Kenneth Okonkwo makes shocking revelations about Fulani Herdsmen and Farmers Clash
All herdsmen are farmers (animal farmers) but not all farmers are herdsmen. The crop farmers consider the livestock farmers a worthy ally in the whole process of making food. The waste from the livestock provides a veritable source of manure for the crops. It is one of the best set of organic fertilisers. So good is it that the crop farmers even pay for it. The livestock farmers depend on the waste from the crop farmers for the feeding of their livestock. They buy grasses and unused crops, after harvest, from the crop farmers to feed their livestock. At times, the crop farmers even reach an agreement with the livestock farmers to allow them move through their farms during years of fallowing the land to allow the land to rest and be re-energised. The movement of the herds through the land, during those periods enables the herds eat up the remnants of crops and grasses in the land while giving the lifestock opportunity to directly defecate on the land, thereby giving the land the desired manure and making the land richer and better prepared for greater yields when the crop farmers resume the cultivation of the land. Such was the symbiotic relationship that existed between the crop farmers and the herdsmen, whether local or foreign. This relationship ensured bumper harvests for the crop and livestock farmers those days and made food available for all at very cheap rates. Everybody benefited.
As expected, just as it happens in all other existing relationships of mankind, there is bound to be clashes between these set of farmers. Some herds (cows, sheep, even local goats) stray into lands with ripe or unripe but unharvested crops and eat them up without the authority of the farm owners. Some farm owners can harm some herds which make such unauthorised foray into their lands. But the beautiful thing those days was that the world of farmers had traditional ways of peacefully resolving those conflicts among them. They knew they needed each other, so they guarded their relationship jealously. No conflict was too big to be settled peacefully. No blood was ever lost or even contemplated to be lost as a method of resolving any crisis.
The Fulani Herdsmen and their lifestyle were particularly intriguing and fascinating. Apart from the Igbos, the Fulani Herdsmen were the most travelled of the other tribes. That’s why the Fulani Herdsmen and the host communities in those days were natural allies. Whereas the host communities dwelt in cities or rural areas, the Fulani Herdsmen dwelt in bushes; indeed they were the bush masters. So skillful were they in the management of their forest life that they earned the admiration of the host communities in Nigeria. They were simple, not greedy, in love with their cows, strong and untiring, not violent (in fact largely unarmed with only staves and knifes for domestic use),
As children, there were a lot of myths they told us about them that made us rush outside to watch them with admiration in Nsukka land, the Land of my nativity. We were told that they live in bushes. That they understand the languages of animals and the animals understand their languages. That snakes and other animals in the forest do not attack them because they have the juju that enable them morph into any animal specie and live peaceably with all animals. That when they are hungry, and have run out of food in the forest, they will morph into cows and eat grass before they morph back to human beings. To convince us on this myth, we will watch to our chagrin how a little boy of 5 years will be commanding cows with only a staff and the cows will be obeying him while whenever we get near to the cows they will send us running away with a mere sound. We will voluntarily offer them water to refresh themselves. We thought then that they owned the cows and marvelled on how rich they were yet how loving and caring they were to the cows that made them even sleep with them in the bush.
The Igbos were so thrilled with this lifestyle that they composed Igbo poems to show their admiration. Let me state one poem. “Anyi na aga ebe Anyi na aga, Anyi wee nepu anya n’iro, Anyi wee hu ka efi na aga, Anyi wee tie okokoko!!!, efi awusa, nine ebuka, efi Igbo, nine epeka”. Translated in English, it reads, “We are passing by and just looked around and saw cows passing and we screamed okokoko!!! Hausa cows are so huge and admirable, while Igbo cows are so small”. Anybody that understands the Igbos know that they don’t accept being second in most things. But when it comes to the issue of nomadic cattle rearing, they concede to the Fulanis. Such was the beauty of the relationship those days. The Fulani Herdsmen were regarded as the most peaceful partner to their host communities, their only red line being the protection of their cows. The question is what has gone wrong today?
