The Sultan of Sokoto and President General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, could not have been more forthright in his recent assessment of killer herdsmen whom he described as terrorists. And we salute him for calling a spade by its actual name just as we note that this classification ought to have come earlier to spare the genuine Fulani cattle minder the odium of being grouped together with criminals masquerading as herdsmen. That he used the Eid – El – Kabir as a platform for delivering this all important message is also reassuring.
Herdsmen that are known to Nigerians are predominantly Fulani. They are not violent, they don’t kill. They are peaceful and only mind their animals which, like every other investment by any investor, they guard carefully and jealously. Their ‘weapons’ of trade and for self-protection are rods and daggers. The rods come in handy to control their animals and the daggers they use in the event of an attack by rustlers or dangerous animals; and they deliberately conceal them until when confronted with danger. This group of herdsmen do not have access to automatic weapons. They don’t need one.
Suddenly, the nation woke up one morning to the shock of supposed ‘herdsmen’ brandishing AK-47 weapons with which they sack whole communities, kidnapping, killing, maiming, raping and burning. Because they have cattle in their trail, the rest of us lumped them together as Fulani. Having said this, there is no denying the fact that some of the herdsmen may have gone rogue and infiltrated by criminal elements who hide under their trade to cause mayhem and perpetrate crime. But that does not justify the profiling of an entire ethnic group.
Part of the problem in sieving the genuine herdsmen from the bad ones was further compounded by the failure of the security agencies to do their job of fishing out the rotten apples diligently. Occasionally, they make one or two arrests without getting to pick out the main culprits. Ethnic and religious sensitivities may have come into play in handling the matter. But now that the traditional and religious leader of the Fulani has clearly categorised the good and the bad, we hope that there is nothing stopping the security apparatus of state from dealing with not only the issue of rustling but also the incidences of attacks on communities.
However, we are of the opinion that it is not a job for the security agencies alone. The genuine herdsmen have an association, Miyetti Allah that represents their interest. It has a big role to play in the matter because it is in a position to know who its real members are. When an unscrupulous entity joins them with the intention of using that platform to infringe on other people’s rights and privileges, the association is capable of tracing the culprit. It is safe to conjecture that the association and its members are equipped to assist the security agencies in intelligence gathering because they are on ground and are familiar with the terrain; but this should be done collaboratively.
This, in our view, does not presuppose that the security agencies should abandon their jobs and give in to despondency. That has been their attitude since those ‘herdsmen’ introduced that dangerous attitude of criminalising a noble trade. With the position of the Sultan on the issue, and when taken together with the power and force of his voice, the government and the security agencies have no more excuses to give for not taking on these terrorists in a determined manner.
We, therefore, urge all concerned especially the governments at all levels and their security agencies to follow the Sultan’s lead. The task of hounding down these terrorists and bringing them to justice is not rocket science. It can be done and must be done to save innocent people from falling victims of these marauders as well as restoring the dignity of an ethnic group that has been unduly maligned. We commend Sultan Abubakar again in the hope that he will be listened to.