With the recent abduction of the Emir of Kajuru, Alhaji Alhassan Adamu from his palace in Kaduna state along with 12 members of his family including a few weeks old baby, by killer herdsmen, the chickens may have finally come home to roost in northern Nigeria. In the last six years, the current plight of the Emir and his family has been the everyday reality of thousands of Nigerians who have been robbed, kidnapped or killed by killer herdsmen of mostly Fulani ethnicity. Whilst the violent activities of this terror group, started out as deadly attacks on farming communities across Nigeria, northern Nigeria, particularly its western flank, which is the homeland of Nigeria’s indigenous Fulani people is now the epic centre of herdsmen terrorism.
According the Nigeria Security Tracker, in its half year 2021 report, out of the 2,943 incidents of kidnappings in Nigeria, 2,557 took place in northern Nigeria with the northwest alone recording the highest cases of 1,405. Similarly, of the over 5,800 killings recorded in Nigeria between January and June 2021, northern states like Borno, Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, Katsina and Kebbi, with 1,137, 862, 715,407, 164 and 144 deaths are top of the list of human slaughter slabs in Nigeria. In addition to kidnappings, robbery and mass killings, killer herdsmen are now in control of vast swaths of ungoverned territories, where they exercise pseudo authority and forcefully extract taxes and levies from farmers before they plant in their farms or harvest their crops.
In the face of this growing security challenge, the Muhammadu Buhari administration, appears to have no solution to killer herdsmen terrorism and is increasingly looking helplessly unable to contain what has become the most potent existential threat to the Nigerian state. But the failure of the Buhari administration to effectively contain the menace of killer herdsmen and decisively defeat their savage terrorism is less about military capabilities and more about a clear lack of political will arising from a misrepresentation of herdsmen terrorism as farmers/herders clashes.
President Buhari, an ethnic Fulani from Katsina state, North West Nigeria, like a lot of his kinsmen is a cattle breeder. And like many Fulani political elite and intellectuals, President is a staunch defender of the cultural occupation of nomadic pastoralism and an advocate for the economic rights of his Fulani brethren in Nigeria. This advocacy for economic rights revolves around access to land for cattle grazing either as semi-sedentary reserves or traditional routes that runs from the arid Sahel savannah of the northern most part of Nigeria through the guinea savannah vegetative belt in central down to the rain forest zone of the southern parts of Nigeria, where the pasture required to feed cattle is greener and more abundant.
In a typical transhumance practice, Fulani cattle breeders usually drive their herds of cattle from their original home lands in arid Sahel region of Nigeria during dry season into guinea savannah and rain forest vegetative belts in central and southern Nigeria in search of greener pasture for their cattle. Once the raining season sets in, nomadic herdsmen will commence a home ward journey from the south through the central to the northern most part of Nigeria. And year after the seasonal cycle of movement of cattle from north to south and back to the north has become the defining feature of the Fulani cultural occupation of nomadic pastoralism in Nigeria.
However, this practice is not without its problems. In a country of indigenous tribesmen and not a nation of citizens such as Nigeria, where access to land is mostly by privilege of birth and not always economic right, the indigenous peoples of central and southern Nigeria are predominantly farmers, who require their own lands for crop cultivation. The cultural occupation of farming of the indigenous communities in central and southern Nigeria usually gets disrupted by the transhumance cultural occupation of the migrating Fulani herdsmen whose cows often stray into farmlands and eat up crops even before they are harvested. With a weak policing system and slow dispensation of justice by constituted authorities, aggrieved parties often take the laws in their own hand in the ensuing farmers/herders clashes.
The rise to power of President Buhari in 2015 will set off a powerful wave of ethno-religious populism in northern Nigeria with Fulani nationalism as its most defining feature. At the core of Fulani nationalism in Buhari’s Nigeria is the carefully crafted belief that there is such a thing as a legally gazetted grazing reserves and routes for herdsmen that have been encroached upon by sedentary communities along the lines of the traditional routes running from the north to the south. Convinced about the existence of these gazetted routes and reserves across Nigeria, many Fulani herdsmen have now come to believe themselves to be the victim and farmers the offenders in the encroachment upon their grazing traditional grazing routes. Motivated by this belief, the Fulani herdsman now considers the invasion of farmlands with their cows and destruction of crops as only a legitimate grazing route recovery process. And when farming communities put up resistance to what they consider as trespass, an armada of Fulani militia men were mobilised into Nigeria from the neighbouring countries of the Sahel to launch a ‘’cow war’’ in Nigeria.
In the ensuing cow war in Nigeria, which started as retaliatory attacks in southern Kaduna and plateau states soon degenerated into a situation where armed herdsmen will invade farming communities and mow down human beings to make way for cows to graze on their farms. Across Nigeria, killer herdsmen wreaked havoc on lives and properties leaving thousands dead and hundreds of houses burnt down in several farming communities. As this was going on, the Buhari administration continued to view the carnage by his kinsmen through the narrow prism of farmers/herders clashes even when the matter at hand had transcended such simplistic struggle over land resources between the two cultural occupational groups to outright terrorism.
Unfortunately, the security response mechanism of President Buhari as commander in chief to the raging cow war in Nigeria has been severely hampered by his elevation of his Fulani ethnicity above his Nigerian citizenship. His usual refrain to rehabilitation of non-existent gazetted grazing routes and reserves as his solution to herdsmen terrorism, while also preaching to the victim farming communities to learn to live in peace with their killers and without bringing those who committed genocide in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Enugu and other places to justice, clearly emboldened herdsmen terrorists to move to the next level of their killing franchise.
Nigeria’s international border lines along its north west corner is largely obliterated by an entrenched culture of Fulani ethnic-transnationalism; a situation that makes it easy for the seamless movement of herdsmen and their cattle from Neighbouring countries in and out of Nigeria. By taking advantage of this culture of Fulani ethnic-transnationalism in Nigeria’s North West, there has been a mass movement of killer herdsmen from west and central African countries into Nigeria. The motive of this particular group of killers is no longer to wage a cow war on farming communities in Nigeria but to wage war on cows and their owners with money as their main objective. Kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria has become a multi-billion naira criminal franchise that is far more rewarding than the cultural occupation of cattle breeding. Exploiting the lack of a decisive security measure against their murderous activities by a Buhari administration that is still fixated on the narrative of farmers/herders clashes, kidnapping for ransom appears to be gradually replacing cattle breeding as a cultural occupation among a segment of Nigeria’s ethnic Fulani.
Those who brought in a worm infested wood into the Nigerian house had inadvertently invited reptiles, serpents and scorpions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. From Zamfara, Katsina to Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Niger states, herdsmen terrorist now beatified as Fulani bandits have turned the north western corner of Nigeria into a terrorist playground, where thousands of cattle are rustled, their owners, slaughtered before many more are abducted for ransom. The monster that was fed in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Enugu and other places is now consuming Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi ,Niger and other parts of the north, as freedom fighters in strange lands have become terrorists at home. And while President Buhari is still contemplating whether the on-going carnage is his home region of Nigeria’s ‘’Wild’’ North West is farmers/herders clashes or herdsmen terrorism, the region continues its rapid slide into a Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short.