The Fulani Herdsmen Or Herdsmen: Benue Under Siege

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By Fetus Nyiwo

It is now a frustrating cliché that herdsmen or headsmen, as the case may very well be, kill with impunity as they attack and kill many innocent souls, burn houses and destroy farmlands in Tarka, Buruku, Logo, Ukum LGAs, and elsewhere in Benue State and beyond. Their legendary atrocities know no bounds. They are also reported to replicate the same bastardly acts on the Ologba community in bordering Nasarawa State, which shares boundary with Agatu, on April 27, 2016.

His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, sets about to promulgate a Bill to establish ranches for all herdsmen (irrespective of ethnicity), invariably outlawing open-land and unrestricted grazing in the state. It is his respectful submission and position that Benue State no longer had available lands in the state for grazing. Similarly, the Jukun people of Taraba State, while opposing the enactment of the grazing reserves Bill that caters exclusively for the Fulani ethnic group in Nigeria, resolutely declared that no part of their lands would be surrendered for whatever purpose to anyone outside their zone. It is their view that “if the grazing must be established, government must equally be prepared to create hunting, farming, fishing, and other reserves to cater for other Nigerians who don’t rear cows, but embrace other professions”, reports This Day newspaper, May 16, 2016. 

Indeed, Nigeria has grown far beyond the level of the establishment of grazing reserves, as was the case in the 60s when the country’s population was just about fifty-two million. It was in 1965 that the grazing law was passed, creating grazing areas for the exclusive use of the Fulanis. Notably, most of the lands earmarked and gazetted for this purpose (about 6.5 million hectares of forest reserve and 98 percent in the savannah) is said to be located around Sokoto, Bauchi and Kwara states. Perhaps, government may seek to compulsorily recover these lands and hand same over to the Fulanis, if such a move duly qualifies as overriding public policy under the Land Use Act! However, note that this grazing law was narrowly tailored to provide for and protect the Fulani cattle herders as a means of incorporating them into Nigeria’s development plan. The point is made here to the extent that non Nigerian cattle herders could neither claim under nor benefit from this law.

MTN’s introduction of Livestock Tracking Solutions to assist herdsmen monitor and track their herd, as reported in THISDAY newspaper, May 16, 2016, is not viable under these circumstances. Perhaps, it could be useful as far as cattle rustling are concerned but totally useless as far as the crimes of genocidal killings, rape, arson, destruction of farmlands etc., are concerned. Does MTN imply by this technology that all the people that have been killed and raped by the herdsmen throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria are all cattle thieves? Don’t they realize that many of these killings and/or attacks are unprovoked? The company has also failed to explain how this technology would bring to justice killer-herdsmen! The company did not also explain how farmers would be compensated for all the destruction to their farmlands and properties by the killer-herdsmen. Further, this company failed to explain to Nigerians how this technology would totally and completely disarm the marauding herdsmen or headsmen, as the case may well be. It is my submission that MTN by this technology does not address or redress the many concerns of victims and impacted communities in Nigeria. MTN should instead start thinking of providing impacted communities with appropriate and effective technology that protects them against the many crimes committed against them by the Fulani herdsmen. It should also think of and provide technology that secures our borders against foreign invasion and attacks. Anything short of these thresholds amounts to insulting our collective intelligence in the face of real, imminent and present threats to lives and properties, and national security concerns.

Section 25 of the Nigerian Constitution defines a Nigerian citizen to be:
(a) every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged t a community indigenous to Nigeria;
(b) every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria; and
(c) every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.

