Last week, a military drone bombed and killed about 50 innocent herders. The storyline was a sad, painful, and pathetic one. When calamities like this happen, we usually talk about the number of people killed and injured. While I acknowledge these figures, we don’t remember that these innocently slain individuals, as significant as the numbers are, translate into hundreds more lives that are directly affected and other millions that are indirectly affected.
The innocent people, whose cows were impounded by the Benue state Livestock Guards, were asked to pay millions to get back their livestock, which they did. They were additionally forced to load the cattle in trailers to Nasarawa state, which again they did! However, while offloading, the ‘BOOM’ happened, leaving many innocent civilians dead, and other tens, in dire need of emergency medical support. Of course, thousands of family members and friends are equally left in the agony of the loss.
The Akwanaja community is in Doma Local Government area of Nasarawa state; a state that has for more than two decades hosted IDP herders from Benue, Plateau, and Taraba states. Whenever herders are forced to leave their original areas by Tiv farmer communities in Benue, Jukun in Taraba, and Birom in Plateau states, Nasarawa hosted them.
People believe that a Fulani does not forgive, nor forget! It is human for people not to forget atrocities meted on them. But human beings forgive when forgiveness is sort! The Fulani has a history of forgiveness. They forgive people that have offended them if they acknowledged the offence and pleaded for forgiveness. But in many situations, they are killed and blamed for the same killings meted on them. This makes them harbour their agonies for years and given the slightest opportunity, they will take an action. This is when the media is going to feast with breaking news! We have seen this happened a thousand times.
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The Fulani cattle herders are a group of people whose lives style is simple. At night, they spend most of the time counting the stars until midnight, ensuring no criminal will steal their livestock, before finally resigning into their huts to hide from the cold of the early morning. Environments with palatable fodder for grazing are favourable, even if access to other amenities like clean water and healthcare are absent. They manage their sicknesses traditionally.
The Fulani have for centuries respected their farmer neighbours, helping with animal dung to grow crops. Their occupational crises were managed by the Ardos and community leaders with no resort to the police or the courts.
Criminality cuts across all tribes and ethnic groups. To contend it depends on the ability of authorities to arrest and prosecute perpetrators no matter their connections or influence. While bushes serve as a means of livelihood for the herders, criminals with bad intentions hide in these bushes and commit crimes, then melt into the thickness of the bushes to escape. Unfortunately, a few meters away from the scene of the criminality, live a Fulani herder and his animals.
Nigeria has a myopic policing system, which simply uses ‘common sense’ in arresting and prosecuting culprits. When highway robberies happen in bushes, meters away from where herders live, herders are arrested and detained, and forced to pay large sums for bail! Many times, the police know that their victims are innocent, but ‘milking the cow’ as usual! The Fulani are easy targets and have had cases of multiple extortions at all strata of society – the police, the judiciary, the vigilante, and some corrupt Fulani Associations.
Nobody seems to be concerned with what happened to them, except a few Fulani associations. In many parts of Nigeria, and especially in the northcentral and northwest where banditry is on the increase, thousands of Fulani herder-folks are usually stopped at a checkpoint scammed and extorted by security operatives for a crime they never commit.
During communal clashes, the herders are usually blamed for attacks and killings in communities. Although some neutral people make inferences with phrases such as ‘reprisal attacks or revenge attacks’. The question is: How can a person, sensible as he is, attack a community when he travels together with his entire wealth? How can he start a fight that will make him lose his entire life savings? I don’t think this makes any sense! Can a criminal rob people meters away from his own house just for the police to arrest him the day after? Our security forces must answer this!
Many times, armed bandits have raided Fulani homes, raped their women, and robbed, before proceeding to the highways for additional robberies that make pages of our newspapers the next day! Nobody reports on earlier robberies and rape because the Fulani is a nobody, a second-class citizen. The next day, the police wouldn’t ask questions that will lead them to the criminals. They arrest the same victim of the robbery and rape – the Fulani.
Phobia for detention
The Fulani has a phobia for detention! To avoid being detained, he can give you a cow! The police know this weakness and therefore capitalize on it to make maximum extortion. Because of this normalized use of ‘common sense’ and deliberate extortion strategy adopted by some of the security forces with the connivance of the vigilante, a business syndicate emerged. On the herders’ part, knowing that they will be extorted for no crime committed, whenever they see the police approaching their homes, they resort to escaping in the bushes, to avoid being taken to the police station and paying millions of naira to get bailed out. Of course, they cannot run away with their livestock!
For the police, running away is a justification of the herders’ criminality. But since they are unable to apprehend them, no more money for bail! Therefore, together with the vigilante they take the livestock and tag them ‘stolen livestock’. After a week or so, this livestock is sold with the connivance of some filthy Fulani associations!
While the rightful, innocent, and law-abiding livestock owners already tagged as criminals will be roaming from one person to the other to reclaim their livestock, and many times get extorted in the process again! This is sometimes the role of the security forces in criminalizing innocent Fulani.
Consequently, these actions and inactions lead to a total loss of means of livelihood for many Fulani herders across the north with more devastation in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, and Kogi states. With no proper education and no skills for other agricultural activities such as land cultivation, many embrace positive coping mechanisms and resort to menial jobs in towns like guarding, wheelbarrow pushing, nail-cutting, and water hawking, amongst others, to feed themselves and what remains of their families.
However, a few of them resort to negative coping mechanisms – crimes. After all, they have been tagged criminals when they were innocent, and nobody came to their aid! For them, now they have nothing to lose anymore, nothing!!
Dawobe wrote in from Ladduga, Kachia Grazing Reserve, Kaduna State