- The tension between Fulani herdsmen and farming communities has existed for many years
- There has been a dramatic escalation in recent times to include many more attacks
- The brutality and impunity with which the assailants operate without regard for the law and the sanctity of life is appalling
- A human rights activist Abu Anthony emphasized that the federal government must urgently summon the political will to forge a lasting solution to the violence
As Nigeria is still reeling from the Boko Haram insurgency and its numerous atrocities, the country plays host to another terrorist group as yet unrecognized. Fulani herdsmen, nomadic cattle grazers, have been named one of the deadliest terror groups in the world comparable to Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban and al-Shabaab.
The group has wreaked enough havoc to be acknowledged by the global community as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world. The “Fulani militants”, as they have come to be known, is made up of members of the Fulani or Fula ethnic group, a tribe of over 20 million people, 70 per cent of whom are nomadic grazers, who are native to at least seven West African countries.
The tension between Fulani herdsmen and farming communities has been in existence for many years, but has seen a dramatic escalation in recent times to include attacks, kidnappings and killings by the nomads.
Between 2010 and 2013 Fulani militants killed about 80 people in total, but by 2014 they had killed 1,229 people. Benue, Taraba, Nassarawa, Plateau, Kaduna and Katsina states have been the worst hit of late having suffered devastating attacks by the Fulani herdsmen with a heavy toll in human lives and property.
Fulani herdsmen brutally kill natives of invaded farming communities including women and children in various states across the country. They are armed with sophisticated weapons and usually attack their target communities at a time they are most vulnerable such as at midnight or on Sundays when they are in church, killing people indiscriminately and burning houses and looting properties.
Most worrisome is the brutality and impunity with which the assailants operate without regard for the law and the sanctity of life. The Nigerian police and even the military seem powerless to defend the victims from being mercilessly slaughtered in their homes.
The nomadic militants dominate the middle belt region. The Global Terrorism Index of 2015 states that over 90 per cent of the attacks carried out by the group are on private citizens, accounting for 81 per cent of deaths in the area. And these attacks have mainly been through armed assaults, killing an average of 11 people per attack.
According to a report published by SMB Intelligence, over 2,000 people have been killed in conflicts between the herdsmen and different host communities in 2015 alone. In comparison, the Boko Haram insurgency that has attracted the attention of the Nigerian government and the global community kills 2,500 people annually, the report states.
In 2000 Fulani herdsmen and farmers had a major clash in Oke-Ogun area of Oyo state, which led to a visit by a delegation from the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to the office of the then governor, the late Lam Adesina.
Before the report, the largest attack was when the group killed over 200 people: community leaders and residents who were meeting in a remote village in Zamfara state, Nigeria. But their recent activities have surpassed this. Recently, no fewer than 300 people were killed following a series of attacks launched by Fulani herdsmen in Benue state.
According to reports, several villages were razed by fire, with the decomposing remains of people lying in sight. The number of internally displaced persons is also on the rise in these communities as people desert their homes for neighbouring towns.
Recently some local government areas in Benue state were savagely attacked by suspected Fulani herdsmen who killed hundreds of people, torched houses, sacked some communities and occupied them. For instance in Ghajimba, the capital of Guma LGA, 25 farmers were massacred.
On Monday, April 25, herdsmen stormed communities in Enugu state and killed mostly women and children.
The unfortunate situation
It is unfortunate that this level of criminal impunity is happening in a sovereign nation with a constitution which declares that the security and welfare of the citizens shall be a major responsibility of the state. Perhaps we need to ask why the police and the military are incapable of protecting the farmers from violent attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
Is it true that the Fulani militia is better armed and sometimes outnumbers the police? Why is it difficult for the federal government to contain the terror of the Fulani militia? Who are those arming the Fulani cattle rearers to unleash mayhem on innocent and defenceless Nigerians?
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Since both the Fulani herdsmen and the host communities have their complaints, could not the local and state governments mediate between both parties in the affected communities to forestall a breakdown of law and order?
Why is it that the Fulani herdsmen alleged to be behind the inhuman killings and destruction of property in the affected states and indeed across the country always get away with their crimes without being brought to justice?
There is certainly grave danger ahead because some of the ethnic nationalities incessantly attacked by the Fulani militia have warned that if the government fails to protect them, they are left with no other choice than to form their own militias to defend themselves and their land from the marauders.
The way forward
Only recently, the president of the Southern Kaduna Union, Dr Ephraim Goje, in a media chat said: “The Fulanis have unofficially declared war on our people.” He said that they “may take actions aimed at defending ourselves and our land in order to put an end to this impunity and senseless killings".
“This, if allowed to happen, can only degenerate into anarchy and a failed state situation, which the government can ill afford. Besides, the country has had enough of security challenges from existing ethnic and religious militias to allow room for the formation of more ethnic or religious armies,” he said.
The human rights activist Chief Femi Falana (SAN) on April 25 filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague and the ECOWAS court a case of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Fulani herdsmen for their continued massacres of the innocent people and farmers in Jukunland, in Southern and Central Taraba state, in north eastern of Nigeria.
Another human rights activist Abu Anthony, speaking to Legit.ng, emphasized that the federal government must urgently summon the political will to forge a lasting solution to the problem of clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the farmers to prevent the escalation into tribal wars and to avert further loss of lives and property.
He said the federal government must as a matter of priority re-position the intelligence agencies and the police to stop the attacks and the killing and wanton destruction of property by the Fulani militia, and retaliatory attacks by the victims.
“They need to be arrested, disarmed, prosecuted and jailed if guilty while their sponsors should be smoked out and brought to justice.
“On its part, the Nigerian Immigration Service must be alive to its responsibilities in identifying and expelling foreign nationals who constitute security risks to the country.
"The national Confab must deliberate on the Fulani herdsmen and their host farmers’ palaver with a view to recommending a just solution to this potential anarchy and destruction of the unity of Nigeria,” he said.
He called on the federal government to take urgent and drastic action against the massacres being perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen against innocent farmers before they drag the nation into another avoidable war.
He expressed shock at the scale of the “unprecedented massacre of unarmed farmers” being killed by these herdsmen in Jukunland in Taraba state and the other parts of North Central Nigeria everyday.
He said: “It is very clear by the pictorial and other evidence that the people of the North Central Nigeria are going through terrible things daily in the hands of these herdsmen.
"Lives and properties are no longer safe from these people who killed and maim, and rape women at will just because they wanted their cattles to graze on other people’s farmlands.”
He therefore charged the federal government to move security agencies to the North Central state of Taraba in order to protect the lives of innocent Nigerians who are being killed on their farmlands everyday by these blood-sucking herdsmen, before the people resort to self-help.