By Eric Elezuo
A popular Igbo adage which says ‘remove the hand of the monkey from the soup before it turns to the hand of a human being’ typifies the situation the Nigerian government has found itself as they continue to treat with kid gloves, the scourge, better referred to as Fulani herdsmen. It is with this same kid gloves that Boko Haram was treated before it turned into an uncontrollable monster, attacking and destroying even those purported to have created it.
Over the years, the Fulani, who are best known as nomads, have been in the cattle rearing profession, where they move from location to location, providing pastures for their cattle. These pastures had been known to have been derived from uncharted lands for which no immediate ownership is claimed. However, as expansion and civilization became the order of the day, many lands have been charted and ownership, not only claimed, but utilized. These lands have become veritable farmlands where they were not industrially used.
But the Fulani herdsmen under the aegis of Miyeti Allah Kautal Hor, a Fulani socio-cultural organization, have failed to understand the new trend as they continued their nomadic existence, grazing on lands that have become food basket to the detriment of the farmers, who suffer loss.
The loss of the farmers prompted a pro-active attitude within them, and they resisted the herdsmen from grazing on their farmlands. The action proved an affront to the herdsmen, who responded in a deadly manner; organizing midnight raids, killing and maiming villagers who complained about the destruction of the crops. The trend has remained unending ever since it started in Plateau State, spiraling into Benue, Kogi, North central states up to the South West and now to Rivers State in the south south.
In a bid to bring the menace to an end, state governments pledged to stop the herdsmen from grazing on their farmlands, and followed it by proposing a bill against open grazing to the National Assembly called anti-open grazing law.
It dismissed the claims that the Fulani were planning to attack Benue communities because of the anti-open grazing law, contrary to what just happened and had been happening.
Ever since, the Miyetti Allah, led by Alhaji Abdullahi Bello-Bodejo, has declared that the association will not accept the law. The association, which rose from its North-West zonal meeting in Kaduna recently, argued that the anti-open grazing law was an attempt to destroy herders’ means of livelihood, adding that the law was not in the best interest of peace in the land.
The villages in Nigeria has not been spared of the organization’s rejection of the proposed grazing law as tales of killings and deaths have trailed the length and breadth of wherever they are seen or noticed including but not limited to Jos and its environs, Kaduna state, especially Southern Kaduna, Agatu in Benue State among many other locations.
In February 2016, the Agatu region of Benue State came under siege when Fulani cattle herders in combat gears, armed with the trademark AK-47 rifles, invaded several villages and farm settlements in broad daylight, gunning down children, women, men and the elderly alike. About 300 villagers were reportedly massacred in communities like Aila, Okokolo, Akwu, Adagbo, Odugbehon and Odejo.
Agatu is reportedly not the first to have been so dehumanized by herdsmen. Between 2011 and 2014, suspected herdsmen attacked dozens of communities in the four local government areas of Guma, Gwer-East, Buruku and Gwer-West, some, more than once.
The hometown of the late Tor Tiv IV, Alfred Akawe Torkula, in Guma was razed. Similarly, houses, food barns and farmlands were burnt and scores killed in communities like Tse-Aderogo, Tse-Akenyi, Umenger, Angyom, Aondona, Anyiase, Adaka, Gbajimba, Tyoughtee, Gbaange, Chembe, Abeda, Mbachoon, Tongov and Mbapuu.
Towards the end of former Governor Gabriel Suswan’s administration in May 2015, over 100 farmers and family members were massacred in villages and refugees camps located at Ukura, Per, Gafa and Tse-Gusa in Logo Local Government Area of the state.
The unlucky communities were only playing hosts to refugees from previous attacks by the suspected herdsmen.
In July 2015, suspected herdsmen attacked Adeke, a community on the outskirt of the state capital, Makurdi. In December of the same year, six persons were killed at Idele village in Oju local government area. A reprisal attack by youths in the community saw three Fulani herdsmen killed and beheaded. The Oju killings were followed by an attack in January 2016 at Ucha Nyiev village, near the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi.
It was not long after when suspected herders struck again, this time in Ega Adapati, an island in Agatu local government. It was gathered that before this last attack on the wider Agatu, local intelligence units had raised the alarm that the herdsmen were mobilizing weapons and men at Loco, a border community in Nasarawa State.
