THE FULANI HERDSMEN AND SECURITY DILEMMA IN NIGERIA

Fulani herdsmen grazing their cattle across farmlands in southeastern states of Nigeria
Fulani herdsmen grazing their cattle across farmlands in southeastern states of Nigeria

In recent times, so many Nigerians have taken to Facebook, posting, commenting, and debating what they call the influx of Fulani herdsmen into southeastern states, using their cattle to graze farmlands and in the process killing farmers and villagers who protest the destruction of their farmlands and crops by these herdsmen. With AK-47. It used to be poisonous bows and arrows when we were kids. Now they are getting sophisticated.

The pictures of these killings are as gory as they are grotesque. The narration of the carnage and the pictures of helpless villagers fleeing their village as these herdsmen sack their villages are soul touching. And understandably, the outrage and the anger directed at the federal government of Nigeria over its inability to protect vulnerable Nigerians from fellow countrymen who are carrying out evil deeds against them are justified. Who in his right mind would stand by and watch their farmlands, which they spent energy, time, and most especially money to cultivate being destroyed by nomadic cattlemen. And just do nothing? And what sane neighbor or relative will sit idly and watch errant cattlemen overrun their kin who has the right to at the least protest the invasion of their farmland. As they they hacked to death?

In my analysis of these occurrences, I initially differed from most compatriots on who to place the blame on for the insecurity of lives and properties in the southeastern states where these Fulani herdsmen are perpetuating evil. To me, the governors and the local government chairmen or mayors of the affected states and local governments are the chief security officers of their various states and localities. It is their responsibility therefore, not only to rule their own people, but to also provide them with security. So if there is a breakdown of security or lawlessness, the mayors and the governors should be held responsible for such. They are the ones that has failed their people, and not President Buhari. But then I met Honorable Kwande Suleiman, an honorable member of the Federal House of Representatives in Nigeria and he reminded me that the federal system of government as practiced in Nigeria is completely different from what is obtained here in the United States. And that is what has incapacitated the governors from carrying out both their moral and constitutional duties of securing the lives and properties of their people from the invading Fulanis.

For example, here in the United States, every locality, every city, and every state have their own law enforcement units. Independent of federal government control. You have the county sheriffs, you have the city police departments, and you have the state troopers. They are all under local and state control and they serve their various communities within the state. But in Nigeria, the police are federalized. Only the president has control over them. In this instance, President Buhari. And a state governor, who is supposed to be the chief security officer of his own state does not have control over the commissioner of police that works within his state. The governor cannot give orders to the police commissioners. Furthermore, here in the United States, we have what we call the national guard, which is the reserve component of the U.S. military but which is under dual control of the states and the federal government. In emergency situations, the governor(s) of the affected state(s) of the union reserves the authority to call out the national guard to safeguard lives and properties and maintain order. In Nigeria, even though we have at least a military barracks in almost every state of the federation, the state governors do not have power over the garrison commanders and does not give them orders. So for a governor whose tools to secure lives and properties within his state are the police which he does not have power over, and or the military which he cannot give orders to do, how then can he protect his own?

But is that truly the case?

I lived in Nigeria for 25 years. I lived through several election cycles and I participated actively in most of them. And I saw firsthand how governors, local government chairmen, and even individuals of influence, USED, not only the regular police and their paramilitary unit (popularly called mobile police), but also the military, to rig elections, to harass their political opponents, and many a times to indiscriminately kill youths who did not support their political aspirations. So if state governors and local government chairmen in southeastern states can call out these law enforcement agents to do their bidding, to help them secure political power, whether they bribed their commanders or however they pulled it off, now that they have the power, nothing stops them from calling out these law enforcement agents again, this time to protect the governed. Or is the security of lives and properties of the governed not worth it?

Hon. Kwande Suleiman
Hon. Kwande Suleiman

I met Honorable Kwande Suleiman almost two weeks ago here in Houston. He is a member of the Federal House of Representatives, representing the Bassa/Jos North Federal constituency of Plateau State, where he is an indigene.  He came for the just concluded offshore technology conference. A smart young man. Physically fit and chiseled. Unlike most pot-bellied Nigerian politicians. After our pleasantries, I went straight to this issue of the Fulani herdsmen and how they are terrorizing fellow Nigerians. I inquired of him what the House of Representative, of which he is a member, is doing to protect the affected communities from the terror met on them by these herdsmen. He said the House couldn’t do anything about it. That the issue was brought up in one of their sessions by representatives from the southeastern part of the country and typically representatives from northern Nigeria where the Fulani herdsmen originated from became defensive. Just like everything else in Nigeria, rather than a dialogue on how to solve a national security problem, the issue devolved into an argument that cut across religious and tribal lines. The Speaker of the House had to rule for there to be a closed door session on the issue where there would be no cameras for members to candidly work out a solution for the problem. He also told me that the federal government is trying to map out ranches where these nomadic cattlemen can confine and graze their cattle rather than walk across the country destroying farmlands. I told him that I do not blame the federal government, rather the state governors for not protecting their citizenry and he defended the state governors as I have earlier pointed out. That they do not have control of the police and the military, two entities that are capable and if called in, could have intervened to stop the killings and restored order. And he added another angle to our discussion which I found to be both striking and critical in this matter.

The honorable member of the house told me that his own constituency was having similar issues with the Fulani herdsmen as some communities in southeastern Nigeria. That before he came to the U.S. for the conference, that he first returned home to resolve the issue between both parties. So I asked him, “these Fulani herdsmen are not a military brigade, a platoon, or an infantry. The most most I’ve seen them travel together is in a group of 10. Why can’t the involved villagers take up arms and take them out. How many people can they possibly kill before they are all downed? And he answered me back that he asked the same question of his constituency and they told him that most times, they did not see anybody. They only heard sounds made by human beings but could not see anyone. All they saw was the heads of their kinsmen falling to the ground. Sir, are you implying that these men are so sophisticated in their voodoo that they become invisible during confrontation? Yes, he said. That is exactly what the villagers in his constituency told him. Well then, while NORAD is yet to develop invisible soldiers, Fulani herdsmen have already through petty voodoo concocted the strategy of winning future warfare. Invisible warriors. Incredible Nigeria. There you have it.

Nonetheless, whether these guys turn invisible or not, the primary duty of every elected official, especially state governors, is to secure lives and properties within their domain. And there is no excuse for not doing so. State governors have many times, as I am witness to, called out military men from the barracks and police officers from their duty posts and used them to wreak havoc on both the governed and their political opponents. So the argument that this time around, when the need for them to call out the military and the police is noble, that they somehow cannot, and would need federal government approval to protect their own people, just because it does not involve their selfish ends, is utter bullshit.

You know what, let us assume for a minute that that argunigeriament holds water. Should any governor of the affected states be legitimately concerned about the security of lives and properties of their people and publicly scream out to Buhari to immediately order the police and the military to intervene and restore order, Buhari will do so. The same way Nigeria have a federalized police, in similar manner, we in the United States has a federalized emergency response agency called FEMA. But Obama doesn’t dispatch FEMA to any state that has need for federal-government coordinated emergency response until the governor of the affected state requests such. The onus is on the governor. The need of the doctor is for the sick and not the reverse.

The terror the Fulani herdsmen visited on people of southeastern Nigeria, for however long it lasted, and the failure to check them, is not the fault of President Buhari. It is on the plate of governors of the affected states because it is their constitutional duty to protect their own people. Buhari for all his shortcomings is not the reason for the insecurity of lives and properties in southeastern Nigeria vis-à-vis the influx of the Fulani herdsmen.  Southeastern governors are the aces that have turned into menaces.

Let the debate continue…

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