The Sun News

Fulani herdsmen and farmers’ clash (2)

•Being conclusion of last  Friday’s article

Kenneth Okonkwo

If this incident had happened in Tivland, Benue, the first impression, without investigation, would be that this was done by the host community. This would lead to the true herdsmen seeking for help from the same terrorists to avenge their losses. The terrorists would invade the community killing innocent citizens, burning their houses, properties and looting the remainder. The host community in return would raise the alarm that the herdsmen have attacked them and start organising armed militia to attack back. They would now attack the innocent Fulani herdsmen and the vicious cycle would continue, while the terrorists and local criminal elements would smile home with their loot.

We have to rise up together as a strong and united country to face this menace, by recognising first and foremost that we are not up against any ethnic or religious group or profession but against a brutal terrorist guerrilla warfare that has combined with some criminal elements to unleash ferocious attacks on all of us whether Christians or Muslims, Tivs, Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas or Fulanis using the forest highways as their natural habitat. They are almost succeeding in creating anarchy among the different communities that have hitherto lived peacefully.

It is in this regard that the use of the term “Fulani herdsmen” is not helpful in this war against terrorists as this nomenclature provides a comfortable cover for the terrorists to operate without hindrance. If you address them as Fulani herdsmen then you cannot deny the Fulanis the right to claim it is a communal clash because everybody agrees that before the advent of the modern version of terrorism, the Fulani herdsmen had been living peacefully with their host communities. It then implies that, after the arrival of this brand of terrorism on our shores, there is a need to appraise our strategies and recommend new solutions.

The immediate solution to this scourge is ranching. Let us recognise that no great army can do anything against an idea whose time has come. Nomadic cattle rearing involves trekking from one place to another in search of greener pastures. This method suited the ancient world, where forests were in abundance and boundaries not clearly delineated among nations. Farming was the main occupation of the people then and modern nations/countries with sophisticated major cities were not born. People were morally upright and terrorism was not on the cards.

Today, the case is different. Modern cities have emerged. There is hardly any ancient grazing route from North to South of Nigeria that did not cross a major city. Even if there is no terrorism, nomadic grazing would still come to an end one day because the idea of allowing herds to pass through cities, defecating on the road and on public facilities, posing traffic, hygienic and other health challenges, is incompatible with the tenets of a modern state. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, once expressed displeasure at the movement of cattle across the roads of the FCT with the attendant consequences. One cannot imagine passing through the streets of London, Paris and Washington to stumble on herds of cattle competing with human beings for right of way in those cities and defecating along the streets, waterways and other infrastructures. So, ranching in the first instance is a consequence of a modernized society hoping to make their cities clean and attractive for investment and tourism for the outside world.

The need to educate the children of these nomads in this world infested with terrorism has become very urgent and immediate. We know for a fact that terrorists recruit more easily persons who are poor and not lettered. The Fulanis should be more concerned in this regard because these nomadic children who are being recruited now along the forest highways by these terrorists will come back one day to haunt the Fulani nation. Hear the words of an elderly Fulani herdsman community leader on the current crisis between the “Fulani herdsmen” and their host communities in Ayamelum, Anambra State. He lamented, “The new generation of Fulani herdsmen are not as civilized and tamed as the ones that came in previous years. We the leaders cannot talk them out of killings without being killed ourselves. The influence of illicit drugs has changed the dynamics. During our time, when we first arrived Ayamelum, we enjoyed cordial relationship with the natives, now it is different.”

Quartering these children in ranches will assist in their education as all the previous arrangements to educate them, including nomadic education, failed in the past.

Also, ranching will deny the terrorists the cover they operate under. When the herdsmen embrace ranching, whoever is found in the bush wielding AK-47 rifles, by whatever guise or name, launching attacks on communities, would be treated as a terrorist without hesitation and taken out.

Ranching would increase the nutritional value of our herds and improve the health of the herdsmen. It has been proven that the excess trekking of our herds and the herdsmen under our harsh climate, especially in this era of climate change, impacts negatively on the nutritional value of herds and life expectancy of the herdsmen. Only the skin of the animals is the most cherished product as the hide from their skin is reputed to be the strongest due to the toughening by the sun.

The lives of the herdsmen themselves are better preserved and secured by ranching. In this era of mutual hostility between the herdsmen and their host communities, no amount of security can protect the lives of the herdsmen who trek into the forests mostly individually or as families with their herds against the anger of a rampaging host community reeling under the pains of a terrorist attack by men they mistake or suspect to be Fulani herdsmen. The Fulanis should consider the danger imposed on these innocent herdsmen who are in the bush, oblivious of the animosity against them, during the regime of a non-Fulani in Nigeria.

The armed forces of Nigeria are necessary to any solution envisaged to handle the conflict. This is not a mere police action. The terrorists are well-trained in the act of guerilla warfare and deception. We hear about ambushes, invasions, raids and so on. Indeed the Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Governor, Terver Akase, said that between 2012 and 2017,  Benue State has been invaded 50 times. Invasion is an act of entering as an enemy, especially by an army. These are well-articulated, sophisticated, military-style attacks by well-armed and trained persons. The only persons known to have gone through this training are terrorists, cultists, militants, who have engaged our armed forces in a war and battles before and occupied some territories in Nigeria, particularly the North East and are now scattered all over our forests.

In order to ensure their optimum performance, our armed forces have to be adequately funded and equipped for their welfare and warfare. Modern fighting equipment has to be acquired for them. Constant training has to be organised for them to enable them keep abreast with the specialized skills needed to take out the terrorists and smoke them out of their forest hideouts.

The need for adequate funds has become more urgent when one realises that necessary intelligence is needed to trace these terrorists and differentiate them from the peaceful Fulani herdsmen whose interest lies in the safety of their herds and their access to grazing land. Genuine intelligence is costly and risky.

We have to boost the morale of our officers and men by ensuring that any of them that is wounded is given adequate treatment and the fallen ones given heroic burials with their families adequately compensated and catered for; the retired ones rehabilitated and retrained to adapt to their new civilian lives.

We must not allow some purported civil rights activists or professional politicians continue their media and verbal onslaught on our men in uniform when they perform creditably to overthrow the terrorist forces. When General Ifejirika was the Chief of Army Staff, the terrorists could not occupy any territory. He was accused of genocide and threatened with an action at the International Criminal Court. This demoralised the Army so much that when his successor stepped in, Nigeria lost territories in droves to the terrorists. We must continue to praise the gallant sacrifices of our men in uniform and assure them of their protection when they act within the law as they continue to guarantee our security and welfare by restoring peace in all the troubled areas of Nigeria.

• Dr. Kenneth Okonkwo is a legal practitioner and foremost Nollywood actor.


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