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Fulani herdsmen and plundering bing: Enough is enough!

Written By Idoma Television on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 | 12:56:00 AM


Niyi Akinnaso
Plundering villages and whole communities, one farmland at a time, they pursue their goal with two groups of weapons. One group is made up of cattle, numbering from tens to thousands at a time. The other group consists of hard weapons – guns, bows and arrows, machetes, and stubborn rearing sticks. The cattle eat up anything within their reach. In the process, they destroy other people’s farms and livelihood. With the hard weapons, their herders go after the farm owners, especially those who dare accost them, maiming and killing as many as are perceived as obstructionists. 

Not done, they rape their women and kidnap their men. They are the now ubiquitous and much talked about Fulani herdsmen. In 2016 alone, they have killed hundreds and destroyed property in excess of N1bn.

To some Nigerians, their exploits are like moonlight tales about fictional characters. Could the tales be true of the Fulani herdsmen they once encountered? But ask real farmers across the land, from Sokoto and Zamfara to Ogun and Ondo; from Jigawa and Kano to Edo and Delta, or from Yobe and Gombe through Taraba and Benue to Imo and Rivers and down to Enugu. If you are a farmer and you have not encountered them, it is probably because you are not in their nomadic path.

The Adekunle Ajasin University community in Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, happened to have been in their path last Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Prof. Igbekele Ajibefun, Vice-Chancellor and Chairman of Senate, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, announced to a stunned Senate that the bread wheat in the institution’s Teaching and Experimental Research Farm had been plundered by a herd of cattle, numbering over 2,000, as their herdsmen looked on.  

Here was an experimental farm in which the university had invested resources as well as research and teaching hopes. It is also hoped that sales from the farm’s proceeds would also augment the university’s Internally Generated Revenue initiative.

This was not the first time that the farm had been plundered by cattle. It so happened that this time round, the Vice-Chancellor happened to have driven along the farmland on his way to the Senate building that morning for an emergency meeting on a different issue, when he encountered the herdsmen and their cattle.

Various genotypes of the bread wheat were planted on the farm early this year as part of the National Bread Wheat Advanced Yield Trial in the South-West agro-ecological zone. It is a research project being conducted in collaboration with the Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri. The destruction of the farm occurred just as interim results of plant height, number of days to heading, and tiller count were obtained. An anxious group of researchers and students awaited the conclusion of the research. But that will be no more.

The AAUA’s experimental farm is one of the major institutional farms, and perhaps the first one, to be so plundered. While the university is busy counting its losses and developing better security for the farm, the implications of the destruction cannot be overlooked. The implications take a much wider dimension, when the violent activities of the herdsmen are factored in.

First, the destruction of farmlands by cattle across the country poses a major threat to agriculture at a time when the government is touting it as a first-line sector in the diversification of the economy. When farmers cannot grow their crops without fear of destruction by herdsmen and their cattle, how successfully could the government ban agro-products, such as rice and wheat, from importation? And where is the path to food security when farm crops are destroyed by cattle all over the place?

Second, while the herds of cattle turn farms into grazing fields, the Fulani herdsmen themselves pose a serious security threat to lives and property, second only to Boko Haram’s terrorist activities. Their marauding activities began to escalate about five years ago, although antecedents go back to 1999, when Fulani herdsmen began to clash with local farmers, especially in the North-Central zone of the country. What was often passed as settler-indigene clashes in this region are not unconnected with grazing space for the Fulani cattle.

The nexus between Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen is the subject of a paper presented by Bolaji Omitola at the Fifth Institute of Security Studies Conference on Crime and Crime Prevention, held in Sandton, South Africa, in August 2014.

Omitola examines the link between Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen not only in terms of culture, religion, and region but also in terms of organised crime. He avers that “terrorism and crimes have mingled to define the character of the Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers in Nigeria”. Moreover, he sees a link between Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen in their access to “trafficked small arms and light weapons from the Sahel”.

In view of this explanation, it may well not be a coincidence that Fulani herdsmen’s plundering activities escalated in 2016 just as Boko Haram’s terrorist activities began to wane. At first, suggestions were limited to providing grazing zones for the cattle.

 It is now clear that this solution is only a last resort, in view of the destructive activities of the herdsmen themselves. What proof is there that the Fulani herdsmen will not find some devilish use for their weapons? That’s why any solution to the problem must start with disarming the Fulani herdsmen.

For a more enduring solution, perhaps, the government should send a delegation to Uruguay to find out how they do it, just as we have sent several delegations to Malaysia to find out what they have done with the palm, which they took from Nigeria in the 1950s. Uruguay is a small South American country with a population of just over three million people. 

Yet, Kayode Carrick tells us, “In 2014, Uruguay exported about USD 1.4 billion worth of beef, USD 800 million of dairy products and USD 400 million of leather products. In a nutshell, Uruguay owes a good part of its prosperity to the cow!” (See The Guardian, April 11,2016) What is more, in Uruguay, cows do not eat other people’s crops and there are no marauding herdsmen to kill men and rape their women. We need to find out how they do it.

As if impatient with the government, which has yet to work out a solution to this menace, the people of Tyoshin community in the Gwer West Local Government Area of Benue State recently sued six Fulani herdsmen for destroying their farms, asking for N100bn in damages (see full story in The PUNCH, April 18, 2016). This is the course of action that every farmer or community should take from now on in order to force the government into a permanent solution. By the time every offending Fulani herdsman is indicted, perhaps a solution will eventually come.

On a more serious note, however, it is nothing short of an indictment on the Federal Government that this problem has been left to escalate to this level. President Muhammadu Buhari should recall his own words in describing the negligence of previous administrations in allowing the Boko Haram sect to thrive into a terrorist organisation. 

He should not wait to have the same accusation pointed at him over the increasing menace of Fulani herdsmen, who happen to be his tribesmen.
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