On January 1, it was reported that about 20 people were killed in Rivers State. On January 7, it was reported that a combined team of military and intelligence operatives had tracked the leader of the gang, Don Waney, and some of his men to their Enugu hideout and killed them. The pictures of their bullet-ridden dead bodies were shown in the media as proof.
Last week too, the police in Lagos arrested the suspected overall leader and the herbalist of the cult group called Badoo. Badoo had killed so many people in the Ikorodu area of Lagos by smashing their heads with stone.
Similarly, last year the Nigerian Army, in what was named Operation Python Dance II, stormed the residence of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra. By the time their operation was over, some people had been killed. The whereabouts of Kanu and his father are still unknown till today. The Federal Government also hurriedly designated IPOB a terrorist organisation, even though other countries disagreed with that.
In December 2015, the Nigerian Army invaded the homes of members of the Shi’ites Islamic sect and shot at them. Their immediate offence was that they blocked the way of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai. The Shi’ites are minorities in the North, while the Sunnis are the majority.
The director-general of the Kaduna State Interfaith Bureau, Mr Muhammad Namadi Musa, told the panel of enquiry into the crisis that he collected at least 347 bodies from the army base in Zaria and the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital and buried them after the attack on the Shiites. The bodies that were not taken to ABUTH were not recorded. The leader of the Shi’ites, Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky, and his wife were seriously wounded and detained, till today, despite rulings by courts that they be released.
All the instances above are meant to show how swift and effective the Nigerian security agencies can be when dealing with groups and individuals that they see as enemies.
Last week, there was another attack by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State. Gory pictures of people, including children, butchered like animals, were copiously shared.
Anytime there is a massacre of people in a state by Fulani herdsmen like it occurred last week in Benue State for the umpteenth time, there is an outcry by Nigerians for the Federal Government to take action. Most times, there is not even a verbal response from the Buhari government. Even when there is a verbal response, it is a plea for people to live together in peace or a promise to arrest the perpetrators. But nobody ever gets arrested.
“We weren’t grazing. After the Benue government banned grazing, we were relocating to Taraba State through Nengere border town of Nasarawa State. They came and stole one thousand cows from us, so we retaliated and killed them.”
Such comments show that the perpetrators of the acts are not unknown. They appear at peace meetings and disclose why they carried out their attacks on the concerned people. They go to TV and radio stations as well as newspaper houses to grant interviews to explain why they carried out their attacks. Usually, their reason is that their cattle were stolen by the community.
When President Buhari returned from his sick leave last year, he made a speech which showed, by its contents, that it was primarily addressed to members of IPOB over their agitations for a separate state. In that speech, he described the killings by Fulani herdsmen as “farmers versus herdsmen clashes,” at a time thousands of people had been killed by the Fulani herdsmen. It showed his attitude to the killings. As far as Buhari is concerned, it is a mere misunderstanding between farmers and herdsmen and nothing more. And in that misunderstanding, the farmers are usually the aggressors (having been named first by him), while the herdsmen are usually the victims who merely respond to defend themselves “against those who don’t want them to survive.”
Anytime you hear someone from the North-West or North-East talk about the killings by Fulani herdsmen, you usually see that they believe that Fulani herdsmen should be allowed to graze as they have been doing since time immemorial. The argument is usually that land belongs to nobody but to God and people should use it and leave others to use it too; that the Fulani are nomads who don’t believe in acquiring lands and so should be allowed to use land and move on. The person also believes that because of desertification, to avoid clashes and bloodshed, grazing reserves should be mapped out by all states in the North-Central and the South for the Fulani herdsmen.
When someone from North-Central or the South talks about the problem, they usually argue that Fulani herdsmen should invest in ranches as is done in other climes, since they are involved in business. The person argues that if the government should create grazing reserves for Fulani herdsmen because of desertification, government should also create farming reserves and fishing reserves in the North for Southerners whose homelands and waters have been polluted by government’s exploration of crude oil.
When confronted with this point, the Northern person either keeps quiet or says the cases are not the same. But when viewed dispassionately, the case of the Southerners is even worse, as the pollution in their land is caused by the Federal Government, and the money obtained from crude oil exploration is used to sustain the economy of Nigeria. In addition, those whose neighbourhoods are polluted and thereby denied the opportunity of engaging in their business of fishing and planting of crops need more attention from the Federal Government.
There are those who wonder how Fulani herdsmen can attack communities while also taking care of their cattle. They wonder where they keep their cattle while embarking on the attack. That makes them to argue that the attacks cannot be committed by Fulani herdsmen. But it does not work that way. From the reports gathered in the media about such attacks, those who rear the cattle are not the attackers. The attacks are planned. Warriors are mobilised from different states by the organisers. Before the attack, messages are sent out to their people to leave such concerned communities. The warriors come at night, carry out the attack and return to their different locations, waiting for the next “call to duty.”
There have also been reports that even when soldiers are in a community or close by during the attacks by Fulani herdsmen, they either leave or take no action to prevent the attacks.
In spite of his inauguration statement that he belongs to nobody but to all, President Muhammadu Buhari has shown through his words and actions that he does not see all Nigerians as equal. His body language and attitude to issues have shown that the way he treats issues concerning his kinsmen and people of his religion is different from the way he treats others. The more people complain about this divisive and unpresidential attitude to governance, the more he carries on with it unperturbed.
For any community that is attacked by Fulani herdsmen, the consistent message from the Buhari administration in the past three years is that it will not take any action to stop such attacks, neither will it punish the attackers. Translated into the Nigerian parlance, Buhari is telling Nigerians that if Fulani herdsmen attack your community, you are On Your Own (OYO).