…In a country that is sharply polarised along ethno-geographic fault lines, the criminal activities of killer herdsmen pose a serious existential threat to the fragile security, peace and stability of the Nigerian state. This is hardly the time to play hide and seek over semantics of ethnic profiling, as there should be a concerted effort to tackle a criminal scourge…


The rising cases of kidnappings and killings in the southern part of Nigeria, a country that has gained global infamy as the third most terrorised space in the world has once again opened a new chapter on the controversial subject matter of the activities of killer herdsmen. In addition to the numerous accounts of the victims of kidnappings for ransom, the recent arrest and parading of some suspects by the Enugu State police command, in connection with several cases, unfortunately led to the killing of some Catholic priests, as well as traditional rulers, reveals a consistency in demography by perpetrators of this crime – killer herdsmen of mostly the Fulani ethnicity. Among these suspects, which includes Idris Tobe, Suleiman Balarabe, Ibrahim Adamu, Garba Basalugu, Mohammed Luga and Mojunpan Duna, was one Ibrahim Adamu, who confessed to have come to Enugu “to learn the skill of cow rearing but later joined a gang.”

Despite these obvious cases of widespread criminality, there has been concerted effort by certain individuals and interest groups to obfuscate the true identity of these undesirable elements by raising the charge of the ethnic profiling of Nigeria’s Fulani. The media has been intimidated by accusations of the deliberate profiling of the ethnic Fulani for crimes that are not peculiar to their demography through the invention of the term “killer herdsmen.” Unfortunately, the cry of ethnic profiling as a pushback mechanism by the concerned majority of the Fulani is akin to living in denial of the existential reality of criminal elements who are a minority. This manner of living in denial does not only render the problem intractable, with the unintended consequence of an image burden for the entire ethnic demography, but this feeds into the conspiracy theory of Fulanisation through perceived complacency.

Described as “Le marchand de la mort est mort” (the death of the merchant of death) in a premature obituary by a French newspaper in 1888, Alfred Nobel got a rare privileged glimpse at the first rough draft of the history of his life and times. The report emphasised that “Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” A clear case of mistaken identity, the death of his brother, Ludvig in Cannes was widely reported as his at the time. A Swedish scientist, inventor, businessman and philanthropist, whose most famous invention, the dynamite, a powerful explosive, revolutionised the businesses of mining, quarrying, construction and demolition, was to unfortunately become very notoriously useful in the destruction of mankind, due to its extensive use in warfare.

Determined not to be permanently recorded in history as the merchant of death, Alfred Nobel, a sober and reflective recluse of a genius, who neither married nor fathered any child, eight years before his real death in 1896 at the age of 63, managed to reinvent his legacy. To redirect the world from the destructive path of the ignorance of warfare, Alfred dedicated enormous energy and resources to the advancement of knowledge for the progress and peace of mankind. To this end, in November 1895, Alfred signed his last will, wherein 94 per cent of his wealth was set aside to establish the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Medical Sciences, Chemistry and Literature, as well as for Peace, whoch were to be annually awarded to deserving individuals without prejudice to nationality. By taking full responsibility for the misuse of his invention and taking the right steps to curb it, Alfred will no longer be remembered as the merchant of death but has had his name carved with gold in history and eternally immortalised through the institution of the most prestigious awards in the world for the preservation of mankind, the Nobel Prizes.

Nearer home, the Alfred Nobel example was deployed by Nigeria’s ethnic Igbo when criminality defined the cities of Aba and Onitsha. Determined to change the terrible image of these two important commercial cities that was rubbing off negatively on the reputation of the larger number of Igbos, a traditional method of law enforcement was evolved with the formation of the Bakasi Boys security outfit, which eventually recorded relative successes in ridding these cities of their endemic criminal elements, to relief of the majority. Similarly, when the issue of human trafficking and prostitution syndicates in Europe was prevalently identified with the Edo people, there were no loud cries of “ethnic profiling”. Rather, Edo individuals and interest groups, in partnership with relevant government, non-governmental agencies, as well as the traditional institutions, took full responsibility by working in concert to unravel the socio-cultural factors responsible for the rooted problem among their people.

