By Rev. Fr. Attah Anthony Agbali
In 2017, following a spate of Fulani herdsmen destruction of farmlands and crop products in different parts of Kogi state, at a stakeholder meeting, Governor Yahaya Adoza Bello undiplomatically rattled and antagonized many, especially the traditional rulers of the affected communities.
Using political fiat, he forcefully ordered the swift integration of the Fulani herdsmen into local traditional councils.
Such orders defied rational and political sensibility.
It was merely based not on any legislative or legal tools but rather political fiat utterly in defiance of the local traditions and customs of many Kogi societies, especially as it does not accord the rights of the host communities to any forms of negotiated agreements. Bello’s position functioned to create an ambience of suspicion and raised many questions.
Further, such inordinate spewing, coupled with the massive governmental failures and flatulent policies of the Bello administration drew widespread popular indignation. Bello’s curious and historically unparalleled act, which rather than critically examine, only erupts certain suspicions of a veiled hegemonic plan of Fulani domination.
Bello’s acts seem to endorse and patently unveil certain rumored undercurrent allegations pointing to his patrilineal pedigree as emanating from the remnants of the Fulani Jihadist that unsettled the Igbirra Okene, later settling in the Ukpella-Auchi axis in the present Edo State. Ironically this was the same forces that the Igbirra Ajinomoh vigorously fought against between the 1860s and 1880s.
Precisely, such rumours indicate that Bello’s claim to Kogi State is matrilineal rather than patrilineal in the traditional and more conservative sense. While de-escalating the import of such considerations for the moment, yet one cannot underestimate the potency of such primordial sentiments and undergirding biases, we cannot assert for sure that it is such factors that underlays Governor Bello’s policy preferences at this point.
We cannot at the present unearth any correlations or discernible facts as it pertains to factorial weighting directly propelling the governor’s cattle colony and assertions in forcefully “engrafting” the Fulani into the state’s traditional councils. But whatever, it is that validates his stances must be subjected to thorough scrutiny in all their ramifications.
More than this is another potent allegation that seems to hold more water and directly hinges upon political calculus. It is alleged that given Bello’s current level of recorded poor public performances, that behind his economic rationalizations regarding cattle colonies’ benefits, is a masked political intent and opportune potential plot. In some ambience, it is asserted that Governor Bello is trying to cap on the cattle colony for his reelection advantages. It is believed that he intends to manipulate the opportunity of cattle colony and Fulani transhumance toward enlarging the election pool in importing into the state paid supporters to vote for him (see Akubo, 2018).
Under this assumption, he intends manipulating the system and process to fraudulently improve his odds of electability. The migrating herdsmen it is alleged is just some hideous smokescreen and script for boosting his electoral chance, tilting it in is political favour. It remains to be seen how effective such a method can be.
Alternatively, it is alleged that he may deploy these migrants in causing widespread electoral disruptions through induced violence equally utilizing them under the cover of communal clashes. Regardless of his motives and subterfuges-real or imagined, how all these play out in reality to Bello’s reelection remains a tall order. Bello’s electoral potentiality hangs more negatively on the political totem pole. His candidacy as it seems wouldn’t be an easy sell.
Imagining for a moment the veracity of Bello’s subtle and masked Fulani genetic descent or hidden heritage, could that explain his stance? Or, is his assumed shared ethnic distant affinity with the ethnic Fulani President Buhari the bulwark of reasons that support Bello’s favouring of the president’s cattle colony policy? For whatever, it is worth, whether due to real or imagined, or adopted kinship, political, and/or religious sympathies, Bello is having no easy ride.
Many prominent groups and individuals vehemently detested and staunchly resisted such unilateral moves. Many groups in Kogi East and Kogi West Senatorial districts have almost unanimously been vocally aghast and documentarily denounced Bello’s stance, unwilling to make their territories available for any such projects.
In Kogi East, the Project Igala shot the first salvo and cast the die. They were immediately followed by an avalanche of detesting public letters of protest and various forms of denunciations. The senator and almost the entire elected house (national) representatives from the Kogi State area, pressure and lobby groups, mutual aids and homeland associations like Ukomu Igala umbrella association repulsed the governor’s position.
Let us presuppose, for a moment, that Bello–as alleged in some quarters–is indeed subverting his hidden ethnic masks and unveiling, by muscling his covert Fulani, what outcomes does he expect and for what reason? Could it be assumed that he’s merely been grateful to President Muhammed Buhari, an ethnic Fulani, who in alliance with the attorney general and minister for Justice, Malami, made it possible for Yahaya Bello to be installed as Kogi State’s governor in the wake of the 2015 APC electoral Kogi’s flagbearer, Prince Abubakar Audu’s demise?
