The current challenge posed by both itinerant pastoralists and a heterogeneous mix of bandits, kidnappers, terrorist acolytes and would-be ethnic hegemonists with expansionist ambitions, calls for a determined and imaginative response from all the people of the West of Nigeria.
The current security crisis in the South-Western part of Nigeria is one of the many symptoms of national malaise, which, although not peculiar to the region, has manifested in various forms, including murders, kidnapping, highway robberies, rape incidents, assault, violence and intimidation, criminal trespass, crop destruction, and many other major and minor violent acts. The reversal of the perception of the South-West as the safest place to live and do business in Nigeria has damaged the region’s economy and reduced its attractiveness for doing business. Many of these incidents have been blamed on the unchecked criminal activities of some ‘Fulani herdsmen’, as reported by survivors, witnesses, security personnel, and residents.
This declaration examines the current security crisis in South-West Nigeria, following the recent outburst by the Yoruba communities against the Fulani herdsmen’s conduct in Igangan, Oyo State. Doing this, the statement explores historical antecedents, the relationship between farmers and herders, and the role of politics in all that have happened. This declaration concludes by highlighting short to long-term solutions adapted by governments and the communities affected.
The Yoruba people’s current geographical space is populated by both aboriginal and migrant communities that have evolved over several centuries into autonomous societies, with defined ethnographic characteristics. Within these settled cultures have always been movements of people for reasons of trade, social migration, marriage, and other reasons leading to internal migration. The ancient rights of settled communities have always co-existed with the recent rights of settlers amidst a mutual recognition of the fundamental tenets of respect and accommodation. However, there is ample history of the ambitious attempts of certain elements to exploit and subjugate host communities by exploiting the fissures of their temporary divisions.
To the Yoruba people, the sacking of Oyo Ile and Katunga and the depredations wrought by Alimi in Ilorin have reverberations even today. Relying on history, there is evidence, although anecdotal, linking the current spate of violence to attempts to suppress and adulterate, if not exterminate, the culture and way of life of the affected Yoruba communities, especially since the perpetuating group has such history. This declaration examines the current security crisis from this particular lens – commerce and conquest. Although not exhaustive, this frame provides some useful perspectives that can guide our search for optimal solutions.
The foundation of the current crisis in the South-West is largely due to the absence of purposeful leadership, which has led to an increasingly vulnerable and captured political economy, significantly at variance with the foundational philosophy upon which a peaceful and prosperous Yoruba community is envisioned. The philosophical frame guiding political leadership in Western Nigeria has benefited substantially from notable events such as the 16-year long Kiriji war, which ushered in the emergence of a period of positive renaissance in the Yoruba people’s history. The signing of the peace treaty following the battle, for example, instilled a sense of respect and dignity in all Yoruba communities and created a template for purposefully pursuing a cooperative, peaceful, and prosperous society.
We cannot decipher today’s insecurity without understanding the implosion of the rural economy in the South-West. An earlier policy thrust sensibly concentrated on transiting the rural peasantry from subsistence into commercial farming. Instruments developed to facilitate the transition included the establishment of The Cooperative Bank in 1953, farm settlements, and the Commodities Boards that were transformative by introducing minimum farm gate guarantees, buffers through storage facilities, etc. The empirical evidence is unambiguous. There was an obvious revitalisation of the rural economy, and the drift into the urban areas was blunted. If the policy thrust had continued, the rural economy in the South-West would have been humming with modernised commercial farmers, triggering off hosts of value-added cottage agro-allied industries, and the emergence of ungoverned spaces would have been significantly constrained.
Today, lacking a coherent and productive local governance architecture, swathes of the rural economy have become ungoverned spaces, making them hotbeds of crime. Having lost their valour and authority, with a defective method of recruitment and selection manipulated by politicians, the traditional authorities have become complicit in aiding criminality in the ungoverned spaces. Unregulated mining and other activities provide illicit income flows, influence, and leverage to the traditional authorities, the political establishment, and the local government apparatchiks enmeshed in criminal enterprises. This situation has led to a displaced and landless peasantry dispossessed as stakeholders and whose unskilled youth become cannon fodder and accomplices in criminality. We thus have a chain of organised criminality based on the very institutions that ought to be the buffers in the South-West.