It is the absence of the Alfred Nobel example that is at the heart of the current controversy surrounding the criminal activities of killer herdsmen of mostly Fulani ethnicity in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Fulani, who are mostly distinguishable by their excellence in educational, professional, administrative and political careers, making them one of the most sophisticated people in Africa, should be concerned more about this problem of criminality among a tiny fraction of their demography and care less about the semantics of ethnic profiling. In addition to being the loudest at condemning the criminal activities of the minority elements among them, Nigeria’s Fulani owe it a duty to the rest of Nigeria to expose these folks by helping to unravel the form, nature, motives, as well as other social-cultural factors responsible for the surging crime involving some undesirable elements that are identifiable as ethnic Fulani.

Nomadic animal husbandry, which is primarily characterised by herding cattle from one place to another in search of pasture and clement weather is a cultural economy of Africa’s Fulani, hence the descriptive of “herdsmen” for identifiable members of the group. In recent times, armed conflicts between farmers and herders over the struggle for land resources has seen an influx of armed mercenary fighters into Nigeria from all over the West and Central Africa, ostensibly to help their Fulani herder brethren in Nigeria. These mercenary fighters, whose violent activities has resulted in killings and the destruction of farmer communities across Nigeria, are themselves skilled herdsmen, but in this instance they are not engaged in the business of cattle breeding, hence the appellation, “killer herdsmen.”

However, these killer elements are mostly foreigners and have no sentimental attachments to most of Nigeria’s indigenous peoples, including their ethnic Fulani kinsmen. When not engaged in terrorising farming communities to make way for fellow migrant nomadic Fulani herdsmen, they turn their energy towards criminality, as they now regard the entire Nigerian geographic space as a thoroughfare of limitless criminal economic opportunities. With the government of the day still fixated on farmer/herders clash narrative and an obvious reluctance to take appropriate actions against armed groups, killer herdsmen now have a free reign in criminal activities such as kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery across the country.

There is a clear distinction between profiling a criminal suspect and the ethnic profiling of a group. The first investigative step towards solving a problem of crime is to profile the criminal involved appropriately down to his ethnicity, religion, associations, contacts, and then evaluate his thought process through his verifiable interactions.


Tagged as bandits, their natural skill as herdsmen, as well as shared ethnic identity with Nigeria’s indigenous Fulani, has enabled these killer herdsmen to infiltrate communities in the North-West of Nigeria and unleash a wave of criminal activities such as cattle rustling, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, in addition to the terror of mass killings. Therefore, it will be a collective assault on the sensibilities of thousands of victims of this pattern of crime to question their judgement on the ethnic identification of their criminal tormentors, as that will amount to asking the obvious question of why a Donald Trump is identified as White. Such other questions as, “where is the cow of the herdsmen?” smacks of wilful ignorance, as not every herdsman is a cattle breeder in the sense that not all auto mechanics own repair shops. Just as some auto mechanics deploy their skills in the criminal activities of auto mobile theft, these killer herdsmen deploy the natural skills of their nomadic animal husbandry to rustle cattle, kidnap people on the highway and herd them deep into the bush in distances covering an average of 30 kilometres.

Nigeria is undoubtedly under siege from marauding killer herdsmen from continental Africa. In a country that is sharply polarised along ethno-geographic fault lines, the criminal activities of killer herdsmen pose a serious existential threat to the fragile security, peace and stability of the Nigerian state. This is hardly the time to play hide and seek over semantics of ethnic profiling, as there should be a concerted effort to tackle a criminal scourge that does not recognise Nigeria’s ethno-geographic and religious divisions.

There is a clear distinction between profiling a criminal suspect and the ethnic profiling of a group. The first investigative step towards solving a problem of crime is to profile the criminal involved appropriately down to his ethnicity, religion, associations, contacts, and then evaluate his thought process through his verifiable interactions. When the media reports the testimonies of victims of crime, including the time, location and ethnic identity of their criminal tormentors, it is not ethnic profiling but the profiling of a criminal suspect.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.