The Fulani bandit has friends in high places. There is a babel of tongues projected in favour of the bandit not only justifying what he is doing in the forest but also on the highways and in the rural areas. Today his standard AK-47 badge is justified including the blood he sheds and other activities like abductions, theft, rape and arson he commits. We are told Government and the people of the country have disappointed the Fulani. Many of those justifying Fulani banditry are shooting from both sides of the mouth before even thinking. We are hearing contradictory voices and there is confusion in the house of Nigeria. The herdsman with a shepherd stick has transmuted into one with an AK-47. The herdsman has transmuted into a rustler and a bandit. In another stretch, the bandit has become an insurgent and thanks to Dr. Ahmad Gumi, we know the insurgent has transmuted into a ‘tribal fighter’.
It is difficult to make sense of what we are hearing today especially from Fulani apologists. Take President Muhammadu Buhari for example, prior to his coming to power in 2015,he argued at different times that insecurity especially in the South -South was politically motivated by the Jonathan administration to harvest political capital. He also blamed the Jonathan administration for the insecurity in the North East and promised that if given the opportunity to lead the country, insecurity will be a thing of the past. Appearing at Chatham House in London, sometime in 2015 just before his election, Buhari reiterated his far-reaching views on insecurity in the country. He claimed that there was the absence of ‘the required leadership in our battle against insurgency’ and that ‘our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentive to tackle this problem’. He further said that if he ever became the President of Nigeria, he will equip the army properly, improve intelligence gathering and border control to choke Boko Haram’s financial and arms channels. He promised to be tough on terrorism and its root causes. Several years in the saddle, Boko Haram continues to wreck havoc in parts of he country and herdsmen turned bandits are having a field day in our forests, rural areas and on our highways. President Buhari’s handling of security is abysmal and we are not only paying a high cost, we are possibly facing eminent disintegration. All parts of the country are affected. We have not seen the ‘required leadership ‘to address the banditry challenge and its quite clear that the promise to equip the military, improve intelligence gathering and choke the channels servicing Boko Haram and other terror rings in the country was just campaign rhetoric. Worse, the President is silent on the Fulani banditry enterprise.
The Governor of Kaduna State is another example of one who shoots from both sides of the mouth on the Fulani challenge before thinking. Immediately he took control of the levers of power over Kaduna State, he elected to engage the Fulani of the ‘whole world’ to pay them off and apologize to them over the losses they suffered while in transit through parts of the State. He had traced the incessant killings in Southern Kaduna to these ‘foreign’ Fulani and wanted to compensate them and stop them from incessantly attacking and killing in Southern Kaduna. He argued then that compensation and apologies were the only answers to the problem at hand and challenged anyone with a better answer to put it on the table. He even spiced his answer with the moral high ground that both the Koran and the Bible sanction compensation for the loss of lives and property. It was the same Nasir El Rufai who had warned Nigerians to be wary of the Fulani because they do not forget nor forgive and will have their pound of flesh even if it takes them a hundred years. Nasir El Rufai made all these fine points just a few years back. Today he is singing an entirely different song. He cannot speak to the Fulani bandit. He is at war with him and the only option is to bomb him out of existence. Instead of Nasir El Rufai following the injunctions of the holy books to compensate the bandit for losses in human lives and property, he will do not such thing. He has even forgotten that the Fulani will not forget nor forgive an injury. Is Nasir El Rufai being suicidal or he has cleverly discovered that he must speak ‘another language’ to be able to survive and be relevant politically in the days ahead?
Dr. Ahmad Gumi easily passes today as the chief priests of the Fulani bandit. At great risk to himself and some of those who follow him into the forest to engage the bandits, Dr. Gumi has been active in the forests of Zamfara and Niger States meeting with the bandits. He has not only been preaching to them but has been listening to ‘their story’ regarding how they transmuted to be bandits. Initially after his Zamfara campaign, he alerted the country that what he saw in the forests were not mere bandits but insurgents bent on insurrection. A week or so after, Dr. Gumi detoured into the forests of Niger State where he welded into the mass abductions of the Kagara children just to change the narrative . According to Dr. Gumi, Fulani bandits are not insurgents but ‘soldiers’ fighting to redress a legion of injustices perpetrated against them. He claims, their cattle have been rustled, their homes burnt and their kith and kin killed. He argues that the Nigerian military and vigilante self help groups are the main culprits here. He uses words like genocide to underscore what the Fulani herdsman is going through. We are confused here. Is the AK-47 bearing Fulani at war with Nigeria? Why is Dr. Gumi and his group not addressing the fact that some of these Fulani he has been meeting are not even Nigerians? Why would we tolerate these foreigners amongst us? What do we owe the Fulani of the ‘whole world’? When Dr. Gumi admonishes that we talk to these AK-47 bearing Fulani and extends amnesty to them, does he want this amnesty to cover even those who are foreigners?
The Sultan of Sokoto on the other hand, has also been making statements on insecurity in the country, which deserve some close interrogation. The Sultan is not only Fulani, he is the President-General of Jama’atu Nasril Islam. (JNI). At the height of the incessant killings in the North Central and other parts of the country, the Sultan in a statement signed by Khalid Aliyu, the Secretary General of JNI, absolved the Fulani of the killings in Agatu, Benue State and Nnibo, Enugu State and parts of Nasarawa State. At a point, he had also stated that seven out of ten kidnappers arrested in the country are Fulani. As if that was not sufficient food for thought, he said Boko Haram insurgents had transmuted into armed bandits and kidnappers. If the Sultan is correct and his reach is exemplary, why would Fulani herdsmen allow themselves to be infiltrated by Boko Haram?. Why is the Sultan silent on the presence and criminal activities of foreign Fulani’s in our forests. Are we taking it for granted that these foreigners by taking arms against the country are automatically our citizens and neighbours whom we must learn how to live with? No mater how one interprets the Sultan’s comments on insecurity in the country, it has become clear that herdsmen bearing AK-47 and other military grade weapons are inching aggressively to close in with Boko Haram and coalesce into a fighting force against the country. It is also instructive that at the same time the Sultan was denying Fulani herdsmen culpability over the killings in Benue, Enugu and Nasarawa States, leading Fulani groups active in the bushes of rural Nigeria were claiming responsibility for incessant attacks and killings in these places.
The grudge herdsmen hold against the country and people of Nigeria is part of ingratitude running deep in Fulani blood. Nigeria has pumped a lot of money into the nomadic school program exclusively built for the Fulani of the country. The political economy of herding and indiscriminate grazing is such that only Fulani and those they have trained can venture into cattle rustling with a measure of success. Why is it so difficult for the Fulani to look inwards for possible solutions to the issue of cattle rustling? Why have they decided to hold the country to ransom on a matter that can be directly traced to their kith and kin?.
Why is the Fulani also refusing to ranch their cattle when this is the better global practice? In the past, Fulani apologists had argued that nomadic pastoralism is a way of life and they would not drop it for anything else. This argument is not sensible. If each of us were to insist on our varying ways of life, what will become of the country? Yes we must concede a transition time for the Fulani to move to ranches yet, we must also remember that the Fulani have moved successfully from nomadic pastoralism to banditry within a very short period of time.
The Fulani can keep better breeds of cattle on ranches that can give us more meat, milk and other products. The Fulani cannot be allowed to graze indiscriminately across the country by the point of the sword and at the barrel of the gun. They cannot be allowed to flood into Nigeria from all corners of West and Central Africa. They cannot be allowed to take up arms against the citizens of the country, kill them and dispossess them of their ancestral lands. That will be an invitation to chaos and confusion, which will consume all of us. We must avoid this chaos and this confusion.