During the April 30 press conference between Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and his United States of America (USA) counterpart, President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington DC, one of the issues raised by Trump was about the “killing of Christians” in Nigeria, obviously to appeal to his Christian far-right constituency. Buhari had the golden opportunity to address this issue before the global audience but he decided to be diplomatic. He should have told the audience that there is no religious conflict in Nigeria and that if anything, more Muslims have lost their lives since the insurgency started and that loss of life anywhere is not condoned by every genuine divine religion.
President Trump was obviously referring to the so-called “Fulani” herdsmen conflict in Nigeria. Personally, I have taken a critical look at this issue and because I do not belong to any political party let alone aspiring to any office, one can afford to look at these issues dispassionately.
Ordinarily, one is not a conspiracy theorist but as an analyst one can look at indicators and patterns. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was very correct when he took exception to giving ethnic tag to these acts of criminality. It is unfortunately being politicized also.
The Fulani have presence in thirty four countries across the African continent. They have never been associated with killings anywhere except in Nigeria, of recent. Something is definitely wrong somewhere. The Fulani who are known to be tending animals are now being tagged as killers of fellow human beings; and only here in Nigeria! And if indeed they are the ones committing the crime, they are the only ones being identified with their tribal name. Meanwhile, most of the pictures of herders being shown carrying guns on the social media are those of East Africa who fight wild animals and occasionally rebels with their guns to save their cattle.
Majority of Nigerians who have been arrested across the world, particularly Europe and North America for credit card fraud or advance fee fraud otherwise known as 419 are Yoruba but no one calls them “Yoruba” yahoo boys. Kidnapping as a crime was introduced into Nigeria by the Igbo but no one makes a headline like “Igbo Kidnappers”. In fact, over 90 percent of Nigerians in jail or awaiting execution across the world are Igbo – for crimes ranging from drugs, armed robbery or supplying illicit drugs that destroy the youth of those communities. But they are not known as Igbo criminals but “Nigerians”.
Many of those so-called “herders” arrested so far and paraded by security agents are not even Fulani. One cannot imagine how an illiterate Fulani cattle- rearer can identify and differentiate a Catholic clergy and target him for killing as recently happened in Benue. In any case, most of the cattle- rearers are not extremists as far as religion is concerned. And there are many Fulani Christians in Nigeria and indeed around the world. There is no single ethnic group in Africa and, indeed, across the world that has not interacted or intermarried and are at peace with the Fulani. How can a people who take tender care of animals be said to be so cruel to fellow humans? And, when and where do they get training to handle guns?
There have been perennial disputes between farmers and rearers of animals from time immemorial. Scarcity of land and water has exacerbated these disputes but there have always been traditional mechanisms of resolving them. Of recent, due to some people’s hatred for Buhari, the issue of herders conflict has been magnified into a major national security threat. Just as the Biafran secessionist threat is subsiding, armed “herdsmen” are attacking communities with the widest publicity given to those areas bordering the proposed Biafra enclave- Kogi, Benue and Taraba states by what is called internet warriors. What is happening in Zamfara, Katsina and other parts of the north hardly get that kind of publicity.
Government is put on the defensive because those in charge are not doing their job effectively. Fulani leaders are put on the defensive because under a supposed “Fulani” Nigerian president they are attacked in the media, attacked physically and even their means of livelihood, cattle, are being rustled and killed. They cannot defend themselves and the government cannot defend them so that it is not seen as siding with “Buhari people”. They do not control the media, social or traditional, so the narrative is being controlled by others, mostly hostile to them. They cannot fight for their rights because they will be seen to be attacking a government supposedly headed by a “kinsman”. It is a clear case of slapping one and not allowing the person to cry.
While all these things are happening, the restructuring agenda reared its head again. It is seen by its advocates as the almighty formula that will solve all Nigeria’s problems. No one has so far defined what it means, what it implies or how it applies to the given circumstance and condition of Nigeria. It is different things to different people but it is clearly targeted at a certain people and these people will be foolish to accept it and they are indeed not fools at all, for they have centuries of statecraft experience.
This time round, the highly articulate Ohanaeze Ndigbo President, Chief John Nwodo, invited a Yoruba, a Niger Delta and a Middle Belt representative each, for a courtesy call on Senate President Bukola Saraki to demand for “restructuring” of Nigeria. At least there is progress since they recognize the National Assembly as the legitimate representatives of the people and not any so called “ethnic nationality” as unit of the federation. Nwodo made a passionate appeal for “restructuring” Nigeria, whatever that means to its protagonists.
But, every time they invite others and exclude some, those excluded know that the gathering is targeted at them. They keep portraying an Orkarian agenda – Middle Belt and South against the North, and the Middle Belt is defined as any Christian northerner. This is hardly an agenda for moving the nation forward or for making progress. It is an exclusive and divisive agenda carried forward from January 15, 1966. And this, coming from people who are desirous for the support of Northerners to rule Nigeria in the future!
In case Chief Nnia Nwodo has forgotten his history, he should be reminded that every Igbo who has ever played any important role in Nigeria’s history was born in the north. Azikiwe was born in Zungeru, Niger state; Nzeogwu was born in Kaduna; and Ojukwu was born in Zaria. General Ironsi who became first military Head of State even speaks Hausa fluently although his father was a Sierra Leonean and only his mother was Igbo. Is this mere coincidence?
And if he doesn’t know the history of the north, he ought to be reminded that the integration process runs deep. Gen. Gowon has a Fulani grandmother; Nenadi Usman has a Fulani mother and husband. The first and only Premier of the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello has a Bachama mother. Speaker Yakubu Dogara’s mentors are all Fulani, and the Yoruba are indigenous to the north. In fact there is hardly any homogenous area or even family in the north. So it is difficult to play divisive politics and succeed, because it is difficult to define any identity apart from a northern one in the north and expect people to support you. Anyway, history is always on the side of the oppressed.