By Felix Oboagwina
Mansur Dan Ali, Minister of Defence
Dear Honourable Defence Minister,
In view of your coming appointment with the Nigerian Senate and as you sit atop the country’s security architecture, I feel this compelling need to address this letter to you. I understand that the Senate felt the emergency need to seek your views and inputs on why Cameroon, a country with whom we have no extradition treaty and against all known United Nations Conventions and African Charters on Human and Refugee Rights, should be able to march her gendarmes through our common borders, to abduct so-called political activists and some Nigerian citizens. Unchallenged! Let me wish you luck as you meet justifiably angry senators over this slap to the face of “the Giant of Africa.”
But I confess that I should have really, really done this letter since you made that your recent pronouncement, a pronouncement that has earned you viral vilifications and opprobrium at home and abroad. Emerging from a meeting with your Commander-in-Chief, you told journalists covering the nation’s seat of power, Aso Rock that killings by Fulani Herdsmen were a response to two provocations: 1. Farmers’ encroachment on grazing routes; and 2. States’ enactment of anti-grazing laws.
Your submission made it appear like you were justifying the herdsmen’s campaign of violence. If that report accurately captured your mindset and body language, it explains why you and the government have failed to enact a policy even now to send the military to quell the killings. Yet in the same time and space in Benue State, soldiers are easily deployed to hunt down Tiv militias defending their land against these herdsmen’s attacks. Crass nepotism! As if Tiv lives do not matter too!
Being in charge of defence and security, you must have unimpeded access everyday to security reports of all the Intelligence community and allied agencies. Didn’t these reports, some weeks ago, pin the mayhem on foreign cowboys? Those reports must count for something!
Before going on to some other things, I shall here like to tackle your two controversial theories.
FULANI AND THE GRAZING LAWS
For your information, sir, killings by Fulani Herdsmen predate the grazing laws, whether that enunciated by Ekiti State or Benue State or Taraba State. Ask Retired General Muhammadu Buhari what took him to Oyo State on October 13, 2000 (18 years ago!), when he went to protest what turned out to be reprisal attacks by Yoruba natives against pillaging, raping, rampaging and murderous Fulani nomads. There was no grazing law back then.
Then you may need to speak to Femi Adeshina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, who in his foot-in-the-mouth defence of the President’s thunderous silence on the scandalous Benue killings, pointed out that President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure recorded similar incidents with 756 victims mowed down. Need we point out that angst over those unrequited killings partly informed why Benue people voted for CHANGE in the last elections?
Retired Brigadier-General Monsur Mohammed Dan Alli, sir, was there an anti-grazing law between 2013 and 2017, when Agatu in this same Benue State, lost over 5,000 people to killings by herdsmen, who subsequently took over the land and brazenly grazed their cattle on the deserted ancient town, whose inhabitants were subsequently trailed to Internally Displaced Persons camps and again slaughtered in their thousands?
After Agatu, the neighbouring Enugu State’s 482 communities have been forced into this chronicle of unchecked sorrows. Over time, the Middle-Belt and Southern regions have seen killings by herdsmen snowball. In January 2015, the Nkpologu community in Uzo-Uwani of Enugu State came under unprovoked attack, followed in April 2016 by Ukpabi Nimbo community in the same council.
Similarly, the Abia State communities of Uzuakoli, Ebem, Akanu, Umuchieze and Abam have suffered. The carnage in Southern Kaduna is well-documented, with Governor Nasir El-Rufai revealing he had to bribe the attackers to lay-off –they haven’t. Zaki Biam in Benue State, Odukpani in Cross River State, communities in Niger State and communities around the Oyo State capital, Ibadan, have come under attack. So have those in Ogun State. Attacks in Ekiti prompted the state to finally enact a grazing regulatory bill.
