Herdsmen Hazards VI: Many sides to a forgotten crisis [Part 1]

by Festus Iyorah

Following the seven-year bloody reign of the deadly Boko haram terrorists in North east part of the country, Nigeria, is yet again embroiled in another conflict that has killed thousands of people from 63 in 2013 to 1,229 people in 2014, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index.

FESTUS IYORAH in this seven-part series reports the hazards the Fulani Herdsmen have caused, dividing people across ethnic and religious lines.

The Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fula, Peul or Fulbe are pastoralists believed to be the world’s largest semi-nomadic. They are known for their migratory pattern of livestock throughout West and Central Africa countries of Senegal and Central Africa Republic. In Nigeria, the Fulani are the largest ethnic group, constituting 29 percent of the entire population of Nigeria (about 170 million). They migrate from northern states during dry seasons to middle belt states in search of water and grass for grazing.

This migratory patterns have, however, caused conflicts between the herders and farming communities scattered across north-central states in Nigeria. The vast majority of farmers interviewed in farming communities say these pastoralists from northern Nigeria are responsible for incessant killings and their financial woes.

These clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers have undermined national unity, splitting Nigerians even further along ethnic and religious lines. This makes things more difficult for a country still trying to contain Boko Haram attacks in the north east, pro-Biafra secessionist protests in the south east and a new set of militants – Niger-Delta Avengers, responsible for blowing up oil pipelines in the Niger Delta region.

Echoes of 1804 Jihad?

According to analysts, the ongoing farmer-pastoralist conflict has religious undertones which can be traced back to the Fulani Jihad in 1804. The uprising which was led by Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio who propagated “purer” version of islam. He overran Hausa Kingdom and communities across north central states.

Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, who later established the Sokoto caliphate, installed himself as the Sultan of Sokoto. He failed to conquer the Bornu kingdom, the Bini Kingdom and the Yoruba Kingdom. These kingdom defeated Usman Dan Fodio’s  jihadist, making them independent (not an emirate under Sokoto caliphate).

Nonetheless, Ilorin, formerly under a Yoruba Oyo empire fell into hands of the Fulani Jihadist after the Afonja dynasty in the Yoruba Oyo Empire allowed a Fulani warrior known as Janta Alimi to settle in Ilorin. History has it that the Fulani led Alimi killed Afonja in 1824 and Ilorin, till date has an emirate under Sokoto caliphate.

When I visited Okokolo Agatu, Anthony Peter, the chairman of the community revealed that he believes the Fulani still nurse their jihad ambition.

He calls it the Fulani’s “hidden agenda” aimed to “destroy us and take over the land for grazing.”

Are they terrorists?

In 2015, Fulani herdsmen, for the first time, were named the world’s fourth deadliest group by the Global Terrorism index, listed alongside established terrorists such as ISIS, al-Shabaab and Boko haram.

However, analysts have disputed Fulani herdsmen classification as terrorists. They say terrorist groups like al-shabaab, ISIS and Boko Haram have ideologies, while Fulani herdsmen have none.

“Do you think Niger-Delta militants are terrorists? Of course not, they are fighting for a cause. They have an agitation, says Olumuyiwa Olufolahan, a final year PHD researcher in Institute of Environmental Management in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

“Unfortunately we wouldn’t say the herdsmen are fighting for a cause but they are driven by a cause, which is that they lack access to resources (water and grass) to feed their animal.”

Leena Koni Hoffman, Nigeria expert and associate fellow at Chatham House in an interview with Newsweek earlier this year, said that Fulani herdsmen cannot be classified as a terrorist group similar to Boko Haram or the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) because of “the absence of a core ideology around the violence.”

Furthermore, due to the current onslaught on Boko haram in north east Nigeria, analysts say there could be possible link between Fulani herdsmen and Boko haram; some of them could perpetrate evil under the guise of herding cattle.

Global Terrorism index in its 2015 report said: “There have been reports of a link between Boko Haram and Fulani militants, particularly in regards to smuggling and organized crime.

“However, unlike Boko Haram, who are now affiliated with ISIL [another acronym for ISIS] and align with the establishment of a caliphate, the Fulani militants have very localized goals, mainly greater access to grazing lands for livestock.”

Hoffman expressed concern over the lack of information, evidence-based research on the social profile or identities of perpetrators of the pastoralists-herder crisis.

“There are still no facts to back up the assumption that the entire scope of violence (its frequency and intensity) is the work of ‘herdsmen’ – a term that I am deeply concerned by its normalization,” she told YNaija via email.

Government, Security Agencies: Asleep at the switch?

Although the Federal Government of Nigeria led by President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also a Fulani, says they are “working silently” to curb these conflicts that have resulted to deaths of hundreds in 2016, much have not been done to simmer down these attacks. No arrest has been made in Enugu and Benue states against these suspected herdsmen wrecking havoc in farming communities.

Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom expressed dissatisfaction over the issue in an interview with Nigeria’s Premium Times in October, 2016.

He said: “We have given them (security agents) all the support they need to restore peace and order. But it is unfortunate that up till today, there is no time the security men came and told me that one arrest has been made.”

Also, in Enugu, government has not lived up to expectations as regard stopping this impunity by Fulani herdsmen. Four months after suspected Fulani herdsmen killed about 40 persons in Nimbo in Uzo uwani LGA of Enugu State and also killed two people and injured three people in Ndiagu in Nkanu West LGA in Enugu.

In addition, these suspected herdsmen have changed from “cane-carrying” to gun-wielding herders. Some of them are armed with Ak 47 in broad day light.

“How do they get access to these weapons?”final-year PHD researcher Olufolahan asks, firmly.

“Herdsmen are cattle rearers. I think the highest they should have is a Dane gun or a cutlass, for me, seeing herdsmen with Ak 47 questions the entire security apparatus in Nigeria,” she adds.

Daniel Onyilokwu, a resident of Ugbokpo, a community close to Agatu, said some of the Fulani herdsmen have sponsors who are “politicians who sponsor them with money and sophisticated weapons.”

See other stories from the Herdsmen Hazards series below:

– Herdsmen Hazards: Nwa-Offor never became a priest [part 1]
– Herdsmen Hazards II: Nwa-Offor never became a priest [Part 2]
– Herdsmen Hazards III: The Agatu Massacre [Part 1]
– Herdsmen Hazards IV: The Agatu Massacre [Part 2]
– Herdsmen Hazards V: Living in poverty and fear

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