By TOPE ADEBOBOYE, HENRY OKONKWO, LAGOS, DESMOND MGBOH, KANO, NOAH EBIJE, KADUNA, ABDUL HASSAN, ZARIA, AGAJU MADUGBA, KATSINA and ABDULLAHI TSOHO, DUTSE
IT was like a scene from a horror movie –only that this was no film. Neither was it a rehearsal. On Monday, April 25, residents of about seven communities at Nimbo, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State woke up to find that the entire area had been invaded by over 500 gun-toting, machete-wielding Fulani herdsmen. The communities are Nimbo Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Enugu Nimbo, Umuome and Ugwuachara.
The marauders allegedly set fire to houses and set about killing the residents. Even as the burning homes smouldered, with the smoke drifting into the sky, over 40 villagers had been mindlessly murdered, with no fewer than 11 homes razed.
Among the facilities torched were churches, including the Christ Holy Catholic Church, Odozi-Obodo.
One of the victims of the attack is Kingsley Ezugwu, former Councillor, Nimbo Ward 2. He remains grateful that he was not felled by the herdsmen’s bullets. From his hospital bed in Nsukka, Ezugwu recalled: “I was coming out from the house when I heard the community bell ringing. I was going with a friend to know what the bell was all about, only to see about 40 Fulani herdsmen armed with sophisticated guns and machetes.
“They pursued us, killed my friend and shot at me several times but missed. They caught up with me and used machetes on me until I lost consciousness.”
Early this month, Ondo State governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko hosted a peace parley in his office at the state capital, Akure. He had called the meeting following yet another killing by suspected Fulani herdsmen on a farm in the state capital.
A few days earlier, the armed cattlemen had allegedly abducted and slaughtered Mr. Ayodele Ige, a leader of the OPC and head of the guards keeping watch on the farm of elder statesman and former presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae in Akure. The OPC had warned that its leader’s callous murder would attract appropriate consequences, and Mimiko’s meeting was called to avert the looming war.
At the meeting, Governor Mimiko regretted that the federal government was not paying sufficient attention to the issue of Fulani herdsmen and their tyrannical tendencies all over the country. He noted that the situation was getting grimmer by the day, warning that it could result in an expansive conflagration that might be difficult to contain.
Said he: “There is no question about the fact that this is becoming a monster of sorts. I have had cause to express my view on this on many occasions and I think we all ignored this menace as a nation. I can see us moving towards a precipice and we must do something about it as early as possible. It is getting dangerous. The audacity is very disturbing.
“These herdsmen must be called to order. These wanton destructions, audacious incursions into other people’s territory cannot continue for too long. They just go to the farms and devastate the farms. Some farmers have been turned to perpetual debtors because some of the inputs for the farms are from bank loans. The herdsmen will just get there and destroy these farmlands, and we are talking of diversification.
“But I think if we don’t do anything about the activities of these herdsmen, I can see a threat to the security of this country. It is a major challenge and I think the President and all major stakeholders should take this as a very serious challenge.”
Mimiko’s concern isn’t a one-off affair. Across the country in the past months, not a few are those that have expressed worry at the sudden, glaring temerity of the herdsmen, many of whom have now discarded their signature herdsman’s sticks, replacing them with assault rifles. These days, from community to community, they strike, triggering deaths and wreaking massive misery on villages and villagers. They sack entire communities and rape both young and old women.
Clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local communities are no recent developments. Over the years, farmers and cattlemen have engaged in bloody feuds in many communities across the various states in the country. The herdsmen have been accused of leading their cows to graze on farmlands, totally devastating crops and people’s means of livelihoods. And at the slightest resistance, the herdsmen would go on the rampage, killing farmers, burning farms and pillaging entire communities.
The Agatu massacre
For years, the Fulani cattlemen have always left a gory trail of tears, sorrow and death across the country after each bloody engagement with local farmers. But in February, their atrocities attained unprecedented infamy and provoked global outrage when they attacked communities in Agatu local Government Area of Benue State.
Before dawn on Wednesday, February 24, villagers in Aila, Ugboju, Akwu, Odugbeho and Enogaje communities in the Agatu Local Government, an area that shares a border with Nasarawa State, were crudely jostled out of their early morning slumber as gunshots pierced the ears and hot bullets pierced the hearts of men, women and children. Fulani fighters, armed with guns, machetes and charms, among other weapons of war, invaded the communities, killing and maiming and unleashing an orgy of violence.
