The challenge of armed banditry across northern Nigeria as feared, had seemingly spiraled out of control, and reached some communities in Southwest Nigeria. This ugly trend has since got everyone across the divide talking; the alarming rate of banditry has evolved from a minor crime, to a national threat. Political actors who maintain a passive stance are beginning to retrace their steps and speaking up.
When bandits, mostly of Fulani extraction, were unleashing mayhem on farming communities in North Central, political actors across Northwest were quick to dismiss what they call a smear campaign against historically peaceful nomads. For centuries, the Fulani nomads were of course a peaceful set of law-abiding herdsmen grazing across the plains, and forest between North-South, and on the fringes of border communities.
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The relationship between farmers and herders was historically an imperfect, but necessary union. The farmer invites the farmer with his cattle at the end of farming season to live temporarily on his farmland, ostensibly to produce manure from cow dung. This practice was what defined herder-farmer relationship for decades. Although, some form of altercation or disagreement occurs periodically, but, such disputes are quickly resolved through peaceful means by leadership of both parties. Across the country, such was the kind of interaction between this subgroup. In the southwest, some Fulanis lived and considered their host brothers, and spoke fluent Yoruba, and imbibed some cultures. Same goes for communities in Southeast and the Benue valley.
President Buhari, a Fulani, was accused of not doing enough, or coming hard on the marauding bandits. In 2018, during a State visit to the US, President Trump, was reported to have shown immense interest in the conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in North Central Nigeria. This was obviously because of distrust between Christians and Muslim communities in the region, with the former accusing the latter of a planned annihilation, or genocide of its people. Such allegations are baseless and unfounded, as both sides recorded a number of casualties.
As political leaders were locked in a blame game, the bandits were expanding their frontiers and finding refuge in the Northwest; they swiftly abandoned grazing, and found a new trade, and easy access to quick cash — cattle rustling and kidnapping.
And at this point, there seems to be no going back as they had obviously realized how lucrative the new trade is and invited their kith and kin, from other areas. The political class had also found a willing tool, in advancing their political goal. Zamfara, Katsina, and Kaduna are the state’s worst hit by the new wave of Fulani criminality, atrocities they commit are unimaginable.
If political leaders of Northwest are clueless about ending security, their Southwest counterpart had shown them the way to go. You can’t harbor your kinsman, if he turns out to be your killer.
Recent calls, especially by renowned Islamic scholar, Sheik Dr Ahmad Gumi, that amnesty be granted to Fulani bandits had sparked off a national debate. While the singular effort of the cleric is laudable and commendable, the call, or suggestions for amnesty is ridiculous. Agreed, not all conflicts can be resolved through the use of force; some require the use of deadly force to put an end, baseless and senseless conflict like banditry. The Niger-Delta amnesty was granted due to decades-long suffering of fishing communities who had had their livelihood destroyed by oil spillage. Banditry is sadly inspired by sheer criminality and a quick access to cash. Ending banditry isn’t wishful thinking; granting them amnesty could be counterproductive.
The danger of allowing any forms of insurgency to thrive for too long is, many splinters, or new groups would emerge, probably inspired or motivated by the earliest one. Also, granting amnesty might spur others with zero ideology or cause to emerge and engage the government, hoping at the end of the day, amnesty or pardon might be offered.
Abdullahi D Mohammed writes from Kano