At the height of the Agatu (Benue state) crisis where persons alleged to be herdsmen decimated villages, killed people, burnt houses and destroyed farmlands, President Muhammadu Buhari told Nigerians that those responsible for the mayhem were largely foreigners who entered Nigeria through the Nigerien flank. For him, the collapse of Muamar Gadhafi’s Libya left several fighters, armed with free weapons, with no option than to look for fertile grounds for crisis. That fertile ground was Nigeria.
The President’s comment at the time did not go unchallenged. Many commentators and political actors disagreed with him. Many believed that armed Nigerian herdsmen, who were prosecuting an alleged hidden agenda, were responsible for the Agatu crisis. The arguments led to the search for a solution for which Ruga (a settlement for herdsmen) was proposed as the best way to end such clashes.
To defend the President’s plan to foist Ruga on Nigerians and across every state, Bala Muhammed, the governor of Bauchi state, stood firmly in both identification and defence. Though he spoke much later, he was unequivocal in his argument that foreign herdsmen of the Fulani ethnic stock had infiltrated. He also said that it was not possible to stop them because it was practically impossible to identify and isolate them.
While answering questions about the actual intention of Ruga, which would accommodate herdsmen from outside Nigeria (foreigners), said also to be Fulani, Bala asked: “how do you know which Fulani is Nigerian and which is not”. He also said: “We are already accommodating them. Do you delineate and really know who is not a Fulani man from Nigeria. They are all Nigerians. Their identity, their citizenship is Nigerian. Even though we (Fulani) have relations all over the world, all over Africa, they are presumably Nigerians”. (sic)
Those were exact words Governor Bala said in response to a question, by Chamberlain Usoh on ChannelsTV. The question was: “why should the federal government use resources meant for this country to accommodate Fulani men who are not Nigerians?” For Bala, every Fulani, no matter his nationality is Nigerian and ought to be resettled in Nigeria.
Bala was passionately defensive in that interview. He told Nigerians that since it was difficult to distinguish between the Nigerian and non-Nigerian Fulani, it was therefore proper for the federal government to waste public funds in building homes for foreigners across the country and in places where they do not have a cultural and religious affinity.
So, it was not surprising when the same Bala told Nigerians that the Kalashnikov-carrying Fulani is right to operate freely with his assault rifle in so far as he tags it “for self-defence”. But he failed to tell Nigerians the existential threat that made the carrying of weapons by a herdsman legitimate. Though Bala claims to have apologised for his call-to-arms for the herdsman (it should be for every Nigerian), he was however in the news again telling his Ondo state counterpart, Rotimi Akeredolu, that weapons-carrying herdsmen need no permission from him, or anyone, to occupy lands in Ondo state, and by extension, any other state of the country. In other words, Bala is saying that his Ondo state counterpart, and all others, lack powers to question the occupation of any part of the states by foreigners. I concede to the fact that every Nigerian has constitutional right to live and work in any part of the country he or she likes, but does this right also entail ‘foreigners’ having powers to forcefully take over any property (land), by use of a firearm, and convert same to personal use? Law experts tell me that no one has such power.
However, my concern here is about the open admission, by Nigeria’s leaders, that foreigners are behind the high level of insecurity in Nigeria. Outside Bala’s retort, Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, informed Nigerians, and the world, that the problem of insecurity in Nigeria is caused by foreigners who infiltrate the country and now operate freely and unchecked as bandits, herdsmen, Boko Haram etc. Speaking when he appeared on ChannelsTV, the Minister blamed the ECOWAS protocol on the free movement of persons for the infiltration of Nigeria by ‘foreigners’ who now operate as bandits and criminal herdsmen.
Hear him: “The ECOWAS Protocols allows trans-human between all the ECOWAS countries. That is why we are thinking of seriously reviewing the ECOWAS Protocols in that respect. What we find out today is that a lot of criminalities have been introduced through the herdsmen and trans-human.” Vintage Lai Mohammed!
Unfortunately, the minister chose to forget the announcement made by President Buhari at the Aswan Forum which held in Egypt in December 2019 themed “An agenda for sustainable peace, security and development in Africa”. Addressing the event, President Buhari announced visa-free entry into Nigeria for all Africans starting January 2020. Recall that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Amb. Ahmed Awad had made a tweet from the Aswan Forum saying: “I wish to profoundly commend President @mBuhari of #Nigeria who just announced at the Aswan Forum complete visa exemption for all Africans. Starting January 2020 Africans will be able to arrive Nigeria without visas. It’s such an exemplary decision. Thanks your excellency (sic)”.
So, is there any link between the President’s unsolicited offer and the influx of weapon bearing ‘foreigners’ into Nigeria? Maybe, maybe not! But a cursory review of developments in the insecurity sector indicates that the trend changed in the past 12 months. Before this, Nigeria was faced more with the insurgency of Boko Haram and bandits in Zamfara state who were linked to illegal gold mines in that state. Today, the reality is that the bandit gold miners are rarely heard of. Their impacts are no longer felt. Could it be that Gov. Bello Matawalle had reined them in with ‘palliatives’ or have they graduated to become hefty ransom earners? Governor Nasiru El-Rufai said recently, no herder will return to his herd after a taste of the lucrative world of mass kidnap. It has been so from Dapchi to Kankara to Kagara and we blame ‘foreigners’.
If we run with the foreigner-did-it logic, we shall have to come back to ask ourselves one very simple question: why allow foreigners overrun your country? As it is, Nigeria is not in a state of war with any of its neighbours. If it is, Nigerians are not aware and the National Assembly is yet to be told. Despite this, Nigerians are told that foreigners are the ones making their country, their lives and their businesses insecure. But we are also told, constitutionally, that it is the task of the military to protect our country from foreign aggression. How come then that these ‘foreigners’ operate freely, demand and receive ransom for kidnapped Nigerians? Is the military also not aware that ‘foreigners’ have invaded Nigeria and are kidnapping and killing Nigerians at will?
The issue is this: it is not possible that foreigners are actually behind insecurity in Nigeria. Our reality is orchestrated by Nigerians and for Nigerians. Let us leave foreigners out of it and see for ourselves the problems we have created by our leadership choices and decisions. Even where we blame foreigners, the actual blame still falls back on us for making our borders porous for fraternal souls to move in freely and unchecked. Those we call foreigner would not have easily accessed Nigeria for land and pasture, with assault weapons, if our immigration is strict on entry requirements. Pushing the blame on foreigners is a very disingenuous way to escape responsibility. The government must take responsibility not only for its successes but also, for its failure. Here, it has failed woefully to secure the lives and property of Nigerians. For this reason, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, is telling Nigerians that government needs two more months to secure them, their property and their country. Like highlife maestro, Chief Steven Osita Osadebe would ask, if your salary can’t serve you, will overtime allowance serve?