Fulani Herdsmen
“…The herdsmen also inflicted injuries on soldiers who went to quell the fighting… all the corpses were covered at the time we got to the hospital… I just saw the corpses on the ground. There were 11 men and four women, the DPO not included…”Adamawa State Police Commissioner, Gazzali Mohammed

“..poverty, injustice and the lack of job opportunities were mainly responsible for inter-communal and intra-communal conflicts in Nigeria…”President Buhari

Social strife is a result of a violation of basic communal ethics. Hence, the ethics of equity and justice are central to building a peaceful democratic society. Sadly, it seems these ethics are lacking in how the Nigerian government under President Buhari has used double standards to deal with the Shiites and the herdsmen.

For example, while the Nigerian government under Buhari treats the serial criminality of the Fulani herdsmen with kid gloves, and has refused to properly call their kidnapping and murderous activities by their right names – which is a crime against the Nigerian state and people – the same government has called the Shiites/army clash a “coup”; hence the army declared war against the Shiites and massacred them in Zaria.

Given the double standards with which the Nigerian government treats the activities of the herdsmen and the Shiites, the similarities and differences between the Shiites/Army Clash in Zaria in December last year (2015) and the killings by the Fulani herdsmen in Girei local government area of Adamawa State in January 2016, must make us revisit President Buhari’s handling of the two occurrences.

To make the facts speak to the issues: the Shiites blocked traffic in Zaria, Kaduna State. The Fulani herdsmen invaded four communities (Demsare, Wunamokoh, Dikajam and Taboungo) in Girei local government. When the Shiites committed an infraction by blocking the traffic and prevented the Chief of Army staff, General Buratai from passing, the Chief claimed the Shiites were planning to kill him. But no guns, bombs, etc. were found on the Shiites. Guns and ammunitions were found on Fulani herdsmen during their invasion in Girei.

Also, the Nigerian army did not show any soldier that was killed or that sustained injuries – major or minor. On the other hand, in Girei, Fulani herdsmen carried guns and utilised live ammunition. They inflicted injuries on soldiers. News reports claim that they killed close to 30 people, including a police officer (Mr. Okozie Okereofor, a DPO in charge of Vunokilang Police Station in the local government area). The police is also a symbol of the Nigerian state, or any state.

The Buhari government and General Buratai, whose soldiers sustained injuries from the herdsmen, have not declared “war” on the herdsman who also killed a police officer but they declared war on Shiites who did not kill anybody, and the army allegedly massacred over 300 Shiites.

Without President Buhari’s government properly addressing these issues – the national question and Nigeria’s “federal” system – as part of good governance, and going ahead to establish grazing land across the country for herdsmen, some of who are economic fronts of rich and politically connected members of the Nigerian elite, the country may be witnessing another proxy “war”, especially of the rich and politically connected.

True, the nature of the Shiites/Army clash and the Fulani herdsmen criminality are different. For example, it is said that the Girei herdsmen were carrying out a reprisal attack on those who had previously attacked them. This difference notwithstanding, the handling of the two problems by the authorities has shown double standards, which morally injures the fabric of the Nigerian society.

For example, while the Nigerian army allegedly killed over 300 Shiites and President Buhari did not make a statement on this, and although he also did not immediately condemn the attack of the Fulani herdsmen, he later spoke, against this background, that inter-communal conflicts are as a result of poverty, injustice and unemployment!

Coming after the Fulani herdsmen inflicted injuries on soldiers and killed 30 people, including a police officer, President Buhari’s statement can easily be interpreted as an attempt to free the herdsmen of culpability in a major crime against the Nigerian people and state.

Therefore, President Buhari’s statement invites scrutiny. If the herdsmen’s criminality is seen as an indication of poverty, injustice and unemployment, Buhari’s account failed to acknowledge that these herdsmen are businessmen who trade in cattle. The herdsmen are also economic and business fronts for many members of the Nigerian political and economic elites who trade in Cattle and invest in the business of the herdsmen.

Therefore, contrary to President Buhari, Fulani herdsmen who are gainfully employed as herdsmen rearing and trading in cattle, and fronting in this business for very wealth members of the Nigerian ruling class, some of who are politically connected, does not suggest poverty but rather a subtle economic and class contest for land with farmers, who use this for agricultural purposes.

And more importantly, this is why it is very strange that President Buhari alluded to “injustice” in the case of the Fulani herdsmen. This is because the question is: who had been unjust to the herdsmen? Can farmers, who for economic and survival reasons insist that the herdsmen cannot turn their farm crops to food for their cattle, be said to have been unjust to these herdsmen, who insist on grazing their cattle to eat up the crops on these farms?

In doing their business, the issue is the well-known and public criminal record of some of these herdsmen. Hence, to use state power to acquire grazing land (as a way of resolving the criminality of some of the herdsmen) for a group of businessmen, with this obvious criminal and un-communal record, is rewarding their criminality.

In the light of this, it is obvious that the Nigerian government under President Buhari has betrayed unacceptable double standards in handling the criminality that herdsmen engage in all over the country. This explains why Nigerians must re-think the attempt by the president to open grazing land for herdsmen all over the country.

Opening grazing land across Nigeria for Fulani herdsmen is questionable and problematic in the light of President Buhari’s double standards in handling the criminality of these herdsmen. This is because the herdsmen are businessmen. For example, just like any other business into profit-making, there are herdsmen who engage in the cattle rearing as a private family business. There are herdsmen who are economic and business fronts for rich and politically connected members of the Nigerian elite. And in the third case, there are herdsmen whose business is a mixture of the two – as private family business and fronts for rich and politically connected members of the Nigerian elite.

In doing their business, the issue is the well-known and public criminal record of some of these herdsmen. Hence, to use state power to acquire grazing land (as a way of resolving the criminality of some of the herdsmen) for a group of businessmen, with this obvious criminal and un-communal record, is rewarding their criminality. And such policy is dangerous to communities and state governments that will host these grazing lands. It is going to be a test of both the Nigerian unitary and “federal” system.

President Buhari’s comments only show that the Nigerian federal system and the national question must be properly re-thought in solving issues such as Fulani herdsmen, Shiites/Army clash, contrary to the lukewarm attitude to it of the present Buhari APC government. Local governance, respect for local authorities, duty and obligation to local and state authorities by individuals regardless of who they are, and the notion of portable residency, etc. are core issues in this re-thinking of the national question and Nigeria’s “federal” system.

Without President Buhari’s government properly addressing these issues – the national question and Nigeria’s “federal” system – as part of good governance, and going ahead to establish grazing land across the country for herdsmen, some of who are economic fronts of rich and politically connected members of the Nigerian elite, the country may be witnessing another proxy “war”, especially of the rich and politically connected.

Hence, such grazing policy must be re-thought in the interest of peace, a federal and united Nigeria, and a consistently held and universally applied sense of equity and justice.

Adeolu Ademoyo, aaa54@cornell.edu, is with the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.