The Middle Belt region of Nigeria used to be the epicentre of the menace of herdsmen. Today, it has cut across the entire country and everyone feels threatened.
In the past week, residents in the South West have not slept with their two eyes closed as there have been conflicts in Ondo and Oyo States between herdsmen and indigenous communities.
In Ondo state, the herdsmen converted the state’s forest reserves into a hide-out for kidnapping, extortion and killings.
Thus prompting the governor, Rotimi Akeredolu to issue a seven-day ultimatum to the herdsmen in the forest reserves to vacate the place immediately. The governor further asked for a proper registration of all herdsmen within the state.
While Akeredolu has been praised for his courage and assertiveness by Yoruba socio-cultural groups and leaders, he has been condemned by groups and stakeholders from northern Nigeria who viewed his objection as ethnic bigotry.
In his response, Garba Shehu, the president’s senior special assistant on media and publicity, said the Ondo government should rather dialogue with the leadership of the Fulani communities in the state.
Donald Ojogo, the commissioner for information and orientation, reacted by saying that the response by presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu,” reeks of emotional attachment to the herdsmen”.
The Governor himself insists however, that his directive was based on security considerations.
In Oyo State, the people are faced with a similar problem. Whereas in Ondo State, the Governor led the protest against the menace of the so-called Fulani herdsmen, in Oyo State it was Chief Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho that led the charge.
Igboho is from Oyo state, from a community known as Igboho. He grew up in the Modakeke part of Ile-Ife. Over the years, he acquired a reputation as a very powerful man. Igboho’s fans regard him as an a defender of the Yoruba nation who has chosen to stand up for the rights of the oppressed.
The Oyo situation reached a boiling point in December, 2020 when Igangan community was thrown into mourning due to the gruesome killing of Dr Fatai Aborode by suspected herdsmen.
Aborode, the Chief Executive Officer of Kunfayakun Green Treasures Limited and former House of Representatives candidate under the Accord Party in the 2015 was killed near his farm along Apodun village, Igangan.
The Street Journal gathered that the farmer and his manager, Bolanle Olanrewaju, were waylaid in the evening that day, while on a motorcycle on their way home.
Olanrewaju, said, “Two gunmen came out from the bush and forced us to stop. Two others blocked us at the back to ensure that we did not escape. Behind us was another motorcyclist with his wife on board. They were also stopped and we were all ordered to come down from the motorcycles.
“One of them kept watch on me, while they were dealing with my boss. As he was being cut with machetes, I heard the other man who was on the motorcycle with his wife pleading that they should not kill my boss, but they turned deaf ears.”
As the people felt that state Governor, Seyi Makinde was handling the situation with kid gloves, Sunday Igboho took full advantage of it. On his own, he visited Igangan and Ibarapa East Local Government Area, without the backing of the state government. He had the support of youths and of traditional rulers.
According to reports, Igboho was shot at, but bullets could not penetrate his “heavily fortified body”. He confronted the Seriki Fulani in the community, and ordered him to produce the herdsmen who were terrorizing the people. He gave a seven-day ultimatum.
Seven days later, his demands were not met. The result was mayhem. The home of the Seriki Fulani was set ablaze and his vehicles were torched. The traditional leader and his family ran into the bush.
South West Governors and their counterparts from Kebbi and Jigawa, and the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) were summoned by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, to chart a path for peace and reconciliation. That was how the tension was doused.
The question on the lips of Nigerians is: how did the country get to this sorry state?
The Fulani herdsmen grew from stick wielding nomads to Ak-47 wielding nomads. With their weapon of destruction, they have been sacking villages in states across the country.
What was once seen as a clash between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers has now snowballed into an invasion.
They have been having altercations with farmers for many years, mainly in the Middle Belt. Farmers and herdsmen lost their lives in these clashes. Today, the herdsmen wield sophisticated weapons, and have become vicious and savagery in their attacks. The worst hit state is Benue. There have been attacks there for several years. The most pronounced of all happened in 2018 when over 70 people were killed in two days.
While other Nigerians were celebrating the New Year, residents of Benue went through the hell in the hands of herdsmen. It was reported that about 50 persons including women and children were gruesomely murdered in cold blood by herdsmen on January 1st in Guma and Logo local government areas. Some of the causalities included livestock guards who were assigned to enforce anti-open grazing law. The next day, they killed over 20 people. A few days later, the diseased numbering 73, were given a mass burial by the Benue State government.
The herdsmen are nomads who move with their cattle from one state to the other in search of greener pastures. They are Fula people also known as Fulani in Hausa language. They are widely dispersed in all of Africa, but mostly in West Africa. The Fulani’s generally speak the Fula language. A significant number of them are nomadic in nature, herding cattle, goats and sheep across the vast dry grass lands of their environment, keeping away from the local farming communities.