Sometime in September 9, 2001, some group of 16 youngmen hijacked 4 US planes and in daring terrorist attacks brought down the twin world trade centres, damaged the Pentagon and attempted attacking the White House. The plane that was heading to attack the white house was crashed by the patriotic US citizens inside the plane who got information that the plane was heading towards the white house to destroy it. President George Bush called them terrorists. He refused to attach any ethnic and religious colouration to their action. This is inspite the fact that they belonged to one religion and were predominantly from one ethnic group. This strategy helped him to isolate the terrorists and enlist the support of the Arabs and moslems in America and abroad to the fight against terrorism. This was the birth of modern day terrorism. Those terrorists were part of Alqaeda based in Afghanistan, which had no government that controlled the whole country. In other words terrorists operate better and freer in places where there is anarchy or friendly dictatorship.
Who is a terrorist? The Dictionary defines him as a person who terrorizes or frightens others. It defines terror as violence or threat of violence used for intimidation or coercion. From this definition, we can see that the whole idea of terrorism is the quest for power and resources using the method of intimidation and coercion. That is why they invade cities, communities, kill, maim, destroy mercilessly so that the victims out of fear will surrender their power and resources to them. In order to achieve this, they need to first instigate anarchy. These terrorists use falsehood and the media to cause confusion and mutual suspicion among prior established peaceful relationships in order to cause infighting among the groups and forment anarchy which enables them to move in to take over power and the resources of both parties.
This modern version of terrorism became known and popularized in Nigeria around 2009, when a group emerged and proclaimed that western education is an abomination. They were nicknamed Boko Haram in line with their ideology. Initially, they unleashed unprecedented violence on their fellow moslems who subscribed to western education. They were roundly defeated with their leader killed because Nigeria rose up with one voice and attacked them. This was possible because they were given a name in line with their ideology devoid of any ethnicity or religion.
When the terrorists saw that they failed to instigate anarchy and were roundly defeated, they headed into the forest and took over the forest highways with their capital in Sambisa. The forest welcomed a new host and with their superior firearms and training, it was easy for them to overthrow the original bush masters, the Fulani Herdsmen. They became the new bush masters and their first victims were the Fulani Herdsmen and their herds. That was why they manifested first and foremost as cattle rustlers. They killed the herdsmen and stole their cattle to feed their fighters in the forest and sell the rest to enable them raise money to buy weapons.
From their forest hideouts, they started planning on how to instigate anarchy so they can take over territories. They tried inter-religious conflict, where they started killing Christians in churches and their homes. With this, they attracted the sympathy of some unwary religious fundamentalists who started assisting them to use them to settle religious sentiments. But Christians were prevailed upon not to retaliate. They were reminded that the terrorists started killing moslems first and that this is a ploy by the terrorists to destabilise the nation. The terrorists failed. They tried North and South divide, where they started attacking southerners in the North. They bombed southerners, particularly Igbos in Sabongari, Kano and other places. With this, they attracted the sympathy of some unwary ethnic jingoists who started assisting them to use them to settle ethnic scores. Again, the southerners were prevailed on not to react. They failed again in achieving anarchy but were getting stronger.
With their gradual increase in strength, they became a beautiful bride to some ruthless, rutherless politicians, who assist them with funds, just to use them cause anarchy in the country so that the ruling Party in power will be painted in bad light, which provides them with the tool to blackmail the government in power and convince the people to vote them out.
With this flow of resources to them from different channels for different purposes, they became emboldened to start occupying territories, launching suicide attacks throughout the whole of North including Abuja and its environs with its epicentre in the North East. They started forming cells in the Southern part of Nigeria including Lagos and Enugu. They were well trained in the act of Guerilla warfare and the forest became their natural abode. Before the government then in power understood what was going on, it was quite late. The crises formed part of the reasons why it was voted out
The regime of President Buhari came in with a promise to wipe them out. The regime dislodged the terrorists even in Sambisa. Having been dislodged, the terrorists took over the forest highways and started restrategising. They met with the Fulani Herdsmen in the bushes and dislodged them. They became the new bushmasters. As they move towards South, through the forest highways, they change in character and strategy to achieve their objectives of terrorism. They identified traditional trouble hot spots in the country and moved towards such places to operate. Such places like Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Benue, become easy targets as there has been traditional mutual suspicion among the communities and their Fulani neighbours.
