Punch Editorial Board
President Muhammadu Buhari demonstrated his cluelessness afresh on Sunday when he blamed herders’ act of horrific violence on the shrinking Lake Chad and alleged biased media reports. His narrow narrative seeks vainly to explain away the campaign of terror and mayhem by bandits on the displacement of herdsmen from the lake area and hang the seeming helplessness of his administration in curbing the rampage on the mass media. This is ghastly.
It is inconceivable that Buhari will attribute the rash of herders’ killings across the country to mere fallout of desert encroachment. But it is all in his character. Buhari has displayed a signal lack of understanding of issues and demonstrated an embarrassing low quality of empathy with the larger segment of the people he leads. For instance, while his Ghanaian counterpart, Nana Akufo-Addo, called for humane treatment of his countrymen making the hazardous desert journey to Europe and foreign investment to create jobs when Germany’s Angela Merkel visited, Buhari’s response was that Nigerian youths risking it were on their own. He was equally reckless at the recent Nigerian Bar Association annual conference where he dismissed the supremacy of the rule of law as sacred canon of democratic and civilised governance. Nigerian youths have not forgotten how he dismissed them as lazy and desperate for quick money rather than hard work. But justifying Fulani herders’ bloody campaign against mostly innocent people won’t wash. Insecurity on his watch has run riot precisely because of such wrong diagnosis and failure to apply the law objectively.
On Sunday, Buhari addressed Nigerians resident in China on the sidelines of the China-Africa Cooperation Summit in Beijing where he accused the press of being uninformed: “To my disappointment…the press in Nigeria do not make enough efforts to study the historical antecedents of issues that are creating national problems for us” and citing “cultural and historical implications” of the “misunderstanding, especially between herders and farmers”, he blamed climate change and the seeking of pastures by cattle nomads displaced by the shrinking Lake Chad. This is a patently callous and dishonest argument. This narrative explains the herders’ deadpan belligerence and why they have brought impunity to a spectacular climax.
To keen observers, however, his analysis, that aligns perfectly with the earlier repeated postulations of his inner cabinet and of Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, may sound seductive, but falls flat on even a cursory scrutiny. True; desertification and shrinking grazing land have prompted herdsmen to move further afield for their flocks, but the long-running Fulani militant rampage has first gone beyond isolated disputes with farmers to what informed analysts have variously identified as ethnic cleansing, genocide and criminal impunity.
Second; criminality, mass murder, arson and rape must be punished, no matter the motive or persons perpetrating them as the Fulani terrorists have done in the last few years. Rated as the world’s fourth most deadly terrorist group in the Global Terrorism Index, Fulani terrorists killed over 2,000 persons across the country this year, according to Coalition for Conflict Resolution and Human Rights in Nigeria. A tally by Saturday Punch attributed 3,094 persons killed by Boko Haram terrorists and Fulani herdsmen between May 29, 2015 and May 2016; Amnesty International counted 168 killed in January alone, while the Benue State Government said Fulani marauders killed over 1,500 persons, including soldiers and policemen, in 47 different attacks in the three years to February this year. At least, 14 persons were again brutally murdered in Plateau State yesterday. It is inconceivable that Buhari will attribute the series of herders’ attacks as mere fallout of desert encroachment.
The inescapable truth is that, though the herders’ menace is not exclusive to Nigeria as they seek grazing land across West Africa and parts of East Africa, a complex mix of politics, ethnic identity, religion, criminality and weak political and security environment has escalated Nigeria’s case to the level of naked terror. The basic problem is the destruction of farm crops when cattle are left un-herded by the nomadic Fulani herdsmen or natives. Across the country, especially in Northern states, churches, homes, farms and passenger-laden vehicles are brazenly attacked, villages razed and taken over while police and soldiers are also killed in droves.
In Ghana, Akufo-Addo said that a lasting solution would be to create ranches, including veterinary centres, in the Afram plains and the Kwawu areas, for restricted cattle grazing. But here, Buhari blamed the environment, in June; he later blamed politicians whom he accused of fuelling “clashes” to gain advantage in the 2019 elections and discredit his government; in April, while meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury, he blamed the killings on militants armed and trained by the late Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, who were displaced after his fall seven years ago. Like his Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, Myetti Allah and other Fulani apologists, with no legal backing, he promotes the fiction of grazing routes and reserves to all over the country to which herders are entitled, but which have been blocked. And unlike the Myetti Allah hubris, the National Council of Fulani Chiefs in Ghana had sought the approval of the government to set up task forces to help arrest and hand over to the security agencies for prosecution all Fulanis suspected of having committed any criminal offences or breached the directives to confine their cattle in “Kraals” or ranches. One line of thought that this government is dangerously ignoring is the herders’ transition from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists.
Before he became president, Buhari had similarly demonstrated jaundiced diagnosis of the Boko Haram’s evil mission. For instance, in 2013, he asked the government to stop its clampdown on Boko Haram because Niger Delta militants were never killed, nor were their property destroyed. Comparing the two, he said, “They (Niger Delta militants) were trained in some skills and were given employment, but the ones in the North were being killed and their houses were being burnt.” At another point, he led a team to Oyo State to protest the alleged killings of the Fulani people by Oyo farmers. It turned out however that it was the herdsmen who were actually doing most of the killings.
But many Nigerians have seen through the Buhari government’s insincerity. Moved by the serial massacres, Theophilus Danjuma, a retired Lt.-General and former Chief of Army Staff, declared that what was going on in Taraba State was “an attempt at ethnic cleansing” and asserted: “Our Armed Forces are not neutral. If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die, one by one.” A Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, rightly described the herders’ onslaught as a declaration of war, with their weapon of “undiluted terror”. Even a known pacifist and former military Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, has had to abandon the call for prayer and ask the government to act like a government. They can’t all be wrong.
The sanguinary activities of Fulani herdsmen, together with those of Boko Haram, have earned Nigeria the dubious distinction of being third after Iraq and Afghanistan, in the league of nations with the worst form of terrorism globally. Others are Pakistan and Syria.
Life is sacrosanct and this is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. As the herders’ killings constitute an affront to the supreme law of the land, the least the Nigerian State should do is to bring the perpetrators to book. In the face of an unwilling Federal Government, state governors whose citizens are victims of this appalling bestiality should adopt all legal means to protect their people. Unless the Fulani terrorism is drastically dealt with, Nigeria’s survival is perched on the brink.