In defence, the herders blamed the Agatus for starting the fight, according to Premium Times report. The interim national secretary of Gan Allah Fulani association, an umbrella body of Fulani associations in Nigeria, Saleh Bayeri, said ‘the Agatu people started the crisis in 2013 when they killed a prominent Fulani leader in the area’.
He said about 20 Agatu and Tiv militia on April 20, 2013 invaded the compound of one Sehu Abdullahi where they killed him and carted away over 200 cows.
In April 2016, bare two months after the Agatu killing spree, the herdsmen shifted base to Nimbo, in Enugu State, where they massacred over 50 people in an operation the Police say they videoed.
The Ohanaeze, in its response, cried to the government to look beyond the herdsmen to those sponsoring them, saying there are influential people creating the mayhem.
It said: “We are very sad and very disappointed that all over the country, not just the South-East, these killings by Fulani herdsmen have continued unabated and nothing concrete is being done by the Federal Government.
“The first act of governance is protection of lives and property. It is complete failure of governance. There has been no response from the Federal Government and this is allowing the Fulani herdsmen to continue the killing spree.
“Everybody is worried about the poor attitude of the Federal Government to this massacre across the country. Boko Haram is operating in the North-East and Fulani herdsmen are killing people all over the country. It is not the herdsmen that should be held responsible, but owners of the cattle. “The herdsmen are under the instruction of highly-placed Fulani people who own the cattle. They are heavily armed. How many cows can the herdsmen buy? Federal Government should stop this nonsense before it causes a catastrophe.”
Today, it is a catastrophe as the spread of violence has become more than alarming resulting in the New Year Day massacres recorded in Rivers, Kaduna and Benue states.
Within the first two days of 2018, no fewer than 20 people were killed and 30 others injured when herdsmen attacked about five communities in between the New Year’s Day and Tuesday.
The invaders attacked communities in the Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state leaving in their wake tales of woes, tears, blood and untold sorrow.
In his address after the New Year deaths, Governor of Benue State, Mr. Samuel Ortom, called for the arrest of the leadership of the Fulani group.
“I have reiterated my call on the Federal Government to arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore because they have openly said they would resist the law on open-grazing, which is an initiative of the Benue people. There is no other alternative to ranching.
“But I think the right thing to do is for the Federal Government to arrest the leadership of MAKH or else, they are telling us that we are not part of Nigeria. Their threats have become a reality and they are living in Abuja with the Federal Government.
“If FG does not arrest them, then they are throwing us into a state of anarchy. No going back on the law.”
Meanwhile, prominent citizens in Benue State and on the national level have condemned the herdsmen’s attacks.
Senator Joseph Waku called on the Federal Government to declare emergency on the activities of the Fulani herdsmen in Benue State.
Waku, who hails from one of the communities attacked by the killer herdsmen, said he lost relatives, farmlands and other things to the latest Fulani attacks in Guma.
Waku added, “I’m a direct victim of the two days attack on my community because several lives were lost, also farmlands and other properties.
“For now, I cannot quantify what we lost because some of the bodies of victims of the attacks were yet to be found.
“I’m calling on the Federal Government to declare an emergency on the activities of the herdsmen and to also deploy soldiers permanently in the troubled areas.”
Also, the Benue State Chairman, All Progressives Congress, Comrade Aba Yaro, called on the Federal Government to tackle the menace of herdsmen in the state.
Yaro, who condemned the latest killings in the state, said the party was in full support of the anti-open grazing law enacted by Ortom.
He called on the Federal Government to show more concern to the people of the state and to join hands in condemning the act which he described as an act of terrorism.
Among those who reacted to the Benue killings are former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; a former President of the Senate, Senator David Mark; the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yabubu Dogara; members of the House from Benue State; the National Council of Tiv Youths and two civil rights groups.
Mark lamented the renewed attacks in Benue, Rivers and Kaduna states, describing them as lawlessness that the government must stop.
In a statement in Abuja on Wednesday by his Media Assistant, Mr. Paul Mumeh, Mark called for an urgent and strategic approach to halt further tragedies.