Regardless of having Fulani ties or not, would Bello’s blatant and misguided unilateral—almost dictatorial–stance be his unflinching support for the man that literally superimposed and sealed his governorship ambition. Is this is a political ping-pong; ‘you-rub-my-back—I-rub-your-back’ pay back?
Political Senility and State Failures: Dimwit Policies, Dummy Agenda and Games of Error
The idea of cattle colony policy is an imposition. It masks certain biases and harbors many flaws. The policy is an imposition especially in a democratic and free market context, it is not the business of government to direct citizenry transhumance and also be the animator and initiators of commercial, economic or agricultural processes that seeming favour particular interests ethnic and religious groups.
This is even more contradictory and hypocritical for a Federal Government that keeps using federalism to skirt her legitimate responsibility in protecting and defending the lives and properties of citizens based upon the excuse of non-interference in specific states’ affairs. The morphing of this policy was born out of the context of a sad episode; the killings and massive destructions of lives and properties precipitated by Fulani herdsmen in the Agatu areas of Benue State and varying incidences in Nasarawa and Taraba states.
In the wake of those sad events, rather than the federal government’s proactive response in commiserating and truly dealing with the crises as it manifested, in a biased and bizarre reaction, the presidency morphed the idea of cattle colonies as its solution. The idea of cattle colony referenced direct government involvements to grab lands across states of the federation and setting up Fulani settlements therein.
Such emanations provoked adverse anti-government reactions calling into question President Buhari’s neutrality and empathy for victims of crises provoked and intensified by his ethnic alliance due to his Fulani kinship. President Buhari painted as atavistic is now broadly painted with a new brush as an irredentist ethnic bigot.
Prior to becoming Nigeria’s elected president in 2015, Buhari’s ethnic and religious misguided speeches and assumed support for extreme violence have indented in the minds of many Nigerians his portraiture as a hateful violent inducing extremist, and ethnic and religious bigot. His lackluster and lackadaisical response to the crises began to recast old images and sharpen new perceptive imageries that are so intensely negative.
Under these focused lenses, Buhari’s depth of field are uncannily interpreted as thoroughly ethnic, villainously ethnic and callously monstrous. Such perverse imageries, while not overtly evident, have been created out of a pattern of persistently observable trend. The recent Benue crisis involving Fulani herdsmen and Tiv farmers has vehemently crowned, solidified, and fossilized such negative perception of President Buhari among many Nigerians.
Buhari whom some also perceived as a sympathizer of Boko Haram in the past, by absolving his fellow ethnic Fulani herdsmen of blame and doing nothing to protect the lives of innocent victimized citizens aggravated his negative public perception. Increasingly, the growing viciousness of the Fulani herdsmen attacks, including their depicture wielding dangerous high impact weapons such as AK47s is eliciting new perspectives.
The polemics regarding whether the new and incessant herdsmen attacks are part of a linked but subtle expansion of the Boko Haram insurgency continues to gain traction. The Nimbo attacks in Uzo-Uwanbi Local Government area in Enugu state seems to bring this to the fore. Arrested Fulani herdsmen perpetrators of that attack were alleged to have confessed to their Boko Haram link (Ogbeche, 2016). That Boko Haram is camouflaging and subtly penetrating the Middle Belt and southern Nigeria hence many are concerned about the possible linkages with the growing Fulani herdsmen brutalities and clashes contestation (Akinwotu, 2016; Omonobi 2016). Such assumptions are heightening real or imagined discomfort among many Nigerians, and thus making them leery to welcome Fulani herdsmen within their homelands.
Many believe that to address such resistance is the real reason why the Nigerian presidency is pushing the issue of the cattle colony. The cattle colony mantra became the federal government’s constant refrain as its response to the increasing clashes. Peddled as the only credible alternative to cohesive and peaceful resolutions of such conflicts between local farmer and Fulani herdsmen it hasn’t been an easy sell.
The nature of the Federal Government’s intervention and this particular policy has met with suspicion and stiff resistance. Many believe that a Fulani president is trying to act smart in ensuring the same goal of diffusing his fellow Fulani across Nigeria, with the goals of executing a hideous ethnic and religious expansionist hidden agenda plot. And such suspicions are not without their observed merits.
