Northern Nigeria is wide awake today because the backwardness of the region is gradually catching up with the political class who has ignored the abject poverty in the region. The millions of Almajiri and the large tribe of beggars on Nigerian streets are mainly from the North. The North contributes to the high burden Nigeria carries in respect of the ‘girl child’. The region is also waking up because it’s not just Benue, Plateau and Southern Kaduna crying to high heavens on the matter of Fulani herdsmen banditry. Boko Haram and his cousin the Fulani bandit is now everywhere in the North. The bandit has overrun even Southern Nigeria and all hell is let loose. For many years, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has been crying over the security situation in the country especially in his state and other parts of the Middle Belt. No one took him seriously. At some point his counterparts in Northern Nigeria were more interested in discussing cattle rustling than hearing any cries about Fulani terror rings, which were pushing forcefully to get grazing rights across parts of the North. They attempted to isolate him and portray him as a pariah. The President at a point exploded and admonished Governor Ortom and citizens of the State to learn how to leave with their bandit neighbours. It was immaterial to the President then that these bandits were not even neighbours to communities in the state. They were foreign elements coming through their kith and kin into the country and getting cover from ‘government canopies’. In Nasarawa State, the main ‘canopy’ for these bandits would refer to them as international hunters.
Now that the bandits are everywhere and responsible for rural instability in all parts of the country, we have started hearing instructive multiple voices from the North. Dr. Ahmad Gumi the Kaduna based Islamic cleric has been frantically going through the forests of North Western Nigeria talking with the bandits. Though he argues that what we have on our hands here is not just banditry but insurgency, he thinks the insurgents have been wronged and are entitled to forgiveness and some form of restitution and amnesty. He continues to beg the insurgents to lay down their arms and subject themselves to the rule of law. In this beggarly business, he uses religion- the Islamic faith- as the moral high ground to appeal to the insurgents whose singsong is about the wrongs committed against them by cattle rustlers and extortionists. The insurgents have also told Dr. Gumi that the military grade weapons they carry is for self defense against the military that has continued to hunt them down. Whatever one can make of the singsong of the bandits, two things are very clear. If everyone with a legitimate grouse in the nation state takes to self-help with impunity, the nation state will be ruined beyond redemption. The bandit buzzword that they carry military grade weapons for self-defense is also completely false. We know that the bandit carries these weapons to kill, maim and draw blood. This may be one reason why Nasir El Rufai is opposed to the Gumi initiative. Nasir has fine credentials here. All can recall that a few years back, he had elected as Governor of Kaduna state to carry a bag of money across countries of West and Central Africa and pay ransom to foreign Fulanis of these countries who according to him were incessantly attacking Southern Kaduna on some perceived wrongs done to them while on passage through the area. Nasir who had identified these Fulani bandits outside the country and sat with them to assure them that he was their blood and gave them money from his bag (actually it was not his money but Government money) and pleaded with them to leave Southern Kaduna alone has now come out to say he is at war with the Fulani bandit and that Gumi’s initiative will fail because the Fulani bandit knows no God nor religion except his cow. He went further to argue that the Fulani bandit has reached a point of no return since he cannot abandon a life that is more lucrative to return to a life of poverty and misery where the cow fetches him just a meager 100 thousand naira in a year.
Nasir thinks that the best way to deal with the Fulani bandit now is to find him and kill him after all, the bandit is at war with the country. Whatever one may say of the Nasir posturing, it is a remarkable double speak signature response from Northern oligarchs on the matter of banditry and insurgency in the country. In one life time, we have a Governor with a bag of money running across international borders to pay ransom to bandits just to turn around to vehemently condemn dialogue with another set of bandits. Of course, it can only be because those who had earlier benefitted from his bag of money ‘knew God’ and were ‘religious’. They might also have been ‘wronged’ by the people of ‘Southern Kaduna’ and in their ‘blood letting’ were not at war with Nasir El Rufai.
From Nasir El Rufai’s condemnation of the Gumi initiative, we know that there is a sharp divide between Nasir and some of his colleagues. While Nasir and a few of his colleagues amongst the Northern Governors reject any form of dialogue with the Fulani bandit preferring to ‘bomb’ him out of existence, others have been actively talking to the same bandit and cutting deals with him. The Governors of Zamfara and Katsina have severally sat with the bandit where deals have been cut. In Katsina, even before the Kankara boys were abducted on 19th December2020 from their school, the Governor had been talking to the Fulani bandit. The Kankara boys were later released only after negotiations in which ransom was paid to the bandits even though no one knows what really went to the bandits and what went to the pockets of the government officials who negotiated the release of the boys. For some states, talking with the Fulani bandit may be an opportunity for officials to pilfer the huge security votes available for ‘fighting’ banditry. For others like Zamfara where a nexus has been established between banditry and illegal gold mining, talking with the bandit may mean some share of the illegality of god mining in which the Chinese and elites of the State have been implicated. No wonder, the bandits have claimed repeatedly that some of their informants are government officials.