In Kaduna, where the Fulani onslaught has also taken a root, a traditional ruler and his wife were gruesomely killed by the same ‘unknown’ gunmen.
The killing of the second class chief came a few days after several people were also killed during a Christmas carol in the Jama’a Local Government Area of the state.
A cross section of Nigerians have described as unacceptable the cycle of blood-letting that had led to the loss of precious lives across the country, and the Buhari government’s ineptitude in bringing to justice those behind the dastardly act.
Former vice-president Abubakar Atiku said the killings were ‘ungodly, a throwback to the stone age, and a hindrance to the promotion of peace and unity in the country’.
But members of the public have raised their voices in a common call to the Federal Government to declare the Fulani herdsmen as a terrorist group and deal with them as such. A member of the Benus State House of Assembly, Mr. Teseer Mark-Gbillah, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues in Abuja, expressed concern that the Federal Government had refused to pay the same attention to the herdsmen as it had done in the case of Boko Haram insurgents.
“This is terrorism. These people should be declared as terrorists by the Federal Government. We have continually made this demand.
“We support the enactment of the anti-open grazing law and its full implementation, no matter the intimidation or attempt to frustrate the implementation of this legislation.”
In the same vein, the National Council of Tiv Youths, speaking through its President, Dr. John Akperashi, condemned “the President’s insensitivity to the perennial massacre of innocent Tiv farmers.”
He said, “As we speak, over 50 people have been butchered by the Fulani marauders, who have taken over communities in Logo, Guma and Kwande Local Government areas.
“When there was the issue of cattle rustling in Kebbi and Gombe states recently, the military were drafted to confront the matter. The 72 Military Battalion is located right on the soil of Benue State as well the Nigerian Air Force.
“Yet, there has never been an appreciable effort in taming this pogrom. Why has the President remained mute in the face of these mindless killings even as he has the capacity to enforce a lasting solution?”
The NCTY recalled that not long ago, the President had declared members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, “who were only expressing their anger within their domain and had not fired a gun at any innocent Nigerian,” as a terrorist group.
Alleging that the Fulani herdsmen “flaunt their sophisticated weapons, invade farmlands, forcefully occupy ancestral homes of the natives, go on rampage and hold an entire community to ransom”, the organisation said the activities of the Fulani herdsmen were far more dastardly than those of IPOB.
Many groups have called on the President to live up to his billings as the President and call his kinsmen to order.
The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership said Buhari-led Federal Government had not shown enough determination to stamp out killer herdsmen as it is doing to the Boko Haram insurgents.
“They government must pay serious attention to other variants of violence, which are culminating in daily extra-judicial killings by ways of the herdsmen’s attacks.
“Section 33 of the Constitution, dealing with the right to life, is on a daily basis abused in this country and we have witnessed this in the most bizarre form,” the group said, alleging that Buhari and his government are complicit.
“I think the people have to protect themselves. If they are exposed to such dangers, they should put their hearts together. These ethnic clashes may degenerate into ethnic cleansings such as the incident in Rwanda.”
Speaking to the Punch, a security analyst, Ben Okezie, observed that Buhari had never ordered the police and other security agencies to tame the attackers, stressing that he was the President of the whole nation and not just the Fulani.
Okezie stated, “The President has not done enough. If he continues keeping quiet, then the constitution should be invoked against him because he has not upheld the constitution he swore to uphold.”
In a swift reaction, the handlers of Buhari have said the President has directed relevant security agencies to do everything possible to arrest those behind the killings, maiming and wanton destruction of property in the Guma and Logo LGA of Benue State.
According to a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President also ordered security agencies to avert further attacks.
However, in a recent BBC Pidgin interview with Benue State herdsmen, the leader of Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Benue State chapter, Garus Gololo, said that the problem started when some people attacked Fulani herdsmen who were taking their cow from Benue State.
He said: “As we were relocating to Taraba State through Nassarawa State, at the border town of Nengere, thieves attacked us, and stole 1000 cows from us. That is the reason we fought back and attacked the Benue communities.”
It is still not known what the Federal Government is waiting for to act on such brazen confession and act of impunity.
Time to curb the Fulani herdsmen menace is NOW!