A recent call to the Federal Government to ban foreign herdsmen from operating in the North by Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, strikes the right chord. The House of Representatives has also urged the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to stop the entry of herdsmen from West African countries into the country. The House said, “It is concerning that the violent conflicts between the nomadic herders from neighbouring countries and local farmers are escalating by the day to more states of the federation and, if left unchecked, will further threaten the security and stability of the nation.”
The bizarre failure of the Nigerian state to act has buoyed up such criminal acts, which have spawned an incredible humanitarian burden and carnage across the country. Exploiting the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons, foreign herdsmen, without any travel documents or national identification, cross Nigeria’s borders sometimes with their cattle. The governor, therefore, wants Nigeria to spearhead the review of the sub-regional protocol in its security interest. These migrants, he rightly observed, “always move with dangerous weapons and are the ones causing conflicts in most places around the North and the nation at large.”
On the strength of this alarm, the House mandated its committees on Police Affairs and Interior to interface with the Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Army Staff and Controller-General of Immigration to drive home its point.
Concerns about foreign herdsmen’s bloodbath reached new levels in December 2016 when they were identified as the masterminds of the widespread killings and burning of houses in communities in Southern Kaduna. The National Emergency Management Agency put the number of those murdered at 204, but the Catholic Church claimed that 808 lives were lost, 1,422 houses and 16 churches razed to the ground.
Besides Kaduna, Benue State witnessed this grim harvest when, in one fell swoop, in February 2016, the herders killed over 400 persons in Agatu community and burnt scores of houses over grazing rights. Overnight, the hapless villagers became internally displaced persons in their own land. In Enugu State, April 2016, the Nimbo community had over 20 people killed in an early morning raid. The International Crisis Group says that “as the Fulani spread across many West and Central African countries, any major confrontation between them and other Nigerian groups could have regional repercussions, drawing in fighters from neighbouring countries.”
Instead of acting rationally by curbing cross-border movements of both cattle rustlers and armed herders, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, got in touch with them, begged them to stop the massacre, and promised to pay compensation for their livestock purportedly lost during the crisis. He admitted then that security reports indicated that some were armed Fulani herdsmen from “Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal.” On its part, the Buhari regime started espousing a mix of appeasement ideas, including the creation of grazing routes, grazing reserves and lately, Ruga settlements.
The vexatious issue is grazing on farmland of rural communities, which results in destruction of crops, depriving farmers of their means of livelihood. The official reaction, regrettably, always brimmed with sympathy for the herdsmen with their sense of entitlement or right to colonial grazing routes of Lord Lugard, which stretched from Lake Chad down to the Atlantic coastlines of southern Nigeria. This anachronism has no place in any 21st Century economy or country where agriculture as a major pillar of its economy.
A former Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, in 2018, in a no holds-barred response to the herders’ mindless massacre in the North-Central, said, “If you go to Bayelsa or Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?” Painfully, these herdsmen who brazenly wield AK 47 rifles and other weapons violate the Firearms Act 2004, which prohibits certain categories of arms and ammunition in the hands of individuals and makes it unlawful to possess lethal weapons without licence. The Fulani herdsmen do not only kill or burn down communities; they rape and kidnap Nigerians, irrespective of their class, age or profession. It is appalling that the Federal Government has not recognised the murderous Fulani herdsmen as terrorists, despite the Global Terrorism Index ranking of them as one of the five most dreadful terror groups in the world. GTI’s tally in 2018 indicated that they killed 1,700 Nigerians.
The Boko Haram jihadist campaign started similarly. Its early routine bombing of churches packed with worshippers was dismissed as trifle. Some governors in the North-East cowardly ate their words, issuing abject public apologies after Ibrahim Shekau, its leader, threatened them for their invectives against the group’s activities. And the decision of the US State Department to designate it as a terrorist organisation on November 14, 2013 was even vilified by the Northern elite. The Borno Elders Committee pointedly told then President Goodluck Jonathan in March 2013 to withdraw soldiers from the streets of Maiduguri when he visited Borno State. “The minimum expectation is pardon and rehabilitation” of the jihadists, one of the elders, said. But today, these elders realise that they held a tiger by its tail. No fewer than 100,000 citizens have been killed by the Islamists and more than 1.9 million citizens marooned at internally displaced persons camps.
The country should, therefore, not wait until the herdsmen challenge degenerates into another Boko Haram-scale conundrum before it acknowledges the imminent danger it poses to national security. This is why the Ganduje initiative of building Ruga settlements with 200 housing units, grazing reserves, milk-processing factories and market for authentic Nigerian Fulani herders in the state is ideal and should be embraced by other states with substantial livestock agriculture.
Buhari should appreciate the fact that the territorial integrity of any country is a critical element of its sovereignty. He should act immediately on Ganduje’s request and order the disarming of all herders across the country while preventing infiltration by foreign herders.