In recent times, the rate of killings by suspected Fulani militant herdsmen has been alarming. With the latest attack on 11 communities in Plateau State, security analysts and political pundits say it is high time President Muhammadu Buhari ended this lingering tragedy, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE
In a style similar to the massacre they carried out in Benue State on the New Year’s Day, suspected Fulani herdsmen unleashed terror on around 11 communities in the Gashish District, Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State on Saturday night, killing over 100 people, though police confirmed over 80 deaths.
Regarded as one of the deadliest attacks carried out by the group in 2018, six persons were also said to be injured, 50 houses were burnt, 15 motorcycles were set ablaze while two vehicles were torched.
The Benue massacre, which took place on January 1, 2018, had seen the spine-chilling murdering of 73 residents in the Guma and Logo local government areas of the state. The victims were given a mass burial on January 11.
It is widely believed that the attacks were as a result of anti-open grazing laws implemented by some states in the country, including Benue, Plateau and Taraba.
The Fulani herdsmen, under the aegis of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, had vehemently opposed the laws, which they saw as a threat to their means of livelihood.
A splinter group of the association, Kautal Hore, had metaphorically declared war on the states where the laws were established.
The group’s National Secretary, Alhassan Saleh, had said then that although the Fulani pastoralists were a peaceful set of Nigerians, they should not be taken for granted.
He regretted that even though they deployed several means to appeal to the states to reverse the anti-open grazing laws, the states didn’t budge an inch.
“The patience of our people is running out. They are being pushed to the wall and this might force them to react someday, and their anger would be devastating,” he had said.
Devastating – and persistent – have the attacks been since then.
In April 2018, the Coalition on Conflict Resolution and Human Rights said over 2,000 lives had been lost to the herdsmen crisis.
The leader of the coalition, Mr. Maxwell Gowon, also said thousands of Nigerians had been displaced, especially in the Middle Belt, where the attacks had been incessant.
In the same month, President Muhammadu Buhari promised that the killings would soon come to an end as his administration was finding solutions to them.
The assurance – which was made when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, visited the President in London – had followed a fresh attack in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen, during which 10 persons were killed, while many others were injured.
However, in spite of repeated promises after successive attacks by Fulani militia, the President has been unable to find a lasting solution to the crisis, according to legal researcher and human rights advocate, Ms Ewelina Ochab.
While the President has done fairly well in the fight against corruption and Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, Ochab said the crisis in the Middle Belt did not appear to be gaining the Federal Government’s attention or triggering decisive actions.
She said, “This is of particular importance because of the militarisation of the Fulani herdsmen.
“Considering the widespread use of AK-47s by Fulani herdsmen, greater action from the Federal Government is expected.”
Counter-terrorism expert and Secretary General, Council for African Security Affairs, Mr Oludare Ogunlana, said the persistent killings by Fulani herdsmen were to be blamed on a failed leadership.
He said until the President sought for help and stopped giving excuses for the herdsmen’s actions, the killings might continue for a long time.
He also suggested that Buhari reshuffle the security chiefs, who are mostly from the North where he hails from, and give room for more diversity.
Ogunlana said, “We have a failed President. It (Persistent herdsmen killings) is a failure of leadership. We know the problem has been there all along. The politicians fuel it from time to time. But, Buhari chose his ethnic Fulani men ahead of Nigeria.
“If you follow the narrative of the government, you will agree with me that the government needs help. From blaming the late Muammar Gaddafi militia to saying Fulani don’t carry weapons, all these are baseless excuses.”
Asked how the government could tackle the persistent killings, the security analyst said, “First, the National Security Council needs to be reconstituted to accommodate diverse interests.
“A situation where all of them speak Hausa and most of them are Fulani is unacceptable. That is why they have not been able to protect the ordinary citizens who are not Fulani.
“That is why it is comfortable for them to blame others and speak for their clans. Buhari will tell you the crisis is being sponsored by some people. How come they cannot arrest those people and prosecute them?”
Supporting a claim made by a former Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), that Nigerians must defend themselves against the killer herdsmen, as the armed forces were not ready to defend them, Ogunlana said Danjuma’s assertion could be confirmed with the recent massacre in Plateau State.
“The operation lasted for more than four hours, but no single army official or policeman showed up to protect the people,” he said.
In March, Danjuma had alleged that the military was colluding with the Fulani bandits to kill people, advising Nigerians to resist the move and defend themselves.
“The Armed Forces guide their (Fulani militia) movements; they cover them. If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one. Defend yourselves because you have no other place to go,” Danjuma had told a gathering at the Taraba State University, Jalingo.
Lagos-based security analyst, Dr. Kazeem Olawale, sided with Ogunlana, describing the persistent killings by Fulani militia as a product of poor leadership.
He said the Federal Government had failed to fulfil one of its major responsibilities, which was to keep its citizens safe and secure, especially from a group that had been declared as the fourth deadliest terrorist group.
The Global Terrorism Index had in 2015 described the Fulani militant herdsmen as the fourth deadliest known terrorist group in the world, after killing a record of 1,229 persons in 2014 alone.
By 2017, the Index stated that the herdsmen had launched more deadly attacks and were responsible for more deaths in Nigeria than the Boko Haram terrorist group.
Similarly, a 2017 research by SBM Intelligence said the death toll from pastoral conflicts had been rising from 2015 and stood at nearly 5,000, “rivalling the killings by Boko Haram insurgents per year.”
Olawale noted, “No one should expect the attacks to stop anytime soon. Watch the President’s gesture carefully; he has been treating the herdsmen with kid gloves. He sympathises with them, he reasons with them.
“When he visited the Middle Belt recently, he seemed to have more sympathy for the herdsmen over the loss of their cows than for the farmers killed.
“In fact, recently, MACBAN chapter in the North accused the President of not doing enough to help them.
“They see him as their ‘man’ and he also sees them as his people. So, he is helpless and therein lies the problem.”
In February 2018, the MACBAN chapter in Kwara State had canvassed for the release of the game reserves across the country for use by the herdsmen.
The state chairman of the association, Alhaji Usman Adamu, identified the measure as a step to address incessant clashes between farmers and them.
“I want Buhari not to forget that he too is a Fulani; Fulani blood is in his veins and if he does not help us, God will ask him,” he had said.
Interestingly, on June 5, 2018, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, joined MACBAN in calling for the suspension of anti-open grazing laws in states.
The minister, who stated this after a security meeting with the President at the Aso Villa in Abuja, said that the suspension would reduce the tension in troubled states.
Although Dan-Ali’s comment generated a fierce backlash by members of the public, a lawyer and public affairs analyst based in Abuja, Dr. Moshood Haidar, said the minister ought to be investigated.
He said, “Dan-Ali’s comment threw up many questions within me when I heard it. Could it be what was discussed with the President behind closed doors? Did he say the President’s mind?
“It’s sad that the herdsmen killings have been a tragedy marring this administration and the President doesn’t seem to care. He justifies the killers’ action or puts the blame on someone else.”
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