After murdering as many as they could and sacking the entire communities, the invaders set fire to the houses, virtually razing Agatuland.
Till date, no one has been able to give the exact number of those killed, but the immediate past Senate President, David Mark, said the casualties could not have been fewer than 500.
Mark said after a visit to the scene of war: “This violence on our people is unacceptable. I have gone and assessed the level of destruction and what I saw was very shocking. This is a clear violence targeted at my people, and this must stop forthwith.
“I will ensure that the appropriate authorities know the details of this carnage and evolve ways to prevent further escalation.”
Till date, many members of the Agatu communities rendered homeless by the cattlemen have been seeking refuge in various internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps scattered across Benue and Nasarawa States.
Asked why the Fulani men were so ruthless in Agatuland, a Fulani leader in the community said the natives had slaughtered about 10,000 cattle belonging to the Fulani men.
But Saleh Bayeri, the Interim National Secretary of Gan Allah Fulani Association, said the February killings were a reprisal by his people against the Agatus who he accused of killing a prominent Fulani man in 2013.
An index of terror
In the past few years, the statistics of the terror unleashed on innocent communities across the country have been mindboggling.
In Adamawa State last February, gunmen believed to be Fulani herdsmen killed a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and 19 members of the public. Many houses were razed in the clash. Also in the same month, it was the turn of communities in Buruku Local Government Area of Benue State. Dozens were killed and homes destroyed during the invasion.
Shortly after, armed herdsmen invaded Abbi community in Uzo- Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State. At the end of the siege, many laid dead, houses were razed while farms were destroyed. Till date, 19 persons are missing in the community.
It wasn’t the first time that they would be unleashing violence in the area. In June 2014, Fulani herdsmen allegedly invaded more than 40 agrarian communities in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State. The herdsmen allegedly destroyed farmlands, raped women and killed many.
In March 2015, suspected Fulani herdsmen murdered one Chief Tamgbo Ogueji, a member of the traditional ruler’s cabinet at Eke community in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State. The 85-year-old man was shot in his house following an altercation with some herdsmen. The previous year, two men from the community -Matthew Aniugo and Chiagha Chigbo -were also reportedly murdered in their farms by Fulani herdsmen. Early this year, two women working on their farms in Ugwuleshi in Agwu Local Government Area of the state were allegedly abducted by herdsmen.
In November last year, 22 persons, including women and children, were killed when suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked nine communities in Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State. Villagers in Agojeju, Ikpoba, Ojeh, Ajomojayi, Ajadaji, Idochi, Ojiyanawo, Ulaja and Oganenigu were brutally gunned down or slaughtered. Many are still missing.
In the South West, herdsmen have also been on the rampage, inflicting terror on different communities. In Ijebu-Igbo area of Ogun State, six traditional rulers accused herdsmen of destroying farmlands and raping their subjects. Last year, Chief Olu Falae, a former presidential candidate, was kidnapped by suspected Fulani herdsmen right on his farmland in Ilado, Akure, the Ondo State capital. He was later released after a ransom of N5 million was paid. Barely two weeks after the incident, herdsmen again invaded and destroyed over one square kilometre of his maize farm.
Early this year, Ayodede Ige, leader of the guards on the same farm, was abducted and killed by Fulani herdsmen.
Ondo State Agricultural Commodities Association said Fulani herdsmen had gone beyond merely grazing on farms to “a new dimension of bush burning, rape and physical attack with machetes, robbery, kidnapping and destruction being recorded across the state.”
In March this year, Dr. Taiwo Akande, Rector, Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, said the institution’s farms were being devastated by Fulani herdsmen.
In Zankan, Kaduna State, close to 50 people were killed following an allegation that two cows were poisoned in the area. Many others were rendered homeless in the clash.
Statistics of such bloody clashes indicate that thousands have been killed in several attacks in agrarian communities in the country in the past few years.
Some people have blamed the recent audacity of the herdsmen on their affinity with President Muhammadu Buhari who is the Life Patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. Many have also condemned the president for not showing enough leadership by condemning the tyrannies of the cattle breeders.
Already, many people have canvassed that the herdsmen be evicted from their land. Afenifere, the pan- Yoruba group, has said the herdsmen must be banned from the South West.
