IN the last couple of months, the Fulani herdsmen have been in the news, for bad reasons. Wherever they go, they are associated with rape and wanton destruction. They are now seen as blood-thirsty hounds, whose activities constitute a security risk to Nigerians, as a people and Nigeria, as a country.
To be sure, in Agatu, a community in Benue State, the signature of Fulani herdsmen is everywhere. In an orgy of violence, houses were destroyed and people killed. In an Enugu community, the activities of Fulani herdsmen are on the lips of villagers. In Ondo State, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, reaped the destruction of the herdsmen in big measures. His security guard was murdered, in a second attack of his farm by herdsmen. In many other communities across the country, in the North Central, South East, South South and South West, the trail of the violence of the herdsmen is visible. The way it is, there is no week that passes these days without news of the devastating attack of Fulani herdsmen.
The pertinent question here is: Why are Fulani herdsmen this violent? Why is it that wherever they go, blood flows? I have heard those who defend them say that the herdsmen complain that villagers steal their cattle. I have heard them say that the herdsmen also complain that their cattle are attacked and killed. I have heard them say that in the circumstances of their trade being at risk, the herdsmen would have no option but to defend themselves. However, events have proved that there is a genesis of whatever attack or confrontation villagers make against the herdsmen. It is a fact that herdsmen, in their nomadic lives, move from one place to another with their cattle. In the course of the migration, their cattle eat up people’s farms and crops. Such action could only caused pain and agony. Some people will argue that just as farmers whose farms are destroyed are entitled to their anger, Fulani herdsmen, whose cattle are killed or attacked are also entitled to vent their spleen. True! However, actions always provoke reactions. If cattle do not enter people’s farms and eat up their crops, the possibility of the cattle being attacked or killed is remote.
Well, the dangerous thing about what is happening is that the Fulani herdsmen, who are now armed with sophisticated weapons, are becoming a standing army across the country.
With pockets of illegal armies of Fulani herdsmen scattered all over the country, Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, whose explosion would cause serious doom. When arms are in the hands of wrong people, there is cause for alarm. When Boko Haram started, government treated it with kids’ gloves. The group grew to be the monster it has become today. Now, government is finding it difficult to contain it. We risk the same thing with the Fulani herdsmen.
This is where the government must come in. This is a time for government to show leadership and rise above politics or ethnicity. The Federal Government has been accused of turning blind eye to the tendencies/atrocities of Fulani herdsmen because of perceived agenda. The Federal Government has also been accused of keeping mum over the destruction of life and property at Agatu by Fulani herdsmen while it is expressing condolences and sorrow over terror attacks across the world. This should be a source of worry to the government. Methinks that the government should be concerned that animal farmers bear arms and walk the streets. How is it that AK47s, which are not common rifles are in the hands of people, who are not licensed? Or are they? Why are the security agents not arresting these herdsmen for illegal possession of arms, killing or arson, where they wreak havoc? Why is it that Enugu villagers were the only people arrested in a fracas with Fulani herdsmen?
I would not want to believe that government is not doing anything about the activities of Fulani herdsmen because it thinks that they are special breed in the country. Government must rise up to the occasion. The way to deal with the matter is not through the proposed Grazing Reserves Commission Bill, which is seeking the establishment of grazing land across the country for Fulani herdsmen. Such a plan would aggravate the problem instead of solving it. Yes, such a plan would embolden the Fulani herdsmen and make them think they are really a superior class in the country. Indeed, why would the government think of establishing designated grazing land for Fulani herdsmen? In other climes, people who are into animal farming or husbandry establish their own ranches, where their cattle, horses and others pasture. They fence their ranches, to ensure that the animals do not stray or be attacked by intruders. Nigeria should not be an exception. In those countries, also, there are laws that prohibit animals from wandering about.
Fulani herdsmen should establish their ranches, where their animals will graze. They are in business and, therefore, should provide everything they need to make their business thrive. If the government goes ahead to decree designated grazing land in all the states for Fulani herdsmen, they would be stoking a fire. Government must be seen to protect the people and not put them at great risk. If Fulani herdsmen know that it is an offence for their cattle to wander about and that such cattle could be arrested, they will not let loose their animals on people’s farms and then be angry that such people challenge them.
One must warn that the consequence of the government not addressing the menace of Fulani herdsmen is batter imagined than experienced. If we allow people to indulge in self-help in defending their lives and properties, the country could experience an implosion that could be difficult to contain. This is the point Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, and Ondo State, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, made when they spoke about the menace of Fulani herdsmen. We should use our tongue to count our teeth.