I have read so many excellent and insightful articles on these gravely disturbing and reoccurring episodes with some trepidation and reservations. We are suddenly led to believing that it is foreigners from other countries that are responsible for the dastardly and murderous acts against defenceless farmers and their families. Possibly, the ranks of Fulanis could have been infiltrated by some bandits. Naturally, there would be bad eggs amongst the Fulanis wrecking this insane havoc on peace-loving humanity. The problem is that the numbers of these bad eggs seem to be, uncontrollably, growing by the day, and beginning to look as if there has always been a socio-political and religious agenda behind the atrocities! Furthermore, it is also a possibility that there may be some form of connivance between the two groups (locals and foreigners)? This is because it is foolhardy for an invading foreign legion of killer-herders to travel thousands of miles with hundreds of cattle across Africa, to successfully execute their mission, killing hundreds or thousands on foreign soil without inside help or prior surveillance activities. Their modus operandi is to pick their targets and times; strike and then retreat. The question is where do they retreat to and to whom?

Now, the issue of identity of these merciless murderers have been called to question. It appears that the popular view of their true identity is at variance with the official version. When herdsmen kill (as they often do, unprovoked), they are termed as foreigners; but when they are killed by local farmers or vigilante, they are termed: Fulanis! Interestingly, no foreign countries has thus far complained of the deaths of their nationals in Nigeria or have come to retrieve their corpses, under these unfortunate circumstances, to the best of my knowledge; though I stand corrected. Even if it is foreigners that are behind the killings, the Fulanis must know something enough to complain about it, because their own cattle business interests would have been jeopardized through excessive and unregulated competition from foreigners, as the case may well be!
The Punch Newspaper of April 30, 2016, reported that the Nigerian Immigration Service expressed their helplessness over the situation: “There is no evidence that the herdsmen are foreigners and the immigration service doesn’t profile immigrants based on their ethnicity. So, the NIS cannot say whether the herdsmen are Nigerians or not because nobody has produced them for us to profile them… we have not received reports of people coming in with animals… there are over 1,400 illegal routes, but the border patrol guards cannot be posted to the illegal routes because they are illegal….”

However, This Day newspaper of May 16, 2016, under the news item titled, “Herdsmen Attack: We killed because Tiv Youths stole 800 of our cows, says Fulani spokesman”, tells a different story all together. How ridiculous; 800 cows and where would you hide or pasture 800 cows in Benue without detection? Nevertheless, Garus Gololo, spokesman for the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, reportedly owned up to the massacre of the Tiv people of Agwabi village in Binev Council Ward of Buruku LGA, Benue State by Fulani herdsmen.
Vanguard Newspaper of May 15, 2016, reports that Sultan Jubrin Yaya, who is himself a cattle rearer and farmer, distances the Shua Arabs from all these atrocities by herdsmen. Shua Arabs’ cattle only grazed in Borno, Yobe and Taraba states (Northern Nigeria), he alleged. It was the Fulanis that grazed their cattle further down southern Nigeria and beyond, according to him. He further said that, “those herdsmen who carry guns are thieves. The police should arrest them and ask them how they acquired such sophisticated weapons. It is dangerous and they use these weapons to commit all kinds of crimes: murder, rape and armed robbery… If you come to my community and you carry arms and kill the people I will not allow you any further access, because you are dangerous.”

The Sultan of Sokoto is said to have asked government to seek out these murderous hoodlums and bring to justice; “Crimes are abominable and whoever commits them is a criminal”. President Mohammadu Buhari expressed the same stance when he entertained members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, May 3, 2016, reports Premium Times Newspaper. Consequently, it would seem strange and ridiculous in the eyes of the international community if the Nigerian government or indeed some portions of Nigerians are perceived as protecting or furthering the veiled and vile interests of the criminal, unlawful and invading “foreign” mercenaries over and above her own law-abiding citizens that validly constitute the electorate. Even if we are “fantastically corrupt”; not to this hideous extent! Luckily, the Delta State judiciary rendered justice by jailing two Fulani herdsmen for twenty years for being in illegal possession of fire arms, under the Robbery and Firearms Act, 2010, reports the Sun Newspaper, May 16, 2016.