In the past few weeks, there had been considerable noise over a purported National Grazing Bill that would empower the federal government to acquire land in any part of the country for cattlemen. Although the Senate has denied considering any such bill, opponents have said the idea of the bill was to take farmlands belonging to communities all over the country and make them federal land permanently held for the Fulani herdsmen. All over the country, especially in the South and North Central, the proposed grazing reserves have been roundly rejected. Even the Fulani herdsmen are not too pleased with the idea of grazing reserves, saying they need to move around to feed their cattle.
A ticking time bomb
Right now, there is palpable apprehension and intense outrage among communities in the South- East, South-West, South-South and North-Central states over the activities of herdsmen and the presumed silence of the federal government. Many Nigerians have called on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to tackle the issue frontally, warning that soon, communities might start defending themselves and their land, a situation that may lead to an all-out war. Some have contended that the killings and arson perpetrated by the herdsmen merit a national broadcast by the president. Although the authorities of the Nigeria Police said they had started arresting gun-wielding herdsmen, many of them still go about with AK 47 rifles slung over their shoulders.
How will the federal government tackle these rampaging herdsmen spreading sorrow across the land? The nation waits.
The life of a Fulani herdsman
Fulani is a tribe of people that are found in most parts of Africa. They are bound together by their language and some shared cultural and occupational values, many of which have become part of their identity.
According to different scholars, the Fulani people originated from the Arabian Peninsula, migrating thereafter, to different parts of the African continent, among them Nigeria. In Nigeria, the Fulani are found mostly in the Northern region from where they occasionally migrate, as pastoralists, to different parts of the country depending on the season of the year.
Abdullahi Dauda, aged 37, is a Kaduna-based Fulani herdsman who has taken after the ways of his forebears. “Since I was very young, my parents trained me on cattle rearing. Cattle rearing has been with us from the days of our great grandfather. It is an inheritance, he stated proudly.
Today, Dauda is a proud owner of over 80 cattle. At dawn, he takes off with his cattle from Ruga, through Nnamdi Azikiwe Western bypass, Kaduna to distances of grazing fields. At dusk, he returns with his cattle only to set off the next day. That is his typical life, a routine he has done all his adult life, and would perhaps, do till his death.
All his cows are being milked as early 7. 00 am, just in time before the journey to the fields. The milking is designed to get enough milk for the herders to drink ahead of the grazing trip, which could sometimes be a very long trip.
The herders are strong as their cattle, trekking distances, Dauda reflected, adding that, “We don’t get tired when we are trekking with the cows. But if we walk alone, we easily get tired and if you are not strong, you may not meet up the pace of the cattle even as they appear to be walking slowly” He described his cattle with love and cordiality, saying that he guards with all he has.
The philosophy of the Fulani herdsman
It is common knowledge that the Fulani herdsman and his herds are very close, sharing an uncommon bond that is not easily explained.
Elder statesman and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule harped on this relationship in a recent interview.
His words: ” The philosophy of the herdsman, you may have observed and may have seen is that the Fulani herdsman is always in front of his cows, leading them. He is not behind them driving them from behind. He is in front leading his cattle. The Fulani herdsman hangs a stick over his shoulders. That stick is not for beating them. It is for guarding his cattle. That Fulani herdsman can make his cattle do everything he wants them to do. While he is leading them in front, if he stops anywhere, they all would stop. If he should jump into the water, they all would jump into the water. If he starts running, all of them would run after him. He names all of his cattle. If he calls any one of his cattle by their name, they would come to him. It would leave the herd and come to him.
“In those days when there was the cattle tax, the Jangali, and if the tax man came to count the cattle in his herds, if he did not want his cattle to be counted, he would whistle or make a tune and the cows would all disperse into the forest.
“After the tax man had gone, he would make another whistle and they would all come back to him. During the rainstorm, the herdsman would take shelter under the tree and these animals would come and chase him away from under the tree and bring him to the open and make a circle around him, protecting him. “They would not want him to sit under the tree for the fear that thunder may fall and crush their leader. Now, why do these cows behave like that? Why are they so obedient to their leader? The herdsman has sacrificed his life for his cattle, he has sacrificed his leisure for his cattle; he has sacrificed his health for his cattle”.