In such cities, they manifest as saviours to the herdsmen against the purported onslaught of the communities. They start the manipulation of the parties by rustling the cattle of the herdsmen and convincing the herdsmen that this is the handwork of the host communities and they are willing to help. The unsuspecting herdsmen will in turn provide intelligence for them and even encourage their young children to assist them in the process. They use the ploy to indoctrinate the younger herdsmen and coopt them into their terrorist gang. When they have perfected their plans, they will unleash a coordinated, unprovoked, guerilla-warfare-style attacks on the host communities, raping and killing women and children, slaughtering the men, stealing everything they can steal. The host communities will wake up to their consternation to see the level of destruction on their communities. Of course, their first suspects will be the Fulani Herdsmen. Unknown to them, it is the work of the terrorists. They will revenge by killing the innocent, defenceless herdsmen and their cows thereby confirming to the herdsmen that they need the services of the terrorists for protection. The cycle of violence continues until there is complete breakdown of law and order, while the terrorists continue with their evil agenda.
When they reach the more elitist states in the south, they simply mix up with the traditional criminal elements, militants and cultists and launch kidnapping and armed robbery operations to loot the resources of the people. They provide the criminals with sophisticated weapons. Both of them use the forest highways. That’s why whether you call them badoo cult in Lagos or kidnappers and armed robbers in the South Eastern or South South States of Nigeria, the forest has become their meeting point.
To buttress this point, the Plateau State Commissioner of Police, Undie Adie, “paraded two suspected herdsmen for allegedly killing a seven-year-old, Muhammad Ibrahim, and stealing 15 cows and 14 sheep entrusted in his custody by his uncle, Ibrahim Haruna, at Agigi village in Bassa Local Government Area of the state… Adie said the suspects have made confessional statements on how they connived with some herdsmen to rustle the cows, sheep and kill the boy. The suspects are Bala and Salish while some of the suspects are still at large” (PLEASE SEE PAGE 5, DAILY SUN, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2018).
If this incident had happened in Tivland, Benue, the first impression, without investigation, will be that this was done by the host community. This will lead to the true herdsmen seeking for help from the same terrorists to avenge them of their losses. The terrorists will invade the community killing innocent citizens, burning their houses, properties and looting the remainder. The host community in return will raise alarm that the herdsmen have attacked them and start organising armed militia to attack back. They will now attack the innocent Fulani Herdsmen and the vicious cycle continues, while the terrorists and local criminal elements smile home with their loots.
We have to rise up together as a strong and united country to face this menace, by recognising first and foremost that we are not up against any ethnic or religious group or profession but against a brutal terrorist guerrilla warfare which has combined with some criminal elements to unleash ferocious attacks on all of us whether Christians or Moslems, Tivs, Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas or Fulanis using the forest highways as their natural habitat. They are almost succeeding in creating anarchy among the different communities that have hitherto lived peacefully.
It is in this regard that the use of the name “Fulani Herdsmen” is not helpful in this war against the terrorists as this nomenclature provides a comfortable cover for the terrorists to operate without hindrance. If you address them as Fulani Herdsmen then you cannot deny the Fulanis the right to claim it is a communal clash because everybody agrees that before the advent of the modern version of terrorism, the Fulani Herdsmen have been living peacefully with their host communities. It then implies that after the arrival of this brand of terrorism on our shores, there is a need to appraise our strategies and recommend new solutions.
The immediate solution to this scourge is ranching. Let us recognise that no great army can do anything against an idea whose time has come. Nomadic cattle rearing involves trekking from one place to another in search of greener pastures. This method suits the ancient world, where forests were in abundance and boundaries not clearly delineated among nations. Farming was the main occupation of the people then and modern nations/countries with sophisticated major cities were not born. People were morally upright and terrorism was not on the card.
Today, the case is different. Modern cities have emerged. There is hardly any ancient grazing route from North to South of Nigeria that did not cross a major city. Even if there is no terrorism, nomadic grazing would still come to an end one day because the idea of allowing herds to pass through cities, defecating on the road and on public facilities, posing traffic, hygienic and other health challenges, is incompatible with the tenets of a modern state. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja once expressed displeasure on the movement of cattle across the roads of the FCT with the attendant consequences. One cannot imagine passing through the streets of London, Paris, Washington and stumble into herds of cattle competing with human beings for right of way in those cities and defecating along the streets, waterways and other infrastructures. So ranching in the first instance is a consequence of a modernized society hoping to make their cities clean and attractive for investment and tourism for the outside world.
