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The recent clash between itinerant Fulani herders and citizens of some Southwest states was not a flash in the pan. There have been such skirmishes in the past, especially dating back to the fourth republic of former Oyo State governor, Lamidi Adesina.
Fulani herders and farmers’ clashes in Southwest region play up the triangular dialectics of social integration, economic inequalities and political differences that continue to burden Nigeria’s federation.
Nonetheless, the instant brouhaha fundamentally reechoed a lot of issues that have continued to define the socio-cultural and political dichotomies between the two ethnic nationalities.
For instance, while the Yoruba of Southwest are predominantly subsistence farmers, the nomadic herders, who are mainly Fulani from Northern Nigeria, are fully into cattle rearing.
Analysts believe that but for the fact that governors of both regions belong to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), the situation would have scaled out of hand. But, although attempts were made to stress the political angle, the reality of socio-political differences refused to be subsumed by partisan tendencies.
The three issues that hovered around the ruckus include, the loosening understanding between Southwest and North in APC bothering on a gentleman’s agreement to handover power to a Yoruba in 2023, the imperatives of restructuring, particularly as it relates to state police and preservation of economic models verging on security of life and property.
On the surface, the issues look simple, but only those deeply involved in the political intrigues knew that there was more than meets the eye in the entire distractions. The unmistakable signal from the rumble was that open grazing was no longer welcome in Southwest. That much could be inferred from Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s marching order on the herders to exit the forest reserves.
ALTHOUGH the meeting of APC governors came out with the resolution that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, was quoted out of context, it was clear that the Ondo State governor was not mincing words in his demands that herders should relocate from the woods.
The governor had told leaders of Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities during a meeting at the Cocoa Conference Hall of Alagbaka Government House that the activities of herdsmen have long been causing a threat to security in the state.
His words: “Today, we have taken major steps at addressing the root cause of kidnapping, in particular, and other nefarious activities detailed and documented in security reports, the press and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases in Ondo State.
“These unfortunate incidents are traceable to the activities of some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen. These felons have turned our forest reserves into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.”
Then, citing his constitutional obligations as the chief law and security officer of the state, the governor said it was his responsibility “to do everything lawful to protect the lives and property of all residents of the state.”
“In light of the foregoing, the following orders are hereby issued: All Forest Reserves in the state are to be vacated by herdsmen within the next 7 days with effect from today, Monday, January 18, 2021.
“Night grazing is banned with immediate effect because most farm destruction takes place at night. Movement of cattle within cities and highways is prohibited. Under-aged grazing of cattle is outlawed.
“Our resolution to guarantee the safety of lives and property within the State shall remain utmost as security agencies have been directed to enforce the ban. In its usual magnanimity, our administration will give a grace period of seven days for those who wish to carry on with their cattle-rearing business to register with appropriate authorities.”
For instance, the Benue State law, which was signed in May 2017, gave a six-month period of grace for its implementation so that cattle breeders could “acquire ranches” for their mammals. The law, which came into effect in November 1, criminalized open grazing of cattle and other animals in line with modern trends.
To that extent, it could be said that the Alagbaka declaration, which Akeredolu’s order represents, brought into great relief the need for the country to draw a geographical line between the north and south in the area of cattle rearing.
It would be recalled that Kano State governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, once made a clarion call on nomadic Fulani herders to take advantage of his state’s ranches. Blessed with expansive landmass, the north has all that was needed for ranching across the 19 northern states, especially the Northwest geopolitical zone.
That could explain Benue State’s law, which demanded from those engaged in livestock production “to apply and obtain land from government at already designated places for the establishment of ranches.”
But instead of taking the challenge from the Alagbaka declaration, the politicians and those who see Fulani herders as agent of political domination, descended on the Constitutional provisions and ECOWAS protocol on the movement of persons to obfuscate what was clearly a policy and economic matter.
In 2000 when there was a similar hoopla, President Muhammadu Buhari and current National Chairman of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Col. Buba Marwa, confronted the then Governor Lam Adesina, based on the erroneous narrative that herders were being slaughtered.
It could be this admixture of politics that some commentators in Southwest believe that the herders versus farmers’ conflicts are a covert scheme for appropriation of land. Having secured his second term in office, Governor Akeredolu must have put have donned his thinking cap as senior lawyer to raise the conversation for a final denouement of the macabre theatre, reflected in the unending reports of abductions, rape and destruction of farmlands.
However, while Governor Akeredolu engaged in the finesse of legalese, Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemi’s choice of fighting with fire, not only brought the message home, but also captured the anger in the land concerning the menace of open grazing.
PRIOR to the hot exchanges over the excesses of some criminal Fulani herders, the level of cooperation between Southwest leadership caucus in APC and their northern counterpart had dwindled.
As uproar over the Fulani must go movement of Sunday Igboho and Alagbaka declaration raged, the thread of APC politics began to creep in, such that the issue of herders’ menace was being cleverly elevated as a rallying cry for solidarity of Yoruba ethnic nationalism.
Babafemi Ojudu’s letter, which tried to provide a background of Sunday Igboho’s rascality, seemed to serve dual purpose of linking Tinubu to the young man’s ‘excesses’, while unwittingly playing up the political scheme of denying him the ‘promised’ presidential ticket. Senator Ojodu’s attempt to sell Governor Kayode Fayemi as an elitist politician lacking in grassroots connection could not fly, but helped to raise the tone of brinkmanship.
Hyping the political dimension of the conflict, immediate past Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, in a push back, claimed that not only Tinubu, but also Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi and his Labour and Employment counterpart, Senator Chris Ngige, were involved in the subtle attack on President Buhari’s failure to secure Nigerians.
According to Lamido, “the various attacks against Fulani herdsmen across the country is a backlash from President Muhammadu Buhari’s misrule,” even as he urged those that propelled the Buhari Presidency to tell their people to stop the attacks.
LEADER of Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, tried to refocus attention on the Fulani herders’ menace away from politics. He noted that Nigerians “have been talking about the same thing” in the past five years.”
While recalling that some herdsmen had been accused of killings and kidnappings in the Southwest, Adebanjo stated: “And when they are caught, they will say, they are not local Fulani. And you can’t explain how these foreign Fulani came to attack your people. You see the absolute negligence, dereliction of duty and incompetence in protecting lives and property as commander-in-chief?
“If you are a competent defender of the Nigerian people, the Fulani herdsmen won’t be committing all forms of atrocities unabated.”
Following Presidency’s stance against Ondo State governor’s order and Inspector General of Police, Abubakar Adamu’s directive for Sunday Igboho’s arrest, shuttle diplomacy took over to douse the already charged atmosphere and avert a possible repeat of #EndSARS protests.
While commending Igboho for taking on the campaign against herdsmen, the Ooni said the young man “has done well and the world has heard him.” The monarch warned against lawlessness, noting, “Everything should be done in moderation.”
The monarch said: “Let us be very objective. He (Igboho) is being a mouthpiece for the downtrodden. He came up and everybody is listening now but my advice to him as a traditional ruler is that he needs to be very careful so that the politicians won’t hijack the whole motive from him.
“Igboho has done well and has been praised, but he shouldn’t take laws into his hands. The governor is the chief security officer of the state and Mr President has invited him (Makinde). Let the right authorities do what is right.
“We know that the bandits are everywhere in the country. Igboho should not take laws into his hands. We have laws in Nigeria, and we should follow it. Let the right people chosen do and follow what they are supposed to do.”
How what is right could be achieved depends on the preparedness of political actors to divest their intrigues for high office from issues that pertain to social harmony and economic development, especially as 2023 draws close.