“For the herdsman never leaves his cattle. He would sleep with the cows in the forest. If any one of them sleeps in the middle of the night, he would go out and get his herbs and leaves and treat this cow. If in the middle of the night he hears the cry of a leopard trying to take away a single calf, he would rather die than allow that wild animal to take away his calf”
The cordial relationship between the herdsman and his herds was illustrated by Mallam Ardo Isuhyu Manya, aged 60, who was born at Fanfon Malam, a village located some 16 kilometres from Katsina metropolis, one of the several other villages where Fulani cattle breeders raise and graze their animals.
He told Saturday Sun that, “I inherited this business from my late father and I hope to pass it on to my children” adding that one of his sons, Hassan, 30, was already in the business with him.
“In the course of these years I have been doing this, we have never had any case of attacks by cattle rustlers or robbers, whether in Nigeria or in Niger. We are forced to embark on these journeys with the cattle because there is not enough rainfall here to sustain the grass that feed our cattle.”
For the Fulani herdsman, life can be as simple as they have defined it. For shelter, he lives with his family in a shack in a vast desert. He says, “I am comfortable with what I have because I make enough money from my cattle, which enables me to take care of my two wives and the children.
“Each time I travel, I leave some cows behind so that my wives can get milk from them which they sell and also consume.” If you intend to shop for a cow, you may not be able to buy direct from Manya and other cattle breeders and grazers in the forest or as they pass through the towns, no matter the offer. “I cannot sell for you here even if you give me double the price. If you want to buy cows, you go to the cattle market,” he said.
Metamorphosis of herdsmen
Initially, they were seen as a group in search of pasture for their cows. Now, they are described more as terrorists out to perpetuate brigandage in any part of the country they come into. This perception aptly encapsulates the evolution of the herdsmen in Nigeria.
Time was when the Fulani herdsmen were held by Nigerians to be a peaceful group of nomads tending their cows. Nobody perceived them as threats. In those days, nomads were only armed with long staff, their kettle and sometime, a dagger hidden inside their clothes. But all that have changed as these herdsmen have evolved overtime.
The nomads, known for migrating from one location to another in search of grazing lands for their cattle, are said to usually incur the wrath of locals who allege that herdsmen’s cows cause a lot of damage in their farmlands by grazing on their crops. The tensions between Fulani communities and farmer communities in Nigeria, especially in the Middle Belt region have been on from time immemorial. In the intermittent clashes that occured saw the herdsmen elevating in the form of the weaponry they use. They began to clutch bows and poisoned arrows with charms as they move into communities.
Failure by successive governments to provide solutions, and quell the longstanding standoffs between the nomads and farmers, saw the conflicts festering for decades. Both sides continued to nurse seething suspicion and hatred, which have led to various attacks, counter-attacks and reprisals.
Owing to these unbridled violent clashes, these herdsmen in recent years further evolved. They became a more deadly group that wield automatic guns, brandish various weapons and even carry out coordinated onslaught on communities that are perceived as threats to their nomadic activities.
The tension between herdsmen and farmers have witnessed a dramatic and astronomical escalation in recent times. Bloody attacks, kidnappings, raping and killings carried out by the nomads continue to be prevalent across the country. It thus became apparent that herdsmen have metamorphosed into a most dangerous specie across the states of the federation especially in North central and southern states .
The havoc wreaked by the cattle-grazers has gotten them to be named one of the deadliest terror groups in the world amongst Boko Haram, ISIS, Taliban and the Al-Shabab militants. According to global terrorism statistics, herdsmen are ranked as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world.
Between 2010 and 2013, the Fulani militants reportedly killed 80 people. By 2014 and 2015, they had killed over 1500 individual in various communities of Nigeria. And just within the first quarter of 2016, the herdsmen have already massacred not less than 500 people in various communities of Adamawa, Benue, Delta, various states of South-West and most recently in Enugu where they were reported to have sacked a community after killing scores of indigenes last Monday.
In the Global Terrorism index of 2015, over 90% of these attacks carried out by the herdsmen are on citizens, and these attacks have mainly been through armed assaults.
Security experts have raised pertinent questions about how these herdsmen’s assess sophisticated weaponry, and who authorized them to carry about such arms? The Fulani herdsmen continue to ascribe continued stealing of their animals as the major reason for them to parade with automatic guns.
