By Kenneth Ikonne
ABUJA (Sundiata Post) It will be facile, if not imbecilic, to imagine President Muhammadu Buhari huddled up in a room in Aso Villa, or elsewhere, with Fulani herdsmen, discussing expansionist strategy, tactics or the procurement of armaments and munitions! Yet, the link between his politics, his governance style and preferments, and the new audacity and relentlessness of herdsmen attacks across the middlebelt and beyond, is all too obvious.
For the Fulani pastoralist, there could never have been a more auspicious time than now to cast his eyes southwards for fodder. As the ravages of global warming drove the southward expansion of the Sahara, rendering outlying and northerly grazing fields increasingly arid and desolate, the Fulani herdsman, who has over the millennia roamed the northern wilds with his cattle in search of pasture, became desperately aware that the traditional grazing fields in his sahelian domain had become critically inadequate to sustain the survival of his flock. The inevitable drift southwards towards the lush plains of the banks of the Benue River has always predictably met with the unyielding resistance of the of the agrarian tribes inhabitating them; Fulani cattle ate farm crops as fodder, laid to waste flourishing cultivated fields, drawing the ire of indigenous farmers.
Until fairly recently, the herdsman bore no arms, and those encounters were no more than mere skirmishes, with the herdsman often ruing his fate and holding the short end of the stick! But the influx of small arms into West Africa in the wake of the Libyan revolution was to critically alter the balance of terror in favour of the herdsman. There is a lingering suspicion that various Fulani cultural organizations across West Africa, especially in Nigeria, with vested interests in nomadic pastoralism, cashed in and began an aggressive but covert campaign to set up militias, and to arm them; members of these so called Fulani cultural groups, such as the Miyetti Allah, own most of the cattle. It was not long before the pastoralists succeeded in setting up potent and ferociously armed strike forces, capable of being deployed at short notice to far-flung flash points in which Fulani herdsmen were asserting rights of ingress!
Until the Buhari Presidency, the inability of the Fulani militia to predict the response of the Nigerian Armed Forces to acts of herdsmen rapacity provided sufficient deterrence. Under both Obasanjo and Yar’ Adua, the response was predictably ferocious, while under Jonathan, it was at times dreary, and at other times rapid and vehement. In all those previous regimes, the headship of the various arms of the security agencies was constituted in such a way as to ooze deterrence!
But Muhammadu Buhari was to change all that. The headship of 16 of the 17 security services are today in Northern hands, commanded by mostly Fulani brass. Almost all strategic positions in the land have gone to the Fulani, and even the infrastructural architecture of the country is being strategically redrawn, with even a proposed Nigerian financed railway line terminating at the Fulani entrepot of Maradi in Niger Republic. These do not in themselves suggest connivance or complicity, but they do flash a signal to armed expansionists that the Fulani resurgimento has finally dawned.
The very first acts of derring-do by Fulani savages were even rewarded financially, instead of being crushed decisively. Audu Ogbeh promised them Brazilian grass, and grazing routes running right up to the Atlantic. Inebriated and emboldened, the herdsmen deployed and seized Agatu and Logo in Benue, and then cast their greedy and covetous eyes further southwards towards communities in Enugu and Abia. For the first time since the Jihad of 1804, the Fulani were capturing territories, with the intention of permanently keeping them for grazing! And when Governor Ortom tried to keep them in check via his Anti Open Grazing Bill, the herdsmen merely beat a tactical retreat, and returned to teach Benue State a lesson in savagery! Whole Communities were destroyed and citizens slaughtered in a Fulani blitzkrieg that left more than fifty persons dead and hundreds maimed!
President Buhari’s response to these egregious and murderous infractions has been abject and disappointing. His military’s response has been slow and incoherent, giving vent, especially in the assailed Communities, to suspicions of collusion and complicity. It is remarkable that despite open shows of bravado and defiance by leading figures in Miyetti Allah, not even a single one of them has been put on trial. Yet, it is obvious that the nation is precariously poised, and that how Buhari eventually responds to this egregious provocation will have far-reaching consequences on his legacy!