By Usha Anenga
Nigeria is plagued with a new disease, a new pandemic that needs no introduction and its called Fulani herdsmen. In those days Fulanis came as benign harmless people who just wanted their cattle to feed on what we had in abundance and really didn’t care about – grass. Nowadays they want full control, fight and kill over territories they were once welcomed as visitors; a typical example of a handshake that has exceeded the elbow.
Also, back then, a “Fulani question” would frankly mean a foolish question because Fulanis were oftentimes strangers who would ask annoying questions, even in the face of glaring answers. Nowadays a “Fulani question” is a puzzle of death as terrorist under the decoy of cattle and guise of herdsmen have pushed southwards in a frantic quest for blood, an maybe grass.
Entire farming communities have been wiped out by these marauding murderers. Benue state alone have witnessed over 50 attacks in the last three years with over 1000 people killed and tens of thousands displaced, most notably the massacre of over 300 in Agatu Local Government barely two months ago. In fact, 15 out of the 23 Local Governments of the food basket state are under siege by these killer-herdsmen.
Same could be said of Taraba State where same Fulani herdsmen killed 44 people few weeks ago. Then there’s Plateau, Nasarawa and other states in the middle belt who are already accustomed to these killings, but it is the recent surge of attacks more southwards that will be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Just two days ago, over 40 persons were reportedly killed in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, in an attack that involved no fewer than 500 heavily-armed Fulani herdsmen. There have also been reports of similar attacks as far as Ondo, Edo, Rivers and other states in a manner that suggests the Fulani terrorists are seeking “greener pastures”.
The disheartening fact in all of these is that, President Muhammadu Buhari, with all due respect, has not imposed his no-nonsense reputation on this matter. There has been no firm action or even a verbal statement by the President himself concerning this issue when he has been globetrotting and talking about every other comparatively trivial issue.
Suffice also to state that, the armed forces of Nigeria, over which the President is Commander-in-Chief, have, using the simplest and mildest description, failed. They have at best treated the matter with kids gloves, often referring to attacks as “mere skirmishes between farmers and herders” and never sure of the number of casualties or simply rejecting media reports of high figures in a bid to downplay the carnage. Nigerians, however, are beginning to see the handwriting on the wall.
When renowned author, Chinua Achebe of blessed memory, accurately predicted the events of the Nigerian Civil War in his book “A Man of the People,” published in early 1966, many did not believe him, in fact they sort to arrest him. Now we know better. We also know that history repeats itself and that it will not take too much and too long for Nigeria, a country deeply fractured along ethno-religious and political lines to erupt in flames again if those in authority continue to give a blind eye, deaf ear or play lip service to this budding national catastrophe.
In the buildup to the Nigerian Civil War, after the twin coups, there was widespread killing in the northern and southern paths of the country; Igbos being massacred in the North while the Igbos did likewise to Hausas in the South. What looked like “mere skirmishes” for which then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon said would only take a few days to resolve resulted in a 30-month full-blown war.
It therefore behooves of the Federal Government to ensure that innocent lives and property are protected and also ensure that all herdsmen and their cattle return to their respective places of origin pending the complete resolution of this crisis. Needless to even say the legislation for nationwide grazing routes an reserves should be halted forthwith, for it is only in Nigeria that the lives of cattle are placed at par or given high value than those of humans.
If President Buhari and by extension, the Federal Government continues her lackadaisical attitude towards solving this problem, we can all be rest assured that communities in the South will one day rise against the Fulanis and other people of Northern ethnicities, guilty or innocent, just as happened before the Civil War. As bodies of their dead loved ones arrive the North, Hausas will surely retaliate by killing Igbos and other people of southern ethnicities living amongst them and on goes the vicious cycle of death.
This is how a civil war starts and we are definitely on that path. With 500 fully-armed ethnically homogeneous fighters attacking a community in a distant territory, a civil war may have already begun.
Usha Anenga is a medical doctor and managing editor of Benue.com.ng