A Nigerian group in the UK has sharply criticized the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government over its handling of the violence perpetrated by ethnic Fulani cattle herders in the country. Herdsmen are nomadic or semi nomadic herders whose primary occupation is raising livestock.
No week passes without the media reporting a massacre carried out by herdsmen in farming communities in Nigeria, especially in the central region of the country.
The Tiv community in the United Kingdom, whose members are Tiv-speaking people from Benue State, has accused the Federal Government of not protecting the victims of these attacks. Many villages have been sacked by the Fulani pastoralists and their lands illegally occupied by the attackers and their cattle.
The community, on the platform of Mutual Union of the Tiv (MUT), in a statement by its President, Martin Akiga, called on all Tiv sons and daughters around the world to stand up, adding that “over the past few years, herdsmen’s occupation in Benue State has led to widespread deaths, seizure of indigenous lands and destruction of farmlands and produce.”
The statement added: “In the last three years, 2,000 Tiv indigenes have been brutally killed and a further 750 wounded or maimed. Approximately, 100,000 men, women and children are refugees as a result of incessant attack on Tiv people of Benue State.”
The problem posed to peace and security by the Fulani herdsmen has assumed an alarming nature. In 2015, an international organization, the Global Terrorism Index, even described the pastoralists, who operate like an illegal militia, of being the fourth-most deadly terrorist groups in the world, after Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabab. In 2014, Fulanis killed 1,229 persons, mostly unarmed and defenceless people in rural areas.
While the Buhari administration has been praised for its efforts to defeat Boko Haram insurgents, the violence perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen has become even more widespread and, in fact, constitutes a far greater danger to people than the Islamist terrorists, whose activities are limited to the north-eastern part of the country.
Across Nigeria, from the central states of Niger, Benue and Kaduna to the South, the Fulani men, armed with AK47 assault rifles, have been blamed for many unprovoked killings and the illegal seizure of territories. Moreover, there have been allegations that some Fulanis have been involved in armed robbery, rape and communal violence. Similar accusations have also been made against them in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
The Federal Government has mooted the idea of states providing thousands of hectares of land as grazing reserves for the herdsmen, a suggestion that has been vehemently rejected by people in central and southern Nigeria.
“Our people are farmers and do not go to other states asking for ‘farming reserves.’ Our neighbouring states would never agree to this. Why should we create grazing reserves for nomads?” Akiga said.
The argument against grazing reserve is that it’s a ploy to seize territories and create Fulani townships across the country, which portends grave danger to peace in the future. Critics argue that a better way to accommodate the nomadic nature of pastoralists would be to create ranches where the cattle can be taken care of and fed prior to being sold. The Fulanis in Nigeria are native to the northern part of the country and they are also found in the Sahel and semi arid parts of West Africa.
Due to changes in climate patterns many herdsmen have moved further south into the savannah and tropical forest belt of West Africa. The problem in Nigeria is caused by herdsmen moving from their native northern part of the country and those from other countries such as Niger, Chad Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and Benin to central and southern Nigeria.
People in the affected areas feel the Fulani attacks are part of an effort to get farming communities to leave their land, allowing the herdsmen to settle without resistance.
The Nigerian government and the traditional authorities in northern Nigeria are suspected of supporting these herdsmen and could even have armed them for the purpose of forcibly seizing territories.
President Buhari is a Fulani and he’s a patron of the largest herdsmen organisation in Nigeria, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), which has been accused of being behind many massacres perpetrated by the armed pastoralists.
The Federal Government’s lukewarm response to the crisis has been widely criticised by the Nigerian press as inadequate. Increasingly, the killings have been viewed as motivated along religious and ethnic lines. According to John Reginald, a worker from Nigeria-based NGO Crudan, the Fulani attacks have met little resistance from police or the military.
The UN has also weighed in on the issue in 2016, saying it is worried by the “complete impunity enjoyed so far by perpetrators of previous attacks”, and called on the government to do more to protect its citizens.
Fears are growing that affected communities will take up arms to defend themselves, a situation that will further worsen security in the country and threaten the fragile unity among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups.
Nnamdi Duru, London