By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Last two odd weeks, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State was in the news nationwide, at the closing ceremony of the Press Week of the Correspondents’ Chapel of the NUJ in Bauchi State. For a man who hardly gets national media attention, he certainly had to say something outrageous and asinine to get a mention in all the national dailies. Governor Mohammed expressed his mind on the rather spicy herdsmen-farmers-bandits issue that has almost torn the country into two parts or more. He was quoted as saying that “AK-47-bearing herdsmen are forced to do so because the government has failed to secure their lives and livelihood’.
He then went ahead to give a punchline, exonerating the typical herdsman from blame: “it is not his fault, it is the fault of the government and the people! It is the fault of the people that herdsmen invade communities and attack innocent citizens, stealing, kidnapping, and killing! All because they must graze their cows on farmlands that do not belong to them!
While the nation was yet digesting this odious and provocative message, Sheikh Gumi was quoted as telling bandits who received settlement from government that it is non-Muslim soldiers that have been fighting them. It was bad enough that a government sent a religious cleric to discuss peace with thieves. But to promote religious bigotry while engaging ordinary criminals who should be in jail is tantamount to treason! Do some people want to set Nigeria ablaze?
To be sure, the governor’s misstep received knocks from all sensible and reasonable quarters. In reaction he came out with what an aide of his described as an explanation of what his boss had in mind. Indeed, the detailed explanation was worse. It showed the dissonance between Fulani leadership and the situation on the ground. He did not deny the statement ascribed to him that herdsmen should carry guns to protect themselves. His objective, he said, was to ‘avert the dangerous prospect of a nation-wide backlash and generalization of the Fulani clan as criminals’.
Now, the good book, the Holy Bible states clearly that ‘great men are not always wise! On this matter, some of our leaders, in the north and south have not been wise. Mohammed has especially not shown an iota of wisdom, statesmanship, or prudence. He has deliberately refused to read the handwriting on the wall correctly. His interpretation of the current tension in the country has been warped, selfish and dangerous. He ought to have kept quiet if he had nothing profound to say. Nobody has said that all Fulani are criminals. That is certainly not the point.
Nobody has said men from other ethnic groups do not engage in criminal activities. The major point being made is that the stay of Fulani herdsmen in communities has produced a new trend of criminality that we never witnessed before in the country. Most of those bloody killers are not the pastoralists we grew up to know who even apologised if their cattle destroyed crops. These ones are aggressive, move with a sense of entitlement and arrogance. The forests or bushes anywhere in Nigeria are their property. And they impose themselves on communities. How can a Fulani man travel to Uwheru in Delta State and ask locals to pay a fine to gain access to their farms?
As for carrying weapons, what, if I may ask Governor Mohammed makes the Fulani herdsman different from ordinary Nigerians who were all asked to surrender their weapons, licensed or unlicensed, to the police a few years back? If the communities all carry weapons to fight or protect their lands having been failed by state security won’t the country descend into anarchy and war? What has Governor Mohammed made of the heroism now being ascribed to Sunday Igboho in Oyo State?
The truth is that there is growing and deepening resentment against the incumbent government because it is perceived as promoting an ethnic agenda. The nation is being split further and further into ethnic enclaves. The Ibadan explosion has been contained, sort of. But anger is seething. Revenge has no end.
If Fulani herdsmen can carry weapons for self -defence, the Igbo man or the Yoruba man can as well make the same argument. The impudence of the rampaging herdsmen is attributed to the entrenchment of Fulani men who have been placed in charge of different security units across the country. Certainly, this is not how to run a federation.
What compatriots fear is the outbreak of violence that could spiral out of control. What has saved the nation so far is the refusal of any prominent political leaders in the south to make inflammatory statements on the plight of their kith and kin. The memories of 1967 to 1970 are still very clear. No one should by design or default plunge this country into a conflagration.
Former military Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar recently warned that the situation in the country is dangerous and could lead to an outbreak of war! The bombings taking place in Orlu is interpreted differently by people of that ethnic group. There is infinite madness in the land right now. Sadly, if there is formal war, (aren’t we at war already?) these cowards are likely to flee the country and leave the poor to suffer. Let us remember Rwanda. Let us remember Sierra Leone. Let us remember Liberia. Things have not been the same again!
Governor Mohammed should look beyond the selfish interest of his minority kith and kin while making comments on the sensitive issue of land grabbing. Governor of Taraba State was more practical and more sensitive when he said all Nigerians should be allowed to bear arms for self-defence. Although that could also be bloody and anarchic, it rises beyond the parochial and insensitive view expressed by Bauchi State governor.
Governor Ortom whose State is in the thick of the murderous activities of the herdsmen has called on the federal government to be more responsible and non-partisan in handling the insecurity situation. It just takes three or four more angry Ortoms to further raise the tension in the country to dangerous proportions. We must not get to that level. And to think that the tension is caused by herders most of whom are non-Nigerians is the height of national foolishness. The time to apply the brakes is now!
Professor Eghagha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 08023220393