THE day had broken like any other. Nothing in the cool early morning breeze suggested that the day had evil deep in its bowels. Kasuwa Gariel had gone to the farm as usual with other women only to find some herdsmen destroying their crops. On seeing the women, the intruders got even angrier and chased them. Their hearts in their mouths, Kasuwa and the other women ran back to the village. The marauding herdsmen did not stop on the farm, they moved into the village, overpowered the men in the community and chased them out of their homes. By the dawn of that dark Saturday. March 5. 2016. Kasuwa Gabriel had been stripped naked. The son she had struggled for years to train with the proceeds of backbreaking work on the farm lay dead.
He was a young medical doctor trained in a Nigerian university. He had hopes. He was his mother’s pride, evidence that investing in a brilliant son’s education could pay off. Oh, Kasuwa had great hopes for her son. She was finally ‘Mama Doctor’, the envy of other women in the community. Her son was a role model, a reference point for other young boys in the village. Until herdsmen seeking revenge for their dead or missing cows slaughtered him in broad daylight. As the sun set that day, as his life’s last drop of blood flowed into the ground on which he once played football, Dr Gabriel must have wondered how and why his life was ending so quickly, so violently, so senselessly. But the crazed herdsmen didn’t think the life of a young doctor was worth anything at all compared to that of a precious four-legged cow.
Time was 1pm. 36-year-old Deborah had just returned from the market and was getting ready to prepare lunch for the family when screams and shouts of Fulani herdsmen invasion rent the afternoon air. Wrapper tied around her chest, without bothering to reach for a blouse, Deborah grabbed her children and ran like her life depended on it. It did. She now lives in an Internally Displaced Peoples camp in Oturkpo.
Her husband who was away on the farm that fateful afternoon is yet to return. Deborah Onuminya is not sure whether she is a widow or if her husband is ill, wounded from the attack in another IDP camp. They had returned from the city to start a new life. Not this life. Her children’s future is in jeopardy. They are out of school. The once happy family now lives on charity.
Virtually all the villages in Agatu local government area of Benue State have been attacked in recent time by herdsmen rich enough to acquire AK-47 rifles. It was their cows or the lives of the farmers.
Most of the villagers have been chased out their homesteads with the evil men reportedly taking over communities like Okokolo, Akwu, Ocholonya, Adagbo, Ugboku, Odugbeho and Aila.
The story of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria is the story of crime and criminals overpowering crime fighters. It is a sad commentary on our reputation as a decent country. It is a story that we are not a civilized country after all. A nation that rationalizes criminals slaughtering children to avenge yams or cows is a nation from the stone age. That is what we are until we fix this, this embarrassment.
I’ll tell us a story.
There once lived this small community of people. They were surrounded by powerful tribes. They were virtually defenceless compared to the military power and sheer number of the tribes around them. They were
called the Gibeonites. One year, the most powerful of those nations, Israel, wanted to pass through their land. The Gibeonites were terrified, not just because this powerful nation had a great army and they didn’t but because the god of that powerful tribe was also powerful. Indeed the entire kingdom lived in awe of them because of their God who could kill and make alive.
So terrified were the Gibeonites when they heard that the Israelites were coming that they resolved to confess their weakness and seek protection. They begged that Israel spare their land. They found favour and were promised that no evil, no war, no destruction would go near their land.
Several years later, a zealous king came and forgot that solemn promise and covenant to protect Gibeon. He moved his army against this small nation and killed so many of them. Husbands became widowers. Men watched their children being trampled to death by the horses of the Israelites. The elderly died in their hundreds. Homes were burnt and family compounds that once bubbled with laughter became desolate. By the time the army of Israel was done with Gibeon, there a few people left. There so much tears, blood and mourning. But what could the Gibeonites do? Nothing. They buried their dead and tried to move on.
King Saul and his army celebrated their victory and drank wine and made merry. Israel thought it was over. King Saul thought he had won another victory for his people. The Gibeonites had nobody to defend them, or so they thought. God was silent too.
Several years later, there was severe famine in the land of Israel.
King Saul had joined his ancestors and a new king, David, was on the throne. He tried everything he knew but the drought persisted. He ran to God and asked why this evil had befallen his people. God told him: Saul and his family are guilty of murder. He put to death the people he was supposed to protect.
In other words, God saw it all. He saw the zeal of Saul for his people. He saw the weakness of Gibeon. He saw how the army of Israel mauled and spared to death defenceless children, men, women, the elderly. He watched as Saul’s army burnt down homesteads and celebrated with wine. He watched the Gibeonites make graves in hundreds. He saw their tears, felt their pain. And why wouldn’t he?
He created both the powerful and the defenceless. He’s the God of the valley and God in the mountain.
He’s the God of the powerful armed herdsmen and God of the mourning Agatu community.
Back to our story. David then summoned the Gibeonites apparently in an attempt to pacify them so that God could take away the famine that was ravaging the land of Israel. After so many years of suffering in silence, accepting that the genocide supervised by King Saul was their fate, the Gibeonites poured out their hearts. They demanded a huge sacrifice.
‘Our quarrel with Saul and his family can’t be settled with silver or gold. And we do not want to kill any Israelite. Just hand over seven of Saul’s male descendants and we will hang them before the Lord at Gibeah.’ (2 Samuel 21:6) That was what the compensation for what Saul did to a defenceless tribe. Seven of his children were killed in one day.
What is the lesson in here?
It is about the Agatu killings and others like it all over our land and the repercussion and compensation that this nation will pay in the future. It is the senseless killings that we all think will go away if we ignore them long enough. This is about those whose jobs are to protect the weak buy look the other way. This is dedicated to all those who arm evil men to descend on defenceless homes to kill and destroy. I know there are evil farmers and there are evil herdsmen.
But I also know that equating the life of a cow to that of an entire family is the greatest evil of all.
There are reports of security agents and agencies being culpable in this herdsmen saga. I have heard of law enforcement agents looking the other way when the angels of death called herdsmen unleash horror on town and villages because their cows were killed. I have also heard loud silence from those who should help before Benue and Nassarawa states become one massive IDP camp.
All the years that it looked like God did not hear, see or do anything about the decimation of Gibeon, He was there. Al the time Saul felt he’d gotten away with the massacre, God knew his sons’ blood will be used to cleanse the land. All the time Israel celebrated the victory over a small town, God knew the famine waiting for them.
Let not those in authority who can stop the genocide going on all over the country, and have done nothing, think the day of hanging on Gibeah will not come. Let not Nigeria not think that famine is not waiting in the years ahead. Do we even know the sins, bloodshed that we are paying for right now? Does it not look like we re going through famine or this was the way we once lived? Surely, the blood of the defenceless will be avenged. All the holy books taught us that, including the Ifa oracle.
As Kasuwa Gabriel mourn the death of her son and brother, as thousands of families bury loved ones, as happy homesteads become graveyards, let us know that God is watching. Vengeance may not come now.
God may not send famine tomorrow because we already have famine for horrible things we did in the past. But let our leaders do what they ought to do because when God decided to avenge Gibeon, only Saul’s sons, seven of them, I repeat, only King Saul’s sons and their blood was requested as sacrifice.
May our children not be made to pay the sins they knew nothing about.