Alhaji Na’atta lives in Hadejia, Jigawa State. Speaking to Saturday Sun, he explained that for the Fulani herdsman, migration from one place to another is a normal culture, adding that he moves not only from North to Southern Nigeria, but migrate even beyond the shores of Nigeria to neighbouring countries, in search of food for his cattle.
He explained that his movement from North to South during the dry season; and from South to North during the rainy season was dictated by natural factors, such as rainfall and availability of grasses.
He explained that: “It our tradition to always move away from areas that we spend some months during the rainy season. Otherwise, if we continue to stay where we stayed during the rainy season, it would have adverse effects on our cattle, because the cattle would by become used to the place”.
He added that, “some of us are forced to move about, because there are no grazing reserve areas for us. We always manage ourselves to be moving about, in order to have our animals to give birth to young one” he added.
Na’atta disclosed that he was with his animals around Nguru, in Yobe State during the raining season migrated to Dutse area in Dutse Local Government Area of Jigawa State as the season changed, while hoping to move ahead in the nearest future.
Causes of clashes
There has been a sudden escalation in the number of clashes linked to the headsman in various communities in the West, East and North-Central Nigeria.
Abdullahi Dauda, the Kaduna based herdsman, told Saturday Sun that these clashes were essentially fuelled by growing distrust and lack of understanding of the ways of life of the Fulani herdsman by these communities.
“There is always that suspicion between the farmer and the herdsman, with each not knowing the life style of the other” he explained.
The Jigawa State Chairman of Mayetti Allah Cattle Breeding Association of Nigeria( MACBAN), Alhaji Sa’idu Musa Gagarawa, in his submission, blamed tribalism and ethnicity in Nigeria as a major cause of the recent upswing in clashes between the herders and some communities down south.
He insisted that the Fulani herdsmen were being treated with disdain and disregard by members of these communities as a result of which they have little or no option but to defend them selves in the face of these hostilities.
“I want tell you that, today, the Fulani herdsmen are treated and perceived as non -Nigerians by most of the people, particularly those that are from the Southern part of the country” he stressed.
To end the unending spill of blood, he charged the Federal Government to provide enough grazing land and water reserves for the herdsmen with a view to discouraging his migration with their cattle to other areas.
He stressed that they, as a body, have commenced a program to educate and enlighten the herders on the need to shun violence of any form and with anybody or any community in the course of their pastoral journey across the forest of Nigeria.
He added that the enlightenment program was designed to encourage the herdsman to report anybody or any of their grievances to the nearest security post instead of taking the laws into their hands.
Mallam Ardo Isuhyu Manya in Katsina State, who disclosed that they live a spartan life in the forest with their cattle, emphasized the need for the Federal Government to construct grazing reserves for the herdsmen in their areas.
”The best bet out of this crisis is that a herdsman should avoid farmlands since he knows that if he trespasses into the area, it will generate trouble” he concluded.
National Public Relations Officer, Mayetti Allah Cattle Breeding Association of Nigeria( MACBAN), Alhaji Ibrahim Ribeji stressed the need for a national conference among stakeholders with a view to finding a lasting solution to Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes in Nigeria. Asked why Fulani herdsmen are carrying guns, Ribeji remarked that quite often their lives and that of their cattle were endangered in the forest. “In most cases their cattle are stolen by rustlers and for this, they need to protect themselves and defend their cattle” he stated.
He believed that the clashes were avoidable and even unnecessary, reflecting that, “If you trespass into a farm, and the owner did not see you at that time, he prays to God to punish you for doing that to him, he will say, Allah yayisa, (I leave you to God). It is possible that if God answers the prayers, many bad things will follow you” Throwing insight into the causes of some of the clashes, he explained that “ Sometimes, if the herdsman misunderstands the farmer and the farmers misunderstand the herdsman, a fight may ensue between them. In the process of the fight, the Fulani herdsman will run to his people to raise the alarm that a farmer had attacked him, and they will embark on revenge, and that is how the conflicts often erupt between Fulani herdsmen and farmers.
He advised that the farmers and the herdsman to see themselves as partners in progress, adding that “there is no need to fight because there is the season when the farmer needs the Fulani herdsman and there is also the season when the Fulani herdsman needs the farmer.
“For instance, a farmer will always need cattle dung during the farming season which he uses as manure for his crops while the Fulani will need the wastes from harvest of farm produce as feeds for the cattle. So, if there is this understanding, and if we understand it, there would be no reason for conflict between the herdsman and the farmers.”