The need to educate the children of these nomads in this world infested with terrorism has become very urgent and immediate. We know for a fact that terrorists recruit more easily persons who are poor and not lettered. The Fulanis should be more concerned in this regard because these nomadic children who are being recruited now along the forest highways by these terrorists will come back one day to haunt the Fulani nation. Hear the words of an elderly Fulani Herdsman Community Leader on the current crisis between the “Fulani Herdsmen” and their host communities in Ayamelum, Anambra State. He lamented, “The new generation of Fulani Herdsmen are not as civilized and tamed as the ones that came in previous years. We the leaders cannot talk them out of killings without being killed ourselves. The influence of illicit drugs has changed the dynamics. During our time when we first arrived Ayamelum, we enjoyed cordial relationship with the natives, now it is different.” Quartering these children in ranches will assist in their education as all the previous arrangements to educate them, including nomadic education, failed in the past.
Also, ranching will deny the terrorists the cover they operate under. When the herdsmen embrace ranching, whoever is found in the bush wielding AK 47, by whatever guise or name, launching attacks on communities will be treated as a terrorist without hesitation and taken out.
Ranching will increase the nutritional value of our herds and improve the health of the herdsmen. It has been proven that the excess trekking of our herds and the herdsmen under our harsh climate, especially in this era of climate change, impacts negatively on the nutritional value of our herds and life expectancy of the herdsmen. Only the skin of the animals is the most cherished product as the hide from their skin is reputed to be the strongest due to the toughening by the sun.
The lives of the herdsmen themselves are better preserved and secured by ranching. In this era of mutual hostility between the herdsmen and their host communities, no amount of security can protect the lives of the herdsmen who trek into the forests mostly individually or by families with their herds against the anger of a rampaging host community reeling under the pains of a terrorist attack by men they mistake or suspect to be fulani herdsmen. The Fulanis should consider the danger imposed on these innocent herdsmen who are in the bushes, oblivious of the animosity against them, during the regime of a non Fulani in Nigeria.
The armed forces of Nigeria is necessary to any solution envisaged to handle the conflict. This is not a mere police action. The terrorists are well trained in the act of guerilla warfare and deception. We hear about ambushes, invasions, raids and so on. Indeed the Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Governor, Terver Akase, said that between 2012 – 2017, Benue State has been invaded 50 times. Invasion is an act of entering as an enemy, especially by an army. These are well articulated, sophisticated, military-style attacks by well armed and trained persons. The only persons known to have gone through this training are the terrorists, cultists, militants, who have engaged our armed forces in a war and battles before and occupied some territories in Nigeria, particularly the North East and are now scattered all over our forests.
In order to ensure their optimum performance, our armed forces have to be adequately funded and equipped for their welfare and warfare. Modern fighting equipment have to be acquired for them. Constant training has to be organised for them to enable them keep abreast with the specialized skills needed to take out the terrorists and smoke them out from their forest hideouts.
The need for adequate funds has become more urgent when one realises that necessary intelligence is needed to trace these terrorists and differentiate them from the peaceful Fulani Herdsmen whose interest lies in the safety of their herds and their access to grazing land. Genuine intelligence is costly and risky.
We have to boost the morale of our officers and men by ensuring that any of them that are wounded are given adequate treatment and the fallen ones given heroic burials with their families adequately compensated and catered for. The retired ones rehabilitated and retrained to adapt to their new civilian lives.
We must not allow some purported civil rights activists or professional politicians continue their media and verbal onslaught on our men in uniform when they perform creditably to overthrow the terrorist forces. When General Ifejirika was the Chief of Army Staff, the terrorists could not occupy any territory. He was accused of genocide and threatened with an action at the international criminal court. This demoralised the Army so much that when his successor stepped in, Nigeria lost territories in droves to the terrorists. We must continue to praise the gallant sacrifices of our men in uniform and assure them of their protection when they act within the law as they continue to guarantee our security and welfare by restoring peace in all the troubled areas of Nigeria.