There is an urgent requirement to investigate the circumstances, strategy, tactics and ultimate objective of the post – Pax Britannica oligarchy drawn primarily from among the descendants or heirs of the 1804 Uthman dan Fodio jihadist movement. It is necessary to identify their motives among which may be reasonably presumed the foisting of the movement’s ideology on all the constituent parts of modern Nigeria. To the extent that the mindless attacks of the Fulani herdsmen militia are targeted at communities that share dis-similar religio-ethnic views with theirs; also to the extent of the attacks’ deeply primordial nature our investigation becomes all the more important. A dis-interested outcome of our investigation is likely to reveal or locate the truth of our search in the interstices of history.
The indigenous people of Nigeria never had to engage the kind of hostile or condescending external forces which the Fulani jihadists unleashed on them in the 19th century. The people’s social conduct had been deeply marked by the historical context of their livelihood. Their pre-European (or even pre-jihadist) contact fashioned systems of thought and standards of action and responsibility that were neither confrontational nor disruptive of the traditions of mutual or fellow feeling, of genteel conduct or of suave disposition.
“Undue radicalism” or fundamental departure from conventional or known lifestyle, acceptable conduct or activities was alien to the people even as life was predictable but non-complacent. It is these hapless communities that were the un-sparing objects of the scurrilous attacks on them by the jihadists of the 19th century. What therefore we are witnessing today is a rehash of the orgy of blood-letting, killings and destruction visited on our people by their un-invited guests whose ancestral homeland is ethnographically traced to the Fouta Djallon highlands (from whence, ironically, our River Niger takes its source). The employment of modern supersonic warfare tools e.g. AK 47, sub-machine guns, grenades, fire or smoke bombs and I.E.Ds has confirmed the extant nature or condition of the project conceived in the twilight of the 18th century.
Even though the Fulani jihad of 1804-1810 is widely regarded as the single most important highlight in the spread of Islam in Nigeria, the faith had penetrated indigenous Hausa culture before the jihad. Traditional Hausa or Habe kings drew their authority from a syncretic blend of Islam and “pagan” precepts. The jihad itself reportedly arose, among other reasons, from Fulani opposition to the mixing of “pagan” practices with the observance of the tenets of the “true” faith and not as between believers against infidels. The jihadists themselves subsequently imbibed the culture and language of their new subjects and virtually all the previously condemned Habe institutions and practices found their way back into the emirates as formal practices. Thus Islam has remained inseparable from the indigenous Hausa culture. Fulani imperialism or expansionism or what some have referred to as a thirst for territorial aggrandizement or economic expansion has been canvassed as the main reason for the jihad, in the first place.
Self-evidently, modern Nigeria evinces a fundamental contradiction between the political claims of Islam and the secular desiderata of a multi-ethnic or multi-religious state. This contradiction manifests as the Islamic religion’s reluctance to recognise the distinction between state and religion even as it views politics and all aspects of social life as a dimension or extension only of religious life. An under-current of Islamic opposition to a secular definition of Nigeria is visibly observable and is troubling indeed. The natural quest or desire of the people comprised within the Nigerian territory for order, restraint, mutual respect, rationality, the resolution or reconciliation of conflicts when they arise etc, is being rudely jolted by the unprovoked malevolence of a people that are suggested to be insensitive to the mores, traditions and customs of their host communities. From Oyo to Kwara, Ekiti, Enugu, Plateau, Anambra, Taraba, Adamawa, Edo, Delta, Kogi, Kaduna and Benue states, it has been a trail of blood, of deaths and of agony. A bemused nation has alarmingly looked on expressionless even as her leadership appears curiously incapacitated or unable to arrest the situation. The President’s silence in the matter has been deemed conspiratorial and unbecoming in the extreme. Buhari’s Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau has insensitively described the violent sacking of many human settlements and the carnage attending thereto as a mere law and order matter. Government’s insensitivity has sparked wide-spread denunciation of the government’s embarrassing inaction or its blatant partisanship.
Even as nomadic life is anachronistic or out of tune with modern lifestyle, official plans for “cattle colony” or “cattle corridor” for the Fulani and their herds will appear unduly paternalistic and invidious. Before now in the USA, cattle owners obtained permission from the Surveyor-General to create cattle routes for which they paid ahead of their trespass for damages to farms or crops trampled upon by their rampaging cattle. Today, however, large, well-kept ranches, farm settlements or grazing land enclosures have taken the place of the culture of remorseless cattle herding or of aimless peregrination across long, uncharted distances.
In the Nigerian Army, there is a culture of compensation for damage to commercial plants and crops along the path of training activities. As the training area is usually very large and farmers hold the fallow or un-used expanse as arable land, when cadets come training and crops or farm produce are necessarily damaged, the army authorities pay for such damages from a pre-scient Budget.
The whole country is under the eerie siege of a murderous marauding ogre. There is an immediate requirement of official firmness or decisiveness to stamp out the menace of a group that has been identified by global terrorism rating organisations as the world’s third most dangerous and highly potent international terrorist order. President Buhari’s seeming indifference and the loud conspiratorial silence of his strategic ministers in the face of the violent attacks by an armed column of the Fulani herdsmen on sleepy farming communities have been reasoned as the tacit support of the government for a nation-wide forcible take-over by the Fulani of lush farmlands or vegetation in the wake of scientific predictions of a looming unprecedented severe drought condition in the Sahel in the years ahead. Further, the reluctance of the President to proclaim the armed Fulani herdsmen as terrorists deserving the full wrath of the law is worrisome as it is a violation of his constitutional oath of office respecting the requirement to ensure that the mass murderers of innocent Nigerians are brought to effective justice. Even as the President and his men enjoy immunity from prosecution while in office, they stand the risk at the expiration of their tenure of being subjected to world-wide international arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for the gruesome atrocities that happened under their watch.
President Buhari owes it an obligation to all Nigerian citizens to stop the killings, arrest the suspects and prosecute the killers in courts of competent jurisdiction. The convicts should be made to face the maximum penalty for their heinous crimes. The inaction of the President and the ineffectiveness of the security forces to curb the Fulani herdsmen scourge have placed a huge moral burden on the APC even as its helmsman’s non-chalant attitude to the carnage is threatening the chances of the party’s electoral victory in 2019. A situation in which Fulani herdsmen ride rough-shod on farming communities is gravely impunitous and should be resisted vi et armis or violently.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.