route to do their grazing.

I think that what should be obtainable is to have ranches where people must, as a matter of fact, put their cows and train their cows. Empirical thinking shows that cattle that are kept in ranches produce more meat and milk than the ones that are wandering. So, is it the best practices now to keep wandering with cows? Is it not the best practices to acquire modern techniques and technologies? So, must Nigeria not embrace what is modern and what is normal? I think that those bills should be discouraged and not allowed to see the light of the day. From developments so far, it is not very feasible to create a route anymore. I could recall there existed routes in the 50s and 60s”', he said.. Perhaps, reacting to the grazing bill, Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, has warned against any proposal to seize or allocate land across Nigeria for use as grazing reserves.

Ajimobi said such plan would be ill-advised and against the spirit of overriding public interest, and would not be allowed in Oyo State. The Federal Government and some officials had suggested that the creation of reserves would help bring an end to incessant violence between herdsmen and farmers. But the Oyo governor said it would not happen in the south-western state. “'

Those clamouring for creation of grazing zones across the country should have a rethink. It is against the Land Use Act; it is against the law of natural justice to seize people''s land to cater for someone''s cattle. “'Grazing zones could be created for those who are traditional cattle rearers in their areas. I''m not against that. But, you cannot come here and tell me you want to occupy our land for grazing zones. The land exists in our respective states and as such the rightful owners should decide what to do with them. “'Anybody outside this zone willing to rear cattle here will need to approach the state to buy the land and we offer what is available with rules.

There is no free land for grazing zones. We need to take this firm position. It won''t happen.”' Mr. Ajimobi allayed the fears expressed by Oyo farmers, particularly in Oke-Ogun, over the security of their lives and farmlands in the face of continued clashes between herdsmen and farmers. Mr. Ajimobi charged rural dwellers to be more vigilant and report suspicious activities of offending cattle rearers to security agencies around them. He said it was illegal for herdsmen to destroy farmlands and attack farmers in the guise of feeding their animals. But Femi Adesina, special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity during an interview session on a Lagos-based radio has, however, said, ''''There is nothing called the grazing bill. “' It is a figment of imagination of some people .Some people are just there to cause mischief in this country.

What has happened is that the government has agreed to have what is called ranches for cattle rearers. When you set up ranches in different states, cattle rearers don''t have to drive their cattle round in the wild again and in the process getting into the farms of some people and destroying their crops. When you set up ranches, it then becomes illegal for anybody to drive his cattle openly. That is the way forward”', he said. Speaking with Sunday Mirror, Comrade Bayo Okunlola said creating ranches will be a better way to avert Fulani herdsmen and farmers clashes.

He, however, said he prayed that the Fulani herdsmen who are used to wandering should accept the proposal of ranches for their cattle.