His Excellency, the Executive Governor or Benue State reportedly reacted to this barbaric mayhem, warning that enough was enough, as he could not continue to restrain his people back from appropriate and most deserving response in the face of dangerous madness and insanity of historic proportion. These unscrupulous mercenaries have turned Benue State into a battlefield: How many governors in Nigeria have in most recent times been brought to tears, publicly, over the brutal murder of their defenceless people, on their own lands? Yes, the Benue State Governor has said it: it is GENOCIDE, as reported by the Daily Post, May 17, 2016, and the world is yet to pay attention to it. The UN had also described Benue killings as GENOCIDE, ThisDay Newspaper, April 6, 2016. My Governor painfully expresses Benue State’s helplessness under these deadly circumstances as he declares that the state was under siege, and the federal government is yet to arrest the situation! No less military operational attention should to be given to the siege than is presently done in the Zambisa forest. Perhaps, if all affected states in Nigeria met, discussed, collaborated and coordinated strategies with one another to combat this menace, this ugly situation could be brought under effective control.

Logically, both the herdsmen (headsmen) and their cattle are trespassers and their herd should be confiscated by the government of the states wherever these animals stray onto. I propose that the Benue State government enacts a law that empowers (security) agencies to arrest every single cow found in the state without due authorization and/or documentation for public nuisance and high security risk. Their owners will have to buy them back from the government at a high premium. This way the true identities of the owners would be revealed. The difference between humans and cow is that humans cast electoral votes, cows don’t and never will; while cow have many (preferred) substitutes, humans don’t. Kaduna State recently banned open air preaching; I fancy other States banning open air cattle grazing as a precautionary and defensive measure, just like Enugu State has done, May 17, 2016!

A lot of developments have taken place since my earlier published article on this subject matter namely, “Fulani Herdsmen; Licence to kill at will”. My concern on this subject matter stems from the undeniable fact that Benue State, as an agrarian state, cannot develop without first putting this issue away for good. While on a recent brief visit to America, I tried soliciting businesses to come down and invest in Benue State, and these security concerns always came up. I was invited to a radio interview in Columbus Ohio, May 11, 2016, in my capacity as a community leader and transformative Mediator in the USA, who was part of the nationally successful immigration plan in the US, known as the “Welcome Dayton Plan”, to discuss Immigration and the Transformative Conflict Mediation module (that is applied in the City of Dayton, Ohio). We had just concluded an international conference represented by all the continents of the world, tagged: Transformative Dialogue; Innovating beyond Mediation. The talk show hostess, Julialynne Walker, wanted me to share some information with the American audience on my experience at the just concluded mediation conference. I quickly seized the opportunity to also endear Benue State to the American public, hoping that something good comes out of it, God willing. It is available at www.talktainmentradio.com. Go to programs and click on Crossing Cultures; click on “US, Immigration and Africa”.

Be that as it may, the legal outlook under the official position, as far as the identities of these merciless murderers are concerned, is that they must be treated as foreigners with all the necessarily attendant legal implications, if we must tow government’s narrative. Besides, other federal laws including those on Terrorism, which sanctions death penalty for terrorists and the Nigerian Penal Code, especially Section 221, in respect to culpable homicide punishable with death; Nigeria’s Immigration Act, 2015, also presents some interesting propositions. Section 15 thereof requires every immigrant to report to an immigration officer for examination upon entry and/or departing Nigeria, while section 17 requires them to have on their persons valid travel documents. Section 19, empowers immigration officers to refuse entry into Nigeria of any persons (as prohibited immigrant) that are not Nigerian citizens. Section 36 of the Act prohibits the carrying on or conducting business by non Nigerians in Nigeria without the written consent of the Controller-General, liable to a fine of One million Naira and/or deportation, upon conviction. Section 17 of the Act, read together with section 37 (13) dispenses with passport, visa and residency permits for foreign nationals of ECOWAS, provided they registered as such with the Service.
Section 44 (1) of the Immigration act states: A person within any of the following categories shall be deemed to be a prohibited immigrant and liable to be refused admission or to be deported from Nigeria as the case may be—
(e) a person whose admission would in the opinion of the Minister (of Interior/Internal Affairs) be contrary to national interest or security;
(h) (ii) is a person who has been convicted of the offence of rape, defilement, or any other sexual offence.
Sub-section 2 of section 44 insists that such persons must serve terms of imprisonment before being deported. Sections 51, 56, 70-75 of the Act punish accomplices who, acting in concert with prohibited immigrants, circumvent the provisions of this Act.