In December 2016, in the face of similar crises in southern Kaduna by Fulani herdsmen against the aborigines, in spite of massive killings, Buhari and the presidency kept mute using federalism as an excuse for non-interference in states’ internal dynamics. While that was raging President Buhari quietly disappeared from Nigeria to London in furtherance of treatment for his undisclosed ailment. By the time he eventually returned the air has cleared without any reasonable redress except the normal tip-tap and ping-pong cheap talk characteristic of many state’s officials.
In Plateau, in October 2017 in Miango in Bassa Local Government areas about twenty-nine (29) villagers were hacked to death by suspected Fulani herdsmen in a classroom they were seeking refuge, placed there but abandoned by the peace securing military forces (Nanlong, 2017). In November 2017, in Rim, Riyom in Plateau State the Fulani herdsmen once again struck. Eleven (11) innocent citizens were killed, and others brutally maimed in that incidence (Kosoko, 2017). Before, the hysteria could ease, on January 2nd, 2018, Fulani herdsmen again struck in Benue State killing over seventy (70) members of the Tiv ethnic group in Logo and Guma Local Government areas.
The federal government exhibited sluggish response. Its lackadaisical and patently dispassionate and comical antics seemingly reflects a poor and unacceptable level of crises response. It also reveals the President Buhari’s incompetence to perform the preeminent function of the state: securing and defending the lives and properties of Nigerians. It also pinpoints the level of the president’s lack of neutrality in exercising his executive function when the interests of his ethnic kin are involved or intercepts. This partiality of the highest level of government also percolates between and across different levels of government, given the president’s uncanny elevation of nepotism and ethnic bias in his national and federal appointments.
President Buhari has deliberately refused to visit the state till date. Though President Buhari has sent key government officials and mandated the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris to set up headquarters in Benue, his abhorrent coldness has remained a subject of profound interpretations. IG Idris and his police forces through some offensive off-key and irresponsible statements have equally mirrored the presidency in its displayed bias. The police authorities thus exhibited partisan ideologies that have erupted in unnecessarily heightening rather than resolve tensions and resolve the core issues.
The Inspector General of police rather than diligently performing his professional duties turned into a partisan calling the crises mere communal clashes—as if any communal crises where human lives are at risk does not demand effective law enforcement protection! This mindset has exposed the police incompetence to handle national crises in an unbiased manner and as a neutrally dependable institution answerable to the Nigerian people. As usual, the police lived up to its nefarious image as lacking dependability and identifying her institutions and personnel as belonging to special interests and the highest private or public bidders.
Thus, the police remain very incapable of dealing with the crises from a security standpoint, while more avid in perniciously generating a war of words with and against the Benue public officials. In all of these Fulani herdsmen continue to attack, causing enormousness destruction and exhibiting a boldface effrontery. Herdsmen killers are getting more emboldened, and have compulsively continued in carrying out killings in Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, and even now in Benue, unmolested.
In early February 2018, Tiv youths in Gboko carried out reprisal attacks stopping vehicles and removing assumable Hausa/Fulani travelers. At least seven such Hausa/Fulani travelers were burnt alive unto their death. The federal government response was swift in sending military troops.
What is interesting is that again the issue of cattle colony quickly emerged as the federal government response and solution to these interethnic crises? Without any solid intelligence, ethnographic and field studies, the federal government—one who could not array its cabinet on time—could so easily proffer an arm-chair solution to complex problems.
Cogent analysis reveals that the fears expressed by many Nigerian, especially of minority ethnic and religious groups toward the end of the British colonial presence are manifesting and dangerously. It unveils the core matrix hosting the crises and the resistance to the federal government, especially following their lame approach and dimwit hollow solution to the critical situation on hand.
As first boldly expressed during the Willinks Commission established to allay minorities’ fears enroute independence, in 1958, it would not be too farfetched to assert that these long ago concerns are real. More than ever with the tightening of economic resources and wealth distribution, coupled with demographic and land pressures ethnic majorities are beginning to prey on minority groups toward leveraging their advantageous futures. Such constricting of resources, marched with the recent shifts in allocative political and elected positions threatening the hitherto dominance of some groups, even from the socially and educationally disadvantaged north, intergroup crises has amplified.
Divergent scripts are leveraging advantages are now unveiling. These are the core and basis amplifying the reconfiguration of hitherto precolonial older identities and ideological scripts utilizing ethnicity and religion as sources of alliances and expansion. These old formats and templates in coalescing novel identities induced by the new realities of widening socioeconomic relationship and access to resource in a fractured and politically frazzled Nigeria, are precipitating new crises.
At the base of these crises are primordial sentiments of ethnicity and religion. These paradoxically, and even contradictorily, harbors both expansionist and separatist tendencies.
To be continued