Rampant killings in Bayelsa and Delta states have been so volatile that farmers are scared off their farms. Barkin Ladi and Bassa LGAs in Plateau recently witnessed sensational violence. After initial killings of indigenes by herdsmen here, soldiers sent to keep the peace abandoned displaced villagers in a primary school building, only for armed Fulani Herdsmen to return and slay 27 helpless women and children in their sleep. On New Year day, about 70 people, including members of the Benue State Livestock Guards, newly-formed as an answer to the Fulani harassments, were killed by militant herdsmen in coordinated attacks on six Benue communities: Tom-Atar, Umenge and Akor villages in Guma LGA (home town of Governor Samuel Ortom); and Ayilamo, Turan and Ngambe-Tiev villages in Logo LGA.
According to Amnesty International, herdsmen killed 168 in January alone. In my mum’s village, Ewu in Edo State, Fulani Herdsmen raped and slaughtered two women farmers they met farming.
This is xenophobia. This is genocide. This is Ethnicnasia; permit my coinage, it reflects the blend of euthanasia and ethnic cleansing. This is Sudan and Rwanda loading.
For all these atrocities, Fulani Herdsmen take fourth position as the worst terrorist group in the Global Terrorism Index, after Boko Haram, ISIL and El-Shabaab. Yet you people refuse to label Fulani Herdsmen as the world sees them, the fourth worst terrorist group globally –a ticking nuclear bomb! You people prefer to live in denial? A perplexed world sees a complete disconnect between these troubling facts and figures and the attitude and expressions of top government figures like you. You all do not seem to appreciate the danger posed by this evil group in the long term and in the short term. You fail to realise that this could end up turning everyone against the Fulani as an ethnic stock and endanger our fragile unity. The law forbids any recourse to self-help. But if the Fulani can resort to self-help, so can other tribes. After all, what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. We run the virile danger of descending into a free-for-all violence, where every man shall be for himself.
The herdsmen have brought us close to this nightmare. Yoruba folks have a saying that it is better to tame the Iroko plant when it is young because upon developing into a gigantic, full-grown tree, it becomes a deity demanding oblations and sacrifices. This is the time to act. Donald Trump came into power last year and proclaimed America for Americans, promising to erect a wall along the Mexico border. I have no doubt Trump would have tackled the Fulani Herdsmen, be they locals or foreigners, with guns blazing. No less is demanded of you, General Dan Alli.
STATE’S RIGHT TO MAKE LAWS
Partly, you blamed these killings on the anti-grazing laws. Let us assume, without necessarily agreeing, that the states did provoke these attacks through enacting livestock regulating laws. For your information, sir, states DO have a constitutional right (duty, in fact) to make laws for themselves. Believe it or not, despite the unitary bastardisation of our Republican Constitution, it still allots that kind of power to the states. In the specific, the Constitution, the grund num of all laws, and the parameter against whom all laws must be tested, in Section 4(7) concerning the responsibility of states, posits that: “The House of Assembly of a State shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part thereof ….”
I guess this provision formed the peg upon which some states in the North adopted Sharia law.
General, have you studied these laws to see if they are totally loaded against the Fulani? They are not anti-Fulani but anti-open grazing, open grazing that has resulted in preventable losses of lives. For example, not only do the Ekiti and the Taraba statutes forbid open grazing in favour of ranching, they went further to protect herders by specifically forbidding cattle rustling. By the way, people who are not Fulani also own cattle; and they do not graze openly.
FEUDALISM OVER FEDERALISM
Your address to the Aso Rock Press corps ignored the urgency this issue deserves. This was the same way that the Boko Haram issue was politicised and allowed to fester until it mushroomed into the global dimension it has assumed today. What is most troubling for people like me is the fact that all you key government functionaries are speaking one language, a language that belittles this festering genocide but fires blames in the direction of every stakeholder except the parasitic Fulani herdsman and his cowherds. It makes it sound like you are endorsing Fulani feudalism over national Federalism. Are you not in essence saying that the shepherd is lord over the farmer?