The interwoven interests of criminality, which is an attractive proposition to those with an agenda of internal colonisation and territorial expansion, can only be contained and reversed with the emergence of a new leadership in the South-West that accepts the ethos of the past democratic agreement to make “life more abundant” and that the only purpose of government should be to create policies to “benefit the overwhelming majority and their families and not just a few.” In contradistinction, a classic definition of the political economy of fascism now present is the subordination of the superstructure of the state to the interests of an individual or a group. This framework is against Yoruba tradition and will continue to be the basis of criminality and collusion with external forces focused on the destruction of the Yoruba.
The cultural factors often cited by past and present administrations in a bid to tamp down on the tensions arising from these incessant clashes and the casualties arising therefrom, have created a context that fuels the acrimony trailing the ominous activities of these herdsmen and the various conspiracy theories affirming the existence of a Fulani expansionist movement…
Farmers Versus Herders
The farmers versus herders’ clashes are among the most recent manifestations of the failure of political leadership and governance in South-West Nigeria. In the last three years, the spate of kidnappings in the South-West has risen dramatically. About 320 kilometres of roads in the South-West are tagged high-risk, as commuting on these roads is now associated with the risk of rape, kidnap, and murder. Many farmers have abandoned farming due to the fear of death. Current estimates indicate about 98 documented deaths, 197 kidnaps – an average of two persons per week, and vandalised farmlands covering a substantial part of the area. There are over 685 displaced farmers who have lost livelihoods with the attendant poverty. An actual verification across the zone will show that these numbers are underreported.
The incessant farmers/herdsmen clashes are consequences of land disputes and contention over right-of-way for crossing herds, who invade farms and dispose farmers of their hard-earned efforts by grazing on crops and damaging everything else on the farms. This violence has assumed a dangerously frightening turn with the emergence of herdsmen bearing sophisticated weapons and invading strategic forest reserves in the South-West, from which they build terrorist cells and maintain a kidnapping network across the entire span of the South-West and the South-East. From Oyo to Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti to Kwara, the attendant harrowing tales have been exacerbated by the helplessness of the government’s security arm and their inability to rise to the occasion by arresting and prosecuting known criminal agents and their accomplices. Despite a plethora of legislative bills churned out by the Eighth National Assembly, with one passed into law in 2011 ─ the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2011, terrorism has gained monumental ascendancy in Nigeria and represents perhaps the biggest threat to the country’s corporate existence. Nigeria’s grazing crisis threatens the future of the country and its economic prospects.
Growing adverse climatic conditions in the Sahel, leading to the gradual drying up of water reserves in Lake Chad, has also intensified the aggressive migratory tendencies of pastoralists into Nigeria through its mostly porous borders, further aggravating the situation. This scenario fans out deeper into the rain forests and lush forest reserves in the southern part of Nigeria, in a way that is likely to awaken ethnic tensions and aggravate the already heightened hostilities arising from what is considered to be continued government intransigence, if not outright complicity through tacit endorsement of the harmful activities of these herders. Amnesty International estimates the death toll arising from farmer/herder clashes to more than 8,000 since 2018.
The solution to these incessant crises cannot be found in the plethora of anti-grazing laws in Nigeria. Since 1965 when the first Grazing Reserve Law was established to apply to only States in the Northern part of Nigeria, the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen have surreptitiously escalated and assumed an ethnic colouration that have generated the reactions of subsequent administrations. It was against this background that provisions were made to establish the National Grazing Reserve Bill (2016), which granted farmers the inalienable right to property, as entrenched in Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution (as amended), and protection of property rights under the Land Use Act. Rather than curb these herdsmen’s harmful activities, it has exacerbated the spate of criminal activities and attacks on farmers, which gradually assumed the frightening dimension of kidnapping for ransom, murders, and destruction of farmlands and property.
