By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Power, by its nature, is fleeting. Even when there is little or no challenge to the person or group of persons that wield it, time would inevitably diminish the source. Telephone companies wielded a lot of power once. Today, purveyors of intangibles like Facebook and Alphabet (the parent company of Google) dominate the global tech scene. Newspaper dons, who used to call the shots in politics, now compete with nameless John Does tweeting away. Such are the times it is now quite hard to determine when a tweet about something is genuine or fake. These familiar examples are intended to provide some context for the ephemeral nature of power irrespective of the human endeavour.
The Fulani in Nigeria have a certain sense of entitlement. Their brethren were in power so long they took it for granted that their will should prevail. And the source of that power has always been violence. Because of their way of life, the Fulani is primally predisposed to violence. Most other tribes in Nigeria are not so because of their sedentary way of living: farmers cannot reap a good harvest if there is no peace. Never mind that they also have to worry about the elements: weather, pests, and so on. But that is not to say that when provoked, this set of people do not have the capacity to defend themselves. The hesitation of the Fulani at the top echelons of power in Nigeria today in going mercilessly after the errant ones amongst their brethren, who are killing innocent farmers because of pasture for their cows, may be their undoing. Because when people despair, after help hoped for disappoints, what follows is defiance. Now there is talk of militia being organised here and there, under one guise or another, to fend off the marauding herdsmen the next time they strike. There is a word for this eventuality: anarchy.
When there were cult-related killings in the southern Rivers State, the federal authorities called in the military. For secessionist agitations in the southeast, the military was also drafted to restore order. Supposed Fulani herdsmen kill farmers in the middle belt? Who do the authorities call? The police. At first, at least. Not until after much outcry did the central government send special military forces to deal with the problem. The hesitation before this was done has not been lost on well-meaning Nigerians. Because in this country, it is only when a commander-in-chief sends the military to quell a crisis on the scale of the killings in north-central Nigeria that you know he is really serious. If he sends the police, it is usually a measure of his scant estimation of the gravity of the matter. Not that in most cases, the police would not suffice. But for a perennial problem like that between pasture-seeking pastoralists and farmers growing crops for food that could otherwise be used for pasture, you do not send the police; especially as it seems there might be linkages between diminished terrorist activity in the northeast and incessant killings by supposed Fulani herdsmen in the middle belt and southern parts of the country. Some suggest now idle former terrorists may have found disguising as Fulani herdsmen to maim, kill, rape and steal to be a lucrative pastime. There might be some truth in this: southerners have co-existed with itinerant Fulani herdsmen all over the country for ages. Their arrival at various towns and cities in the south used to be something to look forward to. Some never leave; sometimes marrying indigenes of the town they settle in. Hence why in almost every town in this country, you are likely to find a Fulani settlement. So what changed? Politics did, for sure. But more importantly, the economics changed as well.
It actually seems a little dumb for cattle owners and their herdsmen not to want to find a quick solution to the few who are supposedly soiling their names. Their seeming aloofness is almost certainly underpinned by the economics of their current business model. It is much much cheaper for cattle to chase greener pasture than to have them ranched and buy food for them. With scarce pasture in the north, cattle herdsmen are having to stay longer in the pasture-rich south, with consequent disruptions to the farming cycle in those areas. And this is not only a problem in Nigeria but Ghana as well. (The Fulani or Fula or Fulbe are spread across West Africa.) So, it is not unlikely that cattle owners keen to maintain free access to pasture-rich areas see the nuisance value of the heinous activities of their marauding folk. It is typical human behaviour; the bizarre kind. The antagonist desires a commodity that is scarce in his own land. And wants to have it for free. Expectedly facing resistance, he resorts to violence. The previous and recent killings in Benue and elsewhere are evidence of the failure of law enforcement. There would not be as much violence if there is fear of punishment. The impunity must stop.