Armed Fulani Herdsmen

Preoccupied with everyday living, unruffled politicking, unrestricted worship, busy days and quiet nights, Southern Nigerians have been paying little or no attention to the fact that two of Earth’s top 4 deadliest terrorist groups are at home and active in Nigeria. Popular Boko Haram have been constrained to the North East but the other are nomadic unchecked. Now, having restricted their operations to regions that separate North from South, they’ve finally announced their planned ubiquity beginning with an audacious assault on South Eastern State of Enugu on Monday 25th April.  They are the Fulani militants.

They’ve ransacked communities that lie on their grazing routes since 2010 (actually for decades), leaving thousands dead, more injured, tens of thousands displaced, with assets worth millions of naira destroyed on their exit. The ascension to power of Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, suspiciously coincides with the stepping up of their degree of deadliness.

But The Igbos Are Not United
For centuries, the Fulanis have traversed the breadth of West Africa unimpeded, not by pre-modern hostile cultures; and not by modern day immigration. The trend of slaughtering owners of farms is however a 20th craving they developed. While they pounded Middle Belt states again and again, other Southerners wondered why the Federal Government would not as little as release a statement to condemn the attacks; and the indigenes would not stop them. But now, the militants are through with the intervening region and are at the door steps of the interior South. They are going closer to the Atlantic coast and this advancement will surely evoke a different kind of response.

South East Nigeria, occupied by the Igbo ethnic group, is the epicenter of calls for the breakup of the country. And their primary reason can be summarized as hatred from and for the Northerners consisting of the Hausa/Fulani tribes. Having endured and survived pogroms in Northern Nigeria leading to the Nigerian civil war of 1967, and several perceived follow-up acts of persecution – well documented – the Igbos were nearly unanimous in rejecting the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari in the March 2015 elections. As a result, odium between Hausa/Fulani and the Igbos is still very high. 

Already, many southern Nigerians on Social media are calling for self-defence, citing the silence of the Buhari administration, his spokesperson’s admittance of “working in silence”, and the well established inability of the nation’s security forces to contain the daring Fulani marauders – especially as Boko Haram in the extreme north and Niger Delta militant threats have stretched them thin. We must keep in mind that the generations of Igbos who suffered the perils of the Civil War are long past. The present generation of young Igbos neither listen to their elders nor possess deference for chilling history. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for Nigeria, they are not united too.

No Logistic Problem
But the Hausa/Fulani are everywhere inside Nigeria. In every state, they have their community.  In cities further south where there have been little or no inter-ethnic tensions, these communities exist. In Calabar, they call it Bogobiri. In Uyo, Nasarawa; and in Port Harcourt they call it simply Slaughter. In fact, in PH, at Slaughter, they have their own ‘agberos’, their mosques are built there, and if there’s any ethnic clash, they mobilize and protect themselves. Imagine that these brazen Fulani militants decide to advance till they can see the Ocean; these settlements will automatically serve as bases and barracks. What other logistic problem have they?
What a Global Terrorism Index publication of 2015 designates as Fulani militants was responsible, according to the report, for the death of 1229 in 2014r. Hundreds more have been added to that figure in 2015 and 2016. In Nigeria, victims and survivors alike no longer separate Fulani militants from Fulani herdsmen. They’re now one and the same. How else can one explain countless herdsmen armed with assault rifles captured on camera? 

According to Secretary to the Government of Benue State - which is a frequent target region of the militants - Barrister Targema Takema, speaking on a national radio interview, natives of the State had cohabited with the nomads for ages until recently when a different set of Fulani began to arrive. The farming communities started complaining of herdsmen leading their cow herds into crop farms and destroying agricultural assets worth millions of naira. As they began to take measures to prevent further occurrence of these widely confirmed incidences, the herdsmen began to arrive closely followed by the dreaded Fulani militants.

They Will Head To The Atlantic If…
It is not unhealthy to imagine these Fulani herdsmen taking their militants all the way through Southern Nigeria, to the ocean coast in the future, for four reasons.
1.       The Sahara desert is expanding. The country is presently losing about 350,000 square meters of its land mass to desertification, which is advancing southward at an estimated rate of 0.6 kilometers a year. This is according to The website also records that the activities of Fulani herdsmen is greatly responsible for desertification in the north; and they’re heading south. 

“In some areas, Nomads moving to less arid areas disrupt the local ecosystem and increase the rate of erosion of the land. Ironically, Nomads try to escape the desert, but with their land use practices, ignorantly set off another process of desertification in their new settlement. They will have to move soon taking with them their land use practices, leaving a trail of desert behind, and the chain goes on.”
The desert is driving them down south. They need more land to graze in.

