In the last 50 years or so, excepting the military coups, pogroms, and the civil war (1966-70) nothing has been as threatening in Nigerian life as the mass killings of Nigerian farmers and their families by Fulani herdsmen. Boko Haram is horrible and is in a class of its own. But the almost daily massacres by herdsmen and their well-armed militia are as much evil as the Federal Government’s confounding changing narratives on the issue. This indicates the government does not have facts to work with, which, in turn, has made policy formulation impossible. This scandalous state of affairs created a situation in which the government has been a prisoner of its own speculations, expounding theories without factual information and developing a culture of government by speculation and conspiracy theories.
At first, the Federal Government said the killings were as a result of a clash of farmers and herders. That was not based on the facts. There was not a single incident of a clash. Herdsmen, armed with AK 47s, invaded the farms, trampled the crops, slaughtered defenceless farmers, raped their wives and daughters, and set fire to their homes. After each incident the government would vow to apprehend the “criminals.” Not one was apprehended.
The government then said the killer herdsmen were actually not Nigerians. You would expect that they would parade a few such killers to prove the point. But, as it were, that, too, was speculation. There was no information on a single non-Nigerian who participated in the slaughters. Then there was the Gadhafi Hypothesis: that enormous quantities of arms owned by Colonel Gadhafi, on the dictator’s demise, found themselves in the wrong hands who then moved into Nigeria with their lethal weapons.
As believable as this theory appeared, the government paraded not a single Libyan mercenary to justify this fantastic proposition. The President’s latest speculation, echoed by his highly effective spinners is that Nigerian politicians have contracted paid murderers to conduct these killings. Nigerians are waiting for the unmasking of the merchants of death, their arraignment and prosecution and necessary punishment. Until then, it is indeed, distressing that on an issue like the herdsmen’s killings, the Nigerian government is basing its decisions on mere speculation and no facts.
In everyday life, a man, no matter his genius, cannot solve a problem he does not understand. Likewise, a government, no matter the wisdom and learning of its leaders, cannot solve a problem it doesn’t understand. The situation is much worse when the government doesn’t feign to want to understand the issue by studying it, and it is all too apparent that the policy preference is inaction. The quickest way to implement a “do nothing” policy is to claim ignorance, or resort to speculative judgment of the underlying problem.
The above is pretty much the fate of Nigerians in the face of the horrendous almost daily killings perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen vis-à-vis the Federal Government’s policy to do nothing about the killings. The massacres have tended to concentrate the mind of Nigerians to assess the true character of the government and its officials, their integrity, their idea of honesty and their regard for human life.
The amount of blood spilled in the last three years is being compared to that of the civil war. That such a comparison can even be contemplated goes to show the enormity of the bloodshed and, worse, the government’s unwillingness to confront the killers and why, in the absence of any solution, the murders are bound to continue.
The Federal Government is right that the confrontation between farmers and Fulani herdsmen predates the present administration. But there is also no doubt that the herdsmen flew off the handle immediately President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated. Ever since, the issue was no longer about a clash of both sides; the herdsmen have become a law unto themselves, have become subjects to be feared so much that today millions of Nigerians can’t go to their farms, not knowing what fate may befall them if they ventured out.
President Buhari is in the cattle business, a fact which most Nigerians had thought would moderate the herdsmen. On the contrary, the herdsmen’s perception of their power seems decidedly absolute. To them being in power means that things must be done their way. And that’s the image the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has projected. MACBAN which has President Buhari as its grand patron, therefore, is the herders think tank, their engine room, their organizational authority, endowed with limitless resources, centralized decision making, who can mobilize in a dime, they are autocratic and vicious.
MACBAN members take no prisoners, they are more than a state within a state. They threaten state governments, as Benue and Taraba States and others can testify. They are not shy about their claim to be the overlords of Nigeria. Professor Banji Akitoye, the famous, venerable history scholar, went to Benue State on a condolence visit to commiserate with the Governor Samuel Ortom over the New Year massacre. He met a scared governor who feared that the New Year massacre was just an opening shot. He showed the professor a most frightening letter from MACBAN, part of which he quoted in the Sunday Sun interview of July 8, 2018: “The land of all Nigerians belong to the Fulani. And we have asked all Fulani living in all of West Africa to come and help us conquer Nigeria. We have accumulated large amount of money and weapons for this war. And there’s nothing the Federal Government of Nigeria can do to stop us.”
Since the beginning of the Buhari administration, its answer to each incident of Fulani herdsmen massacre was silence. It was so unnerving that scores or more than a hundred Nigerian citizens are slaughtered and the Presidency just keeps quiet. This unnatural state of affairs persisted until the attacks on Nimbo Town in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State. It was the first Fulani herdsmen commando-style attack south of the Benue River. The attack razed seven villages, killed more than 40 persons and burned scores of houses and displaced hundreds. The national uproar was such that at long last the Presidency offered a wishy-washy statement which did not improve on its usual silence. It blandly condemned the killings but offered no pathway to a remedy or an end to the mayhem. It promised to apprehend the killers, a promise that has become so cynical, it has been made a dozen times and was always a clear lie.
Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, a man who has supported the administration from the beginning was as astonished by the government’s indifference to the massacres as most Nigerians. He noted in his January statement that the Federal Government was “culpable, definitely guilty of looking the other way. Indeed, it must be held complicit…President Muhammadu Buhari and his government – including his Inspector General of Police – in near identical denial, appear to believe the killer herdsmen who strike again and again at will from one corner of the nation to the other are merely hot-tempered citizens whose scraps occasionally degenerate into communal clashes – I believe I have summarized him (Buhari) accurately. Sometimes the killers are also said to be non-Nigerians after all.”
Soyinka recalled that the herders had freely admitted to the killings at one peace meeting in Benue State but justified this by claiming that they had lost cattle to the host community.
“How do we assess a mental state that cannot distinguish between a stolen cow which is always recoverable – and human life, which is not?” Soyinka queried.