Insecurity and our Tendency to Mischaracterise -Bamidele Johnson

Bamidele Johnson
Bamidele Johnson
To the average Nigerian of southern extraction, today’s rampant criminality starring Fulani herdsmen and their various franchisees is part of the Fulani expansionist and religious agenda of taking over every inch of Nigeria above grass level and making Muslims of everybody. 

The presumed agenda, especially to non-Muslim southern elements, was inspired by the charismatic Usman dan Fodio, leader of the Fulani Jihad (1804-1808), who was said to have left an instruction that the Quran be dipped in the Atlantic Ocean, an allusion to the conquest of Southern Nigeria.

That the prefabricated view, repeated like incantation, has a life of its own is attributable to many factors, notably the pre-eminence of the Fulani in national affairs and, by extension, the squalid management of the country’s diversity. This, especially under the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, a man frighteningly indifferent to national cohesion, has encouraged plenty of binary thinking, gut-based, nuance and context-free reactions to and understanding of the current security challenges of herdsmen-farmers clashes, out-and-out banditry and terrorism.

Read also: Ogun residents lament influx of herdsmen from Oyo

These have spilled into all reaches of the media which, for understandable reasons of copy sales and pageview-based revenue, provide platforms for persons with sectional, ethnic and political agenda (including those of Fulani extraction) to daily drip-feed the public with conspiracy theories. These figures have mastered the trick of sounding good to members of the public, who have not followed issues in any detail, regardless of how obviously inaccurate what they say is.

Just today, I read a newspaper columnist with an interesting view on the herdsmen menace. “Whichever angle you view the unfolding developments in our polity, every ethnic group (other than the Fulani) is suffering a form of victim mentality, Also, there is a growing slave mentality among different groups that makes the Fulani look like the only free born in our land today,” he wrote.

Simplistic. Sometimes, there may be truth in a simplistic conclusion – but of course, it will be too simplistic; leave out too much context, avoid too much nuance. Sometimes it will just be plain wrong, because basing conclusions on how something feels or looks is dangerous, when so much in life is an optical illusion. The columnist’s view is bound to resonate well in the south where people are seething and were it possible, wish that a vicious Sahelian sandstorm would sweep away anybody with Fulani blood. Forever.

This, by no means, is a defence/justification of terrorism, kidnapping, cattle rustling and other crimes with bold Fulani imprimatur, but an attempt to interrogate a popular narrative. The fact is that the Fulani themselves are suffering as much other groups impacted by the madness of criminals and Buhari’s stunning incompetence, with the latter promoting the view that criminals have his endorsement. A report published by the BBC last July stated that banditry, in the last decade, claimed 8,000 lives in Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara and Niger states. I am persuaded that three of those states have sizeable Fulani populations that include non-criminal herders, who regularly get relieved of their livestock at gunpoint by their kinsmen; farmers and everybody in between, who are shaken down for taxes and levies or face the risk of having their communities razed.

Katsina, Buhari’s home state and a jurisdiction allegedly governed by Bello Masari, a paragon of incompetence, is another bandits’ paradise with a sizable Fulani population. Buhari is Fulani.

It is a safe bet that communities in the state and others with Fulani populations do not have open-top bus parades when criminals cremate their thatch houses, slit the throats of inhabitants and take hostages for ransom.

Terrorists/bandits are incapable of discriminating when at work. I am also persuaded that the raids are not in the aid of Islam. In 2018, a total of 73 cows were slaughtered by bandits in Nasarawa State. It is unlikely the slaughter took place in an abattoir and the meat shared among indigent members of the ethnic group.

Since herding is viewed as exclusive to the Fulani, it is safe to say those who suffered losses from this incident were Fulani. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), in 2013, claimed that 322 herders were killed by rustlers in Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Zamfara and Niger states, while livestock numbering 60,000 were stolen.

Of course, there were and still are murderous raids arising from age-old animosities, especially of the indigene/settler and herdsmen/farmer variety, which are made much worse by the extremely flammable factors of ethnicity and religion. To attribute all of today’s deranged activities to them, I believe, is unhelpful.

A return to Zamfara State, with its sizable Fulani population, I believe, will illuminate this better.

In July 2019, Governor Bello Matawalle set up a committee to investigate banditry and kidnapping in the state. Headed by Alhaji MD Abubakar, a former Inspector-General of Police, the committee’s report, submitted on 11 October of the same year, indicted five emirs and 33 district heads (all Fulani), four police officers, seven police officers, 10 military officers and some top civil servants. The report importantly revealed that criminal gangs had trousered over N3billion in ransom.

The report is an uncomplicated indication that the bandit-rustler-terrorist industrial complex is no non-for-profit undertaking. That it opened parishes in other parts of the country, especially the Southwest, I think, is a consequence of seeking new markets rather than of Fulanisation or Islamisation agenda.

We have been there before-with the Boko Haram menace-which was framed, pre-2015, as a cross between an attempt by the North to regain the country’s presidency and by Muslims to banish Christianity from the North.

The latter was amplified by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other Christian bodies which, on the basis of gun and bomb attacks on Christian worship places, reached a conclusion that the insurgency was targeted at their faith.

The former was the spiel chosen by politicians seeking to build southern solidarity. Were the North seeking to use the insurgency to reclaim power, I believe, it would not have been keen to have insurgents bomb its voter population for fun or its towns and villages explode, one after the other, like firecrackers on a string. In any case, the North has been back in power since 2015 and Boko Haram is still strutting around.

Those who viewed Boko Haram as an exclusive anti-Christian agenda failed, wilfully, to consider the fact that many, if not most, of the bombings, including those carried out by suicide bombers, were indiscriminate. Markets, viewing centres, motor parks, police/military barracks et al are no worship places.

We need to see problems for what they are. And in this case, I think dressing up the current challenges as part of a Fulani expansionist/religious agenda is a product of emotion, which hardly helps when matters of ethnic and religious pride are up for discussion.

Bamidele Johnson