The gain of the herdsmen has now become the loss of farmers as they encroach on farmlands and destroy crops in the process of feeding the livestock. They used to be known to carry sticks which they use to direct the herds. Today, they move around with sophisticated weapons. They wield AK47s. The Street Journal learnt that an AK47 rifle is costs nothing less than N100, 000.
As a result of the herdsmen conundrum, conspiracy theorists now have a field day. Some of them see this as a conspiracy by the global powers to undermine Nigeria. One of them is a former Deputy Government of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia. According to him, the United States and its allies have turned a blind eye to the killings by the herdsmen they labeled “fourth deadliest terrorist group.”
His reason for believing that this is a conspiracy is “why they have not done anything in the face of these horrendous attacks,” he said.
“I spoke with a few of them (diplomats) suggesting we set up seminars just to discuss this crisis but they refused. They didn’t say anything. Their silence is a cause for concern.”
The president has also been on the wrong side of the people in all of these. He has been accused of looking the other way while the carnage goes on.
Recently, the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu, launched a security outfit in the Eastern region of the country in response to the menace.
The new security outfit, Eastern Security Network, ESN according to Kanu will be to protect the Southeast from “Fulani herdsmen terrorists and other criminal groups.”
It would be recalled that Kanu had warned several times in the past about the “Fulani herdsmen taking over Nigeria.” A lot of people took his warning with a pinch of salt. Today, many are referring to his words.
Prominent Nigerians have blamed the President Muhammadu Buhari for not using the same approach he used to quell the unrest caused by IPOB in the South East.
Of all criticisms, the one that struck a chord was that of noble laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. He blamed the President for double standards in tackling problems of insecurity.
Soyinka pointed out that the crime said to be committed by IPOB, before they were descended on was nowhere near the devastation caused by herdsmen.
Soyinka: “I am not aware that IPOB came anywhere close to this homicidal propensity and will to dominance before it was declared a terrorist organization.
“The conduct of the movement, even at its extreme, could by no means be reckoned as terrorism. By contrast, how do we categorize Miyetti?” he queried.
He stressed that a security meeting was called in 2016 after a massacre and the herdsmen “attended the meeting according to reports with AK47s and other weapons of mass intimidation visible under their garments.”
The problems between the herdsmen and farmers predate the Buhari administration. On September 30, 2012, a Fulani herdsman had been accused of murdering one Benjamin Chegue on his farm. He was the Director of Personal Management in the Isoko North Local Government Council in Delta State.
In 2014, assailants opened fire on community leaders and residents that were meeting in Galadima village. At least 200 people were killed and an unknown number were injured in the attack. Sources attributed the attack to Fulani assailants.
However, failure by the current administration to nip it in the bud made it worse. The attacks continued. When Buhari took charge, there were attacks in 2015. In 2016, it took a turn for the worse. In February, 2016, five people were killed by Fulani herdsmen at Okokolo village Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State.
In March 2016, about 500 persons were killed by the herdsmen after a siege on Agatu local government area of Benue State. These communities include: Aila, Akwu, Adagbo, Okokolo, Ugboju, Odugbeho, Ogbaulu, Egba and Obagaji.
April was however, the deadliest month of all. There were many attacks in April, 2016 which led to deaths of hundreds of Nigerians.
On the 12th of April, 2016, the herdsmen attacked two villages in Gashaka local government area of Taraba State and killed 15 people.
One week later, it was reported that the herdsmen killed over 23 persons. The police recovered 20 AK-47 rifles, 70 dane guns, 30 double-barrel guns and over 1,000 live ammunition, mostly from Fulani herdsmen during this period.
Two days later, farmers in Lagun, Iyana Offa, Atagba, Lapata in Local Council Area of Ibadan, Oyo State, alleged that a group of Fulani armed men attacked their communities at night and carted away with valuables. Four days later, seven villages in Enugu State were attacked and about 40 people were reportedly killed by herdsmen.
While it is obvious that Buhari inherited this problem, it is believed in many quarters that his ‘lackadaisical’ attitude has worsened the situation, thus making it more complex.
Alhaji Sale Bayari, the Secretary-General of Gan-Allah Fulani Development Association and member of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association’s (MACBAN) Board of Trustees warned that if not properly handled, the current administration, “Boko Haram would be a child’s play compared to this.”
“The way this thing is being driven through ethnicity, sectionalism, religion and politics is not going to help. It is going to make this country ungovernable.”
“We have given solutions to Buhari long time ago, even before he was sworn in, I gave him a breakdown of likely explosives areas that we have in terms of herdsmen and farmers restiveness.
He stressed that “The Boko Haram crisis in the enclave of Borno and Yobe took over the entire North-East and started coming down even to Abuja, how much more something involving Fulanis who are found in all parts of the country and across West Africa?”