By LEWIS OBI, 08173446632 ams only, [email protected]
ON 2nd October 2015, I offered it as my opinion on this page that the provocative activities of Fulani herdsmen are likely to lead to war which “when it begins, will be like all wars – senseless, destructive and lamentable. No one knows when and where it will begin, but it will begin as a convulsive reprisal for a massacre by Fulani herdsmen, a phenomenon that has now assumed all but a common occurrence in Nigeria.’
“The scale and frequency of massacres by Fulani herdsmen without a single prosecution is the clearest evidence of what is known as impunity, and impunity is the reason the coming war is inescapable.”
That was before the herdsmen had kidnapped and murdered the traditional ruler of Ubulu-Ukwu in Delta State. That was before the herdsmen conducted their full-scale terrorist invasion of Agatu land in Benue State practically paralyzing and occupying eight local governments in the state and killing at least 500 persons and burning scores of towns and villages. That was before the Ugwuneshi incident in Enugu State where a distressed community being harassed by the herdsmen was gathering to discuss its predicament. Suddenly Nigerian Army trucks arrived and, as the herdsmen cheered, the army bundled 76 men into their trucks and on to the Umuahia Prison. Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi then went to Umuahia, trying to secure the freedom of the humiliated men, and dropped a tear or two. But that was just the beginning of his anguish. In Ugwuneshi he was dealing with 76 men unjustly imprisoned. He broke down last week when he had to see recovered dead bodies of men slaughtered by the same Fulani herdsmen at Ukpabi Nimbo, Uzo-Uwani.
The rampaging herdsmen had attacked and burned seven villages – Nimbo Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Enugu Nimbo, Umuome, and Ugwuachara.
The most frightening part of the attack on Nimbo was the high level discipline and military precision of its execution. The Enugu State Government had been informed of the impending attack and the governor had promptly convened the state’s security council meeting which included every arm of the security agencies – the Enugu Garrison Command 82nd Division of the Nigerian Army, the Commissioner of Police, the Department of |State Security, and Prison officials. Each arm assured the governor that it would do everything to pre-empt the attack. The herdsmen apparently operate at a much higher level and, so, the best laid plans of the governor and the state’s security agencies were thwarted by Fulani herdsmen. That sense of impotence and helplessness necessitated the governor’s recourse to and the re-mobilization of the state’s indigenous neighborhood watch. With the unanimous approval of the traditional rulers and the association of town unions, Governor Ugwuanyi had to cough out N100 million to begin the process of activating the vigilante network.
The scariest part of the Nimbo disaster was the reaction of the 19 governors of Northern Nigeria who flat out denied the fact known to all that Fulani herdsmen had conducted the massacre. Indeed, in a show of righteous indignation, they warned Nigerians to stop ‘insulting’ Fulani herdsmen.
The governors thus set the country up for an encore of the civil war on two grounds. First, the governors implied that the depredations of the Fulani herdsmen will continue and that the governors have no apologies for the Genghis Khan style destruction and mass murder the Fulani herdsmen have perpetrated in the last five years. Secondly, it sounded all too familiar to students of Nigerian history who would remember that the same way the governors denied the atrocities of the herdsmen last week was the same way the Northern military government denied the pogroms against Easterners in May 1966 and beyond. Indeed as thousands of Igbos were being massacred all over Northern cities and towns, the Northern government and its media trivialized the horrors and described them as mere “disturbances.”
The callous statement of the Northern governors put the tragedy in a new dimension forcing the Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, to go down memory lane to recall the atrocities of the Fulani herdsmen: “For some people to gather and call themselves northern governors, and have no sympathy for lives than to be defending the Fulani herdsmen, shows clearly that it is a tragedy of monumental proportion to be in the same country with these elements.” Femi Fani-Kayode in a ringing denunciation earlier in the week called on the northern governors to “purge themselves of the unwholesome and denigrating contempt that they clearly have for the people of the South before it is too late and before the whole damn nation explodes and breaks into a thousand pieces.”
The Nimbo attack confirmed the unspoken fears of many Nigerians of the existence of a well-armed, well-trained, army-supported, militia sponsored by the cattle breeders. It went a long way to explain the brazen impunity, the fact that having killed hundreds of innocent defenseless farmers, not a single herdsman has been arrested, much less prosecuted to say nothing of being punished.
Since 7th March 2010 when it was first reported that Fulani herdsmen killed over 500 people in Jos, Plateau State, to 14th May 2013 when the BBC reported that the herdsmen killed 53 in North Central Nigeria, verifiable records were kept, and Fulani herdsmen, sponsored by the cattle breeders, have committed enough heinous crimes to deserve a court date at the International Criminal Court. On 8th July2013, the Fulani herdsmen killed 34 people in Benue State. On 26th November 2013 Jihadwatch reported that “Islamic Extremists killed at least 71 Christians in Nigeria…assailants were believed to be Muslim Fulani herdsmen.” On 24th March 2014 Fulani herdsmen killed 36 people in Agatu area, Benue State. A week later the herdsmen sacked and burned 33 villages, killing at least 19 people in the area.
To be concluded next week