Herdsmen or Arms-men, How Safe Are Nigerians? By Obayomi Abiola Benjamin
Some few days ago, the residents of Uzo Uwani local government area of Enugu State, Nigeria woke up to the sights of dead men and women scattered all over the place. Those lifeless bodies had been killed in their sleep by the Fulani Herdsmen, as reported in the morning by those fortunate ones who had escaped the onslaught. Traditionally and historically, the Fulani herdsmen are Fulani men who are predominantly herders and pastoralists, and are often seen parading their cattle in search of grazing pasture. The Fula people or Fulani or Ful?e are one of the largest ethno linguistic groups in Africa, numbering more than 40 million people in total. They form one of the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse of the peoples of Africa. They are bound together by the common language of Fulfulde, as well as by some basic elements of Fulbe culture, such as the pulaaku, a code of conduct common to all Fulani groups. Cattle, goat and sheep trading are their primary source of income and occupation. Their wealth and riches are often measured by the size of their cattle, being the most treasured animal they herd.
From the happenings lately, it appears that the Fulani herdsmen have taken up some other new trade. Their murderous adventure and kidnappings recently have gone unnoticed, which has left many Nigerians wondering when this would end. Innocent farmers have mostly been recorded to be their victims. The unending tussle between Nigerian farmers and Fulani herdsmen have been ravaging over the years with no end in sight. The brawl usually begins when the former invade community farmland with their cattle and let them graze unrestricted both on cultivated and uncultivated land thereby destroying valuable food and cash crops which are the source of livelihood of the host communities. When the communities try to resist them and request their exit, the Fulani herdsmen become violent and attack the community. There mode of operation usually is to attack farming communities at the time they are mostly vulnerable such as midnight, kill both women and children and maim others; burning houses and looting properties.
The Fulani herdsmen have been reputed to be the fourth deadliest group in the world. This rating alone is enough to set Nigeria security agencies on their toes. To better worsen the situation is the fact that the Fulani herdsmen are in operation in almost every nook and cranny of the country. Unlike the Boko haram sects whose sphere of operation was limited to the North eastern parts of the country alone, these herdsmen are everywhere in the North, South, East and West of the nation. For instance, these herdsmen of the Fulani descent have been linked with the recent violence in Agatu community, a local government in Benue state, the kidnapping of a foremost Yoruba statesman Chief Olu Falae in his home state of Ondo in the South western part of Nigeria, the attack on the residents of Angai and Ndole villages in Gashak Local council area of Taraba state where those escaped the attack fled to neighboring communities in the Republic of Cameroun. Enugu and Imo states respectively were also not left out in the spread of the Fulani herdsmen killing spree, and the incessant Plateau state crises have also been linked to these herdsmen unruly and uncontrollable behavior.
How safe then are those Nigerians in the different farming communities spread across the length and breadth of Nigeria? At this point, there is no dispute about the fact that the situation is becoming a giant monster of some sort. The situation is becoming worse by the day and it appears the government is not responding well with the utmost urgency that the situation demands. How many more Nigerians are going to die before the government takes the necessary steps? A Fulani herdsman with loaded gun, a machete and staff in his hands to direct his cattle is no doubt going to descend on any opposition without any compassion. President Muhammadu Buhari must do something very drastic to arrest this situation before it becomes a total menace like the boko haram sect. As much as agriculture is good, and the government at every level is encouraging it, it can however not be practiced under a tense situation and an unfavorable clime like it is happening right now with the farming communities and the herdsmen in Nigeria.
In some other countries of the world, cattle farmers do not move their animals around in search of grazing fields and water as it done here in Nigeria, and there has not been any record that those countries ran out of meat consumption at any point in time or they are short of meat consumption and therefore need to import meats from other nations of the world. It then means that there is something working for them in this regard that our leaders can learn from and put in place here to permanently end these incessant conflicts between farmers and herdsmen in Nigeria. For instance, there are pastoral leases in full operation in New Zealand and Australia that designates the extent of state or government owned lands that pastoral farmers can graze. What these countries do is to have large grazing reserves for cattle farmers and those farmers are not expected at any point or the other to graze outside of these reserves. The President’s resolve to put this place will go a long way in ensuring some form of peace between the farming communities and Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria.
Apart from the fact that the government should earmark a grazing reserve, the government should also ensure that the activities of these herdsmen are highly regulated and adequately monitored. This they can do by maintaining a register of all those who are herdsmen in different parts of Nigeria, and those who intends to go into such businesses, whether they are Nigerians or foreigners. By so doing, the government can keep a tab on different activities of herdsmen across the country, their movements and who causes what conflicts in any community at every point in time. It cannot be totally incorrect that some of these herdsmen may have migrated from neighboring countries of Chad and the likes, but proper registration would help out in this area. Some form of orientation could also be given to these herdsmen informing them of the disadvantages of destroying food and cash crops. This could be done through the National Orientation Agency and in collaboration with the state governments and all these herdsmen various associations.
Thank you for reading.
Obayomi Abiola Benjamin @abibeo_oba