If we must be forthright and clear about the root cause of the problem, the challenge has always been that of non-compliance, enabled by the demonstration of a lack of political will by the country’s leadership, the weak institutions of governance and systemic erosion of the legal framework in Nigeria. The cultural factors often cited by past and present administrations in a bid to tamp down on the tensions arising from these incessant clashes and the casualties arising therefrom, have created a context that fuels the acrimony trailing the ominous activities of these herdsmen and the various conspiracy theories affirming the existence of a Fulani expansionist movement, culminating in the contentious Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) project that is yet to die down. As things stand today, the country is on the edge of a violent cataclysm with unintended consequences for the corporeal existence of the fragile entity called Nigeria.
Official Inaction and Tacit/Overt Complicity
The farmers/herders’ clashes in the region have some political contexts observed to have depressed the situation. The rise in skirmishes involving Fulani herdsmen and their host communities can be traced to the ascent of the current government led by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. In every geo-political zone of the country, the herdsmen crises have been witnessed to varying degrees. Each of these left a trail of death, destruction, and dehumanisation. The pattern of the scrimmages is already well set. They start with militarised herdsmen directing their cows to graze on the farm of locals. A massive outcry from the locals ensues, as they demand restitution and government intervention. Eventually, with little or nothing coming through, the local communities resort to self-help, thus worsening the situation.
Unfortunately, the reaction of the Federal Government has been less than salutary. At the start, there was indifference, in the mistaken belief that the warring communities will find ways of resolving their problems. When this became unsustainable in the face of national and international outcries, the government proceeded to develop plans that left no doubt on which side it placed its priority. One of these was its demand for States to set aside land for RUGA Settlements to be given to Fulani settlers, which was protested against by the majority of Southern States. The Federal Government’s failure to lead in finding lasting solutions, and the refusal to bring culprits to book ultimately emboldened herdsmen to do more damage in more parts of the country. In the South-West, as citizens cried out, State governors were forced to take action. One of these was the creation of the Amotekun Security Corps in 2019, designed to provide the greater presence of security personnel in the interiors, gain early intelligence to prevent criminal attacks, and generally contribute to the safety of citizens.
Surprisingly, the Federal Government led the opposition to the creation of Amotekun. Through the attorney-general of the federation, it dispatched a letter demanding that the Corps be disbanded. This move was read as another example of President Buhari’s government’s disinterest in the security of citizens and its overt support and protection of herdsmen across the country. It is this serial failure to provide even-handed leadership over the herdsmen crisis, the death and destruction they have wrought (including kidnapping, loss of livelihood by locals, rampant insecurity, etc.) that eventually led to the recent incidents in the South-West that have captured the national attention. In Ondo, the governor was forced to ban grazing in the forest reserves of the State. And in Ibarapa Local Government of Oyo State, the people, led by a community leader, Sunday Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho, issued an order demanding that the Fulani leave their domain.
Would all these have happened if the Federal Government was fully engaged on the matter? What were citizens expected to do as their farms were serially ravaged, many of them killed, raped and maimed without respite? Ultimately, the inaction of the government led the people to fill the vacuum of governance.
The Yoruba must be resolute in the position that there must be a return to the ethos and spirit of the 1963 Republican Constitution. Fifty out of the sixty-six items in the exclusive legislative list of the 1999 Constitution presently being operated in the country, should be moved into the concurrent and residual lists. There cannot be any concession to accommodate anyone’s personal political advancement on this score.
Those with muted voices today are doing so to plead in mitigation because of the strategic consideration of a delicate balancing act based on electoral calculus, self-preservation and tactical advantage.
Here, there is a dilemma with relationship to their primary constituency. This tactical juggling, which is in essence based on infiltration into a larger group, is what in another era was known as a manoeuvre based on “entryism”. The downside of this strategy is that as the parasite feeds on the host, it begins to assume its features. The features of a predatory host, in this instance, are at variance with Yoruba interests.
Muted voices have become the norm in the political consideration of some fixated on putting together the numerical combination to win a party primary in 2022/2023. In order not to offend potential coalition partners in a delicate juggling act, the mute button has to be pressed. The issue of the past always comes into fore here in navigating the future. Today’s muted voices appear to have adopted the position of a significant tendency in the Action Group, which ignited the crises that led to the party’s break up, starting from the options available in the lead up to and after the results of the 1959 pre-independence election.