2.       The return to agriculture. Crash in global oil prices has driven more Nigerians back to farms. In most Southern states, governments and private sector industry heads are not only advocating a return to commercial agriculture, but are investing too. And that means, more people are going back from cities to rural areas to reclaim their farmlands for expansion from subsistent to commercial agriculture. Governments, like in Akwa Ibom and Cross River, are packaging even more robust supports for the re-emerging venture. But don’t Fulani herdsmen have destructive objectives?

3.       Fulani herdsmen are respecters of no man. Nothing is beyond their imagination. Inherently, a Fulani man is forthright, blunt and fearless – even the policies and communication style of the President of Nigeria are proofs of this – to a fault. Their fearlessness frequently transforms into thoughtlessness. This is why they can attack different regions of ‘enemy territory’, on different fronts - thousands of miles apart - simultaneously. They can breach the security of a former Presidential aspirant, surrounded by his own tribesmen, and kidnap the man, demanding for ransom. They can poison the source of drinking water of an entire community, carrying out wanton crimes against humanity without thinking twice. They can attack the convoy of an ex-military chief and former Senate president of the nation without fearing his military escorts. They have achieved all these already and there is no carnage too unthinkable for their conscience.
 The Goodluck Jonathan administration, according to a House of Representatives member from Taraba state, and one time BBC correspondent in Jos, Nigeria, Rima Shawulu, did rebuild several dams to enhance irrigation and reduce desertification in the North. Yet the Fulani ignore their green grass, to head south.

4.        According to Max Gbanite, a security consultant, speaking on an AIT programme, Focus Nigeria recently, the Fulanis do not understand that in southern Nigeria, unlike in the North, “every inch of land belongs to an individual, a family or a community.” And you can’t just move into someone’s land and graze. Hence, if they keep encroaching into the south, which they will due to 1, 2 and 3, more land owners will kick against them and, without desiring to sound like a prophet of doom, more Fulani militants will attack more towns and the rest is left for the mind's eye.

Fulani Herdsmen already have settlements close to the Atlantic shore, I’ve earlier mentioned. Southern Nigerians can expect their militant sons in the near future, unless [emphasized] the leadership of Nigeria come up with a solution for the nomadic culture.

The solution, I believe, that would come closest to preventing the prediction of more Fulani herdsmen attacks is borrowed from Gbanite. And that is a combination of creating cattle ranches across the nation and providing a reorientation to Fulanis aiming to make them embrace cultural changes; in effect, strategically abolishing ‘nomadism’ -“the way of life of a nomad” according to my dictionary. For, creating grazing routes for them will most certainly not be welcomed by those who stand to lose their property and the temptation to graze beyond the created routes will dominate the minds of the nomads. 

Obudu Cattle Ranch, For Example
Besides, the herdsmen themselves would admit that they lose hundreds of livestock subjecting them to those strenuous trips on foot. Next, the animals can hardly be made to birth up to a calf per year, wandering as they do. It also exposes the animals to all manner of diseases that end up in the stomach of human beings. Whereas in a ranch, several scientific rounds of research can be carried out to try to improve the breed of the cattle; the country can now benefit from Cattle farming in monetary terms by managing a more controlled farming system. Obudu cattle ranch was established by late Sir Michael Okpara decades ago to cater to serve as a model for the rest of the country.

The Igbos are not as easily forgiving. They are still licking wounds of humiliation - reopened by frequent friction with their Hausa/Fulani countrymen - from the 1967 war that claimed over 1 million of them; and from several ethnic killings suffered by their brothers in northern Nigeria. The agitation for their own country has been heating up lately, with increased debates amongst them on continuing with Nigeria or not. With the Fulani herdsmen invasion of Igboland, and taking into consideration the thoughtlessness of their militants – prospecting that they will surely return; more reasons to remain with Nigeria are getting eliminated. This is yet another implication of the nagging Fulani herdsmen crusades.

If the tiers of Nigeria’s Government keep foot-dragging in containing the Fulani herdsmen, they may prepare for anarchy. Once people are forced to defend themselves; and none of the parties accepts to be the defeated foe, the situation could degenerate so dreadfully that Boko Haram would be child’s-play; Gbanite believes it can lead to a civil war. Senator Godwill Akpabio too. And there are more who believe same.

 Uduak Umo is a Lagos/Uyo based PR consultant and Public interest researcher.

Find me on Twitter on @umo2013