The rising cases of kidnappings and killings in the southern part of Nigeria, a country that has gained global infamy as the third most terrorized in the world, has once again opened a new chapter on the controversial subject matter of the activities of killer herdsmen. In addition to numerous victims’ accounts of kidnappings for ransom, the recent arrest and parading of some suspects by the Enugu State Police Command in connection with several cases, which, unfortunately, led to the killing of some Catholic priests as well as traditional rulers, reveals a consistency in demography of perpetrators of this crime: killer herdsmen of mostly Fulani ethnicity. Among these suspects, who include Idris Tobe, Suleiman Balarabe, Garba Basalugu, Mohammed Luga and Mojunpan Duna, was one Ibrahim Adamu who confessed to have come to Enugu “to learn the skill of cow rearing but later joined a gang.”
Despite these obvious cases of widespread criminality, there has been a concerted effort by certain individuals and interest groups to obfuscate the true identity of these undesirable elements by raising the charge of ethnic profiling of Nigeria’s ethnic Fulani. The media has been intimidated with accusations of deliberately profiling the Fulani for crimes that are not peculiar to their demography, thereby inventing the term “killer herdsmen.” Unfortunately, the cry of ethnic profiling as a push-back mechanism by the concerned majority of individuals of the Fulani demography is akin denying the existential reality of minority criminal elements. This manner of living in denial does not only render the problem intractable, with the unintended consequence of image burden for an entire ethnic demography, but also feeds into the “Fulanization” conspiracy theory.
Described as ‘’Le marchand de la mort est mort’’ [the death of the merchant of death] in a premature obituary by a French newspaper in 1888, Alfred Nobel got a rare glimpse of the first rough draft of the history of his life and times. The report emphasized: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
It was a clear case of mistaken identity. The death of his brother, Ludvig, in Cannes was widely reported as his at the time. Nobel was the Swedish scientist, inventor, businessman and philanthropist whose most famous invention, the dynamite, a powerful explosive that revolutionized the businesses of mining, quarrying, construction and demolition, unfortunately, became notoriously useful in the destruction of mankind because of its extensive use in warfare.
Determined not to be permanently recorded in history as the merchant of death, Nobel, a sober and reflective recluse of a genius, who neither married nor fathered any child, eight years before his real death in 1896 at age 63, worked hard to redirect his legacies. To redirect the world from the destructive path of the ignorance of warfare, Alfred dedicated enormous energy and resources to the advancement of knowledge and peace of mankind. To this end, in November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will wherein 94 per cent of his wealth was set aside to establish the Nobel Prize in physics, medical sciences, chemistry and literature as well as for peace to be annually awarded to deserving individuals without prejudice to nationality.
By taking full responsibility for the destructive use of his invention, Nobel would no longer be remembered as the merchant of death but had his name carved with gold in history and eternally immortalized through the institution of the most prestigious awards in the world for the preservation of mankind, the Nobel Prize.
Nearer home, the Alfred Nobel example was deployed by Nigeria’s ethnic Igbo when criminality defined the cities of Aba and Onitsha. Determined to change the terrible images of these two important commercial cities that was robbing off negatively on the reputation of the larger Igbo ethnic demography, a traditional method of law enforcement was evolved with the formation of the Bakkassi security outfit, which recorded relative success in ridding these cities of endemic criminal elements, to the relief of the majority.
Similarly, when the issue of human trafficking and prostitution syndicates in Europe was prevalently identified with the Edo ethnic demography, there were no loud cries of “ethnic profiling.” Instead, Edo people acknowledged the problem and took full responsibility for solving it from its root causes, in collaboration with government and non-governmental agencies.
It is the absence of the Alfred Nobel example that is at the heart of the current controversy surrounding the criminal activities of killer herdsmen of mostly Fulani ethnicity in Nigeria. Majority of Nigeria’s Fulani, who are distinguishable by their excellence in educational, professional, administrative and political accomplishments, making them one of the most sophisticated ethnic groups in Africa, should be concerned more about this endemic problem of criminality among a tiny fraction of their demography and care less about the semantics of ethnic profiling. In addition to being the loudest at condemning their criminal activities, Nigeria’s Fulani owe it a duty to the rest of Nigeria to unravel the form, nature, motive as well as other socio-cultural factors responsible for the gradual replacement of cattle breeding with banditry as a cultural occupation, much like the Dacoit of India.
Nomadic animal husbandry, which is primarily characterised by herding cattle from one place to another in search of pasture and clement weather, is a cultural economy of Africa’s ethnic Fulani, hence the descriptive “herdsmen” for identifiable members of the group. In recent times, armed conflicts between farmers and herders over the struggle for land resources has seen an influx of armed mercenary fighters that poured into Nigeria from all over west and central Africa ostensibly to help their Fulani herder brethren in Nigeria. These mercenary fighters whose violent activities resulted in killings and destruction of farmer communities across Nigeria are themselves skilled herdsmen but in this instance they are not engaged in the business of cattle breeding hence the appellation “killer herdsmen.”
However, these killer elements are mostly foreigners and have no sentimental attachments to most of Nigeria’s indigenous peoples, including their Fulani kinsmen. When not engaged in terrorizing farmer communities to make way for fellow migrant nomadic Fulani herdsmen, they turn their energy towards criminality as they now regard the entire Nigerian geographic space as a thoroughfare of limitless criminal opportunities.
With the government of the day still fixated on farmer-herders’ clash narrative and obvious reluctance to take appropriate actions against armed groups, killer herdsmen now have a free rein in criminal activities such as kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery across the country.
Tagged bandits, their natural skill as herdsmen as well as shared ethnic identity with Nigeria’s indigenous Fulani has enabled these killer herdsmen to infiltrate communities in the North-West and unleash a wave of criminal activities such as cattle rustling, kidnapping and armed robbery, in addition to the terror of mass killings.
Therefore, it would be a collective assault on the sensibilities of thousands of victims of this pattern of crime to question their judgement on the ethnic identification of their criminal tormentors as that would amount to asking the obvious question of why a Donald Trump is identified as White. Such other questions as “where is the cow of the herdsmen,” becomes irrelevant and smacks of wilful ignorance, because, whereas every Fulani cattle breeder is a herdsman, not every Fulani herdsman is a cattle breeder.
From Zamfara to Kaduna and from Katsina to Sokoto and Plateau states, Nigeria is undoubtedly under siege from marauding trans-border killer herdsmen. And this is hardly the time to play hide and seek over semantics of ethnic profiling, as there should be a concerted effort to tackle a criminal scourge that does not recognize Nigeria’s ethno-geographic and religious divisions.
There is a clear distinction between profiling a criminal suspect and ethnic profiling of a group of people. The first investigative step towards solving a problem of crime is to profile the criminal appropriately, down to his ethnicity, religion, associations, contacts and evaluation of his thought process through his verifiable interactions. When the media reports the testimonies of victims of crime, including the time, location and ethnic identity of their criminal tormentors, it is not ethnic profiling but profiling of criminals and terrorists.