Only last week, the Northern Governors Forum rose from a virtual meeting at which their Chairman, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State read a communiqué admitting for the first time that nomadic pastoralism is obsolete and must be discouraged in the country. Prior to that meeting, it was only the Governors of Benue and Taraba who had sufficient clarity to ban nomadic pastoralism within their borders substituting it with the ranching template. Their colleagues booed them and umbrella Fulani bodies grazing cattle in the bush gave notice to mobilize the Fulani of the whole world against these states and requested that the anti open grazing laws be stepped down as a condition for peace. It is heart warming that the Northern Governors Forum has seen the futility and disruptiveness of a livestock production process predicated on open and indiscriminate grazing in the 21st century.
In the past, some of these Governors had argued that nomadic pastoralism was a way of life for the Fulani and the transition from a nomadic life to one on ranches needed more sensitization and time. This is one reason why they equivocated between grazing reserves and stock routes on the one hand and cattle colonies and RUGA on the other hand. Since then, Federal Government has elbowed them to the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which is still fixated on grazing reserves, the RUGA and cattle colonies. It is amazing that those who argue for greater sensitization and time to enable the Fulani move to the ranching model with his livestock forget how fast the same Fulani have moved from nomadic pastoralism to banditry and insurgency as way of life which Nasir El Rufai thinks can only be stamped out if those steeped into it are exterminated.
A shrill voice is also coming from the Governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed on the Fulani challenge. He argues that the Fulani herdsman has no option but to carry the AK47 to protect himself and his cow since the Government has failed to protect him and his ‘tradition of transhumance and pastoralism’. He argues that the Nigerian forest is owned by Nigeria and there are Tiv farmers in Bogoro, Alkaleri and Tafawa Balewa just as there are Yoruba in his state some of whom have risen to be Permanent Secretaries. Governor Mohammed’s shrill voice also condemns his ‘brother and colleague’ Samuel Ortom of Benue State and valorizes Simon Lalong of Plateau State. On the whole, Governor Mohammed has missed the point at several levels. For example, how many of the Tiv people he is accommodating as farmers in Bauchi state are implicated in banditry and insurgency in his state? How many Yoruba people in Bauchi State are bandits? Is Governor Bala Mohammed aware of the fact that as far back as the First Republic in 1961, Ibrahim Imam represented a Tiv Constituency in the Northern House of Assembly? How many of his Tiv farmers in Bauchi are on Bauchi State scholarship in tertiary institutions? Forests can also not belong to all and every Nigerian. These are special ecological niches with potentials for states and localities where they exist. Does the Bauchi State not regulate access to Yankari Game Reserve? If every one who feels sufficiently aggrieved in the country starts walking with an AK47, will Governor Mohammed have a state to govern?
The Northern Governors must go further and ensure that livestock production within the borders of their states is regulated as a business. Of course because agriculture is on the concurrent list, those who want indiscriminate open grazing within their borders can invite the Fulani who are not yet ready to abandon this obsolete way of life to graze within their borders. Those who are clear about the fact that nomadic pastoralism is obsolete and livestock production is a business must appreciate that in the livestock production business, labour, land, water, pasture and veterinary services are necessary factors of production and inputs whose deployment in the production process must be properly regulated in the public interest. Just as you cannot go and conscript labour at will for shepherding livestock, it should also be impossible to graze cattle on any land just because you think its available, use any and all water holes for your livestock just because they happen to be in your path or graze on any grasses and even people’s farms just because they also happen to be in your path.
As a true federation, States must not wait for the Federal Government to be the one to take the front seat here. Those who elect to regulate livestock production should do it anyhow they want. The only responsibility of the Federal Government is to ensure that there is muscle to enforce compliance and a proper understanding of the constitution on the matter of free movement and the right of citizens to settle where they choose to within the country. The right of free movement and the right to settle anywhere a citizen chooses to, do not invalidate any law ‘reasonably justifiable in a democratic society’ on the matter of free movement and settlement. This is why those moving with livestock across the length and breadth of the country have to be regulated. Does their right to movement as citizens cover their livestock? Does their right to settle anywhere they choose cover their livestock? If the Constitution did not envisage the regulation of these rights, why would anyone have papers to land on which to build, settle and farm. Why would anyone have ancestral rights to land and why would Government recognize these rights?
Northern Governors must also come clean on the National Livestock Transformation Plan. The Federal Government must not take money to throw into developing grazing reserves for herdsmen in the country. The Zimbabwe farmers with ranches in parts of Kwara State came in with their talents and funds to establish those ranches and these are doing well. It is not the responsibility of Government to establish reserves, colonies, RUGA and or ranches for herdsmen. This is why, we must rethink the whole concept of the National Livestock Transformation Plan. The Governors must champion this rethinking..
As more voices on the Fulani bandit are heard especially from the North, we must try to reach some consensus so as to save the country from eminent ruin and even civil war. The North has never worked towards a consensus on the Almajiri question even though this is at the root of the insecurity in parts of the country. The North has also not worked on a consensus on the ‘girl child question’ though this is also at the root of poverty and other social vices. There has also been no consensus on the street beggar leading to the indiscriminate dumping of beggars from the North all over the country especially in Southern Nigeria. We cannot continue like this and hope to see a better tomorrow.