The Fulani have their roots and their homes. If the global climate change and desertification have combined to push them to seek greener pastures Southward, then Fulani Herdsmen must approach the host communities with decorum and civility. But the Fulani are not the only victims of climate change. South-East and South-South Nigeria suffer flooding, erosion, mudslides, ocean surge and coastline erosions, all of which unleash harsh effects on people and property. Those displaced do not go on the rampage against their new hosts. If Fulani cannot graze on grasses without destroying farmers’ crops and killing farmers, they should be compelled to stay back home in their native lands. Simple!
ARE INDICTED YOU?
I hesitate to subscribe to those trying to indict you and make people believe that you are one of the misfits in an administration, where a Minister of Culture once said the regime will create employment through the kitting of masquerades, and where a Minister of Sports said he wanted to be remembered for wearing his trademark red hat. Don’t force me to change my mind.
Or do you also subscribe to the 97-5 percent formula of the President? Like him, do you too believe that those who gave him the most votes should be satisfied at the expense of areas who gave him fewer votes? Or does your stance reflect the lopsided arrangement in the Security Council? Like many other Nigerians, I wonder if this problem would not have received its deserved urgency were the Security Council otherwise constituted. Today, we have a council composed of a preponderance of Muslim Northerners, a composition that is a clear affront on Section 14(3), which demands that, “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria… ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”
WHERE ARE OUR REAL FULANI?
But are these the real Fulani of my childhood? I remember growing up between Lagos and Ibadan. Those days, the sight of the Fulani herder with his cattle sent us kids into frenzied singing: “Malu gongo, labalaba gongo.” The Fulani man, with his wide-brim hat, sheathed dagger and amulets strapped to his arm, would smile and wave at us, directing the cows from doing us harm, as we kept a safe distance from their huge horns and hoofs. Their women came, hawking wara and fura. Those were the Fulani we knew! Who are these ones armed with AK47 rifles? Did your DSS not say the other day that these are foreigners and mercenaries from the wars in Mali and Chad and Libya? They are ISIS and ISIL. And yet they are being allowed to dig in, take root and turn Nigeria into the next theatre of war. Or have they succeeded in intimidating the Nigerian Army under you, Mr. Minister? Is this Fulani herdsman the ultimate enemy your Nigerian Army would love to avoid?
Certainly, these ones are deadlier than the Igbo IPOB and the Niger-Delta cultists whom you organised OPERATION PYTHON DANCE and OPERATION CROCODILE for respectively. Now you have declared OPERATION CAT RACE for Benue. The herdsmen now kill police at random. They are now burning police stations. I saw a Whatsapp clip this week, where these reprobates burnt an Armoured Personnel Carrier, against the backdrop sound of weeping soldiers. Now your Defence Ministry’s cat has finally entered the race, have you not come too late to pour salt on an earthworm that has grown into a viper?
General Dan Alli, you must speak up and act tough. God forbid the heavens to fall, sir, people will always remember you as the Minister of Defence who provided neither defence nor security. Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006 to recover two slain soldiers whose bodies were abducted by Hezbollah. This feat mirrored 1976 when Israel invaded Uganda to liberate a hijacked airplane forced to land at Entebbe Airport with Israelites on board. Israel demonstrated that Jewish lives mattered. Such is the stuff that breeds patriotism! Oppositely, your posture and the Commander-in-Chief’s insinuate that non-Nigerian Fulani in Nigeria rate above non-Fulani Minorities Nigerians.
This posturing (and your posture on the Cameroon agitators, by the way) contradicts not only our Constitution but international laws like the 1993 “Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities.” Its Article 1proclaims: “States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.” Violation is enforceable by the International Criminal Court, ICC’s prerogative of detection, arresting, extradition and punishment of persons guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as adopted by the General Assembly Resolution 3074 (XXVIII) of 3rd December 1973.
This statute can be invoked not only against the herdsmen and the Camerounians, but against you and the President –anytime, for time never runs against crime.
What is the way out? Government must construct a paradigm shift that not only makes these demons realise that they no longer have official backing but that they will be confronted OFFICIALLY! This, Mr. Defence Minister, is the change that must begin with you and your Commander-in-Chief.
I wish you well.
Your Fellow Compatriot:
Felix Oboagwina, a journalist, writes from Lagos