Apparently, the Minister for Internal Affairs and the Customs and Immigration Service has great roles to play in this debacle, especially as it concerns national security at this crucial point. When I saw on the internet that the Immigration boss, Martin Abeshi, was sacked, I thought it must be related to these events! The Nigerian body polity has been heated up by these herdsmen or headsmen, as the case may well be, as if we do not have enough problems already. What is more, this is an avoidable man-made disaster (in terms of oncoming food crisis) waiting to happen; while we talk all the talk about environmental justice and sustainable development in the comfort of our workshops or offices. It is colossal food waste for cattle to eat up farm produce meant for the well-being of humans!

It is also obvious that we have most of the laws but lack the political will or are very reluctant to apply them in this case for some reasons. It is not the presidency alone that should be castigated by the public; what is the National Assembly also doing about it? In the face of GENOCIDE in the country orchestrated by a single ethnic group on others, NASS is only considering grazing bills? Nevertheless, there is every need for Nigeria to review its immigration laws to adequately reflect today’s realities, which threatens national security. The establishment of Immigration Tribunals to further adjudicate and/or regulate our immigration system like most serious countries around the world have done, must be considered.

There are probably millions of undocumented and/or unlawful immigrants in Nigeria whose true businesses are uncertain. We carry out censuses of Nigerians but do not know the identities and number of strangers in our midst as a nation in the 21st century! We are, supposedly, Africa’s No. 1 economy. We must demonstratively, efficiently and effectively do everything to protect this status, including securing our borders. It is also because our borders are completely open that we suffer the consequences in the form of these entire brigandry and the incessant bloody attacks. Critically, we need both communities policing as well as communities immigration-centric activism in Nigeria. Perhaps, the time has come for us to ask the Americans how they secured a greater portion of their borders with Mexico. But this can only happen when we start valuing Nigerian lives in Nigeria.

The Leadership Newspaper of May 15, 2016 reports that Nigeria, at the recent second regional security Summit in Abuja, seeks €916 Million for the reconstruction of the Chad Basin ravaged by the activities of Boko Haram. Surprisingly, the herdsmen’s regional and national security threats were not raised and addressed at this security summit; but I, once again, stand corrected. Arguably, the death toll and scale of destruction in Benue State far outweighs that of the north-eastern part of the country; yet, Benue people did not take to arms to fight for our rights or salvage the situation. The Benue State Emergency Agency should be able to put together comprehensive database in terms of death toll, scale of destruction, number of rape victims, quantum of economic loss to communities (for a period not less than 10 years), and the cost of compensation, reconstruction and rehabilitation to impacted communities.

Finally, the Benue River basin has also experienced large scale environmental degradation and suffers the effects of climate change. It is in dire need of immediate climate change resilience action to be taken by the federal government as well, together with the international community. Benue state has suffered and continues to suffer from the unholy activities of Boko Haram as there are scores of refugees located all over the state. Indeed, both the federal government and the international community need to come to the aid of Governor Samuel Ortom to redress this ugly situation, and fast track the development of the state. River Benue needs to be dredged to attract large scale (international) commercial activities and tourism to the state, the middle belt region as a whole, as well as the northern parts of the country. Benue State and especially the Tiv nation, urgently need to wake up to our responsibilities, make sacrifices and put aside our political chauvinism, petty-differences, overbearing political dispositions, personal narcissist’s-flavoured-prides and ambitions. We need to individually and collectively join hands with Governor Ortom to pull Benue State out of the doldrums for our collective good and survival.

Festus T. Nyiwo, Esq, LLM, Environmental Law and Policy (USA).

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