The game plan right now appears to be to subordinate even the existential issues confronting the Yoruba to immediate personal political advancement. A victory obtained from this strategy is going to be Pyrrhic for the individual and catastrophic for the Yoruba. For the concessions given in obtaining such a poisoned chalice will put the South-West in peril. The State in Nigeria today, as presently constituted, has exhausted the limits of its possibilities. Every national component must now fight for survival, as opposed to wishful thinking in the pursuit of an illusion.
There must be a pan-Yoruba position, as there were at similar critical junctions in 1948 and 1967. The Yoruba must be resolute in the position that there must be a return to the ethos and spirit of the 1963 Republican Constitution. Fifty out of the sixty-six items in the exclusive legislative list of the 1999 Constitution presently being operated in the country, should be moved into the concurrent and residual lists. There cannot be any concession to accommodate anyone’s personal political advancement on this score. It is also time to ask questions about the Yoruba’s “representation” in the National Assembly. There is simply no coherent legislative agenda directed at forming coalitions in favour of the nationality. As we currently have it, the party system cannot be said to be effective in advancing the Yoruba’s interests, when compared to the region’s political party arrangement in the colonial era and in the First and Second Republics. New and innovative methods of agitation, propaganda, and mobilisation will have to be developed. There is a lot to learn from the brilliant efforts of Stacy Abraham in the U.S. State of Georgia. Sunday Igboho has unambiguously shown that a Yoruba position can fire shots that will ricochet around the federation and have a compelling logic that commands global attention.
The Way Forward
The current situation, if left unchecked, can lead to a new kind of civil war. That experience can be avoided. The South-West governors have the mandate of securing their states. Our advice to them is to:
● Strengthen the current forest guard system to ensure that all forests in the South-West are well manned and guards resourced to ensure that they can defend their lives and secure the forests;
● That the Amotekun, as an information gathering outfit, is better coordinated and also resourced to enable it deliver on its agreed mandates;
● That legitimate herdsmen identify those using herding to undertake criminality or hiding under its cover. We recognise herding as a legitimate business and years of its practice by many;
● That the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) develops policies that make it difficult for ransom payments to become legal or enter the financial system.
Long Term Strategies
● The region’s political leadership system must be restructured to develop capacities to respond to existential threats facing the Yoruba people;
● The Federal Government should ban open grazing and encourage herdsmen to adopt modern practices. All states should, as a matter of urgency, prohibit open grazing;
● The South-West should create a forest ranger system to permanently occupy the zone’s many forests;
● All highways in the South-West should have a 200-metre clear line of sight to the road to ensure security for travellers and modern technology, such as drones, should be used to support the protection of forest reserves;
● Engagements should be undertaken with all groups to develop a position of restructuring for consideration by the National Assembly.
The current challenge posed by both itinerant pastoralists and a heterogeneous mix of bandits, kidnappers, terrorist acolytes and would-be ethnic hegemonists with expansionist ambitions, calls for a determined and imaginative response from all the people of the West of Nigeria. The leaders must rise to this historic challenge and eschew short-term and personal political and economic gain for the longer-term security and prosperity of our people. They must not allow a leadership vacuum to be created by default or we risk this being filled not just by alternative leaders but by spontaneous eruptions of the citizenry.
The time to act is now!
Kamil A. Lamidi
Òbíríkítí is the drive for excellence with the aim of resuscitating the Yoruba Spirit based on Ọmọlúwàbí ethos of honesty, integrity, humility, courage, hard work, compassion, selflessness, enterprise, respect and sensibility. Òbíríkítí long-term vision is to remake Yoruba culture and society by weaving together core traditional values with contemporary regional consciousness. The fundamental goals of Òbíríkítí are: raise Yoruba cultural awareness, safeguard cultural security, strengthen economic capital and modernise governance through conscious and strategic revival of our cultural values